let’s talk about waterlines

Adding eyeliner to your waterline is an easy way to change up your eye makeup. It can add darkness to a smoky eye, brighten up tired/red eyes, make smaller eyes look bigger, and big eyes look smaller.

The waterlines are the area where your eyelids meet to close your eyes. In other words, it’s the area between the base of your lashes and your actual eyeball.

In high school, I remember my eye doctor telling me not to put makeup on my waterline. 

“Okay doc, whatever you say. You’re right. Being cool doesn’t matter as much as my eye health.” ::wink wink::

So, I would leave the appointment, get into my car, flip down the mirror and layer on the black liner that he so kindly made me rub off.

I kind of went through a “only wear black, smoky eye makeup, and black high heels” stage in beauty school.


High School. Not my best fashion moment.

Anyway, my eye doctor was probably right. It’s not the safest makeup technique to do to your eyes since it can clog tear ducts and cause irritation. I’ve never had any negative effects, that I’m aware of, but I still try to limit using this technique.

So: listen to my eye doctor. Do this at your own risk. Don’t come crying to me if you get an eye irritation, because, well, two reasons: 
1. crying probably isn’t helping your eye irritation.
2. I’m going to tell you that I told you not to do this.
Anyway, let’s get on with it.
The two eyeliners I’ll be featuring in this post are Mac Powerpoint Eye Pencil in Engraved, and Tarte EmphasEYES Inner Rim Brightener.

In the first photo, I’m wearing absolutely nothing on either waterline.

In this photo, I’m wearing the Tarte liner on both the top and the bottom waterline. The biggest difference I can see is that my eyes look bigger, but almost too “heavy” at the bottom. 

In this photo, I added the Mac liner to the top, and left the Tarte liner on the bottom. This adds a little bit more definition around the top lashes by making them look a little fuller.

Here I’m wearing black on both the top and bottom waterlines. You can see the most dramatic change in the eye makeup with this technique. It makes my eyes look smaller, but they pop more.
As you can see, from all the looks lined up together, there isn’t a huge change between all the looks.

Using liner on the waterlines is one of those subtle techniques that can add a finishing touch to an eye makeup look, depending on what you are going for. If you’ve had a long night, and wake up to red, swollen eyes, try the Tarte liner to brighten them up. 
If you want the smokiest of smoky eyes, line the top and bottom with black or slate liner.

So now that I’ve said all this and made you all interested in trying it, don’t forget about my warning above, k?

Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Leave a Comment

Comments (63)

  1. Shelley says
    Posted February 13, 2013

    On the bottom do you only use liner halfway across? I debate going all the way across or halfway.

    • Randie says
      Posted November 6, 2014

      I have big deep set doe eyes,that used to look even much bigger even when I was in my early -mid 20’s and with deep set eyes putting eye liner even under the lashes all the way across to the inner corner closes the eyes and makes them look smaller so putting it in the waterline makes them appear even smaller. I look best with either no eye liner and just mascara or if I wear eye liner it has to be just a little under the lashes and from the middle of my eyes to the outer corner.

  2. Mrs. G says
    Posted February 13, 2013

    I’ve always put liner on the bottom waterline of my eyes– as a matter of fact, I can’t figure out how to get liner neatly on the bottom of my eyes if I don’t do it this way!

    Do you have any tips for somehow drawing through my bottom lashes, or somehow getting under them?


  3. Vicky says
    Posted February 13, 2013

    Great tips! My problem with lining my water line is that it completely wears off within a few minutes. I’ve tried several different brands, wood pencils, self-sharpening pencils, liquid… None of them last. Is that typical of this makeup technique? Or is there a magical product out there that will actually stay put on my water line all day?

