Few makeup-related problems are more frustrating than bad eyeliner. Find yourself stuck with a dry, faint formula that drags on the skin and doesn’t deliver on performance or pigmentation, and you’re bound to be left with underwhelming results and potentially physical irritation. But just like a coat of mascara or a pop of lip color can instantly enhance your look, so too can a swipe of a really good eyeliner. So, we put dozens of the most popular options on the market to the test in our lab in NYC, and evaluated them based on pigmentation, dry time, wear, and ease of removal. Ahead, we’re sharing those that ranked the highest, earning them our Byrdie stamp of approval.
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eye Liner
Smooth formula glides on
Fine tip allows for precision
Full pigmentation in one swipe
Easy to remove
As evidenced by our test results, it’s no surprise that this liquid eyeliner has maintained its popularity for many years. It’s everything you would want a liquid eyeliner to be: easy to apply, pigmented, fast-drying, smooth, long-wearing, and easy to remove. Our tester enjoyed the packaging, saying it was easy to hold and navigate the wand effortlessly, and they loved how smoothly the liquid glided across their eyelids. The small felt tip applicator allowed them to create thin, precise lines, or build up the eyeliner for a thicker, more dramatic result. Just one swipe provided a rich, jet-black color payoff with a matte finish, and the formula dried completely within seconds to prevent smearing. Once applied, it didn’t smudge or run, and it was easy to remove with just a few swipes of a makeup remover.
In addition to how well-performing it is, we love that it’s offered in eight different shades—this isn’t super common when it comes to liquid liner formulas.
Formula: Liquid | Shades: 8 | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Price at time of publish: $24
Maybelline Eye Studio Master Precise Eyeliner
Finding a high-quality eyeliner doesn’t require a trip to a department store or the need to spend a lot of money. The drugstore has options, and this one from Maybelline is our favorite. The fine-tip felt applicator allows for precision, the pigmentation is bold, and it’s easy to apply with no skipping or dragging. Our tester really appreciated that the formula dried almost instantly because it helped her make sure the liner didn’t smear. It set down to a matte finish, remained smudge-free on the eyes, and was painless to remove.
It’s also suitable for sensitive eyes and contact lens wearers and has been tested by dermatologists and ophthalmologists. A high-performing product at such an affordable price—this one is easy for us to recommend.
Formula: Liquid | Shades: 3 | Cruelty-Free: No
Price at time of publish: $8
What Our Testers Say
“l love how flawless it was to apply with the super thin tip. It makes it super easy for people who don't really know how to do a cat eye.” —Stephanie Cartagena, Tester
Victoria Beckham Satin Kajal Liner
Smooth, easy to work with formula
Dual-ended pencil has smudger on one end
Can be used for bold and diffused looks
Beautiful shade range
Takes a bit of time to dry in the waterline
Slight smudging on oily lids
Our editors and beauty lovers adore this eyeliner, and so does our tester. Aside from the stunning shade range that features unique neutrals and gorgeous jewel tones, the formula is creamy and workable; it comes with a sponge-tip smudger on one end of the pencil, and can be used to create a wide range of looks. Because of the soft, creamy formula, it can be smoked out and manipulated to provide a diffused finish, or it can be used for shaper, more defined makeup looks.
On top of appreciating how well the formula is able to glide on the skin, our tester loved the vibrant color payoff and the smudging tool on the pencil. Because it can be smudged, it’s a good thing that it doesn't dry down immediately so that you have a minute to work with it, but our tester noted that it takes around 20 seconds to dry down on the waterline, so keep this in mind. It’s also worth noting that she experienced a bit of smudging on her top eyelids, so we recommend using an eyeshadow primer before applying it if you have oily lids.
Formula: Pencil | Shades: 11 | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Price at time of publish: $30
KVD Beauty Tattoo Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Waterproof and smudge-proof
Minor cracking during wear
This popular liquid eyeliner is an editor favorite and has been a staple on the market for years. The small brush tip applicator makes creating precise definition easy and, and it provides full pigmentation in just one swipe. It glides on effortlessly, dries down almost instantly, and remains smudge-proof as you wear it. Our tester had nothing but good things to say about the application, and loved almost everything about how it wore, minus a tiny bit of cracking on the outer corner of her eyes.
It’s often compared to the Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner, and we can see why—they’re very similar. We absolutely recommend them both, but the Stila won our best overall pick due to the super impressive wear and the vast range of shades.
