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Finding the right eyeliner for your everyday needs can be a challenge. On one hand, you want one that doesn’t smudge but also one that you can remove easily after a long day. The good news? You don’t need to spend a lot of money to end up with a quality eyeliner. However, because there are dozens of drugstore options on the market, it can be tough to know where to start—which is why we made it our mission to provide you with all the information you need to help you choose the right one for your needs and budget.
We spent 84 hours researching drugstore eyeliners, interviewing experts, and testing some options at home. Each liner was scored on a scale of one to five based on different tests that assessed pigment, dry time, ease of removal, and most importantly, wear.
Based on our test results, we compiled a comprehensive list of the best drugstore eyeliners, from pencils to liquid and gel options. Keep reading to learn more.
Best Overall: L'Oreal Paris Flash Cat Eyeliner
Just needs one coat
Difficult to remove
Limited color selection
L'Oréal Paris’s Flash Cat Eyeliner was the star in our comprehensive testing. In a wear test, we applied this liner at about 9 AM; when we went to remove it at around 5 p.m., we noted that it remained intact and looked as if it had just been applied—score.
This eyeliner is a game-changer to the drugstore shelves, coming in at only $8, we can confidently compare its formula to something you would spend way more money on. The point is super precise for those sharper than sharp cat eyes, and the pigment is unmatchable (one coat and you'll be on your way).
If you don't have the sturdiest hand, L'Oréal has you covered because this one comes with a stencil. To apply this liner, just remove the stencil that comes connected to the cap and you'll be sure you get a sharp and precise cat-eye every time (though you can apply it freehand, instead, if you prefer). Another selling point for us was the dry time, which we rated a solid 5/5. In seven seconds, the black shade dried down completely to a beautiful matte finish. With just one coat, we achieved an opaque wing in both the black and the brown hues.
When it came time to remove the liner, we had the most success using a cleansing balm. With just a pea-sized amount, it lifted off our skin without any tugging. Micellar water, on the other hand, didn’t do the job as easily—we needed to rub it to get it off the skin fully, so we rated the removal a 3/5.
Formula and type: Felt-tip liquid liner | Color Range: Brown, black | Finish: Matte | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Budget: e.l.f. Cosmetics Intense Ink Eyeline
Bleeds a little
The most affordable of the bunch goes to e.l.f. Cosmetics for its Intense Ink Eyeliner. Priced at less than $5, this tiny felt-tip liner is a true steal and is exactly what its name suggests: intense. The black pigment is a one-swipe wonder, meaning it leaves off the most stunning black hue, You just need to give it a good shake beforehand.
It also had a short dry time. Once applied, it only took 12 seconds to dry down to a fully matte finish. This impressed us because it’s the most affordable of the bunch and it was a lot quicker than its competitors, so we gave it a 5/5. We also wore the liner all day and found that it didn’t budge hardly at all. There was a little fading, but with the price tag being so low, it could have been much worse.
To remove this liner, just one swipe of a cotton round saturated in micellar water did the trick. The cleansing balm also removed it—it just took a little more work and rubbing, we rated this method 4/5. Overall, if you’re looking for the most affordable and impressive drugstore liner, this is the one for you.
Formula and type: Felt-tip liner | Color Range: Blackest Black | Finish: Matte | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Cat Eye: NYX Professional Makeup Epic Ink Liner
Easy to use
Flexible and pointy tip
Bleeds a little
Long dry time
The slim tip of NYX’s Professional Makeup Epic Ink Liner made it “an absolute dream” to apply. It was the main reason we gave it top marks for creating a cat-eye. Because it’s a flexible brush, it was much easier for us to customize the look, whether we wanted a full-on cat-eye or something more subtle, Plus, all it took was one coat of its super-black pigment to achieve stunning results, which made us give its pigment rating a solid 5/5.
However, one thing to keep in mind is that if you’re someone that’s normally in a rush, this liner may not be the pick for you. When we evaluated its drying time with a stopwatch, it took 20.63 seconds to dry down, meaning you’d need to keep your eyes closed for that long to avoid any transfer, which led to the 2/5 dry time score. However, once it’s dry, be ready for it to last all day. We did notice just a little bit of fading in the color, but we were still super impressed with its staying power for about nine hours, especially given the price.
In terms of removal, we noted that micellar water on a cotton round worked like a charm. With just one swipe, we were able to remove it fully. Cleansing balm, on the other hand, wasn’t so easy. We found ourselves rubbing our eyes a lot to get the pigment to break. Giving the overall rating a 3/5 for removal methods.
