The 13 Best Eyeliners: Liquid, Pencil, Gel, and More

Although there are a variety of eyeliners out there, most people stick to pencil or liquid. Celebrity makeup artist J Guerra shares his thoughts on the two. “Pencil eyeliners are versatile, simple to use, and more forgiving than liquid eyeliners,” he says. “Cleaning up any mistakes is much less drama. Pencils are also less of a commitment, as they tend to have a less permanent wear time. This makes them a great option for changing looks throughout the day, on a photo shoot, or going from a day to night look in real life.”

There are other benefits to pencil eyeliner, Guerra says. “The soft, malleable, kohl texture [of a pencil liner] is excellent for creating a more blended, smudged, or worn-in eyeliner effect,” he says. “Just be sure to choose one that is long-wearing or waterproof so that it sets and lasts all day after smudging it into place. Pencil liners are also better options for sensitive eyes or contact lens wearers. The formulas of liquid liners may irritate sensitive eyes. The liquid texture can slip into or past the waterline during application and end up on contact lenses. Be careful to read pencil liner descriptions, as not all are approved for waterline use! Some formulas may irritate the eyes, particularly if the pencils include sparkles or shimmer. Some dyes may also be harmful to the waterline. Use the sharpened point of the pencil for precise and defined lines, or try using the side for a thicker line and smudgy finish.” 

Guerra also has a few other notes on liquid liners. “Liquid eyeliner is long-lasting, delivers more definition, and creates a bolder, sharper line,” he says. It’s best suited for creating precise and defined lines, making it an excellent choice for sleek or more modernized dramatic eye looks. They offer greater control and accuracy, making it easier to create sharp lines, intricate designs, and precise detailing. Liquid eyeliners are often highly pigmented formulas that provide a more intense color payoff [compared] to the softness of pencils. The color payoff of these hues and bolder, more vibrant lines serve as a statement all on their own.”

Liquid eyeliner is better suited for oily eyelids since the wearability is stronger and won’t break down as easily as pencils,” Guerra says. “It’s also more suitable for hooded eye shapes since most liquid liners are transfer-resistant after they dry down and set. Remember to allow liquid eyeliner sufficient time to dry before blinking or opening your eyes fully (definitely don’t sneeze!) to prevent transfer or smudging. Liquid liners do require a bit more practice and patience than pencils! Most liquid liners are not meant to be used in the waterline, so if that’s part of the look, be sure to opt for a pencil liner in that area instead.”

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