Formula: Liquid | Shades: 2 | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Price at time of publish: $23
Charlotte Tilbury Rock ‘N’ Kohl Eyeliner Pencil
Smooth formula and application
Easy to remove
Some online reviewers noted issues with smudging, mainly when used on the waterline
A creamy eyeliner pencil that glides across the skin with ease and can be manipulated to create different types of looks is a makeup bag staple. We love this one because, in addition to being offered in several elevated neutrals, it features a creamy formula that can be applied in a solid line or can be smudged out for a blurred effect. According to our tester, the formula doesn’t need to be layered, and it delivers full pigment in one swipe. It applies on the skin and waterline without tugging or pulling, and once set down, our tester had no issues with running or smudging.
It is worth noting however, that while our tester didn’t have a problem with it, one consistent gripe with this product in some online reviews is that it smudges, mainly when used on the waterline. If you’re prone to eyeliner smudging, we recommend reserving this formula for your upper eyelid or setting it on your waterline with a small amount of eyeshadow.
Formula: Pencil | Shades: 6 | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Price at time of publish: $29
Melt Cosmetics Ultra Matte Gel Eyeliner
Easy to remove
A little bit goes a long way
Wet formula takes a bit of getting used to in terms of application process
Some people find that using a small eyeliner brush and dipping into a pot gel liner is much easier than applying liquid and pencil formulas. If this sounds like you, we can’t recommend this gel eyeliner formula enough. It comes in a variety of vibrant shades on the brand’s website, which is awesome for those who love experimenting with color, but the jet-black shade is timeless and definitely something worth investing in if you consistently wear black eyeliner.
The formula is soft, wet right out of the pot, and insanely pigmented. It glides onto the eyelids with ease, and our tester loved that although it’s lightweight and wet when picking it up with a brush, it dries down very quickly once applied and sets to a matte, waterproof finish. It stays fully intact as you wear it, and our tester noted that despite the incredibly rich pigmentation and wet formula, it was easy to remove.
While the wet formula makes it soft, lightweight, and comfortable to apply, it’s worth noting that it can be a bit tricky to get used to. We recommend starting with a tiny amount of product on your brush and slowly building up in order to maintain a mistake-free application.
Formula: Gel | Shades: 7 | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Price at time of publish: $22
Best for the Waterline
Lancôme Drama Longwear Liqui-Pencil Eyeliner
Formula glides on with ease
Wears well even on oily lids
Painless to remove
If you’re someone that likes to line your waterline (the inner rim of your eyelid), then finding an eyeliner formula that glides on with ease, is pigmented, and most importantly, is long-wearing, is a must. This one is fantastic for the waterline because it has a very smooth formula that’s like a hybrid between a gel and a cream, making it soft to use in the delicate area. You don’t need to apply much pressure at all to yield incredible color payoff, and once applied, it sets down completely and remains totally smudge-proof. The formula is also safe for sensitive eyes, suitable for people who wear contacts and has been tested under ophthalmological control.
While it’s an excellent choice for the waterline, it also works beautifully on the eyelids. Our tester shared that it didn’t pull at her skin or feel hard or uncomfortable while applying it, and she was even able to remove it with just a few swipes of a makeup remover wipe. Perhaps most notably, she expressed how pleased she was with how well it wore, a true feat considering that she has oily eyelids.
Formula: Pencil | Shades: 8 | Cruelty-Free: No
Price at time of publish: $23
MAC Pro Longwear Fluidline Gel Eyeliner
Formula is easy to work with
Sets down quickly
Doesn't smudge, bleed, or run
Could have slightly more even pigmentation
It’s safe to say that no one likes runny, smeared, or faded eyeliner, which is why finding a long-wearing formula is so important—especially if you’ll be wearing it during special events or long days. This is a great long-wearing option because once the waterproof formula sets down, it locks into place and won’t budge until you wipe it away with makeup remover. Our tester liked that the formula is meant to be used with an eyeliner brush, allowing you full control over how much product you use. She also appreciated that it dried down quickly and felt lightweight and comfortable on her eyes. Once set, it wore excellently—no smudging, smearing, or fading. And despite its waterproof formula and long-wearing formula, she noted that it wasn’t difficult to remove.
Our only slight gripe with this formula is that you might need to apply a second layer in order to get full, even, pigmentation, but considering that it’s easy to layer and the color payoff is still really nice, this isn’t a major con for us.
