Eye Makeup Smudges, Be Gone!

I like a bit of a messy eye makeup look, I really do. But it has to be done right, and it’s not for everyone, or for every situation. If you are working a professional job outside of the beauty industry or something creative/artistic, you might need more of a clean makeup look during work hours. And nothing kills an otherwise polished face like eye makeup that looks like it is slowly melting off.

So many of my clients tell me they are fighting a losing battle with chronic smudged eyeliner or migrating mascara. Many give up and abandon eye makeup altogether. But ladies, ladies, ladies–you need not despair! There are a few factors that could be causing the issue, and some things you can do to fix it. I would like to help you identify the root of the problem and win this battle.

Let’s start with eye primer. I think anyone who wears any type of eye makeup should use an eye primer. It is the first step in any makeup application I do (unless I know I will be changing the eye makeup soon after), and I wear eye primer every day. The natural oils on your eyelids can make eyeliners become slippery and smudge-bound, but having a primer there creates a barrier. I have tried a ton of them and my favorite is still Too Faced Shadow Insurance (at Sephora).

If you wear eyeliner and think it may be the source of smudging for you, let’s talk about that. Is it a liquid liner? Gel? Pencil? If it’s a good quality liquid or gel eyeliner (and I will address that in the Crappy Products section), it should not smudge once it has set. If it’s a good quality pencil liner, try tracing it with an eyeshadow in the same color. This will set the liner, keeping it in place.

For those of you who like the look of eyeliner and mascara only, this part is for you. Even with a good primer and eyeliner, you may still experience smudging if you don’t wear eyeshadow (usually just with pencil liners, especially when they have not been traced with an eyeshadow). This smudging is something us makeup pros call “transfer,” and the transfer I am referring to happens on your eyelid, not underneath the eye. Depending on your eye shape, the thickness of the liner drawn and the amount of oils on your eyelid, your eyeliner can transfer from your upper lashline to the crease of your eye. Super easy fix though, don’t you worry. After applying your eye primer but before applying your eyeliner, apply a matte eyeshadow that is the same color as your skin all over your lid and into the crease. Apply your pencil liner, then set it with an eyeshadow.  If you don’t do those two things, the oils from your eyelid may breakdown your eyeliner when you look up, which causes the transfer. Having a primer and eyeshadow there blocks those oils from wreaking havoc on your eyeliner. And choosing a matte eyeshadow in the same color as your skin will still give you that no-eyeshadow look.

Many people think that their regular mascara is what causes the smudging, so they switch to waterproof. Waterproof may solve the problem, but it’s likely to cause another one–eyelash breakage. Waterproof mascaras tend to be harsh and in my opinion, are not made for everyday use. If you find that your mascara migrates, whether from watery eyes or unknown causes, try using a beauty tubes mascara (like Blinc Mascara or Clinique Bottom Lash Mascara–the latter is obviously just for the bottom lashes). Beauty tubes mascara is applied exactly like a regular mascara–it’s just the formulation that is different. Instead of coating your lashes, beauty tubes encapsulate them. It’s the difference between a cardigan and a wetsuit, you feel me? The point is, beauty tubes mascara stays on until you physically remove it with water and a gentle pressing motion.

If you switch to a beauty tubes mascara and that still doesn’t work (I have never seen or heard of that happening), I give you permission to wear waterproof mascara on your bottom lashes only. Unless you are full on crying (like when watching Long Island Medium or thinking about the current state of hip hop), any tearing will most likely only effect your bottom lashes. So using waterproof mascara on the top lashes on a daily basis is probably not necessary.

There is another big culprit for smudging, which could be root of the problem if you wear undereye concealer. Undereye concealer–unless it has been set with powder–eats at away at mascara, causing the mascara to smudge when the lower lashes touch the concealer. Applying a thin layer of powder over the undereye concealer before applying lower lash mascara could be the fix you need. The powder becomes a barrier between the concealer and mascara, so no damage can be done.

Do you regularly line your waterline with a dark eyeliner? If so, this could be causing the smudging. Our eyes naturally water during the day, so even the best waterline liner will eventually wear away. But where does it go, you ask? Check your tearducts and if they’re clear, look under your eyes. Find it? You can stop this runaway liner from journeying to under your eyes by applying a very thin line of eyeshadow in the same color family at the lower lashline, as close to the lash roots as you can get. This shadow will “catch” the waterline liner, absorbing it before it gets any further.

If you have tried some or all of these tips and your eye makeup is still smudging, you may have a case of Crappy Products. Crappy Products can be found in all makeup lines, both low and high end, but not surprisingly, the cheapest of the cheap are often Grade A Crap. (However, I have found that drugstore waterproof mascaras–Maybelline Falsies Volum Express is my fave–outperform the higher end waterproof mascaras.) Crappy eyeliner pencils seem to be the worst offenders, but there are some gel and liquid liners that flake off then melt into little smudges. If you suspect you might be using a Crappy eyeliner pencil, I recommend switching to Top Shop Kohl liners; a Crappy liquid liner could be replaced by MAC LiquidLast eyeliner; and a Crappy gel liner could be replaced by MAC Fluidline or Bobbi Brown Long Wear Gel Liner.

You do not have to resign yourself to living with smudged eye makeup, nor do you have to give it up completely. It may take some time to pinpoint the cause, but once you have done that, you can turn things around. Don’t know where to start? I would first try the eye primer (use it even if it doesn’t solve the smudging problem–more about that in a future post). If you wear dark liner on the waterline, try the eyeshadow-at-the-lower-lashline trick next. Still smudging? