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Create a smokey smudge or a clean, precise cat-eye with a flick of the wrist.
While even the best eyeliner pencils can seem a little snooze-y compared to liquid liners and glitter-flecked formulas, they have one major advantage: Functionality. Few other makeup products can offer the same ease of use, long-term wear, and pigment payoff as eyeliner pencils — not to mention the inherent ability to define, emphasize, and play up the eyes.
But because of their versatile usage, which can include waterlining the eyes, creating a sultry smudge, or outlasting tears, shopping for eyeliner pencils can require a little foresight. While certain picks offer unique benefits, we’ve found that most of the eyeliner pencils beloved by makeup artists can be blended out as needed, yet still set quickly. When it comes to eyeliner pencils, you can expect dramatic pigments and fade-resistant wear that can be smoked out or applied with precision.
Best Overall: Victoria Beckham Satin Kajal Liner
What We Love: It's so saturated with pigment that a single swipe is enough. What We Don’t Love: You have to sharpen it regularly.
What We Love: It's so saturated with pigment that a single swipe is enough.
What We Don’t Love: You have to sharpen it regularly.
This kajal-based eyeliner earned the top spot for its multifunctional formula. “I love the Victoria Beckham liners,” says Monika Blunder, a celebrity makeup artist whose clients include Gemma Chan and Amanda Seyfried. “They are super-creamy and smudge and blend out beautifully — and once they set, they don't budge.”
Although it feels creamy and soft as you draw it on, you can still sharpen the tip (with the included sharpener) for a clear, precise line. Then, once it sets, the formula is waterproof and smudge-resistant, so it won't smear beneath the eyes. Another plus is that it comes in three different finishes — matte, shimmer, and jewel — allowing you to create a number of different looks. It's also safe to use on the waterline.
Price at time of publish: $30
Type: Kajal | Shades: 15 | Size: 0.042 oz
Best Budget: NYX Professional Makeup Epic Wear Waterproof Eyeliner Stick
What We Love: The color payoff is unmatched. What We Don’t Love: The tip can be tricky to sharpen.
What We Love: The color payoff is unmatched.
What We Don’t Love: The tip can be tricky to sharpen.
These waterproof eyeliner pencils won't budge once they're on, and they're priced so that you can (and probably should) stock up on multiple shades. And that’s especially easy: They come in matte and metallic finishes — and with 33 shades to choose from, you’re guaranteed to find exactly what you’re looking for.
Not only does the creamy formula resist fading and smudging, but it's also waterproof and can stay put for up to 36 hours. The light shades do require an extra layer or two to get the most impact, but the brighter and darker shades are packed with pigment for an immediate payoff.
Price at time of publish: $9
Type: Cream | Shades: 33 | Size: 0.043 oz
Best Drugstore: L’Oréal Infallible Grip Gel Mechanical Liner
What We Love: It deposits rich pigment. What We Don’t Love: Because it’s mechanical, the tip doesn’t stay very sharp.
What We Love: It deposits rich pigment.
What We Don’t Love: Because it’s mechanical, the tip doesn’t stay very sharp.
Don't feel like sharpening? You’re in luck: This retractable gel eyeliner is built like a mechanical pencil, so you can just twist it up to keep the applicator fresh and sharp. It's also dual-ended with a blending sponge on the other end, making it simple to create a variety of looks.
Its gel formula isn't just waterproof and resistant to smudging, it also glides onto skin easily to prevent skips or dashes along the lash line. And with a wear time of up to 36 hours, it’s pretty safe to say that your eyeliner will outlast your dwindling energy at the end of the day. It's also ophthalmologist-tested and safe for sensitive eyes, making it a good option for waterlining (if that's your thing).
Price at time of publish: $11
Type: Gel | Shades: 6 | Size: 0.011 oz
Best Splurge: Gucci Stylo Contour Des Yeux Khol Eyeliner
What We Love: It’s much more blendable than other options. What We Don’t Love: The tip can break if you apply too much pressure.
What We Love: It’s much more blendable than other options.
What We Don’t Love: The tip can break if you apply too much pressure.
For unbeatable blending, consider this creamy liner, which is softer than most of its peers. This feature allows it to slide on and blend in seamlessly, making it a go-to if you're in the market for a smudged, smokey look. You could also use it to replace eyeshadow in a pinch. It's easy to apply evenly, and despite its ability to smudge, it works for waterlining, since it’s both dermatologist- and ophthalmologist-tested.
It comes as a retractable pencil so there's no need to sharpen it — although the compromise there is that the point won't be as precise. And while it does come with a sharpener, which is housed in one end of the pencil, it tends to waste some of the product.
