The ultimate guide to eyeliners

Beauty portrait of brunette woman

From the creamiest kohl sticks to the best gel eyeliners, finding the perfect eyeliner is more than just making your eyes stand out. It’s about finding what works best for you and creates the looks you want to achieve.

Whether you prefer dramatic neon flicks and stiletto wings or a barely-there vibe, one thing is for certain — there are a lot of options to choose from! We’ve compiled a quick guide to help you determine which type might serve you best and how you can use them.


Cream Eyeliner

If you prefer simple, soft definition, cream eyeliner is going to be your beauty secret. Creams are designed for smudging and work well for beginners because they are easy to rub off if you need to try again. A pencil eyeliner finish will also look the most natural.

You can use cream eyeliner to create a smoky eye, but it may be less dramatic than with other types of eyeliner because of its softness. Some eyeliners labeled kohl, in particular, may be an ideal tool for a smoky eye. Look for ones that come in wood pencil form, which lets you sharpen them to a fine point, leaving you with the option to smudge or not.

Cream eyeliners may also come in pots; you can use brushes or your fingers to achieve the look you want. While using your fingers isn’t as precise as using the right makeup brush, fingers are better for getting the cream into small crevices and applying a bit more pigment, since you can use additional pressure.


Gel Eyeliner

While all eyeliners contain some wax, gel eyeliners contain quite a bit. They’re pigmented and can give you a thick or thin line. The best gel eyeliners glide on smoothly and give a satiny finish. Plus, these products will stay in place all day. They are also a good pick if you’re looking for something waterproof; gel options are good for rainy climates, but their moisture-resistant qualities also work well on a daily basis since they are placed close to the waterline of your eye.

You may wish to consider white gel eyeliner, which can brighten up the face and make eyes look bigger when used on the bottom waterline. As with cream eyeliner, gels come in both pot and pencil form, but you won’t necessarily want to apply gel eyeliner with your fingers. Use a brush, or — as some experts recommend — apply gel eyeliner to the tip of an eye makeup pencil and use that instead. Gel eyeliner is also easy for beginners to start with.

If you’re looking to try a new one, check out our selection of the best gel eyeliners, which have been tested and rated by a team of experts.

Liquid Eyeliner

We’re not going to lie, this type of eyeliner takes some practice to master. Liquid liner dries quickly, so it’s harder to achieve softer, more smudged looks. Use liquid eyeliner if you’re looking to add more intensity and make your eyes pop. If you want to achieve a top-notch cat-eye effect, bold and dramatic styles, or even a dotted look, go for liquid.

Liquid eyeliner comes in two forms. One is a brush tip, which helps you craft fine lines. The other is a felt tip, which is a little easier to apply. Tips and brushes vary in thickness and some products are dual-sided for added flexibility. However, you should know that it’s easy to lay on a liquid liner a little too thick. A thin line takes added practice. If it doesn’t look right, simply wet a Q-tip to wipe it off. You need a delicate touch to get it right!


Get Creative

Whether you add a pop of glitter or go for a swipe of color, eye makeup application is a form of artistic expression. So play around with the best gel eyeliners and other products — and have some fun. If you don’t like the look, you can easily take it off and try again. You’ll get there eventually!

About the Author

Emily O'Brien

Emily is a freelance writer who loves connecting the dots among facts and finding obscure little details to weave in throughout her work. Whether she's interviewing Olympic athletes, small business owners, dessert cookbook writers, or world-renowned architects, she's passionate about shining the spotlight on good people doing remarkable work. More.

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