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19 Best Drugstore Eyeliners: Liquids, Gels, Pencils and Everything In Between

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Written by Jenna Cartusciello

It’s not easy hunting for the best drugstore eyeliners; they get a bad rap when compared to high-end alternatives. However, many drugstore products out-perform the most luxurious brands because they have excellent staying power (i.e. they don’t smudge or flake), a smooth application and non-irritating ingredients. So, what’s the trick to finding the right formula for you? It comes down to two key factors: knowing your eyeliner goals and doing a little research before you head to the makeup aisle.

Of course, not everyone has the time to weed through reviews, videos and ingredient labels, especially when the market for eyeliners is overly saturated. To help you on your journey, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of the 19 best drugstore eyeliners taking product testing, reviews, availability and ingredients into consideration. We also provide the toxicity and irritation rating for each product, which is a one-to-10 scale designed by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). A 1/10 rating means the product has little to no potentially toxic ingredients. Keep reading to discover our top picks, including liquid, gel and pencil formulas.

Finding the Best Drugstore Eyeliner: A Buyer’s Guide

There are many excellent drugstore eyeliners on the market, but three products stand out: the NYX Epic Ink Vegan Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner, the Heroine Make by KissMe Long Stay Sharp Gel Eyeliner and the NYX Retractable Long-Lasting Mechanical Eyeliner Pencil. Each of these eyeliners performed well in product testing by makeup artists, and they all get excellent and extensive reviews.

However, these “best overall” options may not be right for you if you have particular goals in mind. If you prefer a clean formula, for instance, your best bet is to try an eyeliner from Burt’s Bees, Honest Beauty or Almay. Bear in mind that non-toxic formulas tend to smudge and don’t have the same staying power as waterproof formulas. And if you prefer brown instead of black, try Physician’s Formula, Burt’s Bees or Maybelline EyeStudio.

While it usually takes a few purchases to find the perfect product, this guide will hopefully reduce the risk that you buy a product you don’t love.

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Drugstore Eyeliner

When shopping for drugstore eyeliners, we recommend keeping the following five factors in mind.

Skin Type

Your skin type (dry, oily, combination, mature) will help you determine the right eyeliner for you. Dry skin will work with just about any eyeliner because it holds onto the product well. In contrast, a non-oil based liner (such as a gel or waterproof liquid formula) will work better on oily and combination skin. Mature skin fares well with gels and pencils, which blend more easily and don’t skip over fine lines and wrinkles.

Reviews

Product reviews will tell you a great deal about an eyeliner’s application and longevity. We suggest reading the worst reviews first so you can see whether buyers deal with similar issues. We also recommend reading the most recent reviews, which will tell you whether the brand altered the formulation. You don’t have to read everything — this guide expedites the process! — but getting the most up-to-date information on your potential liner is important.

Ingredients

If you have sensitive eyes, we recommend knowing a few “clean” beauty brands off the top of your head, such as Burt’s Bees, Honest Beauty and Almay. We also recommend watching out for these potentially irritating ingredients: parabens, phthalates, fragrances, preservatives and Black No. 2 (color index number 77266).

Unfortunately, irritation is always a risk, regardless of ingredients. So, we suggest that you perform a patch test before applying eyeliner, especially if you tend to react to products. To do: Draw a line of eyeliner on the inside of your wrist and let it sit for 15 minutes. Then clean off the liner. Repeat the patch test twice daily for seven to 10 days to make sure you don’t build up a reaction.

Desired Look

How you want to wear your eyeliner will give you a great idea of which products work best. If you love a sophisticated, simple and clean cat eye, liquid eyeliner is the way to go. If you want an easy, everyday look without the hassle of liquid liners, a gel or gel cream is an excellent alternative. And lastly, a pencil is the ideal tool for a smokey eye.

Price

Fortunately, drugstore eyeliners are always at affordable price points. You likely won’t have to spend more than $15 on your liner (whether it’s gel, pen or liquid), and you may spend as little as $5. Prices will vary depending on the location and retailer, so if you are a particularly savvy buyer, compare prices from store to store before you make a purchase.

