The Best Eyeliner
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.
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.
How We Found the Best Eyeliner
We rounded up all the most highly-praised eyeliners.
There are thousands of eyeliners on the market, but we wanted to concentrate on the very best. We combed through Sephora, Ulta, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Allure, Refinery29, Elle, MakeUpAlley, PopSugar, Into the Gloss, and Harper’s Bazaar until we had a list of 20 universally-loved gel liquid, pencil, and gel eyeliners. To maintain a level playing field, we focused exclusively on the color that every eyeliner offered — black.
- Clinique Quickliner for Eyes
- Make Up For Ever Aqua XL Eye Pencil Waterproof Eyeliner
- Marc Jacobs Highliner
- Tarte Tarteist Double Take Eyeliner (pencil and liquid tips)
- Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Pencil
- Eyeko Eye Do Liquid Eyeliner
- Kat Von D Beauty Tattoo Liner
- L’Oréal Paris Infallible Paints Eyeliner
- L’Oreal Paris Linear Intense Felt Tip Eyeliner
- Lancome Art Liner
- Lancôme Grandiôse Bendable Liquid Eyeliner
- LORAC Front of the Line Pro Liquid Eyeliner
- NYX Collection Noir Liquid Black Liner
- NYX Matte Liquid Liner
- Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eye Liner
- Tom Ford Eye Defining Pen
- Yves Saint Laurent Eyeliner Noir Liquid Eyeliner
Then, we knocked out any that weren’t fully opaque or that smudged.
Everyone has their preference for what makes the perfect eyeliner, but any decent liner should be strongly pigmented and transfer-resistant. While we do love a good smokey eye, we wanted to make sure that our top picks kept the control in our hands. Every smudge or sharp line should be deliberate. The last thing anyone needs after bumping into an ex, boss, or in-laws is to realize that your unclockable morning eyeliner has transformed into raccoon eyes.
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.
So, we put all 20 eyeliners through a simple smudge test. We made swatches for every eyeliner on our arms, then checked to see which ones weren’t truly opaque. Most of them were a rich, deep black, but some were surprising disappointments: Popular bestsellers Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eye Liner and Kat Von D Beauty Tattoo Liner were more dark grey than true black.
After the swatches had dried, we rubbed them gently — with the kind of pressure you might use to rub your eyes — to see if any started migrating. All the contenders held up through the dry smudge test, but the true winners held their own during our wet smudging test.
To simulate a surprise rainstorm or weepy jag, we sprayed the swatches with water mist from a distance, then gently rubbed them again. A few, like the NYX Collection Noir Liquid Black Liner, literally disappeared before our eyes, while others like the Marc Jacobs Highliner stayed as sharp and defined as if nothing untoward had happened at all.
From there, we continued with the top 12 most pigmented, smudge-resistant eyeliners.
Finally, we tightlined, waterlined, and winged-out.
We sourced the most eyeliner-savvy members of our editorial team to take home a few eyeliners each for a week of testing. Our goal: find which eyeliners offer the smoothest, most controlled application, budge-proof wear, and painless removal.
Since most of us were already loyal to one or two particular formulas, it was a tough crowd to impress — which meant that negative feedback was unforgiving and praise was exceptional. In the end, we found a dream of assorted pencil, liquid, and gel eyeliners that stood up through long workdays and misty Seattle weekends.
Our Picks for the Best Eyeliner
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While these three eyeliners didn’t fare quite as well during at-home testing, they’re still a great value.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.