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How to Apply Eyeliner

How to do a smokey eye, a bold eye, a cat eye

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Woman applying makeup
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How to Apply Eyeliner
NARS eyeliner brush

NARS eyeliner brush

NARS

Eyeliners and how to apply them can be befuddling. Should you line inside the eye? When should you use a pencil or liquid liner? Is a $14 liner better than the $4 one at Rite Aid?

Here, I answer these questions and many more. By the end of this article you should know not only how to apply eyeliner, but how to do a cat eye, a smoky eye and a basic eye for daytime. You'll also about the many types of eyeliners and which ones are better than others.

See my list of the best eyeliners from cheap to steep

The Different Types of Liner

You can use an eyeliner pencil, a liquid liner or an eyeliner brush dipped into a deep shadow to line eyes. If you use a pencil, set the line with eyeshadow because penciled lines tend to melt and won't stay put all day.

How to Apply Liquid Eyeliner

Too apply liquid eyeliner, line the eye from the inside of the lashes outward in one big sweep. You can also line the eye from the middle of the lash line outward, then finish the line from the inner corner of the eye to the middle.

Another liquid eyeliner trick requires a steady hand and will make eyes appear wider.

  • Start with a completely bare eye.
  • On the upper lashes, dot the liquid liner into the spaces between the lashes, wiggling the liner into the lashes. The result is not supposed to be a line. It's supposed to look as if the lashes themselves are super thick at the root.
  • Apply mascara.
  • Compare eye to other naked eye.

The Basic "I'm Off to Work or the Weekend" Eye

This is the perfect work or weekend look for women who want their eyes to "pop" without giving off the appearance of a woman who's really, really into makeup, so into makeup she has this site bookmarked in her Web favorites.

The key to the basic eye is to apply with a light hand. The basic eye is all about appearing natural so consider a deep brown (versus black) eyeliner if you have light hair.

  • Holding the skin of your upper lid taut, trace the upper lashes from the inside of the eye with a pencil, or an eyeliner brush dipped in a dark eyeshadow. For a more dramatic look, make the outside line a bit thicker than the inside and extend it just beyond the lash line. Another shape I love is dubbed the "Nike swoosh" by Lucky Magazine -- narrow at inner corners, thicker in the middle and swept up a bit at the outer edge.
  • Once the line is set, trace over it with a liquid liner. Hand unsteady? Keep your elbow on a table. (You can skip this step, but it will hold the eyeliner longer if you include it).
  • Set liner with an eyeshadow.
  • Apply eyeshadow or an eye pencil to lower lashes. I like to use a different color on the bottom lash line, one that brings out the blue in my eyes. Apply a deep-hued eyeshadow or pencil along the bottom lashes from the outside in. Unless you have wide-set eyes, don't line the entire lower lid. Instead, stop halfway across. If you're using a pencil, smudge the line with your finger so it looks more natural.

The Smoky Eye

Ahhh, the smoky eye. Perhaps there is no longer-running eye makeup trend than the smoky eye, which is in no danger of going out of style. The key here is to blend well. Also, make sure to keep all other makeup light or you risk looking overdone. You don't want the rest of your makeup to compete with your eyes.
  • Holding the skin of your upper lid taut, apply eyeliner from the inside corner of the eye outward. Draw strokes into the lash line. The middle of the line should be a bit thicker than the edges.
  • Use a cotton swap (or your finger, if you're lazy like me) to "smudge" the liner.
  • Dab an eyeshadow brush into a deep-hued eyeshadow and apply over the eyeliner to set the line (blow on the brush first to remove any excess shadow). Layering liner with a shadow is the secret to a perfect smokey eye.
  • Blend shadow well, then follow with eyeshadow. According to the March 2006 issue of InStyle Magazine, with a smoky eye, "color should diffuse from rich and dark near the lashes to almost sheer as it extends to the crease."

For more intricate directions, see How to Get a Smokey Eye.

The Bold, Dramatic Eye

Bold eyes are a dramatic choice for evening. Try eyeliner shades other than deep black for a super cool look. You can use either a liquid liner or try the makeup artist's trick and use an angled eyeshadow brush dipped in a deep-hued eyeshadow. Skip the pencil for this look.
  • Holding the skin of your upper lid taut, apply the liquid liner from the middle of the eye to the outside corner of the eye.
  • Draw a second line from the inside corner of your eye, letting the two lines meet. The outer edge of the line should be thicker than the inside. If you have close-set eyes, avoid taking the line all the way to the inside corner.

The Cat Eye

Forget the advice you may have read in the past never to line the inside rims of eyes because it makes eyes look tiny. Sexy cat eyes are a cool look for night. The key to this look is to apply a thin line to the inside rims of the lids. Make sure to sharpen the pencil after lining.
  • Holding the skin of your upper lid taut, dot liquid liner along the upper lash line as close to the eye as possible. Apply line from corner to corner of eye, extending the line upward at the outer corner of eye. Let liner dry for a few minutes before touching.

    To soften this look (black liquid liner can be harsh), InStyle Magazine suggests trying a smudge-able pencil in a lighter color like dark brown or charcoal.

  • Hold down the lower lid and apply liner only to the outer three quarters of the rim. Fade out the line as you approach the tear duct, according to makeup artist Mally Roncal in the March 2006 edition of InStyle Magazine. Extend the liner upwards at the outer corners.

For a softer version of this look, use an eye shadow brush and sweep a taupe or brown color on the lower lash line.

Eyeshadow Secrets Only the Pros Know

To make eyes appear wider, trace the inner rims of eyes with a beige pencil (white is too harsh) or highlight the inner corner of the eyes with a light shimmer powder.

Throw out the cheapie applicators that come with your makeup. Investing in a good set of makeup brushes is key to a flawless face. Find great eyeshadow brushes at Sephora, MAC department counters and Trish McEvoy counters. Target sells wonderful, inexpensive brushes by Sonia Kashuk.

To get a casual, smudgie "I slept in my makeup last night" look that everyone's after at the moment. Apply a pencil line only to the bottom lashes and then smudge it with your finger.

So Now On to the Rest of Your Face

Now that you know how to apply your eye makeup, find out how to apply the rest of your makeup. Makeup done well can make eyes pop, it can plump up a wrinkled face and play down a large nose. It can even out teenage acne and play down under-eye circles. In "How to Apply Makeup," I'll show you what order it should be applied in and I'll share some of my favorite tricks along the way.

More Fun Eyeliner Tips

To warm up an extra waxy pencil, rub it between your fingers for a few seconds. For an extra smudgy effect, hold the pencil tip over a lighter or candle flame for a few seconds. Let it cool 30 seconds before applying. This works better than my old high school trick of sticking the pencil tip against a lightbulb.

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