One of the trickier makeup looks to master, eyeliner causes complete confusion for many. From blurred lines to fine lines, felt tips to pencils, here’s our guide to the best eyeliners on sale at the moment – and how to apply them.
Best Eyeliner for Beginners
Almost everyone finds eyeliner tricky at first; it’s one of those things where (a lot of) practice makes perfect.
The first thing to do is relax. Your worst enemy when trying to draw a straight line is a shaky hand. A great eyeliner for shaky hands is NYX’s The Curve; its unique shape makes it really easy to hold and, as the tip points outward (almost like a gel pistol), easy to apply. A helpful hint to keep your hand steady is to rest your wrist on your cheekbone.
Next, think of your hand as a compass – one of those pointy things you used in maths to draw circles. With your cheek and wrist as the centre of the circle, take your eyeliner and, with one gentle move from the inner to outer part of your lid, follow the perimeter/curve with your pen. At first, you may find it easier to apply eyeliner in a straight, rather than arched, line, so softly place a finger on the outer corner of your eye and pull slightly. If you’re highlining, put you finger just below your brow and gently lift up. Both actions may help you while you get the hang of applying eyeliner, but don’t make a habit of it as constantly stretching this area of skin can increase your chances of getting wrinkles.
Some women find it easiest to partially close their eyes; how far, if at all, depends on the shape of your eyes and how you want the eyeliner to look. For instance, if you have large curved eyelids and want to try highlining, you’ll actually benefit from opening your eyes, where as when creating a long flick above the lash line, you may want to slightly lower your lids to give yourself more space.
Here’s a helpful video on the best ways to apply eyeliner to accentuate eye shape:
Top 10 Eyeliners on the Market – By Type
Best Liquid Eyeliner
Liquid eyeliner uses liquid ink and can create brilliantly bold lines and flicks. Most modern types of eyeliner use liquid in some form – for instance, felt tip liners use liquid ink – but what makes a traditional liquid liner is the fluidity of the liquid and the fact it’s applied through either a pen nib or brush.
There are pros and cons to this. A pro is that the liquid is very fluid and easy to apply and remove as needed. This is also a con; as a beginner, too much liquid can create bulky, over the top lines. Many come with very fine brushes which are hard to control and can flick unexpectedly. Another downfall is that liquids can clump, particularly on brushes, so you will probably end up replacing your liner quite often. This isn’t a bad thing, though, and is far more hygienic.
Best Eyeliner Pencils
Pencil eyeliners are like writing pencils but with a different, less permanent core material. They can create brilliant flicks and waterlines; however, they’re not necessarily the easiest to use. Pencil liners are great for two things: precise, thin lines and think blended eyes.
Blended lines are when you blend you eyeliner with your eye shadow to create a softer look. It’s a brilliant technique for creating smoky eyes and gentle everyday makeup. If you go for the latter, choose an eyeliner in a colour that matches your skin tone and pair with lighter shades of eye shadow to create an ombré-style look. Charlotte Tilbury’s Rock ‘N’ Kohl is perfect for creating a blended line.
Fine lines are trickier. For this you will need a sharp pencil and a steady hand, as you will probably have to repeat the line several times to create a solid colour block. Remember, it’s better to fill in the line with repeated gentle strokes than to press too hard and permanently engrave a line in your lid. Always keep a sharpener handy as it’s nearly impossible to create a thick line or precise flick with a blunt tip.
Best Gel Eyeliners
Gel eyeliners are super soft and easy to apply. The mousse-like texture means they can create really bold lines in a solid colour block; perfect for a good flick.
Many gel eyeliners come with their own specially designed brush, but if yours doesn’t, or you want to invest in a good one, MAC make the best gel eyeliner brushes. To get a really fine line or to add extra detail try the super fine 210 Eye Liner Brush. For fuller lines and blending, try MAC’s 266sh Small Angle Brush. Or, for the best gel liner brush for beginners, MAC’s 211 Pointed Liner Brush feels thicker and steadier.
Best Felt Tip Eyeliner
Remember how, as a kid, you had an enormous pencil case full of different coloured felt tip pens? Well, felt tip eyeliners are the grown-up version!
Felt tip eyeliners are exactly what they say on the tin: eyeliner pens which distribute liquid liner through a felt tip end. This makes these eyeliner pens really easy to use because, unlike a fine brush, they won’t clump, move or flick unexpectedly, so you can literally draw a line on your eyes.
