The Best Eyeliner
We spent over 30 hours analyzing reviews from 31 different publications, consulted with a cosmetic chemist and formulation expert with over 25 years of experience, and teamed up with a 20-year makeup artist master to get the lowdown on application.
If you're looking for a full day and night without mirror checking for smudging or raccoon eyes, Urban Decay's 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil is the holy grail of eyeliners.
Although we dress up our eyes differently (cat eyes, au naturel, smokey eyes), there are several very important features we want our eyeliners to deliver. We wanted to see what everyone thought, including the professionals.
Our main questions when starting our research were: What makes an eyeliner the best? How do you know what type of eyeliner is right for you? And which is most loved and coveted by the masses?
How We Chose the Best Eyeliner
We spent over 30 hours analyzing eyeliner reviews and pouring through pages from 31 different publications, both print and online. We consulted with a cosmetic chemist and formulation expert with over 25 years of experience on what components make a great eyeliner. We also teamed up with a 20-year makeup artist master to get the lowdown on application. Then, I tested all the best eyeliners on my own face.
In our quest to find the best eyeliner, we focused on black, everyday eyeliner since this is what most of us use most frequently. What we discovered during our research was that many women also use brown-black or brown eyeliners for a more everyday, casual look, so we changed our criteria to ensure the best eyeliners also offer a subtler brown version.
After hand-generating a comprehensive list of over 70 products, we whittled down the list to 18 of the best eyeliners based on a proprietary formula of positive reviews, comments, awards, recognitions, and social-media mentions. This strategy was used to get to a manageable amount of top products so we could move to the testing stages.
The winning features of the best eyeliner are jaw-dropping long wear, gorgeous pigmentation, smooth application, and an uncanny ability to withstand water, sweat, accidental rubbing, and The Bridges of Madison County-level tears.
A Full Review of the Best Eyeliner
The name doesn’t lie. The Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil is as close to a 24/7 wear as you can get.
Its shocking ability to withstand water, tears, and sweat is virtually life-changing. Its perfectly smudgeable consistency allows you to go as smoky as you’d like with ample time to correct mistakes before drying.
The highly pigmented pencil is excellent for the waterline. You’ll hardly need to layer this pencil to achieve a defined look, and count on the stick never breaking. Plus, 50 percent of the formula is moisturizing ingredients, such as cottonseed and jojoba oils, mimicking the natural sebum secretions in your skin. It also contains tocopherol (vitamin E).
My eye shadow often fades throughout the day. Similarly, eyeliners, particularly on my under eye, typically fade by midday. After a full day’s wear, there was neither smudging nor creasing. This includes a day of having a cold with a runny nose, tears from excessive yawning and watching a sad movie, and some light sweating. I came away thoroughly impressed.
Minutes after applying Urban Decay's 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil in the morning
A full 10 hours after initial application and things are still looking flawless!
Fortunately, I have a good “testing face.” My skin is on the oilier side and I use facial oils in my moisturizer. Eyeliners generally don’t stay on my lids without smudging, fading, or creasing. Plus, I go out a lot at night and am usually laughing myself to tears.
You don’t have to only take my word for it — eyeliner reviews and awards across the online beauty community agree. Urban Decay’s 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil received 4.5 out of 5 stars from an insane 12,996 reviews on Sephora, and won Best Eye Pencil in Temptalia.com’s 2013 Readers’ Choice Awards. It’s also been recognized as one of Makeup Geek’s Top 10 Eyeliners, Into the Gloss’ Best Waterproof Pencil, The Gloss’ Best Eyeliner, and Beautylish’s Best Smudge Proof Eye Liner. Plus, makeup YouTube queen Michelle Phan is a fan.
Who is it best for?
The Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil is best for anyone who wants a classic pencil eyeliner for a matte, smoky, or traditional look. It’s also an excellent pencil for the waterline due to its super-high pigmentation. Anyone who loves having fun with their makeup will love this eyeliner since it comes in 40 gorgeous colors, including metallic and shimmery hues.
Who should skip it?
