As a person with monolids — meaning the skin over my eyes lacks a visible crease — finding the perfect black eyeliner has been my beauty white whale for close to a decade. A winged cat-eye will always pop, but oily eyelids, a common monolid problem, have subjected me to an embarrassing degree of smudging and smearing over the years (in public! At events where people are looking directly at my face!).
Thankfully, as someone who’s written about beauty products, I’ve had access to a good number of eyeliners over the years (and before that tested them as a hobby). I’ve dabbled in everything from the wildly expensive — like Surratt Beauty and Clé de Peau — to the drugstore liners that got me through college. Fortune favors the bold when it comes to eyeliner (a light touch often means the lines get lost in the fold of your eyes), so I really only work with high-impact liquid liners versus pencils (which can be harsh on my crêpey lids) or gels (too greasy).
And while I realize that it’s controversial to exclude the extremely popular Kat Von D and Stila (I hear you), I find that their liners dry up within a month of daily use, so they’re really not economical. They’re also the liquid liners Sephora always recommends, so I imagine you’ve likely tried and formed an opinion about them. Below, the less well-trodden but extremely effective recommendations that I stand behind.
If you’re looking for something long-lasting, smudge-proof, and easy to use, you really can’t go wrong with Clio’s Kill Black waterproof pen. It’s something of a Strategist favorite (my colleague Lauren Ro raves about it, and her mother uses it, too) and one that I can’t recommend highly enough. Because it has more of a stiff tip, I find that it’s very easy to draw precise lines, and easily builds to create bolder lines, with very minimal smudging as the day wears on. Many redditors in the Asian Beauty subreddit consider it “HG,” or “Holy Grail” — it’s frequently name-dropped in monolid eyeliner threads — so I know that I’m in good company when I recommend it.
I’m also a devotee of Tarte’s Tarteist Double Take Eyeliner and am surprised that people don’t talk about it more often. It’s a double-sided pen with a smudgeable crayon and a sleek liquid liner that for years has been my go-to weatherproof eyeliner. It’s one that I’ve reserved for dates and special occasions — it even held up once through a sudden crying jag (don’t ask) — but I feel like the formula has changed, so I’ve been using the Clio more frequently. Now it tends to run a little but is still the thickest black eyeliner with the most precise tip I’ve tried (it’s like a calligraphy pen), and the longest-lasting ink well. It’s the sort of tool you’d want to use to create a heavy Amy Winehouse wing, but if you mess up, you will want to keep lots of Q-tips and micellar water on hand.
More recently, I’ve really been impressed by this newish Benefit Cosmetics roller liner. The best thing about this pen is the glide of it over your skin. There is virtually no drag with this pen, so you don’t really have to worry about it snagging your wingtip. It has a more pliable tip, so it’s maybe best for someone who’s more steady-handed, and goes on bold like the Tarte one. Because the finish is so fluid though, you really need a primer with this because it will smudge if you don’t let it set.
It’s not the cheapest eyeliner out there, but I’d also really recommend this Lancôme Precision Point eyeliner for beginners who are still learning how to create the perfect shape. It’s more like a wand than a pen, and I find that it’s very easy to smudge out a wonky line with a finger or Q-tip, and it stays put without smearing (it tends to fade out over the day instead of smudging). These guys last a while before drying out, too, and I like that they come in a range of colors, from cobalt blue and purple to a basic black.
If you like the feel of the Lancôme but don’t want to drop $30 on an eyeliner (understandably), this is a nearly perfect dupe and the best drugstore eyeliner I’ve ever tried. I’ve gone through countless tubes of these over the years and like how well they draw lines with minimal smearing.
Best eye primers
A good eye primer can make a world of difference, and I’d recommend one to anyone with oily lids. Eyeliners generally don’t grip onto face primers well, and you really need something specifically for the eye area that contains a matteifying ingredient like talc. One that I’m highly enthusiastic about is the Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion. It really works well at keeping your eyeliner in place (and it was recently recommended by makeup artist Angie Peek for a “sex-proof” makeup finish, so it seems she would agree). I like it because it has a little doe-foot applicator that makes it easy to apply primer in spots along the eye.
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