What Are the Different Types of Drugstore Eyeliners?

Liquid

“There are two different types of liquid liner,” says Myiesha Sewell, Sephora Beauty Director. “There are liquid liners that have a brush tip … and there are ones that have a felt tip. I love a brush tip — I find it easier for me … A lot of people prefer felt tips, so it’s totally preference and whatever feels more comfortable in your hand.” Note that you can’t put liquid liner in your water line as it spreads everywhere and doesn’t stay put. So, for tightlining or applying to the lower lash line, you will need a non-waterproof gel, pen or pencil.

Gel

A gel liner is one that comes in a plastic or glass dipping pot. Traditional gel liners come with a thin, rounded brush, which Sewell says will help you create a wide variety of looks. “If you want a wing liner one day, a smudgy wing liner the next day, or sometimes if you want to do a smokey eye and cover your entire lid, having a gel liner can be great,” she says. “It’s super, super versatile.”

Pen and Pencil

Pen and pencil eyeliners give you the most control during application. For this reason, Sewell believes pens and pencils are excellent for beginners. If you still want to create a cat eye, she recommends starting with a pencil to create a wing, then finishing with a liquid liner. Her biggest tip? Don’t rush! Move slowly and don’t try to draw a line quickly across your lid — it will likely turn out bumpy and crooked. Instead, draw on the line using dots and short, fine strokes.

1

Best Overall Liquid: NYX Epic Ink Vegan Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

Pros

  • Cruelty free and vegan
  • Sharp and flexible tip
  • Waterproof

Cons

  • May bleed during application
  • May get sent a “dud” from Amazon
  • 3/10 toxicity level

Why are we in love with the NYX Epic Ink Waterproof Eyeliner? For starters, it is truly waterproof, so your cat eye won’t budge for 10 or more hours. And when it does start to budge, it flakes rather than smudges, which is easier to fix. The formula is smooth and mattifying, and the tip is sharp and flexible.

Of course, not everyone agrees that NYX Epic Ink is the best option out there. A few reviewers have received “duds” on Amazon, meaning the eyeliner comes dried out. Others report that the black shade bleeds during application which makes it hard to get a perfect look. The EWG gives this product a three out of 10 in terms of toxicity, mainly because the formula contains Black No. 2 (color index number 77266) — a potential carcinogen.

2

Best Overall Gel: Heroine Make by KissMe Long Stay Sharp Gel Eyeliner, Waterproof, Jet Black

Pros

  • Mess-free
  • Easy to apply
  • Rich pigment

Cons

  • May smudge
  • Ingredient list not readily available
  • Not available at most retailers

Not everyone is a fan of liquid eyeliner, but not everyone wants to paint on their eyeliner with a traditional gel liner, either. To the rescue: the Heroine Make by KissMe Long Stay Sharp Gel Eyeliner. This gel product comes in a thin, retractable tube, giving you the convenience of a pen without the mess. Plus, the product is waterproof, easy to apply and sharp enough to make a cat eye.

Though it’s hard to find the downsides, some reviewers argue that this gel liner smudges after a couple hours. In addition, the product isn’t technically a drugstore eyeliner since it’s sold only on Amazon — though it is well within the drugstore price range. The formula does not yet have a toxicity rating.

3

Best Overall Pen: NYX Retractable Long-Lasting Mechanical Eyeliner Pencil, Black

Pros

  • Rich pigment
  • Precise lines
  • Smudge resistant

Cons

  • Difficult to apply
  • Fades throughout the day
  • 6/10 toxicity rating

Sometimes, nothing works better than a classic eyeliner pencil. The NYX Retractable Mechanical Pencil is our top pick in this category because it’s rich in color, dramatic, creates precise lines and lasts for hours on end without smudging. (We’re not sponsored by NYX — we promise!)

