Using Eye Shadow with Polymer Clay

Buy cheap makeup kits for use with decorating polymer clay.

It’s a week before Christmas as I write this and hopefully you have already braved the crowds and finished your holiday shopping. Or shopped online (my favorite way). But there’s one thing available this time of year that might make you want to venture out, and that is inexpensive (okay…cheap) makeup sets. Often marketed as stocking-stuffers for young girls, these compact, inexpensive makeup sets typically contain sets of related eye shadow colors that might be too garish for the more conservative among us. But this is exactly why you should be looking at them. All of those bright, sparkly, colors are perfect for crafting, and make an inexpensive addition to the mica powders and chalk pastels you already might have. Here’s what you need to know about using eye shadow with polymer clay.

Some of the links below support my work by earning an affiliate commission if you purchase using them. This is how it works.

Mica Powder vs Eye Shadow

What is Mica Powder?

Mica is a flaky mineral rock that is ground into a pigment called mica powder. Pearl Ex is one brand of mica powder.

Mica is a rock mineral that naturally forms flat sheets that reflect the light like a mirror. When mica is ground into a powder, those little flakes act like glitter and reflect light in a pearlescent, shimmery, sparkly way. Mica powder is added to many products that we use everyday, from the pearly swirls in your shower gel to the sparkles in your toothpaste and hair spray, to the frosty shimmer of your lipstick. We also use mica powder in crafting. Mica can be coated with a variety of colored pigments to create colored mica powder. Most metallic paints are not made with pulverized metal (some are), they’re usually made with colored mica powder. Metallic and pearl varieties of polymer clay are made with mica powder. And you can even buy small jars of colored mica powder itself. Common brands are Pearl-Ex, MetalFX, Perfect Pearls, and some of the colors in Christi Friesen’s Surface FX line.

Pigments, mica, and powders are magical

Don’t be intimidated by those little jars and packets of colorful powders. Learn to use them effectively in your projects.

What is Eye Shadow?

Cheap makeup can be used with polymer clay.

Well, I’m sure you know what eye shadow is. πŸ™‚ But actually, what I mean is…what IS it? Eye shadow is a mixture of pigments, in a carrier, that we apply to our faces. It’s typically earth mineral pigments such as titanium dioxide, iron oxide, ultramarine, manganese oxide, or chromium oxide suspended in a carrier of talc, cornstarch, silk powder, wax, oils, and stabilizers. Powdered eye shadow would have a powdery carrier whereas creme eye shadows would have a creamy, lotion-like carrier. Foundation, blush, lipstick, and even mascara are all variations on this same theme. Pigments (colors) are suspended in a carrier. In fact, this is the same idea behind all of our craft paints, too. Really, makeup is just glorified and very expensive paint for your face!

Some eye shadow colors are very matte without any sparkle at all. But most colors do have at least some sparkle and some are very, very sparkly. What causes that sparkle? Mica powder! Yes, the very same mica powder that is sold under the name Pearl Ex and is used in crafts. But even if an eye shadow color is very, very sparkly and full of mica shimmer, it will still contain other pigments and carrier ingredients. While an eye shadow can contain mica powder, eye shadow itself is not mica powder.

Learn about using eye shadow with polymer clay in this article by The Blue Bottle Tree.
Cheap eye shadow is an alternative to buying mica powder for polymer clay.

Can you Use Eye Shadow with Polymer Clay?

Absolutely, yes, you can use eye shadow with polymer clay! But you do need to know what to expect. Because eye shadow contains chalky earth pigments in addition to the mica powders, using eye shadow on polymer clay will most likely result in a more muted effect than if you were to use pure mica powder.

Using eye shadow with polymer clay, is it the same as mica powder?
I made these little shapes using black Premo pressed into silicone molds, then dusted with pigment. The top row is eye shadow, and the bottom row is Pearl-Ex, chosen to match the colors as closely as I could. Notice how the eye shadow is almost always more muted than the mica powder colors.

In addition to muted colors, you do need to be aware that some very sparkly eye shadows might not give very good coverage on polymer clay. One of the sets of eye shadow that I bought had very large mica flakes, almost like glitter, and I thought they’d be wonderful on polymer clay. But I was disappointed to find that they were merely brown pigment with large mica. The brown powder didn’t give good metallic-appearing coverage, and the large mica particles didn’t stick to the clay. It’s still nice, but not as cool as I had hoped.

Shimmery eye shadows can be used with polymer clay, but you may get a different effect than you intended.

Some colors of eye shadow contain no mica, and those will work nicely for techniques that use chalk pastels. Because some pigment colors aren’t safe for use in makeup, you’re not going to find as many colors of makeup as you’ll find in chalk pastels. But you can still have quite a bit of fun. These Organic Beads (from my Organic Beads Tutorial) were made using matte colored eye shadows from the sets pictured above.

