The Best Eyeliners For Contact Lens Wearers

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Finding the perfect eyeliner is a process in and of itself, but when you throw in an element like wearing contact lenses, finding an eyeliner that doesn't cause irritation (while still being able to hold up to your other expectations) can feel like an impossible task. That's why Elite Daily spoke with optometrist Jennifer Tsai, who says that the best eyeliners for contact lens wearers are hypoallergenic and fragrance-free. "Eyeliners that include natural and clean ingredients such as vitamin E or jojoba oil are a plus," Dr. Tsai adds of other features to look out for. "Makeup, such as mascara and eyeliner, is a common source of contact lens debris deposit," Dr. Tsai says of why you'll want to be selective about your eyeliner (and other eye makeup) in the first place. "Debris can often stick to the surface of contacts, and this can lead to eye irritation," she explains, adding that symptoms often include redness, blurry vision, and watery or light-sensitive eyes. "It can also cause lash loss and gland dysfunction in the long run, ultimately leading to dry eyes," she continues, which is why it’s so important to make sure you’re using the right type of eye makeup. More on that, ahead.

The Expert

Dr. Jennifer Tsai is a Manhattan-based optometrist and founder of Line Of Sight, where her professional services include everything from comprehensive eye examinations and contact lens fittings to treating dry eye. Dr. Tsai also founded and designed an eyewear line, Carrot Eyewear.

What To Avoid In An Eyeliner If You Wear Contact Lenses

In addition to looking for hypoallergenic and fragrance-free eyeliners, Dr. Tsai shares several ingredients you'll want to avoid, including parabens and phthalates. "If you can't pronounce the ingredient, you probably don't want to put it near your eye," she says. "There are certain harmful ingredients that can cause eye irritation including petroleum, aluminum, talc, silicones, and preservatives like benzalkonium chloride," she adds.

You'll also want to save waterproof formulas for special occasions only, as they tend to be more irritating than their non-waterproof counterparts. "Waterproof makeup is often hard to remove and contains film formers which can irritate your eyes," Dr. Tsai explains.

Optometrist-Approved Tips For Wearing Eye Makeup With Contacts

How (and where) you apply your eyeliner can also help minimize the risk of experiencing irritation if you wear contact lenses. First, Dr. Tsai says that you'll want to have daily, single-use contacts, which should always be inserted before applying any eye makeup. "When wearing eyeliner and contact lenses, you want to refrain from applying the liner too close to your waterline," Dr. Tsai says of a common cause of irritation. "Doing so can cause the makeup to spread into your eye and get trapped on your lenses, causing irritation. Many don't realize that the waterline is made of meibomian glands, and makeup can clog these oil glands, leading to dry eyes and styes."

It's also important that you thoroughly remove whatever eyeliner and makeup you're wearing at the end of the day, too. Dr. Tsai recommends starting with an oil-based cleansing balm that will break down all of your makeup: "Using a cleansing balm and massaging your closed lids is a great way to remove any oil-based makeup," she says, adding that anyone who wears false lashes might benefit from using a tea tree foam, too. After that, Dr. Tsai says that an easy way to ensure every last trace of makeup is removed is to saturate a cotton pad with micellar water and swipe it across your face.

Shop The Best Eyeliners For Contact Lens Wearers

In a hurry? Here are the best eyeliners for contact lens wearers:

  1. Best Liquid Eyeliner For Contact Lens Wearers: Honest Beauty Liquid Eyeliner
  2. Best Colored Eye Pencil For Contact Lens Wearers: Almay All-Day Intense Gel Eyeliner
  3. Best Black Eye Pencil For Contact Lens Wearers: L'Oréal Paris Infallible Never Fail Eyeliner
  4. Best Moisturizing Liquid Eyeliner For Contact Lens Wearers: W3LL People Fresh Lines Liquid Eyeliner
  5. Best Moisturizing Eye Pencil For Contact Lens Wearers: Neutrogena Nourishing Eye Liner

1. Best Liquid Eyeliner

Dr. Tsai named this her favorite plant-based eyeliner for contact lens wearers, as it's dermatologist-tested, ophthalmologist-tested, fragrance-free, and hypoallergenic. The Honest Beauty liquid eyeliner is a classic black liquid liner with a formula that's smudge-resistant and flake-resistant for up to 8 hours. The applicator tip is flexible and tapered to make precision lining even easier, and the liner is also cruelty-free and vegan.