The downsides? It may be long lasting, but the product itself can be difficult to apply. That’s especially true along the water line, as it has a hard time sticking to the skin if the eye is watery. Unfortunately, this formula has a toxicity rating of six out of 10.

4

Best Waterproof Liquid: Wet n Wild Breakup Proof Liquid Waterproof Eyeliner

Pros

  • Vegan and cruelty free
  • Great for water activities
  • Lasts 8+ hours

Cons

  • May get sent a “dud” through Amazon
  • Dries out after a month
  • 3/10 toxicity rating

Whether you’re spending the day at the beach, going straight from the gym to dinner or taking a cry break (!), the Wet n Wild Breakup Proof eyeliner has your back. The quick-drying, smudge resistant formula lasts for eight or more hours before you have to touch up or reapply. The cherry on top? It has a rich black color that glides on easily.

However, reviewers complain that they sometimes get sent dried-out pens when ordering through Amazon. Some also mention that the product dries out after a month. The formula gets a toxicity rating of three out of 10.

5

Best Waterproof Gel: Maybelline Eye Studio Lasting Drama Gel Eyeliner, Waterproof, Blackest Black

Pros

  • Lasts 10+ hours
  • Rich color
  • Great for oily skin

Cons

  • Won’t create a perfect cat eye
  • Hard to remove
  • 4/10 toxicity rating

Looking for a waterproof gel that stays on for hours? Maybelline’s Lasting Drama Gel Eyeliner is our top choice. It comes with a rounded precision brush and an “ink” well of gel product, which is perfect for makeup artists who want to control the exact amount of product they apply to their eyes. The formula is richly pigmented and lasts for at least 10 hours without smudging.

As is the case with waterproof formulas, this product may be hard to remove. (We recommend using micellar water.) In addition, the rounded brush won’t create the perfect cat eye, so you may need to do some touch ups after application to get the shape you desire. This formula has a toxicity rating of 4 out of 10.

6

Best Waterproof Pen: Maybelline TattooStudio Eyeliner Pencil, Waterproof, Deep Onyx

Pros

  • Sharp, defined lines
  • Lasts 12+ hours
  • Rich pigment

Cons

  • Potentially irritating
  • May get sent a dupe via Amazon
  • 3/10 toxicity rating

It isn’t easy to create a sharp cat eye with a non-liquid eyeliner, but the Maybelline TattooStudio Eyeliner Pencil makes it possible. Sharpen this pencil after each use and you’ll be able to create a clean, defined line that doesn’t budge for over 12 hours.

Unfortunately, some users found this formula irritating and said it causes burning in and around the eyes. A few mention that they received a dupe after ordering on Amazon (and not the real product). This formula gets a three out of 10 in terms of toxicity and irritation.

7

Best Dual Tip: Kokie Gel Ink Dual Ended Eyeliner, Gel and Liquid, Black

Pros

  • Liquid and gel product in one
  • Matte finish
  • Rich pigment

Cons

  • Not available at most retailers
  • May not last long
  • Contains Black No. 2

Want the best of both worlds without paying extra? We recommend the Kokie Gel Ink Dual-Ended Eyeliner, a product that has liquid eyeliner on one end and gel on the other. Having both allows you to draw the perfect cat eye with the liquid, then fill out your waterline with the gel. The formula is water resistant and matte, making it a classy choice for many makeup looks.

Though Kokie products used to be readily available at drugstores, they are now primarily sold through Amazon. (So, they aren’t easy to find in stores.) A few reviewers complain that the product doesn’t last long. This formula does not yet have a toxicity rating, though it contains Black No. 2 (a potential carcinogen).

8

Best for Cat Eye: L’Oréal Infallible Grip Precision Felt Liquid Eyeliner

Pros

  • Flexible, precise tip
  • Smooth application
  • Rich pigment

Cons

  • May smudge
  • Takes a while to dry
  • 4/10 toxicity rating

While many liquid eyeliner users love a brush tip for flexibility, a felt tip provides more control. This was the philosophy behind L’Oréal’s Infallible Frip Precision Liquid Eyeliner, which has an ergonomic and thin felt tip so you can create a sharp, clean cat eye with ease. The formula glides across the skin, and the dark black color is eye-catching in the best way.

Since this product is water resistant — not waterproof — it does not have the same staying power as other products. So, the formula will smudge if you touch your eyes. (Some users prefer this because the liner is easier to remove.) The EWG gives this product a toxicity rating of four out of 10.

9

Best for Smokey Eye: Revlon Pencil Eyeliner, ColorStay Eye Makeup with Built-in Sharpener

Pros

  • Matte finish
  • Creamy, easy to blend
  • Waterproof

Cons

  • May fade
  • Smudging tool may fall out
  • 6/10 toxicity rating

Ready to embrace your smudgy, blurry eyeliner and create a smokey look? The Revlon ColorStay Pencil Eyeliner was designed for the task. It features a sharp, retractable pencil on one end that creates precise lines and a smudging tip on the other that helps you blur the product. Reviewers love that they can quickly create a smokey eye with the soft, creamy formula.

Though this product is waterproof and lasts for eight or more hours, it may fade as the day goes on. Some reviewers also note that the smudging tool tends to fall out of the end of the tube. As for toxicity and irritation, this product gets a rating of six out of 10.

10

Best for Tightlining: Neutrogena Intense Gel Eyeliner, Jet Black

Pros

  • Precise applicator
  • Water resistant
  • Matte finish

Cons

  • Fragile tip
  • May get sent a “dud”
  • 3/10 toxicity rating

Tightlining — when you draw a precise line along your top and bottom water lines — creates a bold, cohesive look. And the Neutrogena Intense Gel Eyeliner is the perfect product to get it right. The retractable liner has a very thin tip that works well for precision work, and the formula helps ensure that your look will last all day.

While most reviewers can’t get enough of this product, a few mention that the product is fragile and breaks if you apply too much pressure. Others found that Amazon sent them “duds,” or tubes that dried out before they even tried them. This formula gets a three out of 10 in terms of toxicity and irritation.

11

Best Vegan and Cruelty Free Formula: Honest Beauty Vibeliner Pencil

Pros

  • Vegan and cruelty free
  • Great for sensitive skin
  • Soft, natural look

Cons

  • Doesn’t last long
  • May be hard to sharpen
  • May fade

Worried about the potential harm your makeup does to animals? We recommend the Honest Beauty Vibeliner because it’s certified vegan and cruelty free. Plus, it is EWG verified, meaning it contains no fragrance or potentially carcinogenic ingredients. The matte formula is smooth, making it an excellent choice for easy application and smudging (if you want to create a smokey look).

As with most “clean” products, the Vibeliner does not have the staying power of waterproof formulas. It tends to smudge or fade, so touch-ups throughout the day are necessary. The pencil may also be difficult to sharpen because the formula is on the softer side.

12

Best Clean Ingredients Liquid: Honest Beauty Liquid Eyeliner, Black

Pros

  • Great for sensitive skin
  • Smooth application
  • Rich pigment

Cons

  • Expensive
  • May smudge
  • Not beginner friendly

If you want a liquid drugstore eyeliner that has a squeaky-clean formula, we recommend the Honest Beauty Liquid Eyeliner. This product is also EWG verified, so it meets the EWG’s strictest standards for health and safety. As for the experience, we’re impressed; the liner glides onto the eyelid and leaves a rich, dark-black pigment.

However, this product is likely to smudge during a long day because it isn’t waterproof. It also takes a while to dry, so it’s important not to blink a lot or touch your eyes immediately after applying. As a result, this product isn’t beginner friendly.

13

Best Clean Ingredients Gel: Almay All-Day Intense Gel Eyeliner

Pros

  • Great for sensitive skin
  • Lasts 8+ hours
  • Rich pigment

Cons

  • Comes off if you have watery eyes
  • Other colors don’t get great reviews
  • Hard to sharpen

Did you know that nearly all Almay products are EWG certified? That’s what makes the All-Day Intense Gel Eyeliner a winner in our book. It contains no parabens, phthalates or other potentially toxic ingredients, making it a great pick for sensitive eyes. Plus, the rich, black gel glides onto skin without tugging. You can smudge and manipulate it for the first 10 seconds, but once it dries, it’s meant to stay.

