Updated with products available in 2021.
If you’re not in the loop, the art of tightlining consists of applying eyeliner to your upper waterline, which is the part of your eyelid underneath your eyelashes. While it may seem like such a minimal step, it can actually give your eyes a more professional and pulled together look.
Tightlining gets rid of the space between your lashes and the whites of your eyes. This ends up making your lashes look much fuller, and your eyeliner look more precisely applied. In the photos above, literally the only difference between the two pictures is that I had tightlined in the bottom version. See how it makes my makeup look more complete?
The easiest way to tightline is to lightly lift your lid by gently pushing upwards with your finger, and gliding the liner under your lashes. You can also tightline your bottom waterline, although doing both the top and bottom can actually make your eyes look smaller.
The real trick to tightlining is finding the right eyeliner to get the job done. You want a formula that will glide on easily without tugging or having to layer for good pigmentation, so you don’t irritate your eyes. A waterproof pencil is also something you ideally want to look out for, since it will last the longest, but not a requirement if your eyes aren’t typically watery.
Five of the best drugstore eyeliners for tightlining that I’ve found are:
1. Essence Extreme Lasting Waterproof Eye Pencil ($2.99)
In a test of the best waterproof drugstore eyeliners for tightlining (video below), this won by a landslide. The Extreme Lasting Waterproof Eye Pencil glides on with rich black pigmentation that is smudge proof, even after becoming wet. It also has a fairly flat matte finish which I think looks more seamless when wearing on the waterline. This has also been my go-to for smudging on the lash line for a smoky look. One thing I don’t like about this pencil, however, is that it has a traditional sharpen tip and it doesn’t sharpen particularly smoothly. It’s something I’m willing to overlook, considering how this pencil outperforms many at such a low price.
2. L’Oreal Infallible Longwear Eye Pencil ($8.99)
The L’Oreal Infallible Longwear Eye Pencil is a long time favorite of mine, and a top choice if you want a larger variety of colors since it’s available in ten shades. It’s waterproof with a creamy formula that goes on dark and opaque in one swipe, no layering needed. I will admit this one can be a bit hard to remove since it’s so long-lasting, but it’s great for all day looks– up to 24 hour wear! I’ve compared it to the Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eyeliner, which is the best of high end liners in my opinion.
3. wet n wild Breakup Proof Retractable Eyeliner ($2.39)
If you must have a retractable eyeliner, this is the best waterproof option for tightlining from this list. The Breakup Proof Retractable Liner is one of those middle-of-the-road liners that will work for a lot of people. It works well for both the waterline and the lash line, and while the formula is soft enough to smoke out, it sets to be smudge-proof and waterproof. With that said, it’s one of the more difficult ones to remove on this list with a simple makeup wipe.
4. e.l.f. No Budge Retractable Eyeliner ($4)
If you have terribly watery eyes and need something that can really hang on, the No Budge Retractable Eyeliner may be your new ride or die. It sets super quickly, and is undisturbed when met with tears. This liner also stands up pretty well against rubbing. This product has a drier formula and doesn’t glide on with the ease of others on this list. It’s not a liner I like to use on the lash line because of these characteristics, but for the waterline only, it’s a solid choice. Plus, the retractable tip is incredibly convenient and I do prefer it over having to sharpen a pencil.
5. CoverGirl Perfect Point Plus Eyeliner ($6.99)
I know many people prefer not to wear waterproof makeup, so if that’s you, here’s your pick. Despite not being waterproof, the Perfect Point Plus Eyeliner is long lasting. The tip is also on the smaller side, so it’s perfect for getting right under your lashes without worrying about poking your eye.
I’d always recommend using a cleansing balm for hard-to-remove makeup and especially the delicate eye area. It melts off makeup without a lot of rubbing. My favorite is the Clinique Take the Day Off Cleansing Balm, which is fragrance-free, sulfate-free, vegan, and does a thorough job cleansing without leaving a greasy film or foggy eye feeling.
If you want to see these side-by-side, I swatched four of these pencils in my video below.