For masters of the winged line, liquid or gel eyeliners might be a better fit. It’s not an entirely impossible look to achieve with a pencil (depending on your skill level), but gel- and liquid-based liners are built for precision and ultra-thin lines. Liquid eyeliner is also a great choice for shinier, glossier looks. Even so, I was able to achieve a subtle wing by smudging the ends with a Q-tip.
Comments from users of Asian descent with monolids or double eyelids included mentions that the Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil could be too thick. For eye shapes like these, where the lash lines touch the eyelid folds, creasing is a much bigger nuisance. I’m Asian, and for me, the color stayed on my lids all day. I prefer thicker lines, but creasing wasn’t an issue as long as I diligently sharpened the pencil every day.
What’s the best way to use it?
Invest in a solid sharpener. To reap the full benefits of this pencil, you must take care of it like you would an expensive cashmere sweater. Urban Decay sells a sharpener it calls Grindhouse, which comes with a little pick tucked away so you can use it to remove remnants from the blade. Sephora also carries a similar sharpener for a couple of dollars less.
The Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil isn’t a mechanical pencil, but it’s still worth it given its performance. The fact that I can now spend the entire day without thinking about my eyeliner trumps the extra few seconds it takes in the morning to sharpen.
The Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil is super pigmented, which means it goes on dark. This is great — but you shouldn’t rely on this eyeliner for versatility with light and dark looks. The lightest look you can achieve is to use very little pressure before smudging. For a solid line, go with an altogether lighter shade.
I’d recommend applying a makeup primer, eye shadow, or pressed powder to minimize any risk of smudging. Also, it might be the time to start using an ultra-effective makeup remover. Because of its high pigmentation and stay-on power, it won’t be as easy to remove.
The Runners-Up for Best Eyeliner
These are other standout eyeliners that didn’t make it to the top of the list, but don’t necessarily ignore them. Each one is still worthy of consideration, especially if you’re looking for a specific type of eyeliner. Below, I’ll provide a few details as to why these products didn’t overtake the Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil as the top overall choice.
Best Liquid Eyeliner
stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eye Liner It did not provide the dark pigmentation and stay-on power as effectively as the top pick. By nighttime, it needed reapplication to add darkness. For the blackest of black line, there is slightly less control with this eyeliner. Still, this is the best liquid eyeliner on the market.
Best Gel Eyeliner
Bobbi Brown Long Wear Gel Eyeliner It wasn't the best overall eyeliner pick since gel-based eyeliner is still used less frequently, especially among those who wear eye makeup more casually. Also, when it comes to specific applications, such as waterlining and lining the lower lashes, it's simply not as fade-proof as Urban Decay's 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil. But Bobbi Brown is the top gel eyeliner on the market, so if it's gel you want, this is your choice.
Best Drugstore Eyeliner
Maybelline New York Eye Studio Lasting Drama Gel Eyeliner Although you can layer on the color to control darkness, it is not as rich in color as the top pick. This product is the best drugstore gel eyeliner, though, and it even comes with an eyeliner brush for almost half the cost.
Best Organic Eyeliner
INIKA’s Certified Organic Eye Liner INIKA's Certified Organic Eye Liner is made with natural plant products like sweet almond oil and mineral blends for pigmentation. This eyeliner is true to color, buildable, smudgeable, and lasts long without any sensitivity issues.
The Best Eyeliner: Summed Up
Choosing the Right Type of Eyeliner for You
The three main types of eyeliners are pencil, gel, and liquid.
Deciding on the right type is the most important part. After that, there are other factors to consider, like drugstore versus luxury brand, waterproof capabilities, and if the eyeliner is good for waterlining.
Pencil is the most standard type of eyeliner and comes in different sizes and a range of colors. Pencil is available through the vast majority of cosmetic brands.
What’s Good About Pencil Eyeliner:
- Achieves a classic or natural look
- Easy to smudge for a smoky or dramatic look
- Excellent for waterlines
- Easy to apply, does not require a steady hand
- Short drying time
- Easy to fix mistakes
- Great for novices
What’s Bad About Pencil Eyeliner:
- Unable to provide a shiny, saturated look
- Not as good for tightlining
Liquid eyeliner provides precise definition to the lash lines and is usually dispensed through a brush or felt-tip pen.