Not everyone has had the best experience with this eyeliner in colors other than rich black. Namely, the glittery colors can be irritating. Others have noticed that the pencil is difficult to sharpen because the formula is soft and creamy. (Pro tip: Store this pencil in a cold place before sharpening.) Note that Almay used to test on animals but it is now a cruelty-free brand.

14

Best Clean Ingredients Pen: Burt’s Bees Nourishing Eyeliner, Soft Black

Pros

  • Vegan friendly
  • Natural look
  • Non-irritating

Cons

  • Contains macadamia nut oil (may cause allergic response)
  • Not waterproof
  • May smudge

The Burt’s Bees Nourishing Eyeliner is one of very few drugstore eyeliners that does not contain Black No. 2. Instead, this product gets its dark pigment from mica, a type of mineral powder and iron oxides. Iron oxides do have the potential to be irritating, but the concern is low. Overall, this product gets a 2 out of 10 score in terms of toxicity.

As for the product’s performance, Burt’s Bees Eyeliner is excellent. The pencil creates a natural, everyday look and gets great reviews for its non-irritating formula. Though Burt’s Bees isn’t a vegan company (many of its products contain beeswax), the Nourishing Eyeliner pen contains no animal-based ingredients. The downsides: It tends to smudge if you rub your eyes and doesn’t last as long as waterproof formulas.

15

Best for Beginners: Covergirl Perfect Point Plus, Self-Sharpening Eyeliner Pencil, Black Onyx

Pros

  • Lasts 8+ hours
  • Smooth application
  • Rich pigment

Cons

  • May smudge
  • Hard to find in stores
  • 4/10 toxicity rating

New to the world of eyeliner? We recommend starting with a pen or pencil, which can help you practice before you try a high-stakes liquid liner. The one we recommend: Covergirl’s Perfect Point Plus Eyeliner Pencil. The formula is smooth and the color is intense, which makes this a great pick for a soft cat eye.

This product is often sold out or not available at drugstores anymore, so your best bet is to buy online through Walmart or Amazon. This formula has a toxicity and irritation rating of four out of 10.

16

Best Brown Liquid: Physician’s Formula Eye Booster Lash, 2-in-1 Boosting Eyeliner & Serum

Pros

  • Rich, brown color
  • Contains growth serum
  • Smooth application

Cons

  • May be difficult for beginners
  • Not waterproof
  • 5/10 toxicity rating

If you’re on the hunt for a soft, brown eyeliner, we recommend the Physician’s Formula Eye Booster liner. This product does double duty as it contains a growth serum for your lashes. The color is an intense, dark brown (almost black), and the brush is very thin and precise — perfect for a sharp cat eye. It glides on effortlessly and stays for upwards of eight hours.

Since the applicator has a brush tip, beginners may find it difficult to create a decent cat eye. Some reviewers also report that the formula is not as liquid-y as they would like. This product has a toxicity rating of five out of 10.

17

Best Brown Pen: Burt’s Bees Nourishing Eyeliner, Warm Brown

Pros

  • Everyday look
  • Easy, smooth application
  • Low toxicity rating

Cons

  • May smudge
  • Fades during all-day wear
  • Natural ingredients may be irritating

A brown pencil eyeliner can help you create an effortless, everyday look, which makes the Burt’s Bees Nourishing Eyeliner the perfect addition to your makeup bag. The pencil sharpens easily and has a smooth application, thanks to natural oils like jojoba and mango seed. In addition, it has a low risk for toxicity and irritation — its rating is two out of 10.

The downsides: The formula is not waterproof, which means it may smudge if you sweat or rub your eye. It also doesn’t last as long as similar products and fades during the day. Some reviewers found the formula irritating, perhaps because some of the natural ingredients are potential allergens.

