Everyone Is Putting Eyeliner on Their Bottom Waterlines Again

Some of us never stopped.

Devon Lee Carlson wearing waterline eyeliner


A few days ago, I was getting ready for a birthday party and going through my usual routine: foundation, blush and bronzer, brows, a healthy smear of cream eyeshadow and a touch of Charlotte Tilbury Rock ‘n’ Kohl Liner ($29), plus mascara. I was tracing my upper lashline, per usual, when suddenly the pencil moved and I found myself… lining my waterline? In the year 2023? I hadn’t done this since my “going out” days in the early 2010s, back when I’d pile on layer after layer of the black shade from the OG Naked palette and smoke up my lower lashlines right along with it. I wasn’t exactly indie sleaze-ing it up for a one-year-old’s birthday party, but I did like the subtle edge and definition the waterliner provided—and soon I was doing it almost every day, just for fun.

I’m not alone in my waterliner renaissance. While the technique has been around for-literally-ever, it cycles in popularity according to eye makeup trends—hence me making it a mainstay of my bar-hopping looks in the 2010s, not to mention a favorite of my mid-2000s cheerleading squad, but forgetting it existed until 2023. Ahead, everything you need to know about the trend.

The Trend

Anya Taylor Joy wearing waterliner


Waterliner is exactly what it sounds like: applying pencil eyeliner or powder eyeshadow to your lower lashline waterlines, AKA inside your actual eye and not just under it. (That’s why pros recommend sticking to pencils and powders; liquid liner isn’t gonna cut it here, but you can experiment with gel if it’s an eye-safe formula.) It adds definition and depth to your eyes as part of a tightlining technique, not to mention a smudgy, lived-in sexiness.

It’s been a makeup-artist-must for photoshoots and red carpets, not just teenagers experimenting with their drugstore pencils before the homecoming dance. For most of us, the look is probably tied to the mid 2000s through mid 2010s, when everyone from Lauren Conrad to Taylor Momsen were rimming their eyes with liner, no matter their personal style. However, as we moved into the the late 2010s, waterline went to the wayside in favor of barely-there makeup or crisp wings.

In news that will surprise absolutely no one, we have TikTok to thank for the resurgence of this beloved liner look. Some users are revisiting the trend after several years (and a steadier hand), while others are experimenting with it for the first time. It shares DNA with the popular “shower eyeliner” trend, where users messily line their upper and lower lashes and then wash their face or shower for just a touch of modelesque liner, as well as the smoky and sexy “siren eyes” trend, but it’s also worth recognizing that the waterliner look has been popular for a very long time, starting in ancient Egypt, where people used dark liner to protect their eyes from the sun. People in the Middle East and South Asia have also been smoking out their lower lashlines with kohl and kajal liner for centuries.

TikTok’s current It Girl, Alix Earle, is also a fan of waterliner, though she skips the dark colors in favor of a bright white pencil to brighten up her eyes. Because waterlining is a pretty simple technique that takes just seconds to apply, you should feel free to experiment and have a little fun with it. (Just be careful not to poke your eye!)

How to Get the Look

Lining your waterline isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. Make sure you’re using a gentle, eye-safe formula since the liner will be in direct contact with your actual eyeball, not just your lid. If you want a smoky look, opt for black or deep brown, but you can also use a white or flesh-toned shade to open up your eyes, a la Alix Earle and her white liner. Metallic shades look cool, especially as an accent against a smoky eye or a statement pop in a more minimal eye makeup look. Waterliner can be customized in infinite ways depending on your desired end result.

A soft, smudgy pencil formula is a great starting point; my beloved Charlotte Tilbury kohl works perfectly, as does Victoria Beckham’s splurgy Satin Kajal Liner ($30). We even rounded up some of our go-to formulas for the waterline to get you started. To apply the liner, gently pull down your lower lid with one or two fingers and let the area dry a bit so the liner sticks; some makeup artists recommend using a cotton swab or carefully dabbing away moisture with a clean tissue. You don’t want to be weeping, but a little moisture is okay. Once the waterline is adequately dry, delicately draw the liner in your waterline using soft, short strokes. If you’re using a powder or gel formula, a flat or angled brush is best. 

But wait, won’t it wash away? Waterliner is a bit more finicky than other eyeliner techniques, due to the placement, so if you want a super long-lasting look, opt for a waterproof formula versus a kohl-style pencil or powder. 

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