Price at time of publish: $37
Type: Khôl | Shades: 6 | Size: 0.01 oz
Best for Sensitive Eyes: Burt's Bees Nourishing Eyeliner
What We Love: It’s a great, basic eyeliner that’s gentle enough for all. What We Don’t Love: It might transfer or wear off during the day.
What We Love: It’s a great, basic eyeliner that’s gentle enough for all.
What We Don’t Love: It might transfer or wear off during the day.
The magic of this fade-resistant (but not waterproof) eyeliner is in the formula. It's made with 99.9 percent natural materials, including a cushiony blend of jojoba, mango, and meadowfoam oils, which both offer a comfortable and hydrating application. It's not only ophthalmologist-tested, but also free of parabens, phthalates, petrolatum, and synthetic fragrances.
The color goes on softly and smoothly, and stays put whether you're applying it to monolid eyes, hooded eyes, or oily eyelids. The drawback is that the texture of the pencil can be too hard for the waterline — and, of course, it's not fully waterproof.
Price at time of publish: $10
Type: Cream | Shades: 3 | Size: 0.04 oz
Best for Waterline: Hueliner Longwearing Pencil Liner
What We Love: It easily and evenly glides across lids without skidding. What We Don’t Love: Only two shades are currently available.
What We Love: It easily and evenly glides across lids without skidding.
What We Don’t Love: Only two shades are currently available.
Infused with a moisture-rich blend of argan oil, hyaluronic acid, and panthenol, this creamy eyeliner can create a smooth, seamless line without tugging skin or skipping. While it may be soft, however, it won't break — and it's still able to create skinny lines.
The latest addition to beauty influencer Deepica Mutyala's makeup line, the clean formula is safe for the waterline, from which it won't budge, since it's both waterproof and transfer-proof. The pencil itself is also retractable, negating the need for regular sharpening.
Price at time of publish: $20
Type: Cream | Shades: 2 | Size: 0.01 oz
Best for Oily Lids: Jillian Dempsey Kohl Eyeliner
What We Love: The shades are limited, but more unique than others. What We Don’t Love: It doesn’t come with a sharpener.
What We Love: The shades are limited, but more unique than others.
What We Don’t Love: It doesn’t come with a sharpener.
This dual-ended eyeliner is “also a favorite,” Blunder says. “It is much stiffer and less creamy, but that allows me to get super-clean, super-thin lines — and it also doesn’t smudge once it has set down.” Even though it's stiff, it features a blending nub on one end for easy smudging, giving you added versatility.
And although the pencil itself is harder than others, it's still nourishing; in fact, it’s formulated with 100 percent plant-derived ingredients, such as organic jojoba oil, organic shea butter, and marula oil. It's also waterproof, so you don't have to worry about it melting or running through sweat and tears.
Price at time of publish: $20
Type: Khôl | Shades: 5 | Size: 0.32 oz
Best for Beginners: MAKE UP FOR EVER Artist Color Pencil Brow, Eye & Lip Liner
What We Love: It can be used anywhere on the face that needs definition. What We Don’t Love: It’s not waterproof.
What We Love: It can be used anywhere on the face that needs definition.
What We Don’t Love: It’s not waterproof.
New to eyeliner? You’re in luck: “These pencils go on smoothly and work great when you need to smudge them, because they don’t dry down,” says Mai Quynh, a celebrity makeup artist who works with Ali Wong and Riley Keough. She appreciates that they’re flexible and easy to apply, too.
Another perk from this option? You’re not stuck with a handful of neutrals. “I also love how many shades they offer as well,” she says. That said, the neutrals here do include a variety of browns that work for every skin tone, giving them an edge over other options. They all come in a matte finish, too, which is what allows them to be used as a brow pencil and lip liner — in addition to an eyeliner pencil.
Price at time of publish: $22
Type: Creamy | Shades: 14 | Size: 0.05 oz
Best Waterproof: Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Waterproof Eyeliner Pencil
What We Love: The variety of colors is unmatched. What We Don’t Love: The glitter and shimmer finishes aren’t ideal for the waterline.
What We Love: The variety of colors is unmatched.
What We Don’t Love: The glitter and shimmer finishes aren’t ideal for the waterline.
This oldie-but-goodie “glides on just like butter,” says celebrity makeup artist and Ulta Beauty Pro Deney Adam. “It’s the smoothest, longest-lasting eye pencil I have ever used. Obsessed!”
Even better: You've got options when it comes to the shades and finish. It comes in matte, satin, glitter, metallic, and shimmer finishes, allowing you to experiment with a huge number of makeup looks.
