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The perfect cat eye can transform a look from simple to fierce with just one flick of the wrist—and to achieve it, you'll probably want to pick up some eyeliner. Liquid liner has become a fashion staple so, naturally, we've made it our mission to find the best products on the market. While there is no harm in splurging on the perfect product (if that is your thing), there is even less harm in finding products that fit the budget and understand the assignment. Picking up your prescriptions and your eyeliner in one trip? Yes, please.
Whether it be the ultimate smudge-proof-budge-proof product or the perfect applicator for a thin line, there is a liner for everyone. From your classic black to your colorful bold, nailing down the right formula and setting liner goals will help you in your quest.
Read on to discover the best drugstore liquid eyeliners.
Best Overall: wet n wild H2O Proof Liquid Eyeliner
Glides on smoothly
Difficult to remove
A liner that’s worthy of brides on their wedding day and it’s less than $5? It exists! “I prefer this liquid eyeliner over any luxury brand I have tried, and it is a staple in my kit. It is super waterproof, smudge-proof, and transfer-resistant,” says makeup artist Deanna Flanagan. The felt tip brush makes it easy to apply, too.
Type: Liquid | Shades: 2 | Free of: Parabens | Size: 0.17 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Budget: e.l.f. Expert Liquid Eyeliner
Creates precise lines
Easy to apply and remove
Fades over the course of the day
While most drugstore options are affordable, NYX takes it to another level. When you only want to spend a few dollars, this liquid eyeliner won’t disappoint. The skinny applicator creates precise lines and the formula is smudge-proof.
Type: Liquid | Shades: 3 | Free of: Phthalates, parabens, nonylphenol ethoxylates, triclosan, triclocarban, and hydroquinone | Size: 0.15 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Waterproof: Essence Super Fine Eyeliner Pen
Creates bold designs
Dries out quickly
A super-precise applicator plus a long-wearing, waterproof formula makes this our pick for the best waterproof drugstore liquid eyeliner. It’s also cruelty-free and only costs a few dollars.
Type: Liquid | Shades: 1 | Free of: Alcohol, parabens, fragrance, and animal biproducts | Size: 0.03 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Applicator: COVERGIRL Perfect Point Plus Liquid Liner
Lasts for up to 12 hours
Flakes a bit
For me, the difference between a good liquid liner and a bad one comes down to the applicator. My favorites have a thin, angled felt tip and that’s exactly how this liquid liner brush is designed. The formula leaves behind a dark matte black line that resists smudging or fading.
Type: Liquid | Shades: 3 | Free of: Parabens and fragrance | Size: 0.08 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Beginners: Maybelline Hyper Easy Liquid Pen Eyeliner
Easy to use
Lasts up to 24 hours
Product may leak
Intimidated by liquid liner? This “hyper easy” liner promises an extra smooth application in a long-wearing formula. The angled felt tip is my favorite kind of applicator, and I can vouch for its easy-to-use descriptor.
Type: Liquid | Shades: 1 | Free of: Alcohol | Size: 0.18 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Cruelty-Free: Jason Wu Beauty The Classic Liquid Eyeliner
Not very waterproof
The brush on this liner is super thin, and perfect when you want a precise line or to add detail to your look. The formula is vegan, free of parabens and phthalates, and completely cruelty-free.
Type: Liquid | Shades: 1 | Free of: Parabens, sulfates, and phthalates | Size: 0.07 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Color Options: NYX Epic Wear Liquid Liner
Variety of color options
Up to 3-day wear
Can create countless artistic looks
Can be a bit sticky
While black might be the standard liner color, for an upgrade this NYX liner has multiple colors to choose from and the formula itself is long-wearing. “I love this liner because it has a flexible brush tip for killer precision. It is waterproof and smudge-proof,” says Flanagan. Choose from the standard colors, or try purple, red, or yellow.
Type: Liquid | Shades: 8 | Free of: Sulfates | Size: 0.12 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Lash-Boosting: Physicians Formula Eye Booster 2-in-1 Lash Boosting Eyeliner
2-in-1 boosting eyeliner and serum
More length and fullness in weeks
Color accuracy is a bit off
Your liner can actually have some lash boosting benefits if you use this 2-in-1 liner. The conditioning lash serum in the liner helps hydrate lashes, and the brand claims that 75% of users noticed a difference in length and fullness in just two weeks.
