The best drugstore eyeliners of 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
  • A drugstore eyeliner allows you to experiment with a range of formulas, shades, and brands for an inexpensive price, offering the biggest bang for your buck if applied consistently.
  • Gel, liquid, and pencil eyeliners each serve a unique purpose, ranging from casual daytime looks to long-lasting evening glam.
  • is our sought-after favorite because of its hint of shine with each line for a highly-pigmented finish.
  • Check out our best eyeliners guide for options across a wider price range.

Though top-end eyeliners could cost upwards of $30, you don't have to spend big to create a perfect cat-eye. You'd be surprised with the broad range of both quality and quantity offered along drugstore walls. The phrase "drugstore makeup" may be reminiscent of those middle school days when I hoarded a hefty amount of cheap eyeshadow trios and formulas that made my skin break out, but drugstores have come a long way in offering accessible, quality makeup that won't break the bank.

You can snag some drugstore liners for as little as $2.99 and, not only is that a steal, but you can probably purchase 14 great-quality products for the price of one luxury eyeliner at Bloomingdales. And with a little skill, you'll be able to create the exact same look with a budget buy.

We spoke with Lindsey Trop, bridal makeup artist, graduate of the Make Up For Ever Academy in NYC, and 12-year industry expert who agrees. "I don't discriminate between drugstore and luxury," says Trop. "Sure, it may feel nice to purchase a luxury liner and it feels good to put it on, but drugstore eyeliners provide the same quality and same result at times."

We get that eyeliner can be tricky - it's prone to smudging, running, and uneven application - but all of these issues can be improved by purchasing the right eyeliner for the look you're going for. Whether you want a gel liner for a creamy date night look or a pencil for a natural finish to get you through your Zoom call marathon, the eyeliners we've chosen will hold strong. 

"[When recommending eyeliner], I generally look at type [...] as well as skill level," says Trina Albus, Magenta Agency founder and beauty influencer for women 40 and older. "I think a pencil is the beginner, the gel is intermediate (where I can start tight-lining and water-lining), and liquid is, 'you're advanced and know what you're doing' - it's a more dramatic look with a lot of staying power."

So, we've rounded up the best in the drugstore so you can spend more time applying - and less time trying to figure out your next eyeliner purchase.

Here are the best drugstore eyeliners

Updated on 01/13/2021 by Victoria Giardina. Checked links and prices, included more buying options, updated introduction and wrote original copy, and included our pick for the best waterline eyeliner, so you don't have to worry about applying a no-go product to a sensitive part of the eye. She incorporated tips and tricks from beauty experts and added some picks for future testing.

The best drugstore eyeliner overall NYX eyeliner


NYX Professional Epic Ink Liner provides paint-like pigmentation for a dramatic, precise line that won't budge.

Pros: Long-lasting, flexible tip, great pigmentation, waterproof, vegan, and cruelty-free

Cons: Limited color variety, can be difficult to wash off

When looking for the best of the best, the NYX Professional Epic Ink Liner certainly delivered. Its long-lasting formula with a precise brush tip makes each stroke fluid, customizable, and highly-pigmented — just press down with a little more oomph for a more dramatic, eye-defining look.

"Liquid liners are meant to do something crisp as opposed to being smudged," says Trop. "It would give a more defined line on the skin and can be used on all skin types — mature skin, youthful skin — anyone can enjoy this product."

When browsing the best in beauty for a new liner, you want something that's also resistant to smudging and budging. NYX's formula is waterproof, so if you're prone to some tearing or have watery eyes, this product is one you'll want to add to your shopping cart.

This drugstore indispensable is vegan and PETA-certified cruelty-free and formulated with no animal-derived products or by-products. Though sustainable, sharply-pigmented, and smudge-free, it doesn't come in a wide variety of colors. However, it still delivers exquisite black and brown shades.

The best pencil eyeliner Rimmel eyeliner


Rimmel Exaggerate Eye Definer Waterproof Pencil supplies a sultry smoked-out line that you can blend with an attached sponge.