    • Stevie says
      Posted March 10, 2013

      If you tap a liner brush into black eyeshadow and top your eyeliner with it it will last. for any eyeliner- waterline or top or whatever. πŸ™‚

    • Stevie says
      Posted March 10, 2013

      If you tap a liner brush into black eyeshadow and top your eyeliner with it it will last. for any eyeliner- waterline or top or whatever. πŸ™‚

    • Kareena says
      Posted April 7, 2016

      Some of the brands of Indian kajal (kohl eyeliner that is also very safe for the waterline), including Maybelline Colossal Kajal, Lakme Eyeconic Kajal, or L’Oreal Paris Kajal Magique, are smudge-free, waterproof, and stay completely put on the waterline for about 6 hours. I suggest you try this!! As a half-Indian, half-Caucasian, I definitely recommend all three of these brands of kajal. πŸ™‚

  4. Posted February 13, 2013

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  5. Posted February 13, 2013

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Posted February 13, 2013

    Not really related, but… nearly any time I go to the eye doctor, I have a full face save for a stitch of eye makeup. Firstly, I don’t want them moving my lids around and messing it up, and secondly, a friend of mine is an optometrist and while she admits to loving the liner, she says caked on eye makeup is disgusting to look at under a brightly lit magnifying lens. So really, it benefits both parties.
    I feel like telling the eye doctor that you won’t wear makeup on the waterline is akin to stretching the truth to the dentist on how frequently most people (*coughandawink*) floss… which I’m totally fine with, because I do it, too.

    Actually related to your post, I love any and all things on the waterline, but like you, try to limit how frequently I do it. I love your side-by-side comparisons!

    Oh, and don’t think that after my appointment I don’t flip down that visor mirror and apply scandalous amounts of eye makeup, because I so do.

    • Posted February 13, 2013

      Yes to what your friend says(about makeup looking freaky under magnification). The worst thing to look at under the slit lamp(ie, microscope) are those sewn on eyelashes! They look like spiders!

  7. Posted February 13, 2013

    I can definitely see a change. Great tip! Think I’ll be trying this out today!

  8. Rebecca says
    Posted February 13, 2013

    I am addicted to lining my water line, and I shouldn’t be, because I actually have SUPER sensitive eyes. But, I don’t listen to doctors, either πŸ˜› I actually try to tightline more than line my water line now, since my eyes are so sensitive.

    And Rimmel just came out with a new Kajal nude liner that’s really great! It’s smooth and glides on easily. I think it’s a great drugstore alternative to the Tarte liner.

  9. Posted February 13, 2013

    nice tips – i like seeing all the different looks right next to eachother. i tend to do a dark liner on my lower lash line because i have pretty much no lashes at all. but maybe a light liner on my waterline would help my eyes look a little bigger. great tips!

  10. Hailey says
    Posted February 13, 2013

    I love the Tarte liner! Works really well when the kiddos have kept me up! I usually only opt for my waterline at night! But like you in high school/beauty school it black waterline A LOT! πŸ™‚
    Hailey @ Love, Laughter and Lipstick

  11. Posted February 13, 2013

    I have been able to use this technique on my upper water line (which I think is called tightlining – which I saw on Pinterest), but have not been able to get it to work on my lower waterline without looking like a raccoon within a few minutes, ha! I may do it too heavily, and your lighter look is definitely more up my alley! I will start practicing again and hopefully can get it for that subtle added effect to my eyes. Thanks for the tips… as always! πŸ™‚

  12. Laura says
    Posted February 13, 2013

    I’ve been lining my bottom waterline for the past 10 years and I’ve never had any eye irritation. But my problem is that by the end of the day, the liner on my waterline is practically gone. Have you ever had a problem with this? Would you recommend that I do anything different?

  13. Posted February 13, 2013

    One thing to add… make sure you use a cleanly sharpened pencil to avoid spreading any bacteria. My eyes water a lot, so I avoid liner on the waterlines… but I like how it looks on some people.

  14. Posted February 13, 2013

    Thanks for explaining AND showing this! I see lots of eyeliners recommended for the waterline, but I haven’t tried it lately – except for black in the old days of high school. Not the same at all!!!!

  15. Posted February 13, 2013

    i use white liner on my lower lashline a lot of the time to brighten everything up. i can tell a huge difference, but then i only use black on the lower waterline when i want something more dramatic. you should do another comparison using white and i bet we can see more of a difference.

  16. Deva says
    Posted February 13, 2013

    I don’t really use liner on my waterline, but I am prone to allergies. That being said, I think I am going to be using it on my waterline at my wedding in May.

  17. Posted February 13, 2013

    Great post! I use liner on my waterline almost everyday – I just love the way it looks. I’ll consider myself warned, though!

