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From pencils to pots, these long-wearing liners glide on effortlessly.
If there’s one product that’s the most contentious in your makeup bag, it’s eyeliner. Eyeliner instantly adds definition to your eyes to accentuate your gaze but it can be pretty tricky to apply, depending on the formula and style. Let’s face it, liquid eyeliners are known to ruin your eye look with a quick wrong flick of the wrist and pencils can turn into a smeary, smudgy mess in mere seconds. But there is a formula that works for all levels of makeup lovers — and that’s gel eyeliners.
Gel eyeliner is known to be seamless, smudge-proof, and in pencil and pot form. This versatile category of eyeliner allows for a variety of eye looks ranging from an ultra-precise cat eye to a sexy smoky stare. To find you the best of the best gel eyeliners out there, we tapped NYC-based celebrity makeup artist Suzy Gerstein, makeup artist and founder of Beia Brittany Lo, and makeup artist Courtney Hart and did some testing of our own to uncover the best gel eyeliners.
Best Overall: Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner
What We Love: The saturated pigmentation and wear of this formula is unmatched.
What We Don’t Love: Be sure to carefully close the lid as it can easily dry out.
Both Lo and Gerstein swear by this inky formula in a pot for a multitude of eyeliner looks. “I love Bobbi Brown’s gel eyeliner because it glides on smoothly —whether you want a subtle line or a bold pop,” says Lo. Beyond the smoothness and versatility of the formula, it features a super high pigment payoff that requires a very light amount of product to achieve a defined eye look. Plus, it’s waterproof so you won’t have to worry about any mid-day smudging.
Pair with a small angled brush to apply the product. While it may not be best for beginners, the formula is easy to use if you have a steady hand. Pro tip: Gerstein enjoys using it under the lower lash line for an eye-opening effect. “The brownish shade called Scotch is lovely underneath lower lashes. Simply apply in dashes and smudge out with a fingertip,” says Gerstein.
Price at time of publish: $32
Type: Pot | Number of Shades: 4 | Size: 0.1 ounces
Best Budget: Colourpop BFF Crème Gel Liner
What We Love: It comes in a whopping 25 shades including neutrals, pale pastels, and vivid brights.
What We Don’t Love: The liner tip has a tendency to break off if you push up too much product.
At just $7, this wallet-friendly liner ladders up to its high-end counterparts — and here’s why. The ultra-pigmented cream-gel formula goes on like a dream, and once it sets it won’t move for up to 18 hours. Another plus? You have a few moments to work with the formula before it sets if you’d like to smudge or smoke it out. While we didn’t have it on for the full 18 hours of wear time it claims, it did stay put for a full workday without smudging or transferring outside of the waterline. The formula definitely puts it at the top of our list, but the kaleidoscope of colors including pale pink, turquoise blue, and rose gold is something you don’t typically find in an affordable brand.
Price at time of publish: $7
Type: Mechanical Pencil | Number of Shades: 25 | Size: 0.007 ounces
Best Drugstore: Maybelline TattooStudio Gel Pencil Eyeliner
What We Love: It’s sharpenable (unlike many gel liners!) and comes in a wide variety of neutral and jewel-toned hues.
What We Don’t Love: You don’t have much playtime with this one. Work fast!
Seeking something you can snag from the Target aisle? This drugstore eyeliner from Lo’s list ticks almost everything off our list. Its ultra-silky formula is something you’d expect to find at a much higher price point, with supreme staying power, saturation, and precision. It combines the precise point of a liquid liner with the lasting power of a pomade. The sharp point allows for the ultimate level of control when applying everything from a dramatic winged look to a thin strike along your lash line or waterline. Choose from a variety of hues including traditional black, brown, and cream to gold, plums, and greens.
Price at time of publish: $10
Type: Pencil | Number of Shades: 16 | Size: 0.04 ounce
Best Splurge: Valentino Twin Liner Gel and Liquid Liner
What We Love: You get two different liner formulas in one product.
What We Don’t Love: It only offers a small amount of product, so you go through it quickly.
Not everything that goes viral on Tik Tok is actually good, but Lo can attest that this liner is worth its hefty price tag. Housed inside the brand’s signature red lacquered tube lives a double-ended liner with a gel pencil on one end and a felt-tip liquid liner on the other. While Lo typically isn’t a huge fan of waxier formulas, this one is just waxy enough that it doesn’t flake or fade, but also won’t tug when you apply it. With rich black pigment payoff and an easy glide, it’s one she often reaches for when creating a sultry smoldering eye look.
Price at time of publish: $40
Type: Pencil | Number of Shades: 4 | Size: 0.5 mL Liquid Liner/ 0.1 g Pencil
Best Pencil: Makeup by Mario Master Pigment Pro Eyeliner Pencil
What We Love: Extreme opaque pigment payoff.
