The Sneaky Reason Your Waterproof Eyeliner Isn’t Staying Put

Photo: Getty/Huda Amin / EyeEm
The eternal dilemma: No matter what type of eyeliner I use or how meticulously I apply it, somehow I wind up looking like a sad prom queen every time I leave the house. The worst part is that while people are happy to send me unflattering memes that remind them of my perpetually inky under eyes, they never tell me to actually fix my problem. So, I asked a couple of makeup artists if they could teach me how to do what every pre-teen on YouTube seems to have mastered, and they were kind enough to not only oblige, but also to make me feel better about myself in the process.

For starters, Merrady Wickes, a makeup artist and beauty director for Detox Market, assures me this is a common dilemma more than a personal failing, which I appreciate. She blames genetics, which is unexpected but no less welcome. "As a makeup artist, I've noticed that those prone to eyeliner smudging typically (though not always) have bone structure that lends itself to this," she tells me. "Whether it's a hooded lid, or prominent cheekbones that are prone to being grazed by lashes, some people are just more susceptible to smearing."

Obviously no one can change their bone structure, so I'm stuck with that. When I press her on what I can change, she gives me an interesting and unexpected tip: While it might seem counterintuitive, reaching for waterproof formulas could be making the whole sitch worse. "The problem is that waterproof formulas are not oil-proof—in fact, oil is how you remove them," she says. "So, the key to preventing smearing and fallout is minimizing the oil around the eyes and on the tops of the cheeks." Not only do I have oily eyelids, I also use an eye cream and moisturizer that are spiked with nourishing oils, which could be to blame for the eyeliner traveling down my face.

The fix? Dust a powder such as RMS "Un" Powder ($34) onto the lids to start. "Using a large fluffy eyeshadow brush, you want to powder your eyelids and under eyes to set any oily eye creams," she says. Then, layer on an eye primer such as ILIA Natural Brightening Eye Primer ($24) to give your eyeliner something to latch onto. Like with foundation, this helps to lock the sooty color onto your eyelid and keep it from falling down below the eye.

Once you've set your foundation, makeup artist Neil Scibelli does recommend reaching for a waterproof or water-resistant liner. "I mainly use Mally Beauty Evercolor Waterproof Eyeliners ($18) because they do not budge. Makeup Forever also makes waterproof eyeliners that you can smudge out for a shadow effect. Once they dry, they don't move. And, Maybelline Tattoo Eyeliners ($4) stay in place all day or night," he says. If you do decide to go with a pencil eyeliner, Wickes recommends using a small brush to apply an eyeshadow in a matching or complimentary color directly on top of the liner to set it. "This is a red carpet trick," she tells me.

Armed with a bevy of the above recommended tools, I try out the suggested techniques. My top liner sets flawlessly, but the bottom liner is a different story. I'm unable to get it to show up on my waterline, so I go back to using a pencil, which smudges everywhere. I return to Wickes for advice, and she recommends adding the eyeshadow layer on top of my bottom liner. "Some makeup artists swear by using their mascara on a small brush to tightline or trim the waterline of eyes," she says. "I haven't tried it personally, but it's worth a shot!"

I test this advice out, but somehow I still end up with eyeliner dripping down my face. So, I take Wickes final recommendation. "My inner corner smears no matter what, so I just only line the outer half of my waterline," she tells me. This works! At long last, I make it through an entire night without looking as though I'm Kate Moss at 4 a.m. in the '90s. Out at dinner one night, I take an apprehensive look in the mirror, so accustomed am I to being met with an unkept reflection. What stares back at me instead looks remarkably like a poised adult. Or, a 14 year-old YouTuber. Either way, it's a vast improvement which robs my friends of the opportunity to make fun of my smudgy mug forever.

Can't keep your foundation on, either? Same—here's how I finally learned to make it stick. And speaking of hot messes, these skin care tips will help you hide the aftermath of an end-of-year-overwhelm sob-fest

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