Tightlining: How to Help Eyeliner on the Inner Rim Stay Put

The best eyeliners & my top secrets to keep eyeliner in place

lining the inside rim of the eyes
how to line the inner lid of the eye. Noam Galai / Getty (left), courtesy of Amazon.com (right)

Tightlining is the art of lining the inner rims of the eyes to create a sexy, sultry look. One problem women have with eyeliner on the inner rims is it staying put. Here, I show you the best waterproof eyeliners and a simple trick to keep eyeliner in place.

But first, let's talk lining the inner rims. I have to admit I was never a fan of lining the inner rims, also known as the "waterline." Not only is there the risk of infection, which was ingrained in me since my early days of reading Seventeen Magazine, but I subscribed to the beauty belief that lining the inner rims makes one's eyes look itty bitty, somewhat beady.

 

It turns out, I've been wrong all these years. In talking with makeup artists and watching a ton of video tutorials, I've learned that there are tricks to lining that waterline that won't make your eyes appear as if they've been professional shrunken. Lining the eyes in white can actually make them appear larger. You have to take into consideration your eye shape (my eyes are close-set and on the smaller side, so no wonder I loathed this look) and you have to pick the right eyeliner that won't wash away in an hour causing your eyeballs to be awash in black floaties.

The Secret to Lining Eyes: Layering

The secret to lining the inner rims of the eyes is to layer the color. You want to start with a pencil or gel liner and then apply a powder over it, effectively "stamping it" to keep it in place. This gives you a depth that you can't get with liner or powder alone.

Why Color is Important

When it comes to lining the water line, you have a few options:

  • You can go dark and sultry with blacks, browns, burgundies, dark navies or forest greens.
  • You can go bright with jeweled tones like emerald green, turquoise or golds. This is a fun look.
  • You can go light with whites or nudes. These can make the eyes pop and appear larger and more awake.

In choosing your color, consider your complexion.

Dark blacks can be harsh on blondes with fair skin. Stick to browns and taupes instead if you want to avoid a harsh look. For a bit of fun, you can use a color but choose one that flatters your skin color and eye color. To test a color, draw a thick line just under the lash line and step back. Does it make your eyes pop? Then you're good.

The Best Eyeliners for the Inner Rim

I like a waterproof pencil for lining the inner rims, but regular pencils work, too, and are easier to apply (waterproof can be waxy and hard). Gels are also a very popular choice for lining eyes. I recommend avoiding liquid liners because they can sting the eye.

Here are some good bets:

For bright hues, try:

For the white or nude look, try:

As for powders, I recommend using eyeshadow. Pick a color you love.

It can be the darkest color in your palette, or a bright color like the one pictured here (think turquoise or bright blues or green hues). For blondes, you can use taupes or golds.

The Right Eyeliner Brush

You want a flat or angled eyeliner brush for applying the powder to the waterline. There are many options on Amazon, but the Pro Flat Definer gets the most positive reviews. It is flat and lines precisely and sharply. And you can use it with powders, gels or creams.

Angled eyeliner brushes work well, too.

How to Apply Liner to Your Waterline

Apply liner to the inside rims of the eye can be scary at first. There's the fear that you'll stab yourself in the eye. I find practice makes perfect. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Here's how to apply liner that won't smudge or wash away:

  1. Always sharpen your pencil so you have a precise, perfect line and less smudging. This also gets rid of any bacteria that might have been leftover on the pencil.
  1. Try this trick I learned years ago from a makeup artist at Fashion Week: "dry" your waterline with a Q-tip to prep it for lining. Simply roll it over your waterline before applying the pencil line.
  2. Hold down your bottom lid and using short, swift strokes (or one long stroke, it's up to you), draw in a line along your bottom rim. For the top rim, hold up your lid with your fingers and draw in the line.
  3. If your liner smudges, clean it up with a Q-tip dipped in eye makeup remover.
  4. Since the secret is layering, take your flat-tipped eyeliner brush and dab it in a powder, then tap it to remove excess.
  5. "Stamp" the eyeliner brush dipped in color along your penciled or gel line. You want to really work it into the line that’s in between the waterline and the lash line. You don't want any of your skin peeking through.

How far you line the eyes is dependent on your eye shape. Most women don't need to worry about eye shape, but if you have close-set eyes (meaning the distance between your eyes is smaller than your eye width), don't apply liner all the way to the inner rim. Instead, apply to the outside 2/3rds of the rim.