What We Don’t Love: Takes a minute or two to set in place.
Enhance your gaze in a single stroke with Makeup By Mario’s creamy pigment-soaked liner that comes in five matte shades. Major for both the waterline and lash line, this effortless liner is the equivalent of having a pro makeup artist apply your liner for you. Its dual-ended packaging delivers full-coverage color that’s super saturated and long-lasting on one end and a built-in brush on the other end for buffing and blending. We adore how it doesn’t set too quickly so we can blend it out with the built-in brush on the other end for a softer effect.
Price at time of publish: $24
Type: Pencil | Number of Shades: 5 | Size: 0.03 ounce
Best for Mature Eyes: Shiseido MicroLiner Ink Eyeliner
What We Love: The micro-sized pencil draws on uber-precise lines.
What We Don’t Love: The liner isn’t very versatile. The pencil itself is ultra-fine so best for more precise looks.
According to Gerstein, when it comes to eyeliner and mature lids precision is key — and this favorite liner of hers from Japanese brand Shiseido fits the bill. “This mechanical micro-tip pencil is ideal for getting the definition right at the roots of lashes,” says Gerstein. Those with more mature eyelids typically have more fine lines and wrinkles around the eye area, so gel eyeliners with a larger tip may not work well. And it’s spiked with potent pigments that stick on skin and water lines — even in high temps. With 24-hour, water-resistant wear you won’t experience the dreaded racoon eyes with this one. Gerstein also notes how stunning the shade range is, noting it has both classic and unique shades in its range.
Price at time of publish: $22
Type: Mechanical Pencil | Number of Shades: 9 | Size: 0.1 ounces
Best for Waterline: Patrick Ta Major Dimension Precision Gel Eyeliner
What We Love: It stays put on the waterline and doesn’t irritate sensitive eyes.
What We Don’t Love: Comes with very little product.
Finding a liner that’s safe for your water lines can be a hard task to tackle, but we found one that works like a charm. The liquid-to-gel formula instantly melts on contact with water lines or skin, but doesn’t cause your eyes to tear up. Thanks to the soft formula that won’t require any powerful pressing or tugging on the eye area upon application, you can get complete coverage in just one single glide. The shade range is tiny, but mighty with core colors like black and brown plus some metallic options that pair perfectly with Ta’s best-selling eye shadow palettes.
Price at time of publish: $27
Type: Mechanical Pencil | Number of Shades: 6 | Size: 0.007 ounces
Best Eyeliner Pot: KVD Beauty Super Pomade Vegan Eyeliner, Shadow & Brow Pigment
What We Love: This 3-in-1 product comes in a variety of colors.
What We Don’t Love: You need a separate brush to apply it and it is not easy to remove.
Lo considers the KVD brand an industry leader in eyeliner. Her favorite formula from the brand’s offerings? This multi-purpose gel pomade that’s designed to be worn in three ways: as an eyeliner, eye shadow, and brow pomade. Made to last all day long, this full-coverage formula applies super creamy, but sets without creasing, fading, or flaking. Regardless if you apply it on your lash line, all over the lids, or waterline, you’ll get comfortable, weightless wear that doesn’t budge—seriously, this formula can be difficult to remove.
Price at time of publish: $25
Type: Pot | Number of Shades: 16 | Size: 0.18 ounces
Best for Sensitive Eyes : ILIA Clean Line Gel Eyeliner
What We Love: For a clean formula, this liner proves its versatility in crafting both sultry and classic looks
What We Don’t Love: It only comes in two shades.
There are a variety of reasons why your eyes may be sensitive to makeup, including the ingredients in the formula, metallic particles in the color, or dry eyes. Clean formulas may help you—but remember clean isn’t the only way to get products that work for you, since ingredient reactions are so individual. Ilia is formulated without parabens, phthalates, mineral oil, coal tar, and low concentrations of fragrance, all of which may be irritating to your eyes.
Hart enjoys this clean beauty brand’s liner that slides across the lids in a cinch. The formula, according to Hart, is somewhat magical as it works in whatever makeup style you want. For instance, if you prefer to sketch a simple, skinny line along your lashes, the mechanical gel pencil has the utmost precision. Or if you want a thick winged look, you can build up the liner for that effect. It’s also water-resistant so it can hold up in high temperatures just fine.
Price at time of publish: $26
Type: Mechanical Pencil | Number of Shades: 2 | Size: 0.01 ounces
Best for Oily Lids: Melt Cosmetics Ultra Matte Gel Eyeliner
What We Love: It locks on lids all day long and doesn’t smear while drying down.
What We Don’t Love: You need an oil-based makeup remover to safely remove.