Formula: Gel | Shades: 5 | Cruelty-Free: No
Price at time of publish: $19
Best for Beginners
Kaja Wink Stamp Eyeliner
Comes with stamping product and a separate liquid eyeliner
Size and shape of the stamp is nice
Waterproof and smudge-proof
Easy to remove
Formula creates a slight tight sensation on the skin
Eyeliner pen could have more smooth application
Achieving sharp, even winged eyeliner is one of the biggest makeup technique challenges that many people face—it’s difficult! That’s why products like this one which find innovative ways to help us achieve the eyeliner looks we envision are so great. The product comes with one pen, which has a stamp on the end that resembles the outer wing part of winged eyeliner, as well as a regular liquid eyeliner to finish the look and line the eyelids.
In terms of the application process and the effectiveness of the stamp, our tester said it went pretty smoothly. “The stamp part makes a nice shape and gives a perfect wing,” she said. “But, you need to get it precise the first time as double stamping makes it really thick.” It’s absolutely understandable that a tool like this will take some trial and error to get perfect, but she loved how evenly the stamp applied the product, and well the shape worked to create the wing. She noted that while it looked nice and the formula didn’t budge, it did create a bit of a tight sensation on her eyelids.
In terms of the separate liquid eyeliner that the product comes with, she noted that it didn’t provide the smoothest application across her lash line, but she was ultimately able to achieve a pretty look. There are some minor flaws to this product, but considering how effective the stamp is, we think it’s a fantastic option for winged eyeliner beginners.
Formula: Liquid | Shades: 1 | Cruelty-Free: No
Price at time of publish: $29
NakedPoppy Clean Liquid Eyeliner
Brush and handle make application easy
Needs to be built up a bit to achieve completely opaque pigmentation
If you have sensitive eyes or you’re really cautious about the ingredients in your beauty products, this is a fantastic liquid eyeliner for you. It has a simple ingredient list free from potential irritants, and the formula has been ophthalmologically tested for sensitive eyes.
Aside from the clean formula, it performs beautifully, too. Our tester explained that the felt tip applicator and long handle made applying the eyeliner with precision easy, and she shared that it dries down quickly and is completely transfer-resistant. It felt comfortable as she wore it, and a few swipes of makeup remover dissolved it effortlessly. Her one con is that it did take a bit of building up in order to achieve jet black color payoff, but all things considered, this isn’t a dealbreaker for us.
Formula: Liquid | Shades: 1 | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Price at time of publish: $25
Hourglass Cosmetics 1.5MM Mechanical Gel Eye Liner
Smooth formula glides on
Easy to remove
Thin tip allows for precisions
Once you click up product, it can’t be twisted back down
Ultra-fine pencil makes it more prone to breakage and running out of product quickly
Eyeliner tends to be one of the more tricky makeup items to apply, which is why finding one that makes application practically effortless is a win. This one is great because not only does it have an incredibly fine tip which makes getting in hard-to-reach areas and lining with precision easy, but the formula also glides on without tugging or dragging in the eye area. According to our tester, it provides an intense color payoff in one stroke, and dries down quickly to a budge-proof finish. It was also easy to remove, making the entire process of using it from start to finish a breeze.
The one thing our tester shared she would have changed about the product is that once you click it up, you can’t retract the product, meaning that you have to be careful about not clicking up too much at a time. And because the pencil is so incredibly thin, it is prone to breakage if you’re not super careful. But as long as you’re conscious of this and only click up a tiny bit at a time, it’s still a great product to have in your makeup collection, especially if you like to draw precise lines.
Formula: Pencil | Shades: 5 | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Price at time of publish: $20
What Our Testers Say
“Amazing application! It went on smoothly and extremely pigmented without any difficulties. The product glided across my eyelids beautifully with ease, no tugging or extra pressure.” —Jia Wei, Tester
Our top pick is the Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner. It’s richly pigmented, has a smooth formula, fine tip applicator, and a long-wearing formula—it’s perfect for achieving classic winged eyeliner. But if you’re looking for a pencil liner that can be used to create a wider range of effects, including a soft, diffused look, then we recommend the Charlotte Tilbury Rock ‘N’ Kohl Eyeliner Pencil. And if you’re on the hunt for a gel eyeliner that you can use a brush to apply, check out the Melt Cosmetics Ultra Matte Gel Eyeliner.
How We Tested
Each tester started by reading the manufacturer instructions on the eyeliner they would be testing. They then applied one layer of product, before letting it sit for a minute and determining if a second layer was necessary. They then perfected their liner looks before wearing the products to test for longevity. Each eyeliner was evaluated based on pigmentation, dry time, wear, and ease of removal, and those that ranked highest are on this list.
