If you like your eye makeup sultry, smoky, or smudgy, you should be using a kohl eyeliner. But not all kohl eyeliners are created equally: some of them are creamier and more pigmented than others, while others can be disappointingly stiff. All of the best kohl eyeliners featured here have soft, creamy textures, so they're ideal for blending or smudging without having to tug at your lids. They come in both skinny pencil and chubby stick forms, but they're all intensely pigmented — another key feature of any good kohl eyeliner.
Kohl has been used for centuries for both its therapeutic and utilitarian purposes. (Cleopatra and her cohort, for example, sported kohl as proto-sunglasses.) And aesthetic purposes these sooty substances have in spades, though kohl eyeliners aren’t exactly known for their staying power. Modern formulas are certainly more equipped to withstand tears, heat, and natural oils from your eyelids than the pulverized minerals Cleopatra et. al. favored, but they’re still prone to smudging (and not in the way you want). To counteract potential bleeding, run a bit of matching, powder eyeshadow over your liner, then sweep some setting powder under your eyes. An eyeshadow primer can help mitigate smearing on your upper lids, too.
Whatever the vibe you’re going for, the best kohl eyeliners listed below will help you get there.
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1. Best Natural Formula
This kohl liner from celebrity makeup artist Jillian Dempsey is the rare eyeliner that contains entirely naturally derived ingredients. The lineup actually looks more like a lip balm than an eyeliner: There’s jojoba seed oil, shea butter, sunflower seed oil, and vitamin E, for instance, which all contribute to this pencil's buttery texture and intense color. The soft blending sponge on the other end is handy for achieving a quick smoky eye, though you could use your finger, too.
- Available shades: Black Sapphire, Deep Burgundy, Jet Black, Rich Brown
2. Best For Your Waterline
This Annabelle liner is formulated as a gel-kohl hybrid, so it sticks around on your waterline without sacrificing kohl’s signature creaminess and color payoff. Most Amazon reviewers attest to its waterproof, transfer-proof staying power, though not unanimously — so if you have watery eyes, you may still need to take extra precautions to prevent unwanted smudging. Customers do unanimously agree on how smoothly this glides onto your waterline with minimal pressure, and that it deposits a thick, opaque pigment.
- Available shades: Blackest Black, Beige, Lavender
3. Best Kajal
Kajal and kohl are the same, sooty-black substance (“kajal” is the Hindi term for “kohl”), but kajal pencils are notable for their thick, squat stems and cone-shaped tips. That unique shape offers more versatility in how you use it: Sweep it sideways along your waterline or to draw larger swaths across your lid, or use the pointed end to get more precise with your shapes. This kajal pencil from L’Oreal is the most popular one on Amazon, and its under-$10 price tag simply can't be beat.
4. Best Twist-Up Applicator
In terms of convenience, nothing beats a retractable eye pencil. No sharpener? No problem. Broken-off tips? I don’t know her. And as most kohls come in traditional pencil form, this twist-up kohl pencil from Kiko Milano is a real gem. Blend it out with the built-in smudger on the other end, or leave your line sharp and opaque. Amazon doesn’t currently carry the black shade — the one downside here — but you have five other rich colors to choose from, including cobalt and jade.
- Available shades: Camouflage Green, Cobalt, Dark Chocolate, Forest Green, Wood
5. Best Shade Selection
If you are looking to experiment with color (in addition to classic black), this Covergirl eyeliner has you covered. It comes in six intense shades, some in metallic finishes, like gold, emerald, and charcoal. This also claims to be waterproof, so it should have better staying power than most other, kohl eyeliners out there. Amazon reviewers do note that the crayon tip can be tough to sharpen, so you should pick up the brand’s pencil sharpener for the smoothest possible point.
- Available shades: Black, Burgundy, Charcoal, Emerald Metallic, Gold Metallic, Rich Brown
6. Best For Brightening
Cheat a few extra hours of sleep by running this illuminating kohl liner from Flower Beauty over your waterline. The pinky-nude shade complements any eye color, and also creates a beautiful contrast when used with darker shades of eyeliner or eyeshadow, like black, purple, or brown. This can double as a shimmer-free highlighter on smaller areas of your face, like your brow bone, Cupid’s bow, and bridge and tip of your nose, since the point is nice and chubby.
7. Best Splurge
$30 is a lot to spend on an eyeliner pencil, but this kohl from pro-favorite brand By Terry is truly one of the best on the market. It slides on like butter, blends beautifully, and really lasts — one Amazon reviewer reported that it stayed on through a nap, while another wrote that it "lasts all day." All four shades have a matte-to-iridescent finish, so the pigment will shift dynamically with the light. Use yours as a liner, or smear it all over your lid as an intense, creamy shadow.
- Available shades: Black Print, Brown Stellar, Bronze Generation, Brown Secret