Recently, my cousin-in-law came to me with a beauty frustration. The eyeliner pencil she has used for decades no longer stays put. “I don’t want to look like a raccoon,” she fumed, pointing to the pigment that had migrated to places unwanted. When I suggested liquid liner, she protested right away — as though this beauty product is only a young woman’s game. (She’s 50.)
Women tend to ditch liquid eyeliner as they age because their upper lids become crepey, causing liquid liners to “skip,” leaving behind jagged edges and bare spots; their lids start to sag more, growing increasingly hooded and more apt to hide any cat-eye flicks; or because their hands become a bit shakier and eyeliner pencils tend to be a tad more forgiving.
But makeup artist Brett Freedman, who regularly works with Amy Poehler and Reba McEntire, says there’s one really good reason not to turn your back on liquid liner: staying power. “The great thing about liquid liner is that it’s smudge proof and stays put much longer than wax-based pencil liners,” he says — a benefit for women like my cousin-in-law. “I have actresses I glam that can’t use any wax-based pencil,” he says. “We opt for liquid liner that I soften with setting powder or I’ve even used waterproof mascara on a small brush as liner.”
Sound like liquid liner has a place on your vanity? Read on for tips on how to make liquid liner work for you.
Go Beyond Standard Black
Perhaps some of the allure of an eyeliner pencil is how it blends into skin, allowing for softer, more diffused color. Liquid liner, on the other hand, is heavily pigmented with no blendability — which can appear severe if you’re accustomed to a soft haze of color. Add to that, we often associate liquid liner with black (think: Sophia Loren’s or Brigitte Bardot’s iconic cat-eye designs). If black looks too harsh to you, Freedman suggest trying brown or gray. He also suggests a liquid eyeliner with a touch of shimmer, which catches light and reads a touch softer.
Yes, Hooded Lids Can Enjoy a Cat Eye
Because wax-based liners break down and migrate when they come into contact with oily eyelids, when brows start to sag and eyelids become more hooded, pencil liner doesn’t stand a chance. Liquid liner will stay put even with deeply hooded lids — especially when applied over an eye shadow primer.
The one caveat: Hooded lids can obstruct cat-eye designs. Freedman suggests doing your liner last in this situation. “Add shadow first and pay attention where you end the shadow design on each eye. Then, use that end point as your guide to where to end the liquid liner,” he says. If creating a cat eye, rather than look down as you draw the wing, look straight ahead at your reflection and trace the wing upward.
Make Eyeliner Last Longer
Always begin with a cleansed eyelid, devoid of oils. Use an eye shadow primer prior to applying liner to help it set. Seek out liquid liner formulas with the words “stay put” or “waterproof” — they tend to have the necessary staying power. If after you draw your lines you desire increased insurance, Freedman suggests patting a translucent setting powder over top, which can also help soften the line.
Steady as She Goes
Shaky hands? This shouldn’t deter you from liquid eyeliner. Use your elbow as a fulcrum, anchoring it against a steady surface, like a vanity counter or mirror. This should steady your hand significantly. If trembling persists, use shorter, overlapping strokes to create a continuous line rather than one long swipe.
Three to Try
As you master the perfect eyeliner flick, you’ll want a product that glides on smoothly without skipping; provides even pigment; has a tip that doesn’t bend too much, dull, or shed; and has built-in staying power. Freedman shares three formulas that fit the bill.
For Sharp Lines: Make Up For Ever Aqua XL Ink Liner ($24). With matte, satin, and shimmer finishes and a spectrum of colors beyond basic black, this waterproof liner scores high with Freedman due to its “fab felt tip applicator” that makes sharp lines a breeze.
For a Standout Color Range: Revlon ColorStay Exactify Liquid Eyeliner ($12). Freedman loves the eight shades of this no-skip liner line, which range from traditional matte black to eye-catching copper.
For the Commitment Phobic: e.l.f. Cosmetics H2O Proof Eyeliner Pen ($6). A quick-dry formula and skip-free felt tip make this a solid liquid liner. And at only $6, “this is a great price point if you aren’t sure liquid liner is for you,” says Freedman.