What’s Good About Liquid Eyeliner:
- Great for winged and cat-eye looks
- Easy to achieve a glossy, “wet” look
- Defined lines
- No sharpening required
What’s Bad About Liquid Eyeliner:
- Not safe for waterlines
- Harder to achieve a natural look
Gel eyeliners lie somewhere between pencil and liquid eyeliners. They are smudgeable enough to look natural but can also be applied so the line is bold and defined. An eyeliner brush is needed to apply gel eyeliner, which is typically contained in a small pot.
What’s Good About Gel Eyeliner:
- Creamy for an easy glide
- Excellent for waterlines and tightlining
- Great for winged, cat-eye, and smoky-eye looks as well as natural looks
What’s Bad About Gel Eyeliner:
- Unable to achieve the shiny, saturated look
What Makes a Good Eyeliner?
The 14 Most Important Features
- Precision — Flexibility in the thickness of line (more important for liquid liners since the shape of the tip can't be altered)
- “Buildability" — Ability to darken the line without over-layering the product
- High pigmentation — The higher the pigmentation, the easier it is to produce the intended color, especially if it's applied over primer and eye shadow.
- Consistency — Balanced texture creamy enough for the perfect glide without tugging
- Drying time — Dries quickly after application, but is easy to take off right away if you make a mistake
- Strong stick — The tip of the stick doesn't break off as you're applying or sharpening.
- Overall ease of application — Not too challenging to use in order to achieve your desired look
- Easy hold — Your hands and the eyeliner work in harmony, without slipping or construction that make application awkward or difficult.
- Stay-on power — The color stays on all day (or as labeled); does not fade; and withstands water, tears, and sweat.
- No smudging — The color does not smudge throughout the day — no raccoon eyes!
- True to color — The eyeliner produces the intended color (e.g., “black noir" eyeliner should appear black — not gray or charcoal).
- No creasing — The eyeliner does not slide into the eyelid crease.
- Doesn't chip or peel — The eyeliner stays smoothly on your skin without flaking off (more applicable for gel and liquid eyeliners).
- Hypo-allergenic — Does not make eyes water or itch.
Eyeliner has to be soft enough to blend and dark enough to show up. A pencil should not feel hard or drag the skin. Also many black pencils appear gray, so I look for well-pigmented pencils.
Eight Bonus Features to Look For
- Comes off easily with makeup remover — The Best Eyeliner should come off without abrasively scrubbing, but some very solid eyeliners do take a bit of extra work to clean off. The solution: great makeup remover, like Aveeno Ultra-Calming Makeup Removing Wipes.
- Twist-up pencil with built-in sharpener — A convenient bonus, but not universally required
- Color selection — Colors other than black and brown, such as blue, green, white, or purple
- Longevity of product — How long the product lasts (depending on how much eyeliner is used in quantity and frequency)
- Availability — How easy is it to find the product — will you need to scour the earth or be on a lengthy waiting list to purchase it?
- Learning curve — How difficult is it to eventually master application? (Mostly applicable for gel and liquid eyeliners)
- Natural/organic Ingredients — This is an absolute must for some people. Natural eyeliners are devoid of parabens, phthalates, synthetic fragrances, sodium lauryl sulfates, talc, mineral oils, preservatives, GMOs, and other controversial ingredients.
- Nourishing ingredients — The more beneficial to your skin's health a beauty product is, the better. However, there isn't enough scientific data that points to certain ingredients in eyeliners helping with hydration, fine lines, wrinkles, sagging, and other beauty woes.
Though they’re petite, eyeliners are powerful instruments for self-expression and are behind some of history’s most iconic looks.
Even a subtle streak on a lash line makes a huge difference in how you look — and feel. The curves, lines, and colors are the finishing touches accenting your personal style.
Eyeliner should be easy to apply, glide effortlessly, have a variety of gorgeous colors, and boast longevity you can trust. We have our favorite, but you can’t go wrong with any of our top picks.