Top 10 Eyeliners on the Market – By Look
Best Eyeliner for Waterline
Yes, this sounds more like a concern for fishermen and those living on flood plains, but we promise it applies to eyeliner too!
The waterline is the thin strip of skin above your lashes on the lower lid. You can either apply eyeliner directly to the waterline – like Scarlett Johansson and Zoe Saldana above – or you can apply it slightly below the waterline, like Beyoncé. The latter creates a more understated look.
For a subtle everyday style, choose a pencil in a natural colour that suits your skin tone and lightly apply around the eyelashes. You don’t need to cover the whole lid; start at the centre and colour outwards. By night, swap to a bold liquid liner and, for added impact, draw from corner to corner.
Obviously, as with all styles of eyeliner, you are not just limited to black eyeliner. Colours on the waterline can create really fun vibrant looks or, for something that appears more natural but will really make your eyes pop, apply white, or a light pink to your waterline.
Best Eyeliner for Tightlining
Far from being a daring circus act, tightlining is when you apply eyeliner to the waterline of your upper eyelid. This can be a lot trickier than the bottom waterline as the top waterline is at a more awkward angle to reach with a pen. Once you get confident with liquid liner you will be able to tightline in one swift move. In the meantime, try using a soft brush with gel eyeliner or felt tip liner to avoid any pokes in the eye and fill in the line by making lots of small, light strokes to gradually fill in the area.
As the aim is to create a thin line on a small strip of skin, sharp, well-defined pens and pencils will be the easiest to use. Here are some of the best eyeliners for both lower and upper waterline:
Best Eyeliner for Wings
Now that you know how to fill in your waterlines, onto the fun stuff: wings!
There are lots of different kinds of wings, from small side style flicks a la Alexa Chung, to simple extensions of the eye like Emma Stone, or full-on thick flicks that build from the eyelid like Selena Gomez.
The start to any good flick is basic tightlining; this doesn’t have to be on the waterline itself, it can be just above the waterline. How far out you start to apply your eyeliner, the angle at which you do so, and whether you flick up or down all determine the kind of wing you’ll create.
For example, if you want a simple upwards wing like Alexa, just continue your waterline on beyond your eyelid; when you open your eyes, this straight line will then appear to have an upwards tilt. Alternatively, for a thicker wing, start mid-way across your eyelid and build a thick block of colour at an angle (adjust to suit the thickness you want). Take a tip or two from makeup guru Charlotte Tilbury in her eyeliner tutorial:
Nothing creates a good wing like liquid eyeliner. Here are a few of the best liquid liners on the market at the moment:
Best Stay Put Eyeliner
Long Lasting Liquid Eyeliner
There’s nothing worse than creating a perfect flick or tightline and then instinctively rubbing your eyes only to realise that you’ve ruined your makeup and now have an unattractive black splodge on your face. To avoid this makeup mishap, invest in a selected best stay put eyeliner.
No smudge eyeliner is specially designed to stay put for hours on end; some even work for 24 hours straight. We all love a good blended eye but there’s no need to ruin a great flick or sharp tightline to achieve it…
Best Waterproof Eyeliner
We’ve all seen the films: a beautiful actress with perfect eye makeup leaves to meet the love of her life or interview for the dream job, just to get caught in a heavy rain shower and end up with black makeup running down her face. Don’t become this woman: buy a waterproof eyeliner.
Almost every makeup brand offers at least one waterproof liner, and you can find them as pencils, liquids, felt tips and gels depending on your preference. In our opinion, the best waterproof gel eyeliner is Bobbi Brown’s Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner, whilst the best waterproof eye pencil accolade goes to Clarins Waterproof Eye Liner Pencil, an online exclusive that will not smudge.
Best Way to Apply Eyeliner
Here’s a handy video on common mistakes people make when using eyeliner and how to avoid them. There are also some really helpful application cheats in there, so get your pen and paper at the ready – you’ll want to remember these.
The Best Eyeliners on The Market
Hopefully our exclusive eyeliner guide will have straightened out most of your eyeliner conundrums, but if you still find it hard to draw the line, here’s a run down of our top tips:
- If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again. Keep lots of cotton buds handy and buy an eye makeup remover that’s kind to your skin to wash away the mistakes.
- Embrace experimenting with eyeliner looks: from flicks and wings to smoky or subtle. Stock up on some of the best drugstore eyeliner options and have fun!
- As a beginner, try each of the different types of liner to see which suits you. Everyone has an opinion on the gel eyeliner vs liquid eyeliner debate, so try both and find your favourite.
Read more great articles on women’s beauty here at alexie.co.