    Lemon Sugar Creative

  18. Posted February 13, 2013

    Love the photos of the different looks. Great post, thanks!

  19. Posted February 13, 2013

    I always wear my liner on my lower water line πŸ™‚

  20. Shawnie says
    Posted February 13, 2013

    I’m a makeup klutz – not good at applying it – but I LURVE makeup! I love watching youtube makeup how-tos and love all the dramatic looks out there. BUT! When I try to line my own waterline – which seems essential to achieve the “drama” or “polish” in many looks, I end up drawing on my darn eyeball and ruining the effect! Sigh.

  21. Posted February 13, 2013

    I do my waterlines all the time and when I do my friends’ makeup and we’ve never had a problem. We don’t swap germs, for one, and we know the risks. But it is a huge deal, so I’m a super big fan. Glad you told others about it. I prefer black or brown-black, mostly.

  22. Posted February 13, 2013

    This has nothing to do with your waterline demonstration…I just wanted to tell you I am still laughing at “Check yourself before you wreck yourself”!! I may or may not have used that once or five times already since reading it earlier! πŸ™‚

  23. Posted February 13, 2013

    I am an optometrist and I line my waterline everyday. I use waterproof MAC fluid line liner and an angled makeup brush.

    You’re not really at any more risk of infection that applying mascara or other eye makeup. Just make sure not to get the makeup into your tear duct(you can easily see tiny little pore like holes on the inner corner of your lid margin) and you’re fine. You are actually more at risk for getting an infection with eyeliner along your lower lid in your lashes(because the eye lash follicles are particularly susceptible to infection)

    • Kate says
      Posted February 14, 2013

      Thanks for sharing this info!

    • Randie says
      Posted November 6, 2014


      This is not true and is dangerous ill advised advice. I almost had an eye infection and had to go to my eye doctor from putting white eyeliner in the inside waterline of my eyes which he said not to do.

    • Sandy says
      Posted September 15, 2021

      You may be an optometrist but you’re not an ophthalmologist (an actual doctor for the eye). I had eye infections from lining my waterline and every ophthalmologist told me this is unhealthy to do.

  24. Rhonda says
    Posted February 13, 2013

    I can NOT use liner on my waterline. I have super sensitive eyes!

  25. Jackie says
    Posted February 13, 2013

    I have been doing this a lot lately! However, instead of using eye liner, I have been using eye shadow πŸ™‚ I use a Navy shadow with an angle brush – get the brush a little damp then run it through the shadow! It has been staying on all day and I like that I can mix up the color I use since its shadow. I’ve used charcoal, black, brown and almost tried a dark plum today! (ran outta time before my kiddos woke up!)
    thanks for the great tips Kate!

  26. Posted February 13, 2013

    caught: i’m totally a waterline girl – AnNNNNNND i had no idea it had a name.

    ahhhh, it’s the little things. so thankful for you πŸ™‚

  27. SH says
    Posted February 13, 2013

    Wow! It really makes that big of a difference! I also went through the same high school faze πŸ™‚

    The Hartungs Blog

  28. Posted February 14, 2013

    I used to be a big MAC girl. I love their cosmetics…but I recently found out that since they want to move into the Chinese market (which makes animal testing mandatory) they are no longer cruelty free. I can’t in good conscience support them anymore, but I just thought I would let all you other animal lovers out there know!

    • Kate says
      Posted February 14, 2013

      that bums me out

  29. Rubiiee says
    Posted February 14, 2013

    I’ve been searching for a great eye brightening liner! I’ll have to look into the Tarte product.

    <3 Rubiiee

  30. Posted February 14, 2013

    I always use dark liner on my upper waterline – it makes my lashline look a lot thicker without making it look like I’m wearing a ton of makeup. I’ve always wanted to try a light liner on my bottom lashes.


    Kristina does the Internets

  31. Jules M says
    Posted February 14, 2013

    Great timing for this post! I just asked other day on your FB about this and wondered if you used either tight lining or water lining techniques. Thanks for suggesting products. Not as big of a difference as I thought there would be. Still something I want to try. Thanks!