Eye shadow can be used with polymer clay, such as these Organic Beads.

Because mica powders are pure sparkle, with no murky chalky pigment, the colors of Pearl-Ex are quite a bit brighter than those of corresponding colors of eye shadow. These two Mica Leaf Pendants (get the tutorial here) were made identically, except that the one on the left uses eye shadow and the one on the right uses Pearl-Ex. Notice how the eye shadow creates a much more subtle effect than the Pearl-Ex. This is valuable to know because sometimes the shine of Pearl-Ex can be too much for your polymer clay project and you may prefer the subtle effect of eye shadow.

Eye shadow vs mica powder when using the Mica Leaf Tutorial by The Blue Bottle Tree.
These Mica Leaf Pendants are made the same way except that eye shadow was used on the left and Pearl-Ex mica powders were used on the right. These were sealed and protected with a thick layer of Lisa Pavelka’s Magic Glos.

 How does Makeup Compare to Pan Pastels?

Pan Pastels are an artist’s quality product that places artist’s pigments into a pressed pan, similar to eye shadow, blush, or pressed foundation. Pan Pastels come in matte colors, metallic colors, and pearlescent colors. In general, these colors work very well on polymer clay and are far more intense and rich than their corresponding colors of makeup.

Metallic Pan Pastels are used on polymer clay.

How to Apply Eye Shadow to Polymer Clay

Just like when using Pan Pastels, Pearl Ex, mica powders, or chalk pastels, eye shadow is best applied to raw polymer clay. You can use a brush to apply the powder, especially if you want complete coverage. Or you might prefer to apply lightly with a finger to “hit the highlights”, creating a gilded or frosted effect. You can use the sponge applicators that come with the eye shadow as well. And you don’t have to use a full-coverage effect. There’s no reason you can’t use a light touch to lightly color something as well. For instance, you might want to use a very light dusting of blush or a pink eye shadow to create rosy cheeks on a doll you’re making.

You can apply eye shadow to polymer clay with a brush or with your finger.
Textured black polymer clay that’s been colored with gold eye shadow. On the left a brush was used to completely cover the surface of the clay. On the right a fingertip was used to “hit the highlights” of the design.

Because eye shadow and makeup are designed to be moisturizing and have a creamy effect on your skin, you may very well find that it will clump on your brush and not have the powdery effect that you’re used to seeing with Pearl Ex mica powder. I don’t find it to be a problem, but it’s something to be aware of.

Also, when using any powders or chalks on raw polymer clay, you may find that they don’t completely bind during baking. Therefore, you might want to seal them for maximum durability. Sealers can be used, such as Varathane. I used Varathane on the Organic Beads above. You can also use epoxy resin or a UV resin such as Lisa Pavelka’s Magic Glos (which I used for the Mica Leaf Pendants above).

Using Other Makeup with Polymer Clay

These makeup kits came with glittery eyeliner in pink and blue, and several shimmery highlighting creams which were similar to lip gloss. Can these be used on polymer clay? Just for fun, I used my finger to wipe each of them onto a sheet of polymer clay and then baked it. The oils in the highlighting cream disappeared with baking, leaving the pigments behind. They were surprisingly well adhered to the polymer clay and it took a fairly aggressive fingernail to scratch them off. So if your “cheapie” makeup kit comes with glitter cream or other novelty makeup items, it’s certainly worth a try to use them with your polymer clay, perhaps as sort of a paint. It’s an interesting idea if nothing else.

Inexpensive makeup kits can be used with polymer clay.

Can you Use Mica Powders as Makeup?

Since you can easily use eye shadow with polymer clay, it’s easy to begin to wonder, can you use mica powders as eye shadow?  The answer is no. Remember, crafting mica powders are ground mica that’s been coated with a pigment or dye. Those dyes and pigments aren’t tested for use on the face. Some of them might cause allergies or inflammation. Only use makeup from a reliable manufacturer on your tender skin. Nobody needs to have a terrible reaction to these pigments!

That being said, makeup pigment suppliers are an excellent resource for the crafter and you can often find a wide variety of mica powders and earth pigments that will create beautiful crafting colors.

Purchasing Makeup Kits for use with Polymer Clay

So, is it worth buying cheap makeup kits for use with polymer clay? It depends. If you’re looking for a substitute for mica powder and want to be able to have the full versatility of Pearl Ex or MetalFX powders, then you’re going to be disappointed in using eye shadow with polymer clay. It would be best to save up for the real thing. But if you’re just looking for some fun new ways to decorate your polymer clay, inexpensive makeup and eye shadow palettes are a fantastic deal. I found these sets for $4.88 at Walmart and I know that you can find similar ones year round in dollar stores. You can also raid your own makeup drawer for colors that you no longer use. Ask for donations from your family and friends too. Everyone has colors they bought on a whim and never used. Might as well find a good home for it in your craft studio, right?

