A version of this story originally appeared on the Strategist US.
Liquid eyeliner is a bit like the megaformer of the makeup world: challenging to figure out, but once you do, it can offer dramatic results. The right liquid eyeliner is your key to an everyday cat eye, an Amy Winehouse–esque wing, or a graphic pop of colour. And not just for luxury prices, either: Many of your drugstore liquid eyeliners can work wonders, as the eight makeup artists we spoke to below can attest. Their favourites include options with felt tips, matte pigments, and and even a highly smudge-proof formula that Winehouse herself was known to use. And if you’re struggling to master the stroke, one guiding application rule to follow, according to makeup artist Amanda Shackleton, is to “apply very tiny, evenly spaced dots close to the lash line in the shape you wish to achieve, which will give you a much better chance of making a tighter, more precise line. Then use gentle strokes to connect the dots.” Eventually, as you get more confident, you’ll be able to get your flick right in one go.
Best overall drugstore liquid eyeliner
Three of the experts we spoke to praised the Maybelline Eye Studio Master Precise Liquid Eyeliner for its ease of use, super-inky pigment, and fine tip. “I find felt tip pens so much easier and more comfortable to use than traditional liquid liners,” explains makeup artist Glenn Brownell, whose clients include Eva Chen and Audrey Gelman. “This one is ideal because of its superfine tip, and its fluid consistency doesn’t skip so you can get the perfect wing every time.” Makeup artist and groomer Amber Amos agrees and adds that “the slightly stiff felt applicator gives the control and precision you need.” Both Amos and New York City–based celebrity makeup artist David Maderich also mentioned that the tube has a nifty rubber grip that helps you keep control over the line as you go.
Best drugstore liquid eyeliner for beginners
This eyeliner from drugstore standby L’Oreal Paris was another favourite among the experts we spoke to, especially for beginners, because of its precision felt-tip applicator and removable stencil that makes “drawing the perfect feline wings and flicks easy,” explains Maderich. Celebrity makeup artist Amy Zdunowski-Roeder, who has worked on sets for Bravo and Netflix, agrees and adds that the pigment is “super-duper black,” dries down fast, and is waterproof so it will last all day (and night). And if you happen to lose the stencil, Maderich has this hack: “Apply a small piece of sellotape to the corner of the eye, then follow the line with your liner.” If you do make a mistake, use a cotton swab soaked in eye makeup remover, like Dermalogica’s Soothing Eye Makeup Remover, to get rid of any mistakes quickly, he says.
Best classic drugstore liquid eyeliner
Liquid liners fall into two categories: those with felt-tip applicators — like the two above — and traditional liquid liners. While the felt-tip pens function more like Sharpie markers, the classic versions of these liners, of course, involve dipping your applicator into a paint pot filled with liquid pigment. Generally, the experts we spoke to agreed that felt-tip liners are easier to use and are more beginner-friendly. While it comes down to a matter of preference, if you’re looking to achieve “razor-sharp wings and tight lines,” Maderich suggests going for an old-school paint-pot-and-brush liner, like this one, which has been praised in reviews for the classically thick, stay-put line it creates. Maderich admits it does “take practice” and steady hands to master, and offers this tip: Steady your drawing hand by resting your elbow on your other hand, which will help you get a straight line. The product is also cruelty- and paraben-free, as well as hypoallergenic, making it a good bet for those who struggle with sensitive eyes.
Best drugstore liquid eyeliner for mature skin
Zdunowski-Roeder loves this sweat-, humidity-, and heatproof liner because it offers “a pigmented punch” while still “creating a flawless, even soft-looking effect” due to the precise applicator. She specifically uses it for her clients with mature skin, as the liner doesn’t seep into fine lines around the eye. And if you find that you can still see your lid through the line, Shackleton has this trick: “Lift your lid and fill in the lash line from underneath,” which will also help give more definition around the eyes.
Best long-lasting felt-tip drugstore liquid eyeliner
According to Zdunowski-Roeder, “This product will not move! Whether it’s a hot day or you’ve just watched a tear-jerker movie, this liner will stay intact.” Of all the drugstore liners she’s used, she calls this felt-pen one “overall favourite,” due to the vegan formula, highly pigmented formula, and superfine tip.
Best drugstore eyeliner for creating Amy Winehouse wings
According to New York City–based makeup artist Clara Rae, this is the liquid eyeliner used by none other than Amy Winehouse. To wit, it’s great for creating wings — the tip is “super-pointy and flexible,” according to Rae, and it moves with the contours of your eye. It also has a “very rich black” pigment that dries very matte, is smudge-proof, and lasts up to 16 hours. “Usually liquid liners tend to dry out fast, but I have found that this one lasts the longest,” she adds, so you’ll certainly get the most bang for your buck.
Best buildable drugstore liquid eyeliner
Zdunowski-Roeder calls this an “absolutely excellent product,” due to the superthin brush and buildable formula, which she says makes it easy to “create any precise look.” She promises that it also dries down quickly and doesn’t smudge — even if you accidentally rub your eyes at your desk.
Best drugstore liquid eyeliner for weddings
For a clean, matte finish, celebrity makeup artist Ashunta Sheriff-Kendricks likes to use NYX Matte Liquid Liner, which she says works great for all “skin types and tones.” “If a liner has a shine to it, light can reflect in different places in photos and make it look imperfect,” explains Brownell. “NYX Matte Liquid Liner dries down flat,” making it a good choice for events or weddings. Plus, it’s super-opaque so you only need to apply one layer. And if you want the same high-intensity pigment but with a vinyl finish, makeup artist Jessica deBen is a fan of NYX’s Vinyl Liquid Liner.
Best drugstore liquid eyeliner with a vinyl finish
Alternatively, if you prefer a shiny, vinyl finish or more of a Katie Jane Hughes look, there’s Revlon’s ColorStay Exactify Liquid Liner. The liner also features a wheel-tip applicator that is “great for beginners who want to try a cat eye or other cool effects,” says Zdunowski-Roeder. “It’s smudge-proof and won’t fade,” adds Sheriff-Kendricks.
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