Formula and type: Liquid felt-tip | Color Range: Black, brown | Finish: Shiny | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Smoky Eye: COVERGIRL Perfect Blend Eyeliner
Semi-dry/needs warming up
No built-in sharpener
Covergirl’s Perfect Blend Eyeliner Pencil is pretty much your typical pencil liner—it doesn’t come with a sharpener and isn’t a twist-up—but in our opinion, it’s still ideal for creating a smoky eye. We tested all four of its shades and the payoff was amazing on all of them except Smoky Taupe, This pencil is also different from others because the smudger is a contoured shape, so it's a great tool to get sharp edges when you're smoking out your liner.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that you may need to warm up the formula on your hand before applying it to your eyes, we gave the pigment rating is a 3/5 because of this. If you don’t warm it up, it may feel a little dry. In terms of removal, we felt that using micellar water was a clear choice. With just one swipe of a wet cotton round, the pigment was completely off, whereas, with a cleansing balm, it took some work to get it to lift.
Formula and type: Classic eyeliner pencil | Color Range: Basic Black, Charcoal, Black Brown, Smoky Taupe | Finish?: Matte | Byrdie Clean? No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Beginners: Maybelline New York Master Precise Skinny Gel Eyeliner
Limited color selection
Maybelline’s New York Master Precise Skinny Automatic Pencil is a twist-up pencil that delivers a very opaque black formula. We observed that its gel-like texture glided onto our eyelids and waterline, delivering a precise yet dramatic look with just one coat. It’s easy to apply (5/5) as well as remove. Both micellar water and cleansing balm broke down the formula quickly and effectively, scoring a 5/5.
We also believe that if you’re just getting started with wearing eyeliner, this is a great choice because its micro-tip is very precise. The only downfall we could find in testing was that there was some smudging throughout the day. This left us with little raccoon eyes, but it was also very hot and humid, so that could have been to blame, too. Because of this, we gave the liner a 2/5 for the wear test.
Formula and type: Gel pencil | Color Range: Defining Black | Finish: Matte | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Waterproof: Rimmel Exaggerate Waterproof Eye Definer
Wide color range
Hard to remove
If you’re planning to laugh, sweat, cry, or dive into a pool with eyeliner on, look no further than Rimmel’s Exaggerate Eye Definer. “For this test, I visited a friend with a pool and dove in head-first while wearing the shade Deep Ocean,” said one tester. “I was super impressed with this liner’s staying power—it even lasted longer than my trusty waterproof mascara.”
Unsurprisingly, though, it was difficult to remove. Both removal methods were a bust, though we'd argue that might be a good thing if you’re looking for the best waterproof liner. Lastly, because it’s available in eight shades, there’s something for everyone.
Formula and type: Twist-up gel crayon | Color Range: 9 shades including Blackest Black, Black, Brown, and Deep Ocean | Finish: Matte | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Liquid: Wet n Wild Megaliner Liquid Eyeliner
Small and compact packaging
Long dry time
Wet n Wild’s Megaliner Liquid Eyeliner wins for best liquid because the pigment and applicator tip were both major standouts in our testing. The brush is extremely precise and thin so you can get a sharp wing. The four shades are very opaque and vibrant. However, we were slightly disappointed with how long this liner took to dry. With the timer on it, it took exactly 32.1 seconds, and we rated it a 2/5 for this test, which means you’ll have to keep your eyes closed until it’s dry to avoid any transfer.
However, once it dried, this liner had serious staying power. “I wore this liner on a night out on one of the hottest, most humid nights in New York City and it did its job,” one tester said. “It remained intact all night and didn’t move at all, which was great but also made me wonder how easy the removal process would be.” However, to her surprise, both the micellar water and cleansing balm removed the pigment easily, landing it a 5/5 on the removal test.
Formula and type: Liquid liner with a felt tip brush | Color Range: Black, Dark Brown, Voltage Blue, Electric Purple | Finish: Matte | Byrdie Clean? No | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Pencil: Revlon ColorStay Waterproof & Long Wearing Eyeliner
Very hard to remove
With this pencil eyeliner, the possibilities are endless. The precise tip allows you to create a true cat-eye while the smudger on the opposite end can help you with a more smoldering look. Plus, the built-in sharpener ensures you’ll get a sharp line every time.
