Of all the skills in my makeup arsenal, liquid eyeliner is the one thing I’ve never mastered. You want me to contour? Cool. Need someone to shape your eyebrows? Got it. But hand me a tube of liquid eyeliner, and I’m dumbfounded. My attempts always turn out bumpy and smudged. And a cat eye? Puh-lease. So, I turned to the experts for help. Ahead, you’ll find the best tips to achieve that sleek, liquid eyeliner look without the hassle.
1. Open your eyes.
It’s instinctual to close your eye while applying shadow and eyeliner to the lid. But when you shut your eye completely, you lose the ability to draw a straight line. “Keep both eyes a little open and squint in a mirror as you create your liner,” Jo Baker, a Rimmel London makeup artist, tells SELF. “You will have a better angle to gauge where it will need more lift or thinning.”
2. Apply eyeshadow primer as a first step.
I know what you’re thinking, “More steps? No way!” But using an eyeshadow primer before applying liquid eyeliner can stop the inky color from transferring all over your lids. Baker recommends Rimmel London Exaggerate Undercover Shadow Primer ($4, drugstore.com). “The added primer helps liner dry a little faster than on a naked eyelid, which can often be naturally greasy,” Baker says.
3. Draw eyeliner with a pencil first. Then, top it with liquid.
Liquid eyeliner has the tendency to look like sheer watercolor with only one layer. So, double it up. “A great way to nail a cat eye if you’re a novice is to start with a pencil to sketch out the shape,” Nina Leykind, co-founder of makeup brand Eyeko, tells SELF. “Then, top with liquid for a more opaque finish.” Baker agrees with this tip and recommends using a brown pencil, since it’s subtle and easy to correct.
4. Use several short dashes instead of one long stroke.
Unless you’re a makeup pro, getting even winged eyeliner in one swoop is a tough job. Instead, take a connect-the-dots approach. “It’s best to begin lining mid-lash line and working your way out in a series of short dashes, building the line as you go,” says Leykind. Even if you have shaky hands, the shorter strokes are easier to pull off.
5. Avoid using makeup remover to fix your mistakes.
Perfecting liquid eyeliner is a process that takes patience, and you’re going to make mistakes. If you flub the flick, dampen the tip of a Q-tip with water-not makeup remover-to clean it up. “Don’t use any makeup remover, it will only seep into the liner and make it run or smear,” says Baker.
6. Replace the thin brush that came with the eyeliner.
Those flimsy, superfine brushes that are standard in a liquid liner tube aren’t always the best tool to get winged eyeliner, especially if you’re a beginner. “The brush needs to have some stiffness, yet be flexible enough to hug the lash line and create a fluid sweep.” says Leykind. “Length is important for precision, too. [Your brush] should be less than one centimeter.” Try a sturdy angled brush or something with a silicone tip.
7. Find a straight edge to use as a guide for perfect wings.
Winged eyeliner is hard AF. So, cheat by using a stencil. “Grab your credit card and put it towards the edge of your outer eyelid sharply facing up,” says Baker. “Using an eyeliner pencil, put in a flick trace line that you can follow with liquid liner. It’s a sure way to get symmetrical wings.” You can also use tape, a business card, or the end of your makeup brush to get a straight line.
8. Save some coins by resuscitating a felt-tip liner that’s dried out.
The same eyeliner pens that make applying liquid look easy can run out at the most inopportune moment. But there is a way to revive dried-out products. “Put it downwards in a glass [of water] for a hour and shake the ink down to the nib,” says Baker. “Once it has had a chance to re-soak, squeeze on a piece of paper until the ink makes it way back through the felt tip.” It’s also good practice to store your pens upside down. That way all the ink flows towards the tip.
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