How to Keep Eyeliner from Smudging: Best Tips for Smear-Free Makeup

Your eyeliner will be smudge-free.

Woman Applying Liquid Eyeliner
Stocksy | Design by Zackary Angeline .

There’s nothing we hate more than taking the time to painstakingly perfect our cat-eye, only for it to go haywire on us within a few hours. Even with the clever tape tricks or business cards as a guide to a precise wing, it never seems to last. Whether it smudges like we’ve been crying, or the once-crisp line starts to separate and fade, it’s an annoying beauty problem that we don't recognize until the day is over and the mirror shows what we've been missing.

This is why we’re on cloud nine to have learned from top makeup artists Kathy Jeung and Toby Fleischman, their tricks for getting liner to stay in place all day long, including a mind-blowing beauty hack you’ll use from now until forever.

How to Apply Eyeliner

Here's how you can apply eyeliner for a flawless look:

  1. Shake your eyeliner if it's a liquid.
  2. Begin in the middle of your eye and move toward the outer corner, following the upper lash line as close to your eyelashes as possible.
  3. Line from the inner corner of your upper lash line to the middle of your eye to close the gap.
  4. Add wings by starting out and moving in at an angle toward your lower lash line.

Keep scrolling for the secret to infallible liner, courtesy of the women who give Rita Ora and Anna Kendrick their always-perfect cat-eye.

Meet the Expert

Kathy Jeung is a celebrity makeup artist based in LA and NY. Jeung gives Rita Ora her utterly covetable, killer cat-eye.

Toby Fleischman is the makeup artist who gives Anna Kendrick her precise, winged looks. Fleischman is currently based in Santa Monica, California.

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Choose The Formula

Kat Von D Tattoo Liner
KVD Vegan Beauty Tattoo Eyeliner $21.00

Both Jeung and Fleischman say your best bet is to reach for a long-wear, waterproof eyeliner formula. Jeung’s favorite is Rimmel’s Scandal Eyes Waterproof Gel Eyeliner ($6), and Fleischman likes Lancôme's Le Stylo Waterproof Eyeliner ($27).

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Prep Your Skin

Clean, tone, and moisturize your eyelids to remove oil from your skin. A water-based moisturizer like Glow Recipe's Watermelon Pink Juice Oil-Free Moisturizer ($39) will hydrate the skin without making the area slippery. Allow your eyelid to dry before adding the primer. If you have oily skin, lightly dab excess oil with a tissue. And if you have really oily skin you can actually skip the moisturizer and go straight to primer, since you'll want to avoid any additional moisture.

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Use a Primer

Too Faced Shadow Insurance Eye Primer
Too Faced Shadow Insurance $24.00

If your lids are oily, primer is a necessary barrier from natural oils. A primer creates a smooth canvas for makeup application. Without an even base, the liner may skip across your eyelid as you apply, especially if your skin is on the dry side. Matte concealer is a helpful dupe if you don't have an eye primer. Apply a small dot of the primer with your finger and pat it into the eyelid.

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Powder First, Line Second

Nars Light Reflecting Pressed Setting Powder
NARS Light Reflecting Pressed Setting Powder $37.00

Jeung also recommends using powder before the first swipe of liner, for additional protection. “Before applying eyeliner, you want to make sure the eye area along the lashes is free of excess oil. To do this, lightly dust along the lash line with a very small amount of translucent powder to absorb excess moisture and oil, and then apply your long-wear eyeliner and powder for maximum eyeliner longevity,” she recommends.

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Layer Between the Lines

Jeung, let us in on the secret to Rita Ora's all-day wear: “After your first application of eyeliner has dried, with a small fluffy brush, carefully dust a tiny bit of matte translucent powder, like Rimmel Stay Matte Pressed Powder ($4), over the eyeliner with short inward strokes; then, draw a second coat of eyeliner for extra intensity and staying power.”

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Take Your Time

Dusting powder in between layers of a liner is also the secret weapon of Fleischman, to Anna Kendrick's precise feline flicks. “The key to making sure your eyeliner stays put is to layer, layer, layer,” says Fleischman, specifically in the liner, powder, liner order. “It may take a bit more time but it will be worth it in the long run when your flick is still on point by the end of the night.” With gentle sweeping motions, brush off the powder so your lids don't feel heavy.

For "super bulletproof" liner, Jeung recommends layering formulas. You can layer a shadow in the same shade as your eyeliner on top of the last coat to set and lock it in.

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Use More Than One Liner

Urban Decay's 24/7 Glide-On ($22) is a favorite for cat-eye lovers and tightlining pros alike. The eyeliner is hydrating and dries to a long-lasting finish that does not fade away. If you're a fan of gel liners, Bobbi Brown's Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner ($27) contains a humidity-resistant and waterproof formula.

Drugstore eyeliners help Jeung layer on products without smudging. “For extra intense eyeliner, first draw your eyeliner line with a waterproof eye pencil like Rimmel's Scandal Eyes Waterproof Kohl Kajal Pencil ($4) or Exaggerate Auto Waterproof Eye Definer ($4), then apply a waterproof liquid, pen, or gel liner like Rimmel's Micro Liner ($7) over. This really helps keep eyeliner strong along the lash line,” she says.

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Spritz Setting Spray

All Nighter
Urban Decay All Nighter $33.00

Lock in your hard work with a long-lasting setting spray (or setting powder!). In an 'X' motion, spray across your face, being sure to keep the bottle six to eight inches away from your face. Keep your eyes closed and fan your face. Opening your eyes immediately may cause early creasing.

Oil and makeup are a recipe for disaster. Carry blotting paper to dab excess oil on your face and blot throughout the day.

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Apply Concealer to Your Undereyes

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Consider Your Skin Type

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Curl Your Lashes First

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Buy Waterproof Eyeliner

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Don't Apply to Your Waterline

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