When it comes to eyeliner, the struggle is real.
From applying unevenly and midday smudging to not lasting more than a few hours, a lot can go wrong. And it’s always disappointing buying a new eyeliner to find out it’s a total dud.
I’ve been there, and I don’t want to go there again.
So I asked The Penny Hoarder to pick up the tab and bought 11 different drugstore eyeliners under $10 based on recommendations from our staff and awesome Facebook community group.
Then I wrangled a bunch of models (cough, staffers, cough) to wear them all day long. I gave strict instructions: no mascara, no eyeshadow and no touchups.
The photos below show the initial application — and more importantly, how it looked at the end of the day.
In order from worst to best, here’s how these drugstore eyeliners fared based on look (and ease of application), wear (how long it lasted) and value…
11. Revlon Colorstay Eye Liner ($8.99)
Somebody in our community group recommended this eyeliner because it “really stays in place.”
I was the model for this one, and maybe (probably) I wear my eyeliner too aggressively, but this pencil smudged a lot for me.
I loved the pencil’s feel and how easily it went on, but it was quite subtle — and by the end of the day, you could barely tell it was there.
Look: 6 / Wear: 6 / Value: 5 = Overall: 5.67
10. e.l.f. Liquid Expert Liner ($2)
This was another recommendation from our community group — the user said this drugstore liquid eyeliner “glides on and helps me make the perfect cat eye!”
However, our model had a different opinion.
“I’m not a big fan,” she said. “The brush part of it was too long, so it kind of bent — which made it hard to apply. It wasn’t stable enough to make a nice line. And it was very watery.”
“It wouldn’t last for a long night of dancing,” she predicted.
Look: 4.5 / Wear: 5.5 / Value: 7.5 = Overall: 5.83
9. Maybelline Eyestudio Master Duo 2-in-1 Glossy Liquid Liner ($8.29)
This liquid eyeliner came highly recommended by one of our interns, who said, “Nothing else compares — it’s legitimately the best.” She loves it because it “stays on forever, goes on super easy and looks so clean.”
Be warned, though — as the name suggests, it is glossy.
“It’s weirdly shiny,” our model said. “I like more of a matte look. But I guess it stayed in place really well. I even tried to smudge it with my finger and nothing happened.”
If you wanna get glossy, this liner might be a good choice — but given the price, I think you’ll find better buys below.
Look: 6 / Wear: 7 / Value: 5.5 = Overall: 6.16
8. Maybelline Eye Studio Lasting Drama Gel Eyeliner ($10.49)
One of our writers said this was her favorite. So we let it sneak in even though it was a little over $10.
“Last weekend, I put on this eyeliner, walked around for a few hours, took a three-hour nap, then got up and still looked fresh as a daisy,” she explained.
But for someone who’s not used to gel eyeliner (with a pot and brush), it might not be quite so smooth.
“I’d have to get used to the application process,” our model said. “I’m not good with makeup, and using this was difficult.”
The eyeliner also smeared in her eye’s crease — an issue she often faces.
Look: 8 / Wear: 6 / Value: 5 = Overall: 6.33
7. Rimmel Exaggerate Full Colour Eye Definer ($6.49)
Another recommendation from our community group!
Our model found this liquid liner hard to apply, but said it lasted longer than a pencil might. She said it was “too strong for daytime” — especially with her blue eyes.
She also noted Rimmel isn’t a cruelty-free makeup brand, so she wouldn’t purchase it anyway. (Worth noting: Revlon, Maybelline, Sephora and L’Oréal aren’t either.)
Look: 6 / Wear: 7 / Value: 7 = Overall: 6.67
6. NYX Slide On Pencil ($8)
The staffer who recommended this pencil said she switched to it from Urban Decay 24/7, which costs more than twice as much.
“Plus, if you order directly from NYX, they have a ton of sales and almost always include a few full-size items as gifts,” she said.
Our model liked the fact this eyeliner was all-in-one, so no need for sharpening and or the risk of losing your brush.
“You just open the cap and slap it on,” she said.
She also liked that it didn’t smudge.
“Even after spending time outside (in the Florida heat) and working out, it stayed on,” she said.
Look: 7 / Wear: 9 / Value: 6 = Overall: 7.33
5. Sephora Contour Eye Pencil 12hr Wear Waterproof ($10)
Alright, fine, this isn’t a drug store brand. But it’s sold at a drugstore price — and is apparently bomb — so I decided to include it.
“It lasts forever,” explained the staffer who recommended this eyeliner. “I’ve worn this while running and come back and it’s been fine.”
Our model liked this eyeliner, too — “It’s a good option if you like pencils,” she said.
And, since she wears contact lenses, she liked that it was “soft” and didn’t irritate her eyes — even when applied on her waterlines.
Look: 8 / Wear: 10 / Value: 8.5 = Overall: 8.83
4. L’Oréal Paris Infallible 24HR Lacquer Intense Gel Eyeliner ($7.79)
Are you a gel fan? After writing this post, I might have to switch — but it’ll take some getting used to.
“I’ve used this for a couple years and it’s one of the best cheap ones I’ve found,” explained one staffer. “It doesn’t dry up in the pot and even stays on in the water!”
“It goes on smoothly,” our model said. “And you can create an easy wing with it. It definitely lasted all day — even if I rubbed it, for the most part, it stayed on.”
Look: 8.5 / Wear: 10 / Value: 8.5 = Overall: 9
3. Milani Infinite Liquid Eye Liner ($6.49)
If you’re a wizard with the cat-eye, this drugstore liquid eyeliner is worth a look.
“It’s a really thin-tipped brush,” said the staffer who recommended it. “I think that’s a big part of eyeliner, especially if you want to be precise.”
Our model agreed.
“Usually cheap eyeliner fades and starts smudging,” she said. “This didn’t do either.”
Look: 8 / Wear: 9.5 / Value: 10 / Overall: 9.16
2. Essence Eyeliner Pen – Waterproof ($2.99)
The staffer who recommended this pen used to wear a LORAC liquid eyeliner that costs 10 times as much.
“This is absolutely the best for the price,” she said. “I may or may not have left it on for two days before and nobody’s said anything.”
Our model only had it on for a day, but she also enjoyed her experience, making this the best drugstore liquid eyeliner we tested.
“This stuff is awesome,” she said. “I have hooded eyes, so everything comes off on the bone — and this didn’t. It didn’t smudge or melt off my face. I seriously love this liner a lot.”
Look: 9.5 / Wear: 10 / Value: 10 / Overall: 9.67
1. Jordana Easyliner for Eyes Retractable Pencil ($1.99)
Drum roll, please! At the rocking price of less than $2 comes our winner.
“I’ve had Revlon, I’ve had everything — and this one is the winner,” explained one staffer. “I wear it every day, all the time and it doesn’t smudge.
Our model loved it, too.
“First off, it’s super cheap,” she said. “But the quality seems to remain high — it didn’t smudge at all!”
Look: 10 / Wear: 10 / Value: 10 = Overall: 10
Your Turn: Have you tried any of the drugstore eyeliners on this list? Let us know which is best in your book!
Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain. Ooh, and editorial intern Jacquelyn Pica bought a whole bunch of eyeliners.