The Best Eyeliners For Tightlining

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Elite Daily/Amazon

If you want to up your eyeliner game, tightlining is the way to do it. "Tightlining is used to define the eye while making the lash line appear fuller," makeup artist Clarissa Luna tells Elite Daily. According to Luna, the best eyeliners for tightlining are pencils or gel-based formulas that are waterproof. "Since tightlining is so close to the eye, a waterproof [liner] should last throughout the day without smearing," she explains. When using tightlining as a way to make your lash line look fuller, you'll typically want to stick with a black or dark brown color. You can also use tightlining as part of a more elaborate smoky eye look, in which case, you can play with colors that complement your eyes. And when using the tightlining technique to brighten or perk up your eyes, Luna recommends choosing “a shade closest to the color of your waterline,” instead of white.

The Expert

Clarissa Luna is a New York City-based makeup artist with more than a decade of professional experience. She has worked with celebrities like Megan Fox, Lana Condor, Tinashe, and Camila Cabello on magazine shoots, television shows, and red carpet events.

A Makeup Artist's Guide To Tightlining

Luna says the first rule of tightlining is to make sure your pencil tip is sharpened bluntly. While this is important when using eyeliner in general, it's especially helpful when tightlining because the space you're lining is so narrow. When you're ready to start lining, Luna says to "try to hold the top lash line gently with your available hand while lining with your other hand to ensure a smooth and precise application," and adds that you'll want to do the same when lining the lower lash line, too. If tightlining is just one part of a bolder smoky eye, Luna suggests using an eyeliner brush to soften and blend your liner.

Because waterproof eyeliners are so heavy-duty, you may need to work a new eye makeup remover into your routine, too. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, our eyes are more sensitive and prone to irritation, so you'll want to thoroughly and gently remove your eyeliner (and any other eye makeup you're using) to avoid any issues. "When removing anything waterproof on the eyes, I suggest using the Garnier Micellar Cleansing Water on a cotton round," Luna advises. "Place a saturated puff on the lash line for a few seconds to break down the makeup before wiping it away, which will allow you to rub the area less."

Shop The Best Eyeliners For Tightlining

In a hurry? Here are the best eyeliners for tightlining:

  1. Best Eyeliner Under $5: Rimmel London Scandaleyes Waterproof Gel Pencil in Nude
  2. Best Retractable Eyeliner: NYX Retractable Eye Liner
  3. Best Gel Eyeliner Under $10: Maybelline TattooStudio Sharpenable Gel Pencil Longwear Eyeliner
  4. Best Gel Eyeliner With A Built-In Smudger: Trish McEvoy Intense Gel Eye Liner
  5. Best Shade Range: Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Waterproof Eyeliner Pencil

1. The Pro's Pick: Best Eyeliner Under $5

It doesn't get more budget-friendly than this $3 pencil from Rimmel London. Luna suggests using the brand’s Scandaleyes Waterproof Gel Pencil in ‘Nude’ or ‘Brown’ for a brightening effect, depending on your skin tone, but there's also a classic black liner for faking fuller lashes, too. The sharpenable pencil is smooth enough to glide along the waterline and be blended out, but once it sets, it becomes completely waterproof, sweatproof, and smudge-proof. The brand also notes that it's been ophthalmologist-tested and deemed suitable for contact lens wearers and those with sensitive eyes.

Relevant Review: "Awesome stuff! I use it on my waterline and a little bit on the inside corner of my eyes to brighten them. […] Easy to apply, stays on a long time, and a good color. I've tried white eyeliner before, and it's way too chalky looking, but this eyeliner with its nude hue and cream texture looks much more natural."

Formula: Sharpenable Pencil Available Shades: 4 Cruelty-Free: Yes

2. The Pro's Pick: Best Retractable Eyeliner

If you're not a fan of eyeliners that need to be sharpened, this NYX Retractable Eye Liner does all of the work for you — and it also comes recommended by Luna. Created with tightlining in mind, the pencil uses a creamy formula that delivers budge-proof, pigmented color in a single stroke. The black and brown colors will be your go-to when bulking up your lash line (depending on the natural color of your lashes and your personal preference, of course), but the brand also makes plenty of other matte and metallic shades for you to choose from.

Relevant Review: "This liner is amazing. I use it to tight line my upper lid and enhance my shadow. Goes on smooth and stays all day. I have this in so many colors, but olive, bronze, and gold are hands down my favorite. […]"

Formula: Retractable Pencil Available Shades: 13 Cruelty-Free: Yes

3. Best Gel Eyeliner Under $10

Gel formulas tend to have a smoother, thicker consistency than their liquid and pencil counterparts, and they also give you some serious color payoff. This is especially helpful when you're tightlining along the water line to enhance your lashes or build up a smoky eye. Maybelline's TattooStudio pencil lets you draw on dramatic color in a single swipe, and it's waterproof and fade-resistant for up to 36 hours. Plus, it comes in lots of bright, fun shades to play around with, like neon green, yellow, orange, pink, purple, and blue.

Relevant Review: "This is great eyeliner. I use it on my water line, and it has longevity I never expected from a pencil liner. It goes on smooth and stays put. Very easy to use. Would purchase again over the more expensive brands."

Formula: Sharpenable Gel Pencil Available Shades: 19 Cruelty-Free: No

4. Best Gel Eyeliner With A Built-In Smudger

For giving your lashes a boost or diffusing a smoky eye, this Trish McEvoy Intense Gel Liner comes with a built-in smudger at the opposite end. No matter how you use it, the sharpenable pencil deposits a rich gel formula that glides across your waterline (or lids) without tugging at your skin. While the jet black pencil is the traditional way to go, there are also shimmering navy and deep Burgundy shades that make for a subtle way to add some color to your next smoky eye.

Relevant Review: "This is the best eyeliner for tightlining and the water line that I have ever used. I've [purchased] so many trying to find one that stays on a long time and is easy to apply. None of them beat this one. It goes on easily without tickling and making my eyes water, and it stays on for hours and hours. I love this eyeliner."

Formula: Sharpenable Gel Pencil Available Shades: 3 Cruelty-Free: Yes

5. Best Shade Range

The Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Waterproof Eyeliner Pencil comes in several nude options for darker skin tones (like ‘Whiskey,’ ‘Bourbon,’ and ‘Demolition’), but there are more than 20 other colors to choose, including metallic and shimmery shades. No matter which color you choose, every pencil has a creamy pigment that's formulated with nourishing ingredients like vitamin E and jojoba oil, and they each promise to give you up to 16 hours of waterproof color.

Relevant Review: "This is the best eyeliner for tight lining. I was so shocked with how smooth it was, and it is so pigmented. Worth the price."

Formula: Sharpenable Pencil Available Shades: 29 Cruelty-Free: Yes


Clarissa Luna, New York City-based makeup artist.

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