How to Apply Eyeliner Like a Pro


In This Article:

Eyeliner makes a huge difference—it can take a basic eye makeup application to a fully-realized look that accentuates your lashes and the shape of your eye. Eyeliner can be sexy, elegant, or subtle, but it also can be harsh, overly dramatic, or sloppy—it all depends on how you apply it.
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Applying eyeliner to maximize your eye contour and size takes a bit of experimenting, but once you've mastered it, eyeliner will take your makeup look to a whole new level. Below we explain everything you need to know about how to select and apply the right eyeliner to complete your look!

Before You Apply Eyeliner

1. Choose Your Colors Carefully

One of the most beautiful things about eyeliner is how it adds depth to your lashes and makes them appear thicker. For best results, choose shades of dark brown, gray, deep plum, or black for the upper lid. For the lower lash line, use a softer variation of the same shade.

2. Use a Powder, Pencil, Gel, Cream, or Liquid Eyeliner

What type of eyeliner you use is purely a personal choice. Each has pros and cons you need to know before shopping:

  • Powder eyeshadow works well as eyeliner as long as you use a small, fine-tip pointed brush so you can be precise. Using powder eyeshadow as your eyeliner can achieve a softer look than you can with other types of liners. You can use the powder shadow either wet (for a more dramatic effect) or dry (for a softer look). Be sure to tap any excess powder off the brush before lining; that reduces the risk of getting specks of powder eyeshadow on your cheek or in your eye.
  • Pencil eyeliners tend to smear and smudge, unless you find a really good one that isn't too creamy or too slick (see Beautypedia Reviews for our recommendations). Opt for a retractable pencil versus one that requires sharpening. After applying the pencil eyeliner, apply a small amount of eyeshadow over it to help keep it from smearing. Pencil eyeliners tend to have the shortest wear time unless they have a powder-like finish, so applying a matching powder eyeshadow over helps eyeliner last a lot longer.
  • Gel or cream-to-powder eyeliners offer superb application and rich, often dramatic color payoff. The main complaints are (1) that you have to wash the brush applicator after every use to prevent the gel or cream from hardening on the brush hairs and (2) that the look is too intense. If you don't find those to be problems, then gel and cream eyeliners are an excellent way to go. Because they don't smear, they are especially great for anyone with oily eyelids or for use in humid climates. They really last!
  • Liquid eyeliner is the most dramatic and, typically, the most difficult to apply. It takes a steady hand, but it also offers the most precise and defined line. Look for liquid liner that comes with a thin, fine-point or felt-tip "inkwell" brush for impressive results. If you make a mistake with liquid liner, wait for it to dry, remove it with a cotton swab dipped in makeup remover, dab eyelid skin dry, and try again.

3. Determine if You Want a Thin or Thick Line

As a general rule, the thickness and intensity of the eyeliner should correlate with the size of your eyelid—the larger the eyelid area, the thicker yet softer the eyeliner should be. The smaller the eyelid area, the thinner and more intense the liner should be. If your eyelid doesn't show at all, you might want to reconsider lining altogether. Instead, use a neutral deep eyeshadow shade to shape your eye (lid and crease area) and use an eyelash curler and several coats of mascara to define your eyes. Otherwise, by applying eyeliner to an eyelid that doesn't show you risk smearing and smudging on the eyelid, issues that become visible to others when you blink.

How to Apply Eyeliner

If you don't have a steady hand, bend down or sit down so you can place your elbow on a table or counter for balance and control. Some makeup artists suggest dotting eyeliner along the base of your lashes followed by connecting the dots; others prefer to use one fluid stroke, following the curvature of the eye and extending ever-so-slightly past the outer corner (we're not talking obvious winged liner!). Both methods can provide beautiful results and can be combined for an even more dramatic look. Ultimately, you'll want to use the application method that's most comfortable for you.

Application Tips for the Upper Lash Line:

  • Apply eyeliner as close to the lash line as possible, and place it between each and every eyelash. It's best to apply liner after your eyeshadow to create a defined, solid line. It's also best to use a magnifying mirror so you can be sure you get the liner between each eyelash. This is a time-consuming process, but the effect is sensational!
  • To start, keep the line as thin as possible. If you desire a thicker line, you can always build up to it, but it's much easier to add liner than it is to remove what's already there.
  • If the outer corners of your eyes droop, make sure the eyeliner turns up ever-so-slightly. This will create a more youthful look that de-emphasizes the downturned corners. Combining this with a browbone that's highlighted with a soft-shine eyeshadow gives eyes a lifted appearance.
  • To add drama, line the outer corner more thickly. Start with a thin line on the inner corner of the lash line and gradually make it thicker toward the back third of the lid for an attractive, classic look.
  • Do not hug the teardrop area of the eye. It's OK if the line goes just slightly beyond the corner of your eye, but getting it too close the to tear duct makes it look too theatrical, not to mention more smear-prone, especially after a couple hours of wear.

Application Tips for the Lower Lash Line:

  • Line only the outer two-thirds of the eye. Leaving some space unlined on the inside corner of your eye gives a softer, less severe look. For a more dramatic look, you can line all the way across, but be careful because this doesn't look good on everyone, and definitely not if you have small or close-set eyes.
  • Make sure that the eyeliner on the lower lash line connects with the back corner of the upper lash line. This creates a more natural, cohesive look.
  • Apply a thin, soft line. Heavy liner on the lower lash line ends up looking like your mascara has smeared. Even if you use black for the lower lash line, apply it softer than you would for the upper lash line.

Need more help? Click here to watch Paula's step-by-step instructional video on how to apply eyeliner.

6 Major Eyeliner Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Don't overdo eyeliner. It should blend well with the rest of your eye-makeup design, not overpower it.
  2. Avoid lining the inside rim of the lids, the area between the lashes and the eye itself. That kind of application looks good only for about an hour or two; after that, it smears and goops up into the corner of the eye, creating a messy, unattractive look. As you might suspect, it's also unhealthy for the eyes, leading to redness, puffiness, and potential eye infections.
  3. Don't apply thick eyeliner to small or close-set eyes. It will only exaggerate the smallness or closeness.
  4. Avoid applying a complete circle of eyeliner around the eye. Circling all the way around your eye can make it look like you're wearing eyeglasses, emphasizing the eyeliner more than the eye itself.
  5. Don't overblend your eyeliner onto the skin under the lower lash line. Eyeliner can be smudged under the lower line for a sexy smokey eye, but too much smudging makes dark circles look worse.
  6. Don't apply mascara before you apply eyeliner. For best results, always apply your mascara after you apply your eyeshadow and eyeliner. This way you're less likely to overdo the mascara to compensate for a lack of depth and definition along the lash line. It also prevents you from disturbing the mascara and subsequently causing it to flake.

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! See Paula's Choice Makeup.

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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