So the next time you see cheap makeup and eye shadow sets on sale or at the dollar store, go ahead and try them with your polymer clay. You might find a whole new range of colors that you just love.

Note: Many thanks to Sunny Day Crafts for the really neat Martha Stewart push molds that I used for making the little flowers, leaves, and butterflies. And also to Lisa Pavelka and The Greate Create for providing me with their really fun Magic Glos.

53 thoughts on “Using Eye Shadow with Polymer Clay”

  1. I have been buying eye shadow for years now to use in my clay. Never thought anyone would be interested in it themselves, thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  2. Thank you for addressing this completely, as you you always do.
    I’ve used leftover eyeshadow with PC for over a decade , due to lack of funds and curiosity. Something’s worked some didn’t. But now, you have provided the research to give me an educated choice.
    I have a makeup kit ( not inexpensive) with some intense blue and purple, and black that could never be used on my eyes. I used some on paper, forgetting about PC. That kit will take a prominent place in my studio, as it now is a major player.
    I Really Appreciate You!!!!!

  3. Hi Ginger. I’m very new to clay–like two weeks new. I’ve just been using air dry clay for now because I wanted to start simple and see if I enjoy it before going on further. So far, I love it! Could still use a lot of practice though! Anyway, I was wondering if the eye shadows would work on air dry clay. I looked at mica on-line and it’s just not it the budget right now. Should I put it on the “raw” clay or wait til it dries? It doesn’t look like you do air dry clay but I thought you might know anyway. Thanks.
    Btw, I love this site! Because of your articles I’m definitely going to try the oven clay. Your articles have given me a boost of confidence.

    1. Hi Vickie, I really don’t know how it would work but there’s one way to find out. πŸ™‚ Try it! The mica won’t stick to dried clay very well, so you will want to apply it before drying. But I’m honestly not sure how well it would all work. Sounds like some experimentation is in order!

      1. Yeah, I decided just go ahead and try it. It’s cheap and easy so if it doesn’t work out….no big deal. It just becomes play jewelry for my grand-daughter. It’a kind of a win-win no matter how you look at it.

      2. I’ve used creative paper clay for some time and every medium to colour it. If I want a pastel look I always use eye shadow and for the skin I use powdered makeup base. I apply it to dry clay ( sometimes many coats). I think it would be difficult to apply an even cover if the clay is wet This is my favourite medium for a natural look on art doll faces. However it is very pastel and you may need to experimented with most makeups first.
        I started with polymer clay which is lovely but unforgiving. I love air dry clay.
        All the best.

  4. I have a large eyeshadow set that is expired. I was wondering how to reuse it. Now i know. Good that i use polymer too. Im also thinking if i could use my nailpolish stamps with fimo. What do you think? Would the polish burn off in the oven? Thanks!

    1. You can use any kind of stamps with polymer clay, but I would skip the nail polish. Many nail polishes don’t dry on polymer clay and will remain (or become) sticky over time. I’d try it with acrylic paint instead.

  5. VERY HELPFUL! I’ve been questioning myself if I use make-ups rather than Mica powders and Chalks, since my country lacks of these, it has, but it was too expensive. Thank you so much you made this page! πŸ˜€ It helped me a lot. A LOT, questions in my head are now answered.

  6. Thanks for the article! I was mainly wondering if the extra ingredients in pressed eye shadows ever react badly with polymer clay. Incidentally, I’m a huge makeup junkie so I’m very familiar with the makeup world’s products. I have sooo many eye shadows (more than I could use in my lifetime), and from what I’ve tried with polymer clay so far, I’d say that any of my eye shadows that I would rate highly are just as pigmented as mica powders. In the makeup world, the more pigmented and “true-to-pan” the color applies, the better it is considered. Of course, these usually won’t be your discount super-cheap eye shadows – those are super cheap because they are filled with a lot of cheap fillers that make the shadows appear less pigmented. Some great pigmented shadows for a decent price are: most of the palettes by Sleek, makeupgeek’s pan shadows, and the pan shadows by inglot. Not sure if they are cost effective compared to mica powers, but the makeup world offers practically UNLIMITED, gorgeous shades of color (and finishes) to play with, and pressed shadows seem less messy to work with than mica powders (if you do any kind of fine work using them to decorate…less accidental pigment dropping!). Another point though, is that I always try loose and pressed shadows out on a piece of scrap clay before applying to anything else. They definitely vary in how they apply to clay (ex. If there are larger and smaller pieces in the shadow, the smaller pieces might stick better and thus create a different look than in the container). Also, when in doubt about choosing eye shadows or shades, you can find reviews (or “swatches” of the colors shown by real people) for just about anything in makeup on YouTube or blogs. Hope that helps, and now your article has made me curious about trying my other makeup products on polymer clay!!!! Never thought to use cream makeup products etc on clay before! Very interesting experiment… πŸ˜‰

  7. Thank you for your informative blogs. They have saved me much time to simply use information that you have already researched. Please keep them coming!

