The Best Eyeliner

No matter the style, the best eyeliner should be as easy to apply as possible, richly pigmented, and hold up through humid summer days, sudden rainstorms, and emotionally devastating moments of the latest Pixar movie. To find the best, we dug into online “best-of” lists and beauty editors’ recommendations, then brought the finalists into our office to put to the test.

The Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Pencil ($20) is one of the most highly-praised eyeliners in the beauty world for good reason. It applies smoothly to lids and waterlines, and the creamy texture is easy to smudge to your heart’s content. But once it’s set, it stays. This waterproof liner doesn’t budge under rain, sweat, or tears. Bonus: It comes in a huge range of colors — 43, to be exact.

Love liquid, but prefer a cheaper option? We also like L’Oréal Paris Infallible Paints Eyeliner ($10) and NYX Matte Liquid Liner ($7). Their formulas earned just as much priase as Lancome's — but their handles are a bit more finicky.

For liquid liner lovers who want the perfect marriage of sharply dramatic pigment and clever design, the Lancôme Grandiôse Bendable Liquid Eyeliner ($32) is one of the best. Its bendable handle makes sketching out winged cat-eyes easier than any other liquid liner. What’s more, its richly dark pigment stays put with nary a smudge. It comes in nine different colors.

A longtime favorite, the Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner ($27) won out of a group of all-around excellent gel finalists due to how smoothly it glided onto our lids, resisted smudging throughout the day, and came off effortlessly with makeup remover.
For anyone who wants something between the dramatic sharpness of liquid and natural softness of pencil, the Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel is the best of both worlds.

Top Picks for Eyeliner

Our Picks for the Best Eyeliner

The Best
Pencil Eyeliner
Urban Decay's 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil
Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Pencil
This pencil is easy to use — even for complete makeup beginners. It’s easily smudgeable but sets waterproof after 30 seconds.

We had high expectations for the Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Pencil since it was a top pick the first time we reviewed eyeliner in 2016. Two years later, beauty editors and makeup lovers are still just as obsessed — and we are too. With bulletproof wear, creamy pigmentation, and 43 vibrant shades, this pencil checks every box on our list.

Urban Decay Close-Up for Eyeliner

It had the smoothest application of the four pencil eyeliners we tested: Our tester praised how effortlessly it glided onto her lid and waterline. The Marc Jacobs Highliner also offers dark, creamy-smooth application, but it trips up on the waterline. While the Urban Decay pencil easily covers the waterline in one swipe, the Marc Jacobs pencil requires two applications for full, even coverage. The more opaque Urban Decay pencil not only saves a bit of time in the morning, but also requires less product per use if you’re planning on lining your waterline.

Urban-Decay-for-Eyeliner

It’s easy to throw on the Urban Decay eyeliner and forget about it, too — the creamy formula is smudgeable for about 30 seconds after application, after which it sets into a solidly smudge-proof and waterproof finish. That means whether you’re going for a smokey eye or sharply defined cat-eye, once you’re done with your morning routine, you won’t have to worry about it for the rest of the day.

Like all of Urban Decay’s products, the eyeliner is vegan and cruelty-free. Though exact ingredients vary according to the shade, those with sensitive skin or concerns about controversial ingredients can rest easy — every liner is free of parabens, sulfates, and phthalates.

Need a sharpener?Urban Decay sells a sharpener for $10, which can sharpen both small and jumbo makeup pencils. But if you’re not brand loyal, go with NYX’s identical, $3 version.

The only complaint we had about this pencil was that like the Make Up For Ever Aqua XL Eye Pencil Waterproof Eyeliner, it requires frequent sharpening if you use eyeliner daily.

If sharpening your eyeliner every day seems like an unneeded nuisance to you, consider the Marc Jacobs Highliner — it’s $5 more than the Urban Decay pencil and is a little more finicky on waterlines, but if you’d prefer not to sharpen, it’s our favorite mechanical option.

But for variety, there’s simply no competition for the Urban Decay 24/7: with 43 shades encompassing matte, metallic, glitter, and satin finishes, whether you’re aiming to do a simple black cat-eye or a glittery fuschia masterpiece, there’s a shade for every look. The Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On pencil is available pretty much anywhere with a makeup counter, including Sephora, Ulta, Nordstrom, Macy’s, and of course, Amazon.

