When it comes to makeup preferences, you more than likely fall into one of two categories: You love to experiment with different eyeliner looks, or you have a go-to routine. I certainly fall into the latter category—I keep my face makeup minimal with a touch of concealer and go for defined eyes with my favorite mascara. But the number-one product I absolutely cannot skip in my beauty routine is eyeliner. For as long as I’ve been wearing makeup, there have only been a handful of days when I’ve skipped out on using the best eyeliners. What started out as “raccoon eyes” in middle school (as my mom loved to call it) is now a subtle flick across my lids that I’m now quite proud of.
While I tend to stick to my cat-eye look on most days, what I love most about eyeliner is its versatility. The best eyeliners define your eyes and lashline, emphasize your eye shape, and make your eye color pop. Pencil liners can be smudged for an instant smokey eye, while gel and liquid eyeliners make a statement. Not to mention, all of the different shades available on the market right now mean your beauty look is sure to be unique. With eyeliner (and your favorite eyeshadow palette, if you really want to go for it), the fun looks are truly limitless.
Since eyeliner is such an integral part of my routine, I set out on a mission to find the best of the best. With the help of Marie Claire editors and makeup pros Billie Gene and Shadi Malek, I’ve done just that. Below, you’ll find the best eyeliners on the market right now. Whether you prefer a pencil, liquid, or gel formula, your dream eyeliner is right this way.
- Best Overall Eyeliner: Pat McGrath Labs PermaGel Ultra Glide Eye Liner Pencil (opens in new tab)
- Best Pencil Eyeliner: Sephora Collection 12 Hour Contour Pencil Eyeliner (opens in new tab)
- Best Liquid Eyeliner: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eye Liner (opens in new tab)
- Best Gel Eyeliner: Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner (opens in new tab)
- Best Budget Eyeliner: Revlon Colorstay Liquid Eyeliner (opens in new tab)
- Best Colored Eyeliner: Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Waterproof Eyeliner Pencil (opens in new tab)
What Formula Eyeliner to Use
First and foremost: When on the hunt for your next favorite eyeliner, you have to decide which formula you want to go with. There are three main formulas to choose from: pencil, gel, and liquid, each with the ability to create a different kind of eye look.
Celebrity makeup artist Billie Gene tells Marie Claire, “Liquid eyeliner is a great option when you want a high-intensity look when going for a bold artistic look.” Meanwhile, Gene advises that pencil eyeliner should be used in the waterline since it’s the safest liner to use in that sensitive area. Additionally, pencils can be used on the top or lower lashline if you want a soft smokey eye. Gene adds, “Gel and or cream liners are best when you want to customize the shape of your liner.”
What to Look For in the Best Eyeliner
After you’ve decided on a formula, there are a few other factors you may want to consider before landing on the best eyeliner for you. “When choosing a good eyeliner, look for a product with a shape that first feels comfortable in your hand,” says Gene. “How you hold the product will determine the precision of your liner.” The makeup artist also looks for products with long-wearing formulas to stand up against sweat, humidity, and tears.
Another important factor both Gene and pro makeup artist Shadi Malek can agree on: The eyeliner brush. “I truly believe the narrower the brush the more precision you will truly get with any eyeliner,” Malek says. Malek personally goes for synthetic brushes when using gel eyeliner, since the brush has to dip in an eyeliner pot and needs precision, but when applying liquid eyeliners she goes for felt tip brushes. “A felt tip brush doesn’t have bristles and won’t split, so you will continuously get liquid eyeliner accuracy with a felt tip,” she says.
All in all, though, Gene recommends a durable, yet flexible brush so you can create a customized look.
The Best Eyeliners
Best Pencil Eyeliner
A good eyeliner doesn't have to cost you a fortune. Take it from Billie Gene, whose go-to is an $11 pick from Sephora's in-house collection. He says, "My favorite eyeliner is the Sephora Waterproof 12 Hour Pencil. This pencil has amazing color payoff and wears amazing throughout the day." Speaking of color, this pencil comes in a whopping 24 shades in a variety of finishes, meaning the fun look opportunities are endless. Reviewers say the pencil glides seamlessly on the lid and the color lasts the entire day.