Formula: Liquid Nourishing Ingredients: Glycerin Available Colors: 1 Waterproof: No

Relevant Review: "I love this eyeliner. It's very precise and easy to apply. I'm very picky about my liquid eyeliners, and this is one of the best eyeliners I [have] ever used. It doesn't flake, and it's very comfortable for my eyes, especially since I wear contacts and have sensitive eyes."

2. Best Colored Eye Pencil

When you are in need of a waterproof formula, Almay’s All-Day Intense Gel Eyeliner gets Dr. Tsai's pick for its sensitive skin-friendly formula. The sharpenable pencil gives you up to 24 hours of wear with a formula that that’s free of common irritants like parabens, phthalates, fragrance, and mineral oil. The gel pencil has a creamy texture that deposits deeply pigmented color onto your lids with a single stroke (and without any harsh tugging). Although it's waterproof, the eyeliner is ophthalmologist-tested and hypoallergenic, so it's less likely to cause sensitivity than your average waterproof formula.

Formula: Gel Pencil Nourishing Ingredients: Vitamin E Available Colors: 5 Waterproof: Yes

Relevant Review: “Versatile eye pencil that is fierce enough for bold eye looks, yet gentle enough for sensitive eyes and contact lens wearers. It is even suitable for use on the waterline! From the outside, this easy-to-use eyeliner looks like an ordinary eye makeup pencil; however, the color is as intense as a liquid liner, gliding smoothly and effortlessly onto lids without skipping or tugging, and dries instantly. [...]”

3. Best Black Eye Pencil

For a classic black non-waterproof pencil, L'Oréal’s Infallible Never Fail Eyeliner is an Amazon favorite with more than 15,000 five-star ratings. Even though the eyeliner is formulated with multiple moisturizing ingredients like vitamin E and sunflower seed oil, it promises to stay in place without any fading or smudging for up to 16 hours. Plus, the mechanical eyeliner has a built-in sharpener to keep the tip extra sharp, and it features a smudger on the other side to help you master smoky looks.

Formula: Mechanical Pencil Nourishing Ingredients: Vitamin E, Hyaluronic Acid, Sunflower Seed Oil Available Colors: 7 Waterproof: No

Relevant Review: "I've used this eyeliner for over a year. As a contact lens wearer, I'm pleased that this does not irritate my eyes and stays on all day. Natural looking and beats higher-priced, high-end brands. Nice color, too."

4. Best Moisturizing Liquid Eyeliner

Dr. Tsai says that the plant-based ingredients included in this eyeliner, like sunflower seed oil, aloe vera, and rosemary leaf extract, make this a great moisturizing and soothing option. Though it has some mixed reviews on Amazon, the W3LL People Fresh Lines Liquid Eyeliner is a water-resistant and smudge-resistant formula that uses a tapered, felt-tip brush to give you more control and precision as you work. The brand focuses on eliminating potential irritants from its products, so you can also rest assured that the vegan and cruelty-free eyeliner doesn't contain any parabens, phthalates, synthetic fragrances, mineral oils, or talc.

Formula: Liquid Nourishing Ingredients: Glycerin, Vitamin E, Sunflower Seed Oil, Aloe Vera, Rosemary Leaf Extract Available Colors: 1 Waterproof: No

Relevant Review: "Favorite eyeliner. All natural, water-resistant eyeliner that won't irritate my eyes. Applies smoothly and is smudge-proof."

5. Best Moisturizing Eye Pencil

For those with light hair and/or fair skin, a brown eyeliner may be preferred as it's less harsh than a stark-black eyeliner. Neutrogena's Nourishing Eye Liner comes with an ultra-precise tip for creating the thinnest lines possible. To give the eyeliner a creamy texture and help moisturize the skin around your eyes, it's packed with nourishing ingredients you'd typically find in skin care products, such as hyaluronic acid, capuaçu butter, and vitamin E.

Formula: Mechanical Pencil Nourishing Ingredients: Olive Oil, Vitamin E, Capuaçu Butter, Hyaluronic Acid Available Colors: 2 Waterproof: No

Relevant Review: "Great product for the price! Super soft (not crumbly) and gentle, it glides on smoothly, blends easily, great pigment, looks great, and lasts all day […] It's also easy to remove and doesn't irritate my sensitive eyes."


Dr. Jennifer Tsai, Manhattan-based optometrist and founder of Line Of Sight.