The Best
Liquid Eyeliner
Lancome Grandiose Bendable Liquid Eyeliner
Lancôme Grandiôse Bendable Liquid Eyeliner
Its bendable handle makes applying clean, precise lines a breeze. It’s perfect for intermediate makeup users who love sharp cat-eyes or anyone looking for a forgiving liquid liner.

With its $32 price tag and adjustable handle, the Lancôme Grandiôse Bendable Liquid Eyeliner initially drew both our curiosity and skepticism. But it quickly impressed us: The Grandiôse was one of the only eyeliners to pass our swatch tests with nearly zero smudging, and received exclusively positive comments from our face tester, who declared that it was hands-down her favorite of all the liners she tested.

Lancome Close-Up for Eyeliner

The key lies in its innovative design: The slightly beveled, bendable handle was easy to grip and made winged cat-eyes a breeze. The brush was also the shortest we saw among liquid liners — the resulting precision and control are especially helpful for eyeliner users who may not be used to finicky brushes.

Lancome-for-Eyeliner

Even our experienced testers had issues with some of the liquid liners: the long brush and dense formula of the Yves Saint Laurent Eyeliner Noir Liquid Eyeliner kept getting into the long lashes of one tester, who did not appreciate the clumpy mascara look that inadvertently appeared. And the NYX Matte Liquid Liner’s long, thin brush became frustrating for another tester who was rushing to finish a sharp cat-eye on a busy workday morning.

Lancome-for-Eyeliner

Though it’s not advertised as such, we found the Lancôme Grandiôse to be pretty waterproof — it held up nearly unchanged after both ample water bottle misting and tear-filled episodes of This Is Us. That also means that removal may not be as easy as it is for most liquid liners: to make things easier for yourself at the end of the day, we’d recommend using waterproof makeup remover.

The Lancôme Grandiôse Bendable Liquid Eyeliner comes in nine colors, including fuschia, green, and silver. You can buy it on Amazon, or pick it up at Sephora, Ulta, Nordstrom, Macy’s.

The Best
Gel Eyeliner
Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner
Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner
Easy to apply and easy to remove — this creamy gel liner can be used for precise winged liner or smudgey smokey eyes.

Our three gel contenders (from Bobbi Brown, Chanel, and MAC) all did well in swatch testing, but the Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner won out just a bit by being more smudge-resistant than the MAC, and easier to remove than the Chanel.

Bobbi Brown Close-Up for Eyeliner

The creamy formula is rich and inky. It was much easier to work with than the MAC Fluidline, which was creamy to a fault, resulting in a more product-drenched brush and smudgier eyes throughout the day. The Chanel was a little more smudge-resistant, but much harder to remove — after literally scrubbing her face clean, our frustrated tester didn’t care how great it had looked during the day.

Bobbi-Brown-for-Eyeliner

The Bobbi Brown gel’s texture — smooth, but not melty — allowed for controlled application and very precise lines. If left alone, it won’t budge, but avoid touching your eyes if you can help it, as gel eyeliners are more prone to smudging than other types of liners. If you’re looking for a versatile product that can produce both sharp cat-eyes and smoky looks with ease, the Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel will probably serve you well. It comes in 12 colors and is available from Amazon or at Sephora, Macy's, and Nordstrom.

Runners-up

While these three eyeliners didn’t fare quite as well during at-home testing, they’re still a great value.

Runner-Up
Liquid Eyeliner
L’Oreal Paris Infallible Paints Eyeliner
L’Oréal Paris Infallible Paints Eyeliner
An affordable felt-tip pen with a less intense black pigment.

This felt-tip pen eyeliner isn’t quite as dark as our inky-black top picks — you can’t tell from a distance, but up close, the color reads as a softly bluish-black rather than a purely opaque black. But it does offer a neatly controlled application, excellent wear, and easy removal for less than $10. If you’re a true liquid liner beginner and don’t mind sacrificing a little pigment for the lower price, we think L’Oreal Paris Infallible Paints is a good option. It comes in 6 shades and is also available at Ulta, Walgreens, Target, Walmart, and CVS.

