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.
I’m 53 – I never tightlined the upper lashes when I was young, only the lower ones and I quit in my 20’s because it made my eyes look smaller. Now I’m desperate to find a black liner that will work on the upper waterline without transferring to the bottom waterline or smudge during the day. One thing that works well is to ‘push’ the color into the lashes at the base – just above the waterline but not above the lashes. You’ll push the liner in between lashes along the outer 3rd to 1/2 of the lid. It works great if you can’t get a tightline to stay in place. I will try and Essence one – hopefully that will work! It’s quicker to tightline!
Awesome tip, thanks for sharing!!
I have been trying to get this down. Since I learnt not to flinch, blink excessively and hold still while doing my eye makeup, it really helped. I now use the ELF pushup eyeliner brush and that works pretty well since the sharp tip of pencils scare me. For the waterproof problem, Linda Halberg suggested waterproof mascara but it kinda irritates my eye. The gold looks fab on you 🙂
Where did you get that Pink Eyelid lifter? I need that in my life!!
Ulta has one here! (affiliate link)
ive never tightlined but have always wondered how you remove it or do you just let it wear away? i have sensitive eyes so using remover seems like it would bother my eyes.
Normal makeup remover wipes usually break down the product for me! I just wipe them over my eyes like normal and it does the trick. I also have sensitive eyes!
Thank you so much for responding. I often wondered how it gets removed since your eyes are typically closed when removing other eye products and how it would get between your eyelids. I guess that’s why I never tried tightlining but i love the look of it!
If your eyes are watery, is it best to use a waterproof eyeliner? Will this stay on better?
Yes! Less likely to run if your eyes start tearing up.
Im 62 and have been doing this since I was about 17.
I’m 62 as well and my mom showed me how to do this at 16. She had been doing it for years. It ‘s not such a new thing. Only thing new is different formula liners
Miranda, thank you for these suggestions! I went and got the Milani Khol Kajal Liner and I LOVE IT. This was my first time tightlining so I was nervous. Goes on really smoothly!
Really nice job and great your article post i like your article nice information i never apply eye liner properly but i follow your eyeliner tutorial i apply proper thanks for sharing.
I have been trying to get this down. Since I learnt not to flinch, blink excessively and hold still while doing my eye makeup, it really helped. I now use the ELF pushup eyeliner brush and that works pretty well since the sharp tip of pencils scare me. For the waterproof problem, Linda Halberg suggested waterproof mascara but it kinda irritates my eye. The gold looks fab on you 🙂 -Sadaf
Miranda | SlashedBeauty.com
Yeah I never got into the idea of pushing a glob of mascara into my eye LOL. I definitely agree that duller tips seem to be the safest route, but still long enough that you’re not scratching at your lid with the wood or plastic!
I tightlined before it was even a thing! As I got older the upper waterline became more.obviious and was actually an ugly break between my lashes and eye. I started looking around at maturing woman and noticed it happened to everyone. Your photos demonstrating the difference between an eye which is tightlined and one which isn’t are great, but on mature eyes the difference really smacks you in the face. Tightlining is good for everyone, but if you have mature eyes you MUST try it I don’t find it necessary to lift my lid, I can just look down in a mirror and do it. Another great tip is that if you have every which droop down at the corners, don’t tightline to the outside edges of the eyes. Stop just short and continue the line above the lashes. It really lifts up the corners of your eyes!
I meant to say if you have EYES which droop down at the corners…sorry don’t know how to edit my comment!
Absolutely! I think everyone can benefit from this trend– even right now at 27 I see my waterline clearly when I don’t tightline. Thanks Rueth!
I cannot, for the life of me, gun to my head, tightline. Not only do I look like a complete idiot when doing it, I ALWAYS manage to stab myself in the eye. The 2 times I didn’t blind myself, it was a hot mess. You could still see my skin and as soon as I blinked a couple times, the eyeliner went all over my bottom water line.
Miranda | SlashedBeauty.com
Don’t worry, Isa, it took me FOREVER to finally get it down and I swear I still look like a crazy person when I do it 😛 One way that I like to do it if my eye is feeling super twitchy is by angling the pencil up under my lashes, basically closing my eye and then running the pencil back and forth. Give it a try!