Haven’t tried (or even heard of) tightlining yet? You’re not alone. But if you’re reading this, you’re probably curious, so here it goes: Tightlining is the technique of lining your upper waterline—the area inside the lash line. It’s a little illusion, if you will, that makeup artists have loved for years, but it really hasn’t trickled down to the rest of the population quite yet as an everyday trick. Of course, we think as soon as you find out the benefits of “invisible eyeliner” (as many makeup artists call it)—and how easy it is to do at home—you probably won’t look back.
For starters, it makes your lash bed appear bolder, giving the appearance of thicker lashes. According to celebrity makeup artist Nigel Stanislaus, it also helps to “lift and bring drama” to hooded or ageing eyes by making the eyes look bigger and more defined, while also bringing out the gorgeous natural shape of your eye. "Tightlining can be your little secret," says professional makeup artist Jenna Menard. "You're creating a hidden dark line which, in turn, brightens your eyes."
Prep: Curl Your Lashes and "Dry" Your Waterline
It's a good idea to curl your lashes so you can get a better view of where your lashes grow out of your lid.
Also, get formally acquainted with your lids so you're better set up for success. "Practice is probably the most important step to getting to know your eyelids," Menard says. "Become familiar with your lashes and lids and where they meet."
Before you get started, remember that your upper waterline is a delicate area that requires a delicate application—so don’t attempt to do this haphazardly.
Oddly enough, it’s easier to dry out your waterline prior to application (which will help the formula stick rather than washing away), which you can do by just rolling a Q-tip over the area before you begin.
Then, find the right setting. “It’s always safer to sit down in front of a mirror with your elbows anchored safely on the table,” Stanislaus says. (Think: a vanity or just a desk with a makeup mirror.)
Also, it’s important to note that there are two types of tightlining: one where you line the entire upper waterline for a deep, sensual look, and one where you carefully line in between the lashes to create “invisible definition,” aka, the illusion of thicker and fuller individual lashes. No matter which one you’re attempting, these tips will come in handy.
Choose Your Weapon: Pencil, Crayon, or Liquid Liner
It really depends on your preferences here—some makeup artists recommend a pencil liner with a sharpened tip. Pick a hue depending on what you’re going for: For a bold look, choose black; for a slightly softer one, choose brown; to make your eyes look more awake, choose white or nude; and of course, for a totally fun and unexpected look, choose a neon). Most makeup artists choose black pencils for a sultry look.
Others, like Menard and professional makeup artist Stacy Cho go for pigmented gel formulas applied with an ultra-thin precision makeup brush to your upper waterline. For brushes, Menard suggests the MAC 212 ($25) or the Flat Eyeliner Brush by Laura Mercier. "I suggest dipping the brush in the liner and flattening it by pressing the pigment on both sides of the brush to create a more pointed, flat top," she says. "I like using flat brushes because it helps create a foolproof straight line. You should use the very top of the flat hairs and start with a small amount of liner, then work your way up."
If you’re using a sharpened eyeliner pencil, Stanislaus advises to quickly blast the tip of the pencil with some hot air from a blow dryer to melt it slightly for an easier, smoother application. Then, press the pencil against the back of your hand to round out and blunt the tip slightly before you start applying.
Lift Your Lids and Apply on Your Upper Waterline
This should be extra-easy for contact wearers: Using your non-application hand, gently lift your lids to apply.
For the look of thicker individual lashes, use a color matching your mascara (black or brown) to “slowly but surely feather the liner in between the lashes,” Stanislaus says.
“If you’re looking to add some extra drama to the look, fill in the rest of the upper waterline further.” Cho says the beauty of tightlining the entire waterline is to enhance your lash line, add the appearance of weight to your lashes, and make the area appear fuller than it actually is. (Like magic.) Makeup artists are typically going for the sultry, sexy look with black liner when they utilize tightlining—and they achieve it by layering and layering and layering, preventing any skin from peeking through. Like Menard said, it's best to work your way up.
And don’t worry about making a mess—you can always correct your mistake with Q-tips and some Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré ($16) says Stanislaus (which is, again, why you should try it out before applying the rest of your makeup).
Set the Look With Powder
Making sure your waterliner doesn’t smudge or wash away throughout the day is a concern. Like we previously mentioned, it’s key to dry out your waterline before you start applying. And once you’re finished applying, you can take a flat-tip precision brush and apply some powder on the finished product to seal it in.
See? Tightlining is really that easy. We’d wish you luck but you probably don’t even need it! Now, why weren’t we doing this earlier again?