  32. Jules M says
    Posted February 14, 2013

    Great timing for this post! I just asked other day on your FB about this and wondered if you used either tight lining or water lining techniques. Thanks for suggesting products. Not as big of a difference as I thought there would be. Still something I want to try. Thanks!

  33. Jules M says
    Posted February 14, 2013

    Great timing for this post! I just asked other day on your FB about this and wondered if you used either tight lining or water lining techniques. Thanks for suggesting products. Not as big of a difference as I thought there would be. Still something I want to try. Thanks!

  34. Posted February 14, 2013

    I love the way lined waterlines look on girls like the Pixiwoos, but I’ve found (by looking at pictures of myself!) that lining my lower waterlines actually makes my eyes look smaller. So I’ve stopped doing it.

    I do occasionally use a flesh or white liner on the lower rim.

    But like you, I worry about infection. I wear contacts, and my eyes can be fairly sensitive.

    Cindy at Notes in the Key of Life

  35. Posted February 14, 2013

    Annnd…I just saw the optometrist’s post. So I don’t have that excuse…it just doesn’t look great on me. πŸ™‚

  36. Posted February 14, 2013

    Because my eyes get foggy with waterlining, I love tight lining. So much neater for me. But I do love the smoky look of water lining.

  37. Posted February 14, 2013

    I’ve recently started playing around with a medium blue on my waterline — my favorite MAC girl recommended it to me while using mostly colorless black/silver/white eyeshadows. It totally makes my eyes pop, I love it!
    grey et al

  38. Posted February 18, 2013

    Not gonna lie. I couldn’t tell the difference between thema ll. Probably because I don’t have my glasses. Also, “check yourself before you wreck yourself.” “Haters gonna hate. Potatoes gonna potate.” πŸ™‚ Nerd.

    • Posted January 17, 2014

      I could not see one bit of difference either. I am sure we are not the only ones.

  39. Posted February 18, 2013

    Love wearing line in my waterline but eyeliner ruins my contacts so I can’t anymore, unless I wear my glasses πŸ™

  40. Posted June 3, 2013

    It was a sugar shell, filled with some kind of magical whipped cream with an additional sphere of white chocolate inside and berry sauce. As a garnish, a sprinkling of 24 karat gold! It was fantastic πŸ™‚ Airbrush makeup kits

  41. Posted June 18, 2013

    does anyone know of a product that will stay on. my waterliner usually is on for only minutes.

  42. Posted November 8, 2013

    If you use a proper authentic arabic Khol, which is just a powder it is actually beneficial to the eye and actually prevents eye infections and cleans the eye. And this is safe to use in the eye to line the water lines, super pigmented and while you look amazing it is also doing wonders to the eye. πŸ™‚ no chemicals, no added crap. just pure khol

  43. Posted December 10, 2013

    I wonder if you wore white on the waterline if it would open your eyes more! Check out the purple worn by the blogger here: http://sexybagsnshoes.com/fashion-beauty/sometimes-need-tie/ (2nd to last pic). Looks pretty!

  44. Posted January 17, 2014

    What difference. I see eyemakeup all the same on each photo…

  45. Posted March 15, 2014

    Thanks for your post.
    eye surgery in Hyderabad

  46. Irish says
    Posted August 27, 2014

    We’re a gaggle of volunteers and starting a brand new scheme in our community. Your website offered us with helpful info to work on. You’ve performed an impressive activity and our whole neighborhood can be grateful to you.

  47. Katie says
    Posted December 10, 2014

    How do you get your lips to look so marvellous? They are so smooth. When I wear lip sticks or tints they show all the lines in my lips. I scrub at night with a coconut oil/brown sugar mix.

  48. Christina says
    Posted January 1, 2017

    I have a hooded eye (which from the pictures it looks like you have as well) and from what I have been hearing from various make-up artists on YouTube, lining on the waterline is a necessity for this. I had never heard that it was warned against. Problem is, my eyes aren’t really that big, so I don’t want them to look smaller either. Any suggestions?

  49. Wywood Yadothat says
    Posted March 31, 2017

    Wow. I can tell no difference whatsoever. This seems pointless and unhygienic.

  50. ELAINE Walsh says
    Posted December 16, 2020

    Can I use waterline eyeliner on my eyelids??