Pros: Highly pigmented; Comes in 24 shades; Glides smoothly; Long-lasting
Cons: Some reviewers note that the tip is prone to breaking off
Best Eyeliner for Everyday Wear
"I've tried out almost every shade of this gel eyeliner from MAC and they're all great. They last all day and are blendable right after you apply them before they settle, so it's better if you work fast while you use them. The two shades I use the most are the deep 'Aubergine' shade, as well as 'Sick Tat Bro,' a deep brown hue. In fact, these are the eyeliners that I keep in my everyday makeup bag because they apply so smoothly. The brand promises 24-hour wear, and while I have never kept my makeup on for that long, I can guarantee that they last all day and throughout the night." — Julia Marzovilla, E-Commerce Writer
Pros: Waterproof formula; Long-lasting; Easy to apply; Comes in 18 colors; Works well in waterline
Cons: Some reviewers note that the tip is prone to breaking off
Best Budget Eyeliner
"I've been using eyeliner ever since my mom gave me permission to use makeup in middle school. The first one I bought was Revlon's Colorstay Liquid Eyeliner and after the first application I was hooked—I've stayed very loyal to it ever since. The felt tip and long handle make my signature subtle wing, which I wear daily, a breeze. The color is also super pigmented and lasts throughout the entire day, even when I'm running a thousand errands and subconsciously rub my eyes. The black-brown shade is just dark enough to define my eyes and not appear too grungy. I seriously cannot sing enough praises for this eyeliner!" — Brooke Knappenberger, Editorial Fellow
Pros: Long-lasting; User-friendly; Pigmented color; Under $10
Cons: Formula can become clumpy after a while
Best Colored Eyeliner
"My favorite eyeliner of all time are the Urban Decay eyeliners," says Shadi Malek. "I love their formula, they are creamy and glide when you swipe your eyelid but also stay put. Not to mention their color range is incredible." Personally, their color range is a huge draw for me—there so many colors offered that Urban Decay has broken them down by shade on their website. While brown may be my go-to for work, I'll throw on a bit of hot pink or dark purple (shades Woodstock and Empire) and smudge it for a weekend night out.
Pros: Goes on smoothly; Smudge-proof; Waterproof formula; Comes in 33 colors in a variety of finishes
Cons: Does not come with a sharpener; May transfer to undereyes
Best Overall Eyeliner
"I'm a liquid eyeliner girl through and through—maybe I'm in the minority here, but I feel liquid liners are so much easier to apply than pencils. But after trying Pat McGrath's eyeliner pencil, I may be convinced to switch up my go-to from time to time. This gel pencil glides seamlessly across the lid (hence why "ultra glide" is in the name), which makes application a breeze. The color is so pigmented that one quick swipe is all you need for defined eyes. Also, I can't forget to mention that one application lasted from the morning to bedtime without smudging." — B.K.
Pros: Easy to apply; Highly pigmented; Long-lasting; Comes with sharpener
Cons: Over $25
Best Eyeliner for Winged Looks
"I’m not great at eyeliner, so I need a formula that’s forgiving. Enter: This creamy liner from Hourglass. This is the pencil I use when I want to create a winged look. I have slightly hooded eyes so it can be a challenge to create a sharp-looking line, but this pencil is one of the only ones that works. It’s also great to lightly define your eyes because it blends so seamlessly. Plus, I can personally attest to its waterproof quality. This is the liner I wore to my brother’s wedding and it lasted all day despite my near-constant crying." — J.M.
Pros: Creamy; Creates sharp lines; Waterproof; Smudge-proof
Cons: Over $25
Best Liquid Eyeliner
"You absolutely need to believe all of the hype on this waterproof eyeliner. I truly believe this eyeliner has some kind of magic in its formula because it literally lasts all day. My winged eyeliner looked just as good at 11 pm when I went to remove my makeup as it did at 8 am when I first applied it. I also swatched the product on my hand and the line did not budge in the slightest, even after washing my hands several times and a shower! If you're on the hunt for an eyeliner with serious staying power, look no further than Stila's Stay All Day Liquid Eyeliner." — B.K.
Pros: Long-lasting; Ultra-precise felt-tip brush
Cons: Hard to remove
Best Eyeliner for Smudging
"While I love a clean eyeliner look, I sometimes want something that looks a little lived-in from the first application. This black eyeliner from Jones Road is just that: it adds definition and blends out with the lightest touch for a smudged, easy look. I love to apply this the outer third of my eye at night when I’m trying to amp up my day makeup look. This is also a great product to use for a one-product smoky eye, which is great for makeup-wearers without a ton of experience (or time to create a perfectly blended look with shadow)." — J.M.
Pros: Blends easily; Glides on smoothly; Great for subtle looks
Cons: Reapplication may be needed
Best Eyeliner for Smokey Eyes
"There's nothing like a smokey eye for a night out. If your makeup skills aren't exactly pro-level, which I admittedly fall into this boat, an easy-to-smudge liner makes the perfect smokey eye a breeze. This Dior pencil glides on smooth and dark and with the built-in sponge, it's easy to smudge out the liner for a sexy lived-in look. If sharp, clean liner is the look you're going for, this liner may not be the one for you as I found it to be too blendable." — B.K.
Pros: Comes with smudge sponge and sharpener; Waterproof;
Cons: Over $25; Smudges easily
Best Gel Eyeliner
"Countless makeup products tout a 'long-wear' formula. And in my experience, that usually translates to melting down my face approximately four hours in. That, however, is not Bobbi Brown's Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner—this product lives up and then some to its promise of longevity. Not only is its formula waterproof and smudge-proof, this product is designed to offer an eight-hour wear. This means my sharp wings stay sharp, even throughout all the daily chaos I get up to, and last throughout an evening of shenanigans, too." — Emma Childs, Style Editor
Pros: Long-lasting; Waterproof; Smudge-proof
Cons: Over $30; Must use with brush
Best Kohl Eyeliner
"When I think of kohl eyeliner, my mind immediately goes back to the days when ancient Egyptians would grind rocks and minerals into a paste to create striking eye makeup looks (hello Cleopatra!). Nowadays, kohl eyeliner is much safer, yet it still creates an intense, sultry look. Jillian Dempsey's eyeliner is a favorite of mine when I'm looking to switch things up. It's easy to apply, especially in the waterline, and can be blended out for a smokier look. I particularly love the burgundy shade to make my green eyes subtly pop." — B.K.
Pros: Works well in the waterline; Dries down fast; Blendable; High-pigmented; Long-lasting
Cons: Smudges easily
Meet the Experts
Bringing his background in fashion to the foreground of beauty, Eugene “Billie-Gene” is an industry innovator with a style all his own. As he continues to make a name for himself in the makeup world, Billie-Gene’s approach to the art lends a fresh aesthetic that renews and revitalizes everything we think of beauty. Gene’s basis in beauty shines light on the importance of a proper skin care regimen, and adding shape and dimension to the face.
Using his inspiration, Billie Gene’s technique – initially curated at Aveda and Tom Ford – has evolved into a model for those around him. The idea of using fashion and art to capture and captivate one’s beauty is one that he can call his own, treating each face as a canvas on which to create the art. And his premise is simple: “Beauty is glamorous. Everyone should feel beautiful, as we all know we are.”
With just under a decade of experience in the makeup industry, Shadi Malek's extensive list of clients goes far and wide. From brides and models to your favorite celebs and social media stars, Shadi tailors her glam to match every client's unique visage. She first started honing her craft in Vancouver, Canada, and is now based in Los Angeles, one of the world's largest makeup hubs. Shadi often lends her expertise to publications such as WhoWhatWear, Bustle, Byrdie, Popsugar, and more.
Brooke Knappenberger is the Editorial Fellow at Marie Claire, where she writes across the board from fashion and beauty to books and celebrities. As a pop culture junkie, Brooke obsessively consumes and writes about the latest movie releases, streaming TV shows, and celebrity scandals. She has over three years of experience writing on fashion, beauty, and entertainment and her work has appeared on Looper, NickiSwift, The Sun US, and Vox Magazine of Columbia, Missouri. Brooke obtained her Bachelor's Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism with an emphasis on Magazine Editing and has a minor in Textile and Apparel Management.
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