Gerstein gushes over Melt’s exceptionally matte gel eyeliner for her clients with oily lids. “Once it dries down it truly does not move,” says Gerstein. The zero-shine, waterproof, transfer and smudge-proof formula is one for the books as it doesn’t break apart when hit with the elements or excess sebum. This pick was even named best gel eyeliner in our eyeliner test.
Just a note: You do have to apply it relatively speedily as there’s little wiggle room to mess up your killer cat eye. Gerstein also notes that how you prep oily lids is very important. “If you tend to have oily lids, avoid eye creams and prime your eyelids, then apply powder shadow, and liner last,” she instructs.
Price at time of publish: $22
Type: Pot | Number of Shades: 2 | Size: 0.08 ounces
Best Waterproof: Too Faced Killer Liner 36 Hour Waterproof Gel Eyeliner
What We Love: The long-wearing formula stands up to tears and sky-high temps.
What We Don’t Love: Plastic packaging makes it hard to sharpen.
Whether you’re off to a special event where crying could play a role or stuck in the sweltering heat, a waterproof liner is your best friend. Case in point, this specific one from Too Faced is a godsend for keeping your eyes from turning into a smudgy stare as it does not budge according to Hart. The slick formula goes on super smoothly with some time to play with the formula if you desire a smokier or siren-like effect. However, once it sets it’s not going anywhere. It’s also flake, fade, and smudge-free which both we and Hart love about the gel stick formulation.
Price at time of publish: $23
Type: Pencil | Number of Shades: 11 | Size: 0.04 ounces
Best Colors: Haus Labs Optic Intensity Eco Gel Eyeliner Pencil
What We Love: This gel eyeliner comes in unique shades like electric lime green.
What We Don’t Love: Some shades cling to dry patches on the skin.
If you live for having a rainbow of liner shades on standby at all times, this buttery smudge-proof, and waterproof eyeliner pencil from Haus Labs is the one to get your hands on. You can unleash your inner makeup artist with a single stroke as the liner is available in an assortment of vibrant matte, shimmer, and metallic shades including mint green, magenta, lime green, and milky white. Packed with good-for-skin ingredients like conditioning vitamin E and nourishing argan oil, the pencil doesn’t tug at the skin as you’re applying.
Price at time of publish: $22
Type: Pencil | Number of Shades: 18 | Size: 0.04 ounces
Best for Smokey Eyes: Pat McGrath Labs Permagel Ultra Eye Pencil
What We Love: It glides on like butter with a one-swipe application.
What We Don’t Love: The pencil can be messy to apply if the product gets too warm.
Leave it to the mother of backstage makeup, Pat McGrath, to create the ultimate gel eyeliner for a grunge-glam gaze. The velvety smooth liner swipes on without tugging, skipping, or dragging with the help of silicones in the formula. What makes it essential for smoky eyes is its ability to seamlessly blend out, then set within the perfect amount of time. Hart notes that reaches for this one often as a base for her smoky eye looks. This isn’t an eyeliner to keep in your purse or car though, the formula can really get melty if it gets too hot.
Price at time of publish: $29
Type: Pencil | Number of Shades: 5 | Size: 0.042 ounces
Best for Beginners: Inglot AMC Eyeliner Gel
What We Love: The large amount of product you get for the price.
What We Don’t Love: The formula can separate in the pot with use over time.
Hart says this liner is a go-to for her professional kit and a must-have for eyeliner newbies. “Pot formulas are easier to use than pencil because they allow you to use more precision,” she says. Don’t let your eyes deceive you; there’s a hefty amount of product and possibilities inside this petite pot. The high-color payoff, one-swipe coverage, and water-resistant, long-wear are just more reasons to add it to your list. Hart suggests applying it with a small angled brush to get the most spot-on application.
Price at time of publish: $14
Type: Pot | Number of Shades: 10 | Size: 0.19 ounces
Best Clean: GXVE Line It Up Clean 24-Hr Gel Pencil Waterproof Eyeliner
What We Love: It’s all-star lasting power that only comes off when you want it to.
What We Don’t Love: The formula is soft, so be careful with the amount of pressure you apply.
We have a lot of trust in Gwen Stefani’s eyeliner game with her history of red-carpet looks that feature her iconic flicks. This clean formula gets a standing ovation when it comes to its pigment payoff, 24-hour wear, and controlled application. While it applies and comes off with ease, we suggest using an oil-based product to eliminate any need for tugging or rubbing your eye area. We’re partial to the raven black shade for every day and indigo blue for when we want a pop of color.
This stick glides like a skate on freshly zambonied ice, which is awesome for bump-free application. However, that means the tip is soft and needs light pressure to perform—press too hard and you can accidentally break off the tip.
Price at time of publish: $20
Type: Pencil | Number of Shades: 10 | Size: 0.04 ounces
Best for Lash Line: Hourglass Cosmetics 1.5MM Mechanical Gel Eye Liner
What We Love: Gives you an exact definition without venturing outside the lines.
What We Don’t Love: The size of the tip can be hard for beginners to use
This mechanical pencil brings us back to our school days with its teeny tiny tip. The razor-thin 1.5 mm liner is a master for adding a sharp line to your lash line that looks barely detectable, but makes all the difference. Soft and smooth, the transformative formula latches onto your lid for a long-lasting, clear-cut result. Just don’t click up more product than necessary. Once you dispense more than two clicks the pliable pencil can snap off.
Type: Mechanical Pencil | Number of Shades: 5 | Size: 0.002 ounces
Price at time of publish: $21
What to Keep in Mind
Not all gel eyeliner formulas are smudge-proof, but many are. Hart says to keep an eye out for formulas that boast long-wear and water-resistant/proof claims. We like Melt Cosmetics Ultra Matte Gel Eyeliner, which is especially great for oily lids. She also notes to seek formulas that contain ingredients to help glide the product on, but then lock it in place including silica to help absorb oils, silicones to give it slip (like Pat McGrath PermaGel Eyeliner Pencil), and waxes to make it water-resistant. “The trick to creating a last-all-day gel liner is to allow it to dry completely without touching. Once it dries it will stay crisp and sharp,” Hart says.
Hart, Gerstein, and Lo all agree that different liner applicators can create different looks. With that said, there are different types of gel liners on the market and each has its own benefits. Pencils are great for lining your water lines and lashlines because you can apply them, then blend it out or leave it alone to lock them in place. A budget-friendly pencil we love is Colourpop BFF Crème Gel Liner. However, Hart loves the versatility of using an angled brush or a fine liner tip with a gel pot formula (try Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner) to create thin to thick lines, as well as more graphic shapes.
Your Eye Look
Gel eyeliners come in a variety of finishes. It’s a good idea to take the finish into consideration as you plan your look as that can change the final outcome. Matte liners are great for a smudgy, smokey eye as a matte finish is soft and seamless. A shimmer finish has small glitter particles in it that are reflective and look beautiful on their own or layered to create depth. A satin finish is a combination between matte and shine as it has a bit of sheen, but isn’t reflective. This is Hart’s favorite formula for creating a sharp cat eye. Haus Labs Optic Intensity Eco Gel Eyeliner Pencil has matte, shimmer, metallic, and lots of color options to choose from.
Your Questions, Answered
Is gel eyeliner smudge-proof?
Both Lo and Gerstein rave about gel eyeliner formulas for being smudge-proof, but it can depend on your eye shape and skin type, too. Those with hooded eyes can experience more smudging than those with a wider eye shape. Oily skin types can also have a problem with smudging. Look for formulas that mention matte or long-wear “I recommend playing around with different prep combinations. For example, omitting under eye cream and adding a primer can make a world of difference,” notes Gerstein. For extra long-lasting power, Lo suggests setting it with a long-wearing setting spray.
What is gel eyeliner best for?
Gel eyeliner is great for creating both bold, precise lines and softer blended eye looks. It just depends on the formula you choose. Pencils work best when you need a bit of time to play as they tend to have more buildability and bendability. Pot gel formula requires a separate brush, but provides more control in your application.“Gel eyeliners layer beautifully as well so you can lay down eyeshadow on top of it when you want to create a diffused line or smoky effect,” says Gerstein.
What is the difference between gel and liquid eyeliner?
Overall, gel formulas tend to be more malleable with more time to finesse whereas liquid eyeliner is best for super precise application on the upper lash line. “Liquid eyeliners do not provide as much play time as gel liners before they set so they’re great if you are comfortable free-handing graphic looks but a little less ideal if you have shaky hands or less experience wielding the liner brush,” informs Gerstein. Both gel liners and liquids add an inky intensity to the lash line. Gerstein often will reach for a gel when she wants the cat eye effect without the commitment.
Why Shop With Us
Amanda is a freelance beauty writer with 8+ years of experience in both editorial and the brand side. She is known as a beauty encyclopedia and has tried and tested hundreds of eyeliners over the years. For this piece, she interviewed experts including NYC-based celebrity makeup artist Suzy Gerstein who’s worked with stars like Leighton Meester, Karlie Kloss, and Helena Christensen; the founder of on-demand makeup artistry service, Beautini, as well as skincare line Beia, Brittany Lo; and Los Angeles-based makeup artist Courtney Hart, who has a roster of celebrity clientele including Kristen Bell, Nicole Kang, and Glenn Close.
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