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Whether you didn’t get enough sleep last night or are simply looking to bring some more attention to your eyes, lining the waterline can be a pretty magical technique. It’s essentially the key to looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and making your eyes totally pop.
Swiping liner across the thin upper and lower inner rims of the eyes can have several effects, from making your eyes look bigger to faking thicker, fuller lashes. “Waterline eyeliner can be a very effective way to help brighten and open up the eyes when you use a flesh-toned liner, or you can bring out your eye color by using a complementary color (such as purple for hazel eyes),” says NYC-based makeup artist Kelli J. Bartlett, “You can also add depth and thickness to the lash line by tightlining with a dark brown or black liner or make the eyes POP by smoking out the waterline liner for a sultry look.”
However, this area of the eye is notoriously sensitive and fussy (plus, it’s naturally wet) and should be treated differently than the rest of your lids; it requires liners that are formulated specifically for this area. There are a few key factors to keep in mind when shopping for the perfect one.
Keep reading for some deliciously creamy and long-lasting waterline eyeliners built for defining your eyes.
Best Overall: Urban Decay 24/7 Waterline Eye Pencil
Not all eyeliners are fit for the waterline, but you can trust this one—it even says it in the name! Featuring a creamier formula than the brand’s OG cult-favorite 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil, this one is formulated specifically to line the inner rim of the waterline (and wherever else you desire) without skipping or dragging. Available in a classic black shade, it glides on super smooth and leaves behind a demi-matte finish that seriously doesn’t budge. “I love this pencil,” says Bartlett. “The trick is to warm it up on the back of a sanitized hand first to get it going before application.”
Best Budget: Essence Makeup Extreme Lasting Eye Pencil
A silky, waterproof eyeliner with a high color payoff and lasting wear for under five bucks?! While that might sound too good to be true, it’s all possible with Essence’s Extreme Lasting Eye Pencil, a pencil liner that’s built for the waterline and won’t smudge or fade. It glides on smooth and velvety and comes in four universally flattering shades that make the eyes pop: black, brown, dark gray, and nude.
Best Splurge: Chanel Stylo Yeux Waterproof Long-Lasting Eyeliner
A little on the pricier side, Bhatty counts this retractable liner from Chanel as her favorite luxe pick. “It’s so creamy and easy and has lasting power,” she says. Available in 17 shades—mostly neutral blacks and browns with a few jewel-toned options—this skinny tipped liner is essential for the liner enthusiast. The formula is enriched with silicone for a smooth, even application and includes a detachable sharpener for the perfect swipe every time. Looking to go beyond the waterline? “It’s also great for smudging!” she adds.
Best Drugstore: NYX Slim Eye Pencil
For the price, this bestselling eyeliner from NYX can’t be beaten. As the name suggests, this slim pencil is ideal for getting into those thin, tight spaces like the waterline, and its long-wear formula won’t smudge or bleed throughout the day. It comes in 31 creamy shades that range from neutrals to brights in both matte and shimmery finishes, so you can create whatever look your heart desires. Bartlett is a big fan of using this pencil in the waterline and beyond: “The charcoal and black/brown colors are my go-to for creating a soft smoke without being too dramatic.”
Best Waterproof: Haus Labs Eye-Dentify Gel Eye Pencil
As Bhatty mentions above, the key to finding the perfect waterline eyeliner is looking for a long-lasting and water-resistant formula—and this waterproof pencil from Lady Gaga’s Haus Laboratories is one of her favorites. Available in 20 matte, metallic, and shimmery shades, this gel formula applies creamy with vibrant pigment payoff. Her shade of choice? “Punk,” a matte jet black that won’t budge. “It’s very black with staying power—and it glides!”
Best Kajal: Kulfi Underlined Kajal Eyeliner
When it comes to a kajal liner, you’ll want something bold and pigmented with some serious staying power. Bhatty’s newly-launched favorite is the Underlined Kajal Eyeliner from Kulfi. “It’s an inky jet black and doesn’t move,” she says. “It’s beautiful in the waterline and is a kit essential for me now!” Not only is it long-wearing, smudge-proof, and waterproof, but its soothing formula is infused with aloe vera extract and a vitamin E complex for added moisture and soothing benefits. And while it’s great for a bold waterline look, it’s also great for creating a smoldering smokey eye.
Best Pencil: Pat McGrath Labs Permagel Ultra Eye Pencil
Makeup legend Pat McGrath can do no wrong in our eyes (see what we did there?), and her Permagel Ultra Eye Pencil proves it. This pigment-packed pencil glides on with the ease of a gel and, while it’s perfect for creating all the smudgy and smokey looks you can dream of, its waterproof formula will stay put in any finicky waterline all day long. It comes in six shades total: a matte black, brown, and mid-tone taupe, a shimmery bronze and blue, and a natural finish espresso brown.
Best Cake Liner: Laura Mercier Tightline Cake Eye Liner
While the idea of applying a non-pencil liner to your waterline may seem strange, this cake eyeliner is made for making those eyes of yours totally pop. Formulated for tightlining, this compacted powder turns into a paste when applied with a wet brush, allowing you to line the roots of your upper lashes with ease. It comes in four universally flattering shades—deep gunmetal with subtle sparkle, vibrant indigo, a soft charcoal gray, and a mahogany brown—and its dermatologist- and ophthalmologist-tested and won’t irritate those of us who wear contacts.
