The Best Drugstore Eyeliner for Every Makeup Look

Eyeliner is a makeup bag staple for a reason: that seemingly simple line traced around your eyes makes a statement. Heck, the use of eyeliner dates as far back as 10,000 BC across Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt where that statement read, the thicker the lines, the higher your status. Thankfully, in today’s modern world, finding a quality eyeliner doesn’t require a high standing status—or a splurge for that matter. One stroll down the drugstore aisles will reveal dozens of eyeliner options to meet the needs of beauty professionals and first-time liners alike; many of which have also lined the eyes of celebrities like Emma Stone, Camila Cabello, and Sofia Vergara.

But truth be told, the right eyeliner can mean the difference between crisp, lined definition, and a smeary, smudgy mess. That’s where we helped cut through the beauty clutter and rounded up a collection of editor- and makeup artist-approved drugstore eyeliners that you can rely on for any makeup look.

If you’re searching for a great everyday product, Revlon Colorstay Eyeliner received the best overall for its waterproof formula, always sharp tip, and wide range of colors—from neutrals to jewel tones.

From classic pencils in unexpected vibrant colors, to liquid and gel liners that hold up to the elements, these drugstore eyeliners are proof that it doesn’t take a designer liner to master a gorgeous eye makeup look.

Best Overall: Revlon ColorStay Eyeliner

What We Love: This creamy, waterproof liner has a built-in sharpener so you’ll always have a fine tip for easy lining.

What We Don’t Love: You will need a good makeup remover and gentle rub to take it off.

There’s a reason—scratch that—many reasons—why this eyeliner is a beloved favorite among beauty professionals and novices alike, and earns the top spot on our list. The hybrid design combines the precision tip of a twist-up pencil, with the ease-of-use of a traditional pencil liner. The dual-ended pencil houses a creamy, waterproof formula on one end, and a blending tip on the other, which also pops out to reveal a tiny, shreds-free sharpener for an extra-fine point. The pencil glides on smooth making it ideal for everything from simple lining to graphic swooping, and stays put until you decide to wash it away.

Type: Mechanical pencil | Color Range: 8 shades | Waterproof: Yes

Best Pencil Liner: L’Oreal Voluminous Smoldering Eyeliner

What We Love: The soft, jet black pencil is intensely pigmented for dramatic lines.

What We Don’t Love: This pencil is only available in one shade.

This classic pencil liner strikes the delicate balance of having a just-soft-enough tip that is perfect for strategic smudging, without turning smeary and messy. “While sometimes we’re looking for a pencil that doesn’t move, we also might want something smudgy and sexy,” makeup artist, Ashleigh Ciucci told InStyle. “This pencil is super soft and creates nice density but it blends out effortlessly for a smoky liner look,” she adds. While the dark kajal pencil is only available in an inky black shade, it’s an intense black that’s perfect for a smoldering eye makeup look.

Type: Pencil | Color Range: 1 black shade | Waterproof: No

Best Liquid Liner: Milani Stay Put Matte 17 Hr Wear Liquid Liner

What We Love: The deep matte pigment is intensely bold at first swipe and holds up well to moisture.

What We Don’t Love: It doesn’t have the finest point for precision lines.

There’s something about the two-piece ink pot and applicator design that makes this drugstore eyeliner feel exceptionally fancy as you apply it. The rich pigment goes on smooth and dries in seconds, so that meticulously traced line remains smudge-free from the minute it hits your face. The pretty matte finish adds a softer, understated effect to the eyes that pairs well with bold shadows, and the long wear pigment lives up to its all day (and night) promise without so much as a crease, crack, or smear.

Type: Liquid | Color Range: 4 dark shades | Waterproof: Water-resistant

Best Ink Pot: e.l.f. cream eyeliner pot

What We Love: The creamy pigment is rich and inky, but sets in seconds and won’t smudge.

What We Don’t Love: It requires a fine point eyeliner brush for application.

If winged eyeliner is your beauty mantra, this gel-pot gives you ultimate control so you can pack as much (or as little) pigment onto your brush as you need. The rich cream-gel formula is silky smooth, making it easy to manage how thick, thin, subtle, or dramatic your eyeliner looks. A single pass of any one of the three highly pigmented shades (black, brown, and teal) delivers intense color payoff. Plus, the long-wear formula holds up impressively well through anything, including happy tears and hot yoga.

Type: Gel | Color Range: 3 shades | Waterproof: Water-resistant

Best Gel Liner: CoverGirl Ink It Perfect Point Plus Eyeliner

What We Love: The mechanical twist-up pencil gives you a fine tip for every use.

What We Don’t Love: The color selection is limited to only two shades, black and brown.

Here’s a tried-and-true eyeliner that strikes the goldilocks ideal. Its texture is just soft enough for an easy glide application; the tip, just fine enough to master a precise tightline or dramatic wing; and the formula sets just fast enough, so lines remain crisp without any bleeding. However, you also have just enough time to buff or blend for a sexy smudge. The twist-up mechanical pencil ensures a precise tip for every application and its waterproof-ability is a notch above the rest.

Type: Mechanical gel pencil | Color Range: 2 shades | Waterproof: Yes

Best Longwear: Rimmel Exaggerate Waterproof Eye Definer

What We Love: The smooth glide formula traces a fine, yet bold line with one pass.

We Don’t Love: The long-wear waterproof formula is difficult to remove.

If you’re looking for a sharp line that you don’t have to continuously trace over for bold, striking color, this retractable twist-up pencil delivers. The dual-sided liner hosts a creamy gel formula on one end, with a built-in smudger on the other, which comes in handy for subtle blending when you’re going for a softer, blurred effect. The soft tip glides on like a dream without dragging or tugging, and once the lines set, it’s there until it meets a good makeup remover and a bit of rubbing.

Type: Mechanical gel pencil| Color Range: 8 shades | Waterproof: Yes

Best Felt Tip: NYX Epic Ink Liner

What We Love: The fine, flexible, pointy tip is ideal for precise lines and effortless wings.

What We Don’t Love: The inky formula has a longer dry time.

The flexible, paintbrush-like tip makes this liner stand out from the pack, and with good reason: it allows for an ease of use that makes cat-eye flicks and graphic, winged swoops completely effortless, no matter your beauty skill level. You’ll need to wait a good 20 seconds for the pigment to set before any fussing, but once it dries that crisp liner look will remain sharp and defined all day. The glossy hue is also rich enough that all you need is one coat for striking definition around the eyes.

Type: Liquid | Color Range: 2 shades | Waterproof: Yes

Best Cruelty-Free: Wet n Wild Mega Last Breakup-Proof Liquid Eyeliner

What We Love: The pigment gradually dispenses as you line for added control.

What We Don’t Love: The marker tip can dull over time.

This eyeliner looks more like a fine-tipped marker than a traditional pencil liner and that’s exactly what makes it special. The marker is thicker than most liners and sits comfortably in your hand, allowing for better control which is especially helpful for more novice makeup do-ers. “I love this marker’s fine point, it glides on smoothly and is blacker than black,” Ciucci told InStyle. The feathery tip is fed by a mini built-in ink tank that dispenses a steady flow of pigment as you line, helping with an even application. “The real selling point for this baby is that it’s beyond waterproof and doesn’t pill.”

Type: Liquid | Color Range: 1 black shade | Waterproof: Yes

Best for Cat Eye: Maybelline Tattoo Studio Liner

What We Love: The gel liner is sharpenable and available in a nice array of shades.

What We Don’t Love: The formula sets fast, posing a challenge for smokey eye looks.

This unique gel-pencil liner delivers the best of both worlds: a silky gel-like formula paired with a pencil-like fine tip. Unlike most twist-up gel liners, which fall short in delivering an ultra-sharp tip, this gel pencil is sharpenable, giving you a precise point for easy lining and allowing you to better control the thickness of the lines for more dramatic cat eye styles.

It also swaps the drier, waxier pigments of a traditional pencil liner with a rich, creamy gel that glides on smooth, saturated with color, and stays put, even along the waterline. It has a wide shade range of nine colors, in classic and playful hues.

Type: Gel| Color Range: 9 shades | Waterproof: Yes

Best Color Variety: Pixi by Petra Endless Silky Eye Pen

What We Love: The liner is available in tons of colorful shades and different finishes.

What We Don’t Love: This pencil requires frequent sharpening to maintain a fine tip.

The super-soft liner glides on smoothly and gives just enough time to smudge out for a sexy, smokey effect before it dries and sets for hours. It’s also available in a playful variety of vibrant and classic colors, which includes shiny, matte, and shimmer finishes, at an inviting price point that encourages experimentation. The creamy texture makes it especially comfortable for tracing along the waterline without tugging or poking at the delicate eye area, but you will need frequent sharpening to keep a fine tip for precision lining.

Type: Pencil | Color Range: 23 shades | Waterproof: No

Best for Waterline: NYX Professionals Slim Eye Pencil

What We Love: This intensely pigmented liner comes in an impressive range of classic and vibrant shades.

What We Don’t Love: The formula is not waterproof.

One pass of this superior pencil liner is enough to recognize it’s a cut above the other pencils of its kind — and at a fraction of the price. The vibrant range of ultra-pigmented liners are formulated with coconut oil which keep the pencil tips silky enough to glide along the delicate waterline without poking, tugging, or pulling. It also has impressive staying power so it won’t disappear after you blink. The $5 price tag is reason enough to add a pop of color to your makeup bag, and the vibrant mint green, baby blue, and purple liners will serve as a welcome change from classic black and brown.

Type: Pencil | Color Range: 24 shades | Waterproof: No

Best for Sensitive Eyes: Neutrogena Nourishing Eyeliner

What We Love: It’s formulated with conditioning olive oil and shea butter that won’t irritate the eye area.

What We Don’t Love: The creamy texture can smudge on oily lids.

Nourishing isn’t typically a word we associate with eyeliners but we’ll admit, this formula lives up to its name. The creamy tip contains olive oil and shea butter that gently conditions the delicate area as you trace with it, so you don’t experience any creasing or cracking from dry skin. The formula is also made to not irritate sensitive eyes and skin.

While the color selection is limited, the shades feature light-diffusing pigments which appear as a soft, subtle shimmer that, once applied, highlight the whites of your eyes for a more defined gaze. The built-in sharpener and smudger on the opposite end of the pencil also make for easy lining.

Type: Gel | Color Range: 4 shades | Waterproof: No


What to Keep in Mind 

Eyeliner Type 

Eyeliners come in many different forms, each with their own unique benefits when it comes to control, precision, and ease-of-use. There are traditional pencils which require frequent sharpening to maintain a point, and mechanical or twist-up pencils with a gel-like formula that sometimes have a built-in sharpener. You can also find liquid or cream pigments in pots that require a fine liner brush for application. These formulas tend to be for more advanced makeup wearers.

Finding the right pigment type (kohl, kajal, liquid, gel, or cream), and application mechanism (pencil, pen, felt tip, or brush) to match your comfort level and preferred style will make for easier application.

Formula 

Identifying the right formula for your eye makeup look will help guide you to the best result. If you’re looking to achieve a smokey effect, you’ll want to look for softer, creamier formulas that allow time for blending and buffing, but will also set so you’re not left with a smudgy mess. There are also long wear and waterproof formulas that promise to hold up through hot days, sweaty workouts, or marathon nights. In that case, look for a formula that sets quickly and won’t wipe away at the first sign of moisture.

Finish 

The finish of an eyeliner might seem like a subtle detail (as compared to the finish of an eye shadow), but shiny, matte, or shimmery liner can make a big impact on your overall look. Matte liners offer an understated definition, while shiny and shimmery liners can create a dramatic, eye-catching effect. In the end, choosing the finish comes down to personal preference.

INSTYLE