18

Best Brown Gel: Maybelline Eye Studio Lasting Drama Gel Eyeliner, Brown

Pros

  • Waterproof
  • Shimmer finish
  • Smooth application

Cons

  • Rounded brush
  • Not great for a smokey eye
  • 5/10 toxicity rating

If you love a classic, dip-your-brush gel, the Maybelline Eye Studio Gel Eyeliner in brown is an excellent choice. The waterproof formula has a shimmer finish which is great for parties or cocktail events, and the product is smooth and easy to apply.

Note that this product comes with a rounded brush which isn’t the best for a cat eye — especially if you’re a beginner. So, you may need to purchase a separate, pointed brush or refine the line with makeup remover and a cotton swab. Since it is smudge resistant, this product may not work well for a smokey eye, either. The formula has a toxicity rating of five out of 10.

19

Best Color Options: Ulta Beauty Automatic Eyeliner Pen

Pros

  • 18 different colors
  • Easy application
  • Low toxicity rating

Cons

  • May smudge
  • Certain colors are not long lasting
  • Hard to apply in certain colors

Looking for a pop of color? Ulta Beauty’s Automatic Eyeliner comes in 18 different colors, including blue shimmer, bright purple and metallic moss. The formula is creamy and easy to apply, thanks to the pointed tip. A bonus: All of Ulta’s automatic eyeliner products have a two out of 10 rating in terms of toxicity — so they are relatively low risk.

However, user experiences vary depending on the color. Some buyers report that the lighter colors smudge and fade easily, while the brown and black shades have a smoother application and better staying power.

People Also Ask

  • Q: What type of drugstore eyeliner is right for me — liquid, gel, or pen?

    A:If you want to create a cat eye or a wing, we recommend using a liquid liner or a combination of gel and liquid. For your waterline and tightlining, we suggest a pen or pencil.

  • Q: How much should I expect to pay for drugstore eyeliner?

    A:Most drugstore liners cost between $5 and $15.

  • Q: What ingredients should I avoid if I have sensitive eyes?

    A:If you have sensitive skin or are worried about toxicity, avoid the following ingredients in drugstore eyeliners: bulking agents (such as tin oxide), certain colorants (Black No. 2 CI 77266, aluminum powder CI 77000, CI 77499, blue 1 lake CI 42090), fragrance (such as BHT, phenoxyethanol), pH adjusters (sodium hydroxide), skin conditioners (such as lecithin, myristyl lactate, and cyclopentasiloxane) and solvents (SD alcohol 40).

  • Q: What type of eyeliner is best for mature eyes?

    A:We recommend a gel liner for mature skin because it is easy to manipulate and change as you go. You can also try a combination of gel and liquid for your top lid and a pencil for your bottom lid.

  • Q: What type of eyeliner is best for oily skin?

    A:Non-oil based liners such as gels and waterproof liquid liners work well on oily skin.

Why trust Us

At Us Weekly, we aim to inform readers to make smart purchasing decisions, saving you both time and money. Our editors are obsessed with finding products in a variety of categories from fashion and beauty, to home and fitness.

We try various products, so we can recommend our favorites, and we also summarize feedback and data from other customers. Data, like product reviews and ratings, helps us recommend the best product choices for individual price points and needs.

On top of that, we highlight unique product features for special use cases, ingredients preferences, and more. We strive to make sure you are discovering new products that can make your life easier, while keeping you up to date with the best product choices for types of items you already know and love.

Author photo

By Jenna Cartusciello

Affiliate Commerce Writer Jenna loves recommending great products to her friends and family, so helping the rest of the internet on their quest to find the best stuff makes tremendous sense! Though she mainly writes in-depth buyer’s guides these days, Jenna still enjoys crafting the occasional health article. In her spare time, she loves immersing herself in creative writing. Her favorite authors (for anyone who is willing to geek out with her) include Neil Gaiman, Cheryl Strayed, and Jennifer Egan.

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