Not sure how to apply it? “The best brush for this formula is a straight edge, tightly woven brush head like the MAC 212 Flat Definer” advises Bartlett. “It allows you to wiggle the formula in between your lashes with ease.”
Best Color Range: Marc Jacobs Highliner Gel Eye Crayon
This eyeliner from Marc Jacobs Beauty is a cult-favorite—and for good reason. It’s essentially a gel pot liner in pencil form, and it glides on like a dream. The super-malleable formula is super smooth and won’t ever pull, plus its bold pigment is waterproof and long-lasting.
While it’s a great liner overall, it’s a must for anyone looking to add a pop of color to their waterline. “I love the color range on these,” says Bartlett. “For creating a mod ‘60s look, they offer some fun pastel options!” In addition to an array of glimmery pastels, there’s also an offering of matte and shimmery jewel tones and neutrals, totaling 20 different color options.
Best Multi-Tasker: Shiseido Kajal InkArtist Shadow, Liner, Brow
Ideal for travel or anybody looking to simplify their routine, this multi-tasking retractable wonder from Shiseido is here to make your life easier. Not only can you line your waterline with this waterproof, 12-hour wear formula that glides on buttery smooth, but you can also use this 4-in-2 kajal to line your lids, fill in your brows, and act as an eyeshadow. It doesn’t hurt that it comes in ten stunning shades, including a vibrant crimson and teal, and is safe for even the most sensitive eyes.
Best Eye-Opening Neutral: Thrive Causemetics Brilliant Eye Brightener
Fact: Lining your waterline with a lighter nude shade can instantly make you look more awake (a game-changer for all of those early A.M. Zoom calls), and this cream-to-powder waterproof liner from Thrive Causemetics is perfect for creating this brightening, eye-opening effect. It comes in seven subtly shimmery neutrals that flatter all skin tones, from pearly pink to glimmery mauve-taupe, and is enriched with a number of soothing and hydrating plant oils like macadamia seed and jojoba. While this retractable liner can be applied to the waterline with ease, you can also use it to highlight the inner and outer corners of your eyes and your brow bone to fake a full eight hours of sleep.
Best Clean Formula: Kjaer Weiss Eye Pencil
When it comes to a liner with a trusted clean formula, Bartlett is a big fan of this simple pencil from Kjaer Weiss. Its creamy formula includes organic coconut oil for a smooth texture that glides on seamlessly—no skipping here! it’s also long-lasting and stays put once it’s set. It comes in five shades total, including a brightening nude and a deep purple and navy in addition to classic black and brown.
Overall, Urban Decay’s 24/7 Waterline Eye Pencil takes the cake as the very best. It glides on creamy and smooth and its demi-matte, waterproof pigment won’t budge once it sets. Plus, it’s formulated specifically for the waterline. We’re also pretty big fans of NYX's Slim Eye Pencil for its creamy formula and bold color options, especially when we’re not looking to break the bank. Looking to treat yourself to something more luxe? You can’t go wrong with Pat McGrath Lab’s Permagel Ultra Glide Eye Pencil, a pigment-packed waterproof pencil that’s perfect for lining the inner rims and creating a smoldering smokey eye.
What to Look For in a Waterline Eyeliner
A water resistant formula is key
When it comes to lining the inner rims of eyes, celebrity makeup artist Kirin Bhatty suggests looking for formulas that are water-resistant or waterproof to avoid smudging or, worse, a raccoon eyes situation. Even if you’re not planning for a gym session or a dip in the pool, your eyes still naturally water (you are applying it to your waterline, after all!), so something water-resistant will have way more lasting power.
Look for specific keywords
If the liner has the word “waterline” somewhere in its name or description, chances are you’re good to go, but Bartlett suggests looking out for a few other keywords, too. “A good rule is to only purchase liners that state they are ‘formulated’ or ‘approved' for use on the waterline,” she says. “Words like ‘kohl’ and ‘kajal’ often tip you that this is a creamy formula and good for the waterline.”
The creamier, the better
The waterline is sensitive, therefore you shouldn’t reach for any old eyeliner pencil—especially one that involves a bit of rubbing—when lining this area of the eye. Both Bhatty and Bartlett recommend using liners that are soft, creamy, and glide on with ease. In addition to kohl and kajal liners, Bhatty looks for liners that have a “smooth glide formula” and Bartlett recommends finding a formula that isn’t dry and won’t flake. If you’re not able to physically test out the product before purchasing, be sure to thoroughly read through customer reviews to confirm its texture and feel.
Avoid mica-heavy or glittery products
While we all love a little bit of shimmer and glimmer, Bartlett points out that some glittery products can scratch or damage the eye when applied to the waterline, which is very close to your actual eyeballs. “Look for mica-free formulas or ones that use very fine mica particles and no glitter,” she says.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Jenna Igneri has been writing about the ins and outs of makeup for the past six years and considers a good eye look to be the key to looking put together—even when you’re really not. After making a full recovery from a Very Bad Early Aughts Eyeliner Phase (see: extra-thick black liner on the lower lash line, a flaky streak of white on the upper lids, no mascara), she has made it her mission to master the art of subtle, natural eyeliner that actually enhances the eyes.
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 eyeliners for waterline 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.