Type: Liquid | Shades: 3 | Free of: Fragrance | Size: 0.02 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Sensitive Eyes: Almay Liquid Eyeliner
"Inkwell" bottle design
Rich, accurate color
Flex-tip applicator for custom control
Can be a bit clumpy
If eyeliner tends to make your eyes itchy and red, this liner might change all that. It’s fragrance-free, ophthalmologist tested, and designed to be gentle on the eyes. The flexible tip makes it easy for even beginners to apply a smooth line.
Type: Liquid | Shades: 1 | Free of: Fragrance | Size: 0.1 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Pigmentation: L.A. Girl Jetsetter Liquid Eyeliner
Easy to control tip
Wetter formula than some may like
Pick up this liner for superior color payoff. The angled brush allows you to create lines both thick and thin, and it dries down to a super dark, super black matte liner.
Type: Liquid | Shades: 1 | Free of: Fragrance and parabens | Size: 0.034 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Cat Eye: L'Oreal Paris Flash Cat Eyeliner
Removable wing stencil included
Might not work well with eyeshadow
If you’re having trouble creating the perfect wing, this liner not only has an easy-to-use brush, but it even comes with a stencil. Hold it up to your eyes and fill it in for a precisely applied wing. The stencil is removable, so once you get the hang of it you can toss it aside.
Type: Liquid | Shades: 1 | Free of: Fragrance and parabens | Size: 0.18 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Graphic Lines: L'Oréal Paris Infallible The Blackbuster
Bold in-your-face look
Intense color payoff
For a big, in-your-face liner, a large applicator can make drawing graphic lines easier. The felt tip applies the formula smoothly and it lasts around 8 hours. You can even use the pointed tip for thinner lines.
Type: Liquid | Shades: 1 | Free of: Fragrance | Size: 0.084 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Your best bet for all-day liquid liner is the wet n wild H20 Proof Liquid Eyeliner, which has been given the seal of approval by brides on their wedding day. If you want to try a color other than black, NYX Epic Wear Liquid Liner has you covered with colors like purple and yellow. If all of these sound a little intimidating, turn to Maybelline Hyper Easy Liquid Pen Eyeliner, which promises to apply so smoothly that even total beginners will have no problem using it.
What to Look For in a Drugstore Liquid Eyeliner
When it comes to liquid liner, makeup artists typically recommend waterproof. Our eyes can tear up naturally for a variety of reasons, and in those moments, a waterproof liner can be your best friend. Aside from keeping the liner in place aesthetically, it keeps it out of your actual eyes for safety. Keep in mind, though, that you'll need a heavier makeup remover or cleansing balm to get the waterproof liner off at the end of the day.
If waterproof makeup isn't your thing (or even if it is), you'll want to opt for a smudge-proof liquid liner. This allows the liner to stay in place and hold its form throughout the day despite minor wear and tear moments, whether it be an accidental rubbing of the eye or something even more simple like pulling a sweatshirt over your head.
When choosing the perfect liquid liner, color can also come into play. Your tones—which in this case are dictated by your eye color—are a shortcut to figuring out which colors will look complementary on you. Purple shades make brown eyes pop, for example, while green eyeliners can do the same for hazel. Copper provides a stunning contrast for blue eyes, as does red eyeliner for green eyes.
How can I create a smudged look with liquid eyeliner?
How do I create the perfect wing?
Flanagan’s favorite tip for a perfect wing is to use tape as a guide. Apply the tape at the angle you’d like your liner to wing out to, and then simply follow along. When you remove the tape, you’ll have a super sharp line.
Can you wear liquid eyeliner on the bottom of your eyes?
While there is no technical reason you can't, understand that if your eyes experience any irritation or tearing, it will typically directly impact that bottom liner. And if the liquid liner is not waterproof and smudge-proof, you may run into issues.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Joline Buscemi is a Byrdie contributor and beauty writer for several other publications. She turns to liquid liner whenever she uses eyeliner (which is most days).
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 any drugstore liquid eyeliners from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will evaluate the product ASAP.