Runner-Up
Liquid Eyeliner
NYX Matte Liquid Liner
NYX Matte Liquid Liner
A waterproof, pigmented formula similar to luxury brands’, but with a more unwieldy brush.

If you’re looking for a budget dupe for the Lancome Grandiose, this is our best bet: the NYX Matte Liquid Liner blew us away with its pitch-black matte pigment, which is nearly indistinguishable from the luxury liners for less than a quarter of the price. Here’s the catch: with its long wand and soft brush, this liner requires a truly steady hand to craft precise lines. If you have the time and patience to work with the brush, this liner is a great deal for the price. It comes only in black, and can also be found at Target, Walgreens, Ulta, and CVS.

Runner-Up
Pencil Eyeliner
Make Up For Ever Aqua XL Eye Pencil Waterproof Eyeliner
Make Up For Ever Aqua XL Eye Pencil
This long-lasting waterproof eyeliner is the next best thing to the Urban Decay 24/7 pencil liner.

The Make Up For Ever Aqua XL Eye Pencil Waterproof liner is an all-around great product. But Urban Decay’s 24/7 pencil won out for offering many more shades, applying a bit more smoothly, and being $1 cheaper. If the Urban Decay pencil is out of stock, this would be a good backup. It comes in 20 shades and is also available at Sephora.

Eyeliner 101

What kind of eyeliner is best for you?

The three main types are pencils, liquids, and gels. If you’re an experienced makeup user, you probably already know what kind of you prefer — but if not, we’re outlined the general pros and cons of each type. The best eyeliner isn’t one-size-fits-all, and picking between one or another is a matter of individual taste.

Pencil is the most user-friendly, so it's great for beginners.

They’re safe to use for lining on lids, tightlining between lashes, and drawing on the waterline. And their shelf life (ranging from one to two years) is typically longer than liquids or gels. Excepting mechanical pencils, you’ll need to sharpen your pencil liner regularly, which may be a nuisance for some. And if you’re aiming for a sharp cat-eye, a liquid or gel would probably serve you better — pencil liners tend to be less pigmented than either.

Liquid creates the sharpest looks but can be challenging to use.

Beginners may be frustrated by crooked lines and inky splotches until they breach the learning curve. However, once they gain a steadier hand, they’ll be able to swipe on clean, dramatic lines that wear longer than pencil or gel liners. Due to the texture, liquid liner isn’t suitable for the waterline, and has a shorter shelf life.

Gel's creamy, forgiving texture makes it easier to master than liquid.

Safe for the waterline, gels are also easily smudgeable like pencils for smokey looks, and depart intense pigments (though not as pigmented as liquids). Their shelf life is about the same as liquids, but depending on the packaging, they may begin to dry out before they even expire. If you use gel liners, make sure to screw on the cap tightly and store in a cool, dark place to prevent drying.

Remember to replace your eyeliner regularly.

Using makeup that’s past its prime can irritate and inflame your skin, or even cause a bacterial infection. To protect your sensitive eyes, regularly switch out your eyeliner. Pencils that require sharpening can be used for 1–2 years, while gels and liquids should be replaced about every 6 months.

If the product begins to smell strange, or the texture begins to change into something clumpier or grittier than what it was initially, throw it out immediately. While it may be hard to toss out a not-yet-empty pot of your favorite liner, it’s better to be safe when it comes to your health.

Remove your eyeliner carefully.

Because the skin around your eyes is some of the thinnest and most delicate on your body, it’s important to be careful while removing makeup to prevent damage and premature aging. You should remove all of your makeup thoroughly before sleeping each day, and always avoid rubbing, tugging, or scrubbing your face.

If you find yourself scrubbing your face raw to remove stubborn makeup, we recommend either switching to a different eyeliner, or consider using a stronger makeup remover. To gently remove your eyeliner, lightly dab and rinse your eyes, making sure to moisturize after to prevent your skin from drying out.

Our Eyeliner Review: Summed Up

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