We raved about the intensity of the pigment, in particular, which is why it scored at 5/5. The only cons about this liner were that it was pretty difficult to remove (with both micellar water and a cleansing balm) so we had to rate it a 1/5 on removal. It also ran a bit during the day. It gave us raccoon eyes about two hours after applying it, but when we cleaned it up with a makeup wipe at the end of the day, it still looked pretty good and intact.
Formula and type: Matte twist-up liner | Color Range: Charcoal, Black/Brown, Black, Brown, Black Violet, Sapphire, Jade | Finish: Matte (some shades have a pinch of shimmer) | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Best for Tightlining: Almay All-Day Intense Gel Eyeliner
Glides on well
Good color range
Not very precise
The intense color in Almay’s All-Day Gel Eyeliner is so pigmented, chances are you’ll fall in love with it instantly. It creates bold and dramatic looks with just one swipe. In particular, we loved how this liner brightened up our eyes. While there was a little smudging underneath our eyes towards the end of the day, we didn’t mind it because it gave it a whole new smoked-out look—especially with the colorful hues. Overall, the pigment lasts on your waterline on both the upper and bottom lines (we gave it a 5/5 on this), so for tightlining, we consider this a great pick.
For removal, a cleansing balm did the trick for us. Micellar water, on the other hand, wasn’t so effective. It took a lot of rubbing to get this liner to budge, we found that the next day there was still some leftover pigment on our lower lash lines. For removal, this liner scored a 3/5.
Formula and type: Gel pencil liner | Color Range: All Day Grey, Deep Chestnut, Evergreen, Nocturnal Navy, Pure Plum, Rich Black | Finish: Matte | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Shade Range: Pixi by Petra Endless Silky Waterproof Pencil Eyeliner
Best color range
If you’re looking to add some color to your life, Pixi by Petra’s Endless Silky Waterproof Pencil Eyeliner is a perfect choice. All 23 hues are extremely silky and opaque—plus, there are a handful of matte and shimmer options in the collection so you can create an array of looks.
However, the shimmer shades in this line are very hard to remove. We had to scrub and apply a lot of pressure to lift the pigment off my skin. The mattes were a bit easier but still left behind a bit of staining, landing this eyeliner at a 2/5 for removal. However, we still thought the liner wore so well that it was worth it. “While wearing the purple shade to a dinner party, after lots of laughs and some potential rubbing, there was still no smudging or raccoon eyes,” one tester said.
Formula and type: Creamy, shiny pencil | Color Range: 20+ shades including BlackNoir, MatteNude, RoseGlow, BlackBlue, and BlackCocoa | Finish: Some hues are matte but most have a shiny or shimmery finish | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Brown: The Lip Bar Straight Grindin' Eye Liner
Only two colors
In search of a brown eyeliner? We vote that you snag The Lip Bar’s Straight Grindin’ shade ASAP. Not only is it a joy to apply—its texture is super creamy—but its formula makes you want to use it; it includes ingredients that are good for the skin, like aloe vera and jojoba oil.
When we applied one coat to a waterline, we noticed that it didn’t smudge throughout the day. There’s a pinch of shimmer in the liner, which brightened up our eyes like no other. We wore this liner on both upper and lower lash lines and can confirm it lasted all day with zero smearing, so the wear test got a 5/5. Our tester even had pretty bad allergies at the time and the look wasn’t ruined by watery eyes. The super-rich brown pigment was very easy to remove with both micellar water and cleansing balm, giving it a 5/5.
Formula and type: Creamy, metallic pencil | Color Range: Straight Grindin' (brown), Straight Outta Patience (black) | Finish: Metallic | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for False Lashes: Kiss Glue Liner False Eyelash Glue & Eyeliner
Lots of dry time
Messy to apply (there was pigment in the cap)
This isn’t your typical eyeliner—it’s specifically made to work as a lash glue—but its black pigment is so high-quality that you can use it as a regular liner, too. To use, just draw your wing (one coat is more than enough) and apply the lashes immediately before the liquid dries. Fittingly, this product had a longer dry time (32 seconds) to allow users to apply false lashes effectively.
When it came time to remove this product, we tried to do so with both micellar water and cleansing balm, but it didn’t budge—at all. It may have to do with the fact that this is technically a glue, but it took an exfoliating makeup wipe to get it to break down, for that reason we gave it a 2/5 for removal. However, overall, this lash glue/liner hybrid is a great pick. “My lashes did start to lift throughout the day (maybe 5 hours in),” our tester noted. “But I have yet to find a glue liner for which this doesn’t happen,” said one tester.