The formula deposits bold, rich color in a single application, thanks in part to its texture, courtesy of a blend of vitamin E, jojoba oil, and cottonseed oil. It’s also waterproof, offering up to 16 hours of wear for an intense look that lasts as long as you need it to.
Price at time of publish: $25
Type: Gel | Shades: 38 | Size: 0.04 oz
Best for Mature Eyes: Jones Road Beauty The Best Pencil
What We Love: It creates a super-sharp line. What We Don’t Love: The sharpener is sold separately.
What We Love: It creates a super-sharp line.
What We Don’t Love: The sharpener is sold separately.
If you don't love the softness of a creamy pencil, consider Bobbi Brown’s take on the firm liner pencils instead; these were inspired by the intense, deeply pigmented pencils of old-school eyeliners from the 1970s, which were nearly devoid of any creamy or silky ingredients and had the point and firmness of an actual pencil. And while that keeps the color from settling into or tugging at fine lines and creases, it can still be blended easily once you apply it — although you might not want to, considering the neat, sharp line this can create.
The downside is that the formula isn't long-lasting; it has a wear time of about six to eight hours. However, you can set it with a powder eyeshadow if you need to…although it might just be a worthy trade-off for the clean, saturated look.
Price at time of publish: $22
Type: Wax | Shades: 6 | Size: 0.04 oz
Best Gel: Hourglass Voyeur Waterproof Gel Eyeliner
What We Love: It strikes the right balance between softness and staying power. What We Don’t Love: You can’t really sharpen the tip.
What We Love: It strikes the right balance between softness and staying power.
What We Don’t Love: You can’t really sharpen the tip.
This long-wear, retractable gel liner is a winner — for a few reasons. Quynh is an especially big fan of the texture, noting that it “goes on effortlessly and stays put.” Plus, the staying power is impressive: It can last up to 12 hours without fading, smudging, or transferring onto your face, giving you all-day intensity.
While it’s only available in five shades (four of which are matte, with one shimmer option), “the colors are opaque and intense in pigment,” she says. “It really stays put and makes my job easier.” If that’s not a major selling point, we’re not sure what is.
Price at time of publish: $28
Type: Gel | Shades: 5 | Size: 0.01 oz
Best Longwear: Makeup by Mario Master Pigment Pro Eyeliner Pencil
What We Love: It has a built-in sharpener that’s easy to clean. What We Don’t Love: The tip can feel a little dry.
What We Love: It has a built-in sharpener that’s easy to clean.
What We Don’t Love: The tip can feel a little dry.
Blunder has been loving this pencil in the black shade in particular. “It is a true, deep, rich black — and has been a staple in my kit since it came out,” she says. The dual-ended, retractable pencil balances a velvety formula on one end with a blending brush — not a sponge — on the other, which allows for more seamless blending than the usual tool. It’s not waterproof, but it still has a decent wear time.
It comes with a sharpener, but you do need to sharpen it regularly if you're looking for a precise point — so there's a little more maintenance involved. However, the sharpener has a cleaning stick to get rid of the shavings, which is a nice touch.
Price at time of publish: $24
Type: Cream | Shades: 5 | Size: 0.03 oz
Best for Smokey Eyes: Charlotte Tilbury The Classic Eye Powder Pencil
What We Love: It’s versatile, since it can work as a liner or shadow color. What We Don’t Love: Since it’s softer, the tip is also prone to breaking.
What We Love: It’s versatile, since it can work as a liner or shadow color.
What We Don’t Love: Since it’s softer, the tip is also prone to breaking.
This eye pencil is infused with powders, which allow for easy blending — making it a good pick if you're looking to smudge, smoke, and saturate the color around the eyes. That also makes it especially forgiving if you’re a beginner, since there’s no real expectation for a super-precise line.
Keep in mind, though, that because you’re working with powders, the payoff is a little less intense than other options out there. And there’s no longwear advantage here, so you may need to set it with a loose, translucent powder — or just manage your expectations accordingly.
Price at time of publish: $24
Type: Cream | Shades: 3 | Size: 0.04 oz
Best Shimmer: Kulfi Underlined Kajal Eyeliner
What We Love: It’s long-lasting, yet easy to remove. What We Don’t Love: You don’t get as much product as in other liners.
What We Love: It’s long-lasting, yet easy to remove.
What We Don’t Love: You don’t get as much product as in other liners.
Khôl, or kajal, has long been used in India to define the eyes, so it's no surprise that this AAPI-founded beauty brand employs it in this super-creamy, waterproof eyeliner. It's infused with aloe vera, safflower seed oil, and vitamin E for an easy application, delivering intense pigment and a lasting payoff.
