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How to prevent eyeliner smudging: Tricks for budgeproof makeup


Makeup artist Hung Vanngo layers eyeliner with eyeshadow over top for a lasting effect, like here on Rose Byrne. Image / @HungVanngo
Makeup artist Hung Vanngo layers eyeliner with eyeshadow over top for a lasting effect, like here on Rose Byrne. Image / @HungVanngo
Is your eye makeup constantly fading, creasing and smudging? We explore some easy fixes and the best eyeliners to shop now.

There’s nothing more frustrating than spending precious time perfecting your eye makeup, only to have it smudge minutes after application. We bet we’re not the only ones who have only noticed the colour slipping and sliding when one foot’s already out the door. Or worse, hours after an important event or presentation!

It can be enough to put you off trying more detailed looks to begin with. Having black eyeliner transfer to your upper eyelids quickly undoes all the hard work and can be tricky to remedy on-the-go.

But eyeliner has the fantastic ability to transform your look in a multitude of ways – from sultry and chic to graphic and cool – so it would be a shame to ditch it completely.

Instead, consider some of multiple reasons that cause smudging, that could be to blame. Here are some key steps for smudge-free eyeliner:

Start with clean skin

A good base will always help makeup go on smoothly and last well.

This starts with a good skincare routine, as the natural oils present in your skin can cause colour to slip and slide once it is applied. Make sure you cleanse well, but make sure any moisturiser or other products like eye cream are well-absorbed by the time you come to apply makeup.  If you have particularly oily skin, keep eye treatment products for before-bed application.

Prep well

Oil is the enemy of smudge-free eyeliner so providing a smooth base that is dry and well-powdered is the key to a great result. Any, sweat or oils from your skin or other products are common culprits in liner breaking down or moving or creasing to the upper lids.

Those with a hooded eye shape may find it extra challenging to keep colour or liner in place so prep steps are essential.

Applying a thin, smooth application of foundation all over eyelids and under the eyes with a foundation brush as a base is a good start.

Expert makeup artists also like to use an eyeshadow primer to ensure the wear of other products applied on top. This can be a dedicated eyeshadow primer, or a long-wearing cream-to-powder shadow that sets in place and won’t crease.

The benefit of a dedicated primer is that it can be clear or skin-coloured and you can blending a thin layer all the way up towards your eyebrows, targeting placed like the upper eyelids where liner and mascara can sometimes rub.  Make sure you give it a minute to set before moving on to the next product.

A base of powder eyeshadow, be it a nude, barely-visible colour or any other shadow you like, will also help liner stay in place. Apply over the lids, and for a smoky look, extend darker colours slightly under the eye.

Best smudge-proof eyeliners 2024

L-R: L’Oreal Paris Infallible Grip 36h Gel Automatic Eyeliner; NARS High-Pigment Longwear Eyeliner; Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil; Makeup By Mario Master Pigment Pro Pencil; Lancôme Idôle Ultra Precise Waterproof Liner

Choose a long-wear liner

The right product selection will help with keeping things in place. If you’re starting out and want a softer look that lasts well, choose a long-wearing gel pencil eyeliner. Waterproof eyeliners are also a good bet.

The best ones glide on smoothly, deliver intense colour and dry and set in place well. One thing to remember is that you’ll need to work quickly, especially if you want to smudge the liner out slightly, as these products tend to lock in place as they dry.

If you want a sharper line, choose a liquid liner product with a fine felt tip. If you have oily skin then you’ll want to avoid softer formulated eyeliners, and liquid liner may work better for you.

Let it set

As mentioned, when you are applying makeup, particularly products designed for long-wear like waterproof eyeliner, it’s important to let the product set for a few seconds after application without interfering with it. That can mean keeping your eye or eyelid still, without closing, to allow it to dry and the specialised ingredients to activate.

Try keeping your head tilted until the liner is perfectly dry.

Try layering

Professional makeup artists often layer products. That means layering a shadow in the same shade as your eyeliner on top of the last coat to set and lock it in, or using both a gel pencil and liquid eyeliner over the top in combination.

Michael Ashton, who has created Adele’s famous eyeliner looks, shares that he likes to use “product cocktailing” to get a lasting liner effect.

Use a setting spray

The best modern makeup setting sprays are brilliant for helping keep your masterpiece of makeup where you want it for hours. After you’re finished applying your makeup, spritz over your entire face with your eyes closed and let dry for a few seconds.

Lastly, smudging happens to the best of us, even with top-quality products. To quickly touch up, carry a couple of cotton buds with you and blend and smears gently.


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