Formula and type: Felt-tip black adhesive | Color Range: Clear, Black | Finish: Matte | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
There are dozens of great drugstore eyeliners on the market, but our vote for the best overall option is L'Oréal Paris’ Flash Cat Eyeliner. It has a flexible and pointed tip, its pigment is extra-rich, and its removable wing stencil makes it especially versatile. Additionally, if you love a vibrant look, the huge color selection in Pixi by Petra’s Endless Silky Waterproof Pencil Eyeliner is unbeatable, and if you’re looking for an ultra-affordable option, we love e.l.f. Cosmetics’ Intense Ink Eyeliner, which is priced at less than $5.
What to Look For in a Drugstore Eyeliner
First things first, you need to figure out exactly what you want to use this liner for. There are many different types of eyeliners. If you're going for a cat-eye, a liquid may be the right pick. Here you can choose from a felt-tip liquid liner or a brush tip. However, if you're on the hunt for something that works in your waterline, opt for a pencil with a gel-like formula or even something waterproof, this will ensure the pigment just glides on and lasts all day. There are also more simple pencils that are normally more affordable; though we prefer they come with sharpeners, they still get the job done.
Speaking of pigment, according to New York City-based makeup artist Joseph Carrillo, pigment is very important for color payoff, so make sure your pick has it. “It can be from cobalt blue to the blackest black—you want to make sure your liner is truest to its color,” he said.
Point and Sharpness
If you want your eyeliner to deliver a sharp wing, its point matters, argues Carrillo, who believes that being able to get the perfect point when applying that cat flick is the key to a good eyeliner. Additionally, make sure its point doesn’t dull after repeated use—and if you choose a pencil, opt for one with a sharpener or retractable packaging.
Ease of Removal
Taking off your eyeliner after a long day shouldn't be a fight. While we only tested two methods (cleansing balm and micellar water) here, there are plenty of others like cleansing wipes or just a facial cleanser. More pigmented and waterproof options may be harder to remove but we don't take that as a bad thing because it means that it's doing what it said it would: not budging.
If you are someone who’s always on the go, choosing a liner with a short drying time will likely matter to you. Pencil formulas have the shortest drying times, but if you want to use a liquid formula, Carrillo recommends applying a bit of eyeshadow first, which helps the liquid set and dry faster.
What should I do if I get a drugstore eyeliner formula in my eye?
If you get any product in your eyes, you may experience some burning or a slight temporary blurring of vision. According to Connecticut-based dermatologist Mona Gohara, if this happens, just make sure you flush out your eye with cool water right away. If your eyes continue to feel irritated, we recommend seeking medical attention.
Can I use a drugstore eyeliner to fill in my eyebrows?
We say yes—and Carrillo agrees. “Sometimes, backstage at fashion shows, products get pulled from us so we have no choice but to use eyeliner for brow fill-in,” he said. In other words, it’s safe, so if the color is a match, go for it.
How We Tested Drugstore Eyeliners
The author of this piece, Beauty Review Editor Angela Trakoshis, spent two weeks researching drugstore eyeliners, interviewing experts, and reading product reviews to land on the product selection. Once the team narrowed down the liners in consideration, it was time to put them all to the test. Our editor created a standardized methodology upon which to test each liner and collected insights on each formula. Each liner was rated on a 1-5 scale for pigment, dry time, staying power, and ease of removal.
Our editor wore the 12 drugstore eyeliners on this list for seven hours each for a total of 84 hours of testing. She took note of how many coats it took to achieve an opaque look, utilized a stopwatch to see how long each liner took to dry without smudging and wore each liner from dawn to dusk. She also tested two methods of removal with each liner—micellar water and a cleansing balm—and judged each one based on how easily it came off the skin. With data in hand, our editor assigned categories for each item and product placement within the list. All testing was conducted at her home in Queens, New York.
Why Trust Byrdie
Beauty Review Editor Angela Trakoshis personally tested every eyeliner on this list to determine which formulas are worth buying. Each liner was graded upon the same scale and swatched side by side. She also interviewed two experts—a dermatologist and a makeup artist—for help with this piece and spent hours conducting her product research.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find enough drugstore eyeliners from Black-owned and/or Black-founded businesses to meet this percentage. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will evaluate the product ASAP.