A retractable eyeliner, it works well on the waterline and won't migrate into the eye, and comes in bright shades in both matte and shimmer finishes. Put simply: It packs a punch when it comes to both color and staying power.
Price at time of publish: $20
Type: Khôl | Shades: 7 | Size: 0.012 oz
Best Matte: Lancôme Drama Longwear Liqui-Pencil Eyeliner
What We Love: The color is intense, so a little goes a long way. What We Don’t Love: It can feel a little dry when you first use it.
What We Love: The color is intense, so a little goes a long way.
What We Don’t Love: It can feel a little dry when you first use it.
Pairing the bold pigment of a liquid eyeliner and the easy application of a pencil, this formula has a creamy texture that's easy to blend and smudge. And with 24-hour resistance to transferring, fading, flaking, and smearing, it outlasts almost every other liner on this list.
While a few of its eight shades have glitter and shimmer finishes, the matte colors are especially good, delivering intense payoff in a single stroke. It's also ophthalmologist-tested and free of fragrance, parabens, and phthalates, making it yet another option if you're into waterlining.
Price at time of publish: $23
Type: Gel | Shades: 8 | Size: 0.42 oz
What to Keep in Mind
Eyeliner pencils can come in creamy texture, like khôl or kajal, or a gel. “I usually use gel eyeliner pencils when I’m doing a look that needs to be long-wearing, as well as opaque and intense in color or a graphic eye look,” says Quynh.
These also tend to be best for beginners, Blunder says, as they’re smooth and glide easily across skin without skipping. The glide factor is key, since it means the pencil will deliver a smooth, even line.
Meanwhile, “creamy eyeliner pencils are great to use for a smudgy or messy smokey eye, like a slept-in look,” says Quynh. And they typically won’t budge once they’ve set.
To keep racoon eyes from forming, a waterproof eyeliner pencil will do the trick. They’re especially helpful if your eyelids get oily throughout the day — or if you’re planning to apply eyeliner close to the eyeball, as with waterlining.
For instance, “I love to use waterproof eyeliners on the waterline for an intense look that won’t budge,” Quynh says. “I also like to use waterproof liners for certain eye shapes that have issues with products that may run underneath the eyes and smear.”
Pencil Tip + Applicator
The pencils themselves can vary; some are chunky, some are retractable, and some are shaped at an angle. Quynh is a fan of pencils that can be sharpened to give her a sharp tip and precise line. Meanwhile, “for gel pencils, I prefer them in a retractable pencil form,” she says. “Just remember to put the cap on tightly or they dry out.”
Looking for something more smudge-y? “If I was a fast wash of color all over the eye, or I’m going for a punk-rock, super-smudged liner, I will go for a chubby pencil,” says Blunder. Another option for this: Some eyeliners are also dual-ended, with a sponge or brush at one end, so you can line your eye as you’d like and then use the sponge side to buff it out.
Finally, for a clean, sharp wing, Blunder will either apply the color with an angled eyeliner brush; you could also use an angled applicator to get similar precision.
Your Questions, Answered
Is it bad to wear eyeliner on the waterline?
While you can apply eyeliner to the waterline — that is, the edge of the eye where it meets your eyeball. “Be mindful of your eye health and choose a safe and gentle product,” says Adam. “Some eyeliners may contain ingredients that are not safe for use on that specific area of your eye, such as certain pigments or preservatives.” He recommends checking the label; if it says ophthalmologist-tested, you’re usually good to go.
Should you put eyeliner on before or after mascara?
You should apply your eyeliner first. “Applying mascara first can sometimes smudge the liner or make it difficult to apply smoothly,” says Adam.
On top of that, “you want to really be able to work the liner into the base of the lashes, and mascara makes that challenging,” says Blunder.
The exception? She curls lashes before applying liner, since curling afterwards could remove some of the liner.
Why does my eyeliner always end up under my eyes?
It could be humidity — or your other beauty products. If you get racoon eyes by the afternoon, “go for waterproof formulas,” says Quynh. “Also, make sure your eye cream or concealer isn’t too emollient, otherwise it may migrate and your liner and eye makeup will travel down your face.”
To keep transfer from happening, “you can also set your eyeliner with powder after applying with a matching eyeshadow or translucent powder,” Adam says. “This will help to lock the eyeliner in place and prevent it from smudging.”
Why Shop With Us
Deanna Pai is a freelance writer and editor who has been covering beauty, health, and wellness for more than a decade. She’s been testing and wearing eyeliner pencils for years for both personal and professional reasons. For this story, she interviewed makeup artists Deney Adam, Mai Quynh, and Monika Blunder.
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