Other Options We Tested
NYX Mechanical Eyeliner Pencil
This affordable eyeliner pencil didn’t live up to our tester’s expectations as she noted that she needed to layer it to get a satisfying color payoff, and it applied a bit patchy to her eyelids.
Tom Ford Eye Defining Pen Liquid Eyeliner Duo
There’s no denying that this dual-ended eyeliner pen has its pros—like having an ultra-fine tip and a larger tip in one product—but our tester found that the formula bled a bit as she applied it, and it was difficult to remove.
Anastasia Beverly Hills Liquid Liner
While this matte liquid eyeliner remained transfer-resistant as our tester wore, she explained that the very long handle made it difficult to apply, and it needed to be layered in order to yield jet black pigmentation.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Janelle Davison is a Georgia-based Optometrist with more than 15 years of experience providing eye care to her patients. She’s also a twenty/twenty beauty Visionary Panel member, where she helps to ensure that all products created are effective and eye-safe.
What to Look For in Eyeliner
The formula is arguably the most important thing to consider when buying an eyeliner. Why? Because it will greatly impact the application process and the outcome of your makeup look. If you’re looking to create sharp, precise eyeliner, like winged eyeliner, your best bet is to opt for a liquid liner, like the Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner. If you want a precise look but you struggle to use liquid eyeliner, we recommend trying a gel eyeliner, like the Melt Cosmetics Ultra Matte Gel Eyeliner, because you can experiment with different brushes. And if you want to create a variety of looks, including a diffused effect, go for a pencil like the Charlotte Tilbury Rock ‘N’ Kohl Eyeliner Pencil or the Victoria Beckham Beauty Satin Kajal Liner.
Not all eyeliners with the same type of formula have the same applicators. For example, some liquid eyeliners have felt tips, while others have brush tips. Some are ultra-fine, while others have larger applicators for bolder looks. The same goes for pencils—some are more narrow while others are wider. If you’re planning on creating super precise, sharp eyeliner looks, we recommend the Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner. But if you prefer your linelined to look lived-in and diffused, we recommend the Victoria Beckham Beauty Satin Kajal Liner—it also has a smudging tool on end to make achieving your look easy.
Which type of eyeliner is easiest to apply?
Perfecting your eyeliner—no matter what style you go for—takes practice. But if you’re a newbie to eyeliner altogether, we recommend going for formulas that are more forgiving, like creamy pencils. You’re much more likely to see jagged lines or smudges with a pigmented liquid eyeliner than you are with a pencil liner that can be diffused and easily remedied if you do make a mistake.
What eyeliner is best for contact lens wearers and people with sensitive eyes?
According to Dr. Janelle Davidson, people who wear contact lenses or have sensitive eyes should be a bit more discerning about what eyeliner they use. She recommends avoiding waterproof eyeliners as well as formulas with talc, sulfates, BAK (benzalkonium chloride), and BHA.
When it comes to finding an eyeliner that’s suitable for contact lens wearers, she recommends seeking formulas with hydrating ingredients. “Contact lens wearers should gravitate toward liners that have natural ingredients, like castor oil-a triglyceride with antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, as well as ceramides and hyaluronic acid for hydration,” says Dr. Davidson.
For those with sensitive eyes, she recommends looking for eyeliner containing castor oil because of its bacteria-fighting properties, as well as argan oil because it contains vitamin E and linoleic acid, which support lash growth. And before trying a new formula, she highly recommends doing a patch test. “Eyeliner wearers with sensitive eyes should always do a patch test by applying a small amount on the lid margin and wait for an acute reaction prior to applying a new eyeliner.”
Is it bad to wear eyeliner on the waterline?
People have been wearing eyeliner on the waterline for many years, but it’s not typically recommended by eye doctors. According to Dr. Davidson, it’s best to save wearing eyeliner on your waterline for special occasions and to avoid doing so on a regular basis. “The waterline houses the meibomian glands, and these glands are critical in maintaining the natural balance of the ocular surface tear film,” she explains. “The meibomian glands secret meibum, which is the lipid layer of the tear film and helps the tear film coat and stick to the eye. Meibomian gland dysfunction is a precursor to dry eye disease, and studies have shown that women who wear eye makeup have a higher prevalence of dry eye disease.”
Why Trust Byrdie
Alyssa Kaplan is an experienced writer in the beauty industry and product tester specializing in cosmetics. She has tested dozens of eyeliners, including several on this list. She received a bachelor’s degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she studied marketing and product development in the cosmetics industry as well as fashion business marketing. Alyssa has been a commerce writer at Byrdie since 2022, where she covers all things beauty.