    1. Thank you! I do intend to keep doing this for a long time. πŸ™‚ There is just SO much cool info to share and so many things to explore. Very glad to have you along for the ride!

  8. I so love your scientific approach of explanations. I am a science geek\craft addict. I like understanding the chemical interactions as well as the visual results. Your articles have given me so much helpful info about polymer clay. I have been able to educate many potential customers on the safety of polymer clay, thanks to info I have gotten off your site. Thank you so much for sharing your wealth of information.
    Also, your tutorial for the halo effect I purchased was awesome.

      1. I saw a video and the girl used liquid pigment to color the clay not paint the color on. Three drops and the color was great , do you have any idea what she might be using and is there a brand/ tech me to look it up?

  9. Your newsletters are so well written; so comprehensive; and so incredibly addictive, I have to literally back away from the computer and stop clicking the links. Otherwise, I’ll never get ANY housework done today.

    A big thank you for all you do for all of us. Patsye

  10. This was so helpful!! Thank you! Sadly, i can’t find any mica powders at my local craft store and its quite expensive ( i hoped to use a coupon ) and my craftstore’s website is often out of stock.

  11. You are truly wonderful to share your knowledge. I love reading your tips and clues. I would love to have your free “Mica Leaf Tutorial” Thanks a bunch for all your help/support in this craft. You the BEST!

  12. I’m new to polymer clay and have spent a few months gathering stuff and reading and trying to remember all I can. Came upon your site by asking about temps for baking clay. All info was SOOO informative and I signed up for more. I was concerned over fumes of baking it and I thought I would bake it in a toaster oven outside. It was too cold and oven got too hot and burned ears on two test products, but they were for my grands and I can paint over them.
    I’m susceptible to headaches from fumes so I guess I’ll wait on a warmer day! Thanks for your articles they’re a great help and an easy read!

  13. Again, another great read! I am off to the dollar store to see what they have……Merry Christmas to you and your clan!!!!!!

  14. I’ve been using sparkly eye shadow on my polymer clay projects for a while. Love the shimmery effects. Great article as always!

  15. Thank you for an excellent article and for taking the time to test things. My only concern about using the eye shadow colors would be the permanence of the colors. Artist’s colors are meant, in most instances, to be light fast. Since make-up doesn’t use those same pigments and isn’t meant for years of exposure to sunlight, etc., would the eye shadow colors fade?

    1. It’s a good question. Yes, most artist colors (well, the higher quality ones) are designed with lightfastness in mind. Since there are dozens and dozens of pigments that are used in eye shadow, it would be impossible to determine which would be lightfast. I’m sure some would and some wouldn’t. For a archival quality artwork, you’d probably want to stick with archival materials.

  16. Thank you Ginger πŸ™‚

    I bought the cheap makeup a while back for the metal trays that the powder was pressed into as they are great for my dolls baking dishes πŸ™‚ and the such like πŸ™‚ and yes I crushed up,the eye makeup into a fine powder so I could use them on my clay πŸ™‚ as you say they are not as vibrant as the real thing πŸ™‚ but they do have a place in my craft collection for the clay and other crafts that I do πŸ™‚ some times I mix a little of the mica powder into with it just to spice it up a little and I mean just a pinch πŸ™‚ at a time until I get the results that I am looking for πŸ™‚

    Have a Great Christmas and a Happy New Year πŸ™‚

  17. Thanks Ginger – l’ll definitely be looking at those cheap sets now!
    I wonder how light-fast the pigments are in the coloured ones though…..

    1. I think you’d just have to experiment. There’s no reason for lightfastness to be a quality that makeup manufacturers would strive for. That being said, I’ve never noticed makeup getting faded in the pans, either.

  18. Thank you for the thorough information. I never even thought about using powers with silkscreens, but am intrigued. I bought the eBook and look forward to learning.

  19. DollarTree has some of the shimmery eye shadows (L.A. Colors) in stock. I bought a gold, copper, purple, silvery white and a pinkish colour in 2.8g pots (0.10 oz) for $1 each.

  20. Great post. I have a few eye shadows that the only reason I have them is because the only way I could get the color I wanted was to buy the set. Now i’m going to play with the “leftovers”. Thanks.

  21. I bought a makeup kit at a yard sale, mainly to use the box itself. I’ve been wondering if the makeup would work with clay, Now I have a better idea of what the makeup will do.

  22. Thank you for doing this article/comparison. I have been wondering about eye shadow versus mica powder and this really helps!

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