Pros: Built-in smudger, retractable, decent color variety

Cons: Not the best for a precise line

As Albus notes, "you can't go wrong with pencil," and I certainly agree. Pencil eyeliner is the traditional bread and butter of the eyeliner game, offering an artist-like application with a linear stroke on the eye. And, even though I gravitate more toward liquid eyeliner — I'd rather not keep track of the sharpener needed by most pencils — the retractable capability of the Rimmel Exaggerate Eye Definer Waterproof Pencil sold me.

As a waterproof liner, the formula won't streak its color-intense pigment. This beauty staple is a double win with a built-in smudger and sharpener that works automatically as you twist to dispense more product, perfect for achieving a smoked-out lash line. Because it's a pencil and doesn't have that super flexible brush tip, it doesn't give the most precise line, yet its ability to be a multitasker when going about your makeup routine makes it the best pencil we've tested. And, it comes in a variety of color options to switch up the rote rhythm of reaching for black.

The best gel eyeliner Maybelline eye studio


Maybelline Eye Studio Lasting Drama Gel Liner generated a lot of buzz because of its customizable, creamy application with its included brush.

Pros: Creamy formula; great control when applying' dermatologist-, ophthalmologist, and allergy-tested for sensitive eyes

Cons: Mediocre attached brush, relatively longer application process, packaging may lead to drying out faster

I've always considered applying gel eyeliner to be too tedious of a task (and one I thought I would mess up when applying the product with a brush), but the hype around the Maybelline Eye Studio Lasting Drama Gel Liner was too striking to ignore. 

"You can smudge it for a beautiful smokey look and you can make a very sharp, crisp line," Trop recommends. "Really, the sky's the limit with gel liner."

The application isn't so daunting. Gel liners offer rich pigment like liquid, but actually easier to use and manipulate like pencils. It's a great option if you go gaga for nighttime glam looks or strive for more control when applying.

The creamy, oil-free formula claims to offer the longest wear we've noticed (Maybelline notes up to 24 hours) and comes in black, brown, and charcoal shades. The gel liner is also dermatologist-, ophthalmologist-, and allergy-tested, making it a solid choice for more sensitive eyes and contact lens wearers. We will be testing the longevity of this product soon and will update this guide with our thoughts.

Insider Reviews' Style and Beauty Editor Ashley Phillips swears by Bobbi Brown's Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner ($28) but says the Maybelline Gel Liner is a decent dupe of the pricier option. She suggests upgrading to a nicer brush, instead of the one Maybelline provides, for that luxe experience and easier application. She adores Bobbi Brown's Ultra Fine Eye Liner Brush ($31).


The best waterline eyeliner Essence lasting eye pencil


Essence Extreme Lasting Eye Pencil achieves a tasteful line for harder-to-reach water and tight lines, plus an affordable price of under $3.

Pros: smooth formula, waterproof, smudge-free, inexpensive price

Cons: limited color variety

On days when I noticed my eyes bugging me, it was often because I applied a liner to my waterline that was not intended to be there. I completely skip over the waterline at all costs nowadays because of those slightly irritating moments, but the Essence Extreme Lasting Eye Pencil suggests a smooth and steady application.

Its waterproof and silk-like formula provides a smooth glide that doesn't budge, ideal for the waterline. Especially if dealing with black and other dark shades, an eyeliner that will stay on as it is supposed to will prevent noticeable traces of product on the skin.

And, applying a pencil eyeliner to the waterline is perfect for creating a gradient look. Trop shared that applying a black pencil to the waterline, going in with a brown pencil above it, and then buffing it out creates an artistic dark-to-light look.

The best eyeliner for sensitive eyes Maybelline eyeliner 3


Maybelline Eye Studio Master Precise All Day Liquid Liner is both smudge- and water-proof with a formula that won't irritate chronically dry or runny eyes.

Pros: Dermatologist- and ophthalmologist-approved, phthalate-free, ultra-fine tip for flexible application

Cons: Applicator may dry out if improperly stored

While our favorite gel liner above is approved by ophthalmologists for sensitive eyes, another Maybelline favorite earns high marks here as well — and it's the better choice if you prefer a liquid to a gel. Maybelline's Eye Studio Master Precise All Day Liquid Liner offers a fragrance-free formula lasting up to 12 hours. That's 12 hours you won't have to be rubbing your eyes due to stinging, burning, or otherwise uncomfortable feelings caused by eyeliner.

The dermatologist- and ophthalmologist-approved formula glides on with ease for casual cat eye looks or more done-up grandeur. It doesn't budge or smudge, too, it's ultra-fine tip providing flexibility for thinner or thicker lines.

Some people are sensitive to eyeliners, while some aren't. Trop notes that alcohol is the main ingredient for long-wear liners so, if you're the my-eyeliner-only-lasts-an-hour person because of tearing or slight irritation caused by makeup, check out this key ingredient. 

What we're testing next Revlon ColorStay Liquid Liner


  • Revlon ColorStay Exactify Liquid Liner ($6.01): While this pizza-cutter style eyeliner claims to create a thin, precise line, they're definitely hit-or-miss. We will test this product in a future update since it is a one-of-a-kind option.
  • NYX Jumbo Eye Pencil ($5.39): These NYX pencils are highly-rated and can definitely pull double-duty as a cream shadow all over the lid. However, the tips are much thicker than your average liner and therefore not as precise as the pencil liners mentioned in this guide. We will test this product in a future update to see if its multitasking capabilities are worth the buy.
  • E.l.f. Expert Liquid Liner ($3): This inexpensive option boasts its smudge-proof wear and long-lasting, highly-pigmented formula, so this is one drugstore beauty find we are curious to try to test its much-applauded characteristics.
  • Neutrogena Nourishing Eye Liner ($5.69): Neutrogena is known primarily for its cleansing skincare products, but its makeup is just as popular. It's similar to our Rimmel and Essence picks in this guide for being ophthalmologist- and dermatologist-tested for sensitive eye wearers, so we're looking forward to testing this product for longevity and potential traces of irritation.
  • Wet N Wild MegaLast Breakup-Proof Liquid Eyeliner ($5.99): Wet N Wild is a relatively less-hyped-about beauty brand at the drugstore, but once Trop mentioned that this product lasted all throughout her C-section, we couldn't be more intrigued to add this to our future testing process.
  • Pixi Beauty Endless Silky Eye Pen ($12.00): Though a little on the pricier side for a drugstore buy, Albus raves about these, especially the gorgeous, diverse palette of colors offered. It's one we are excited to test, especially to add a new brand to the mix.
Check out our other buying guides for the best in makeup and beauty drugstore eyeliner related guides

Anna Efetova/Getty Images

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[Author: [email protected] (Victoria Giardina)]

Tags: Reviews, Makeup, Shopping, NYC, Trends, Features, Beauty, Buying Guide, Peta, Insider, Maybelline, Bobbi Brown, Albus, Bloomingdales, Rimmel, Neutrogena, Eyeliner, Drugstore Makeup, Ashley Phillips, Insider Picks Guides, Best Guides, Guide Update, Beauty & Personal Care (Reviews, IP Beauty, Amazon Revlon, Beauty Guides, Makeup Guides, Insider Reviews 2021, Eyeliner hacks, Lindsey Trop, Trina Albus Magenta Agency, Victoria Giardina, Ulta NYX Professional Epic Ink Liner, NYX Professional Epic Ink Liner, Amazon Rimmel Exaggerate Eye, Rimmel Exaggerate Eye Definer Waterproof Pencil, Amazon Maybelline, Maybelline Gel Liner, Ulta Essence Extreme Lasting Eye Pencil, Ulta Maybelline, Anna Efetova Getty


September 9, 2020 at 2:48 PM 22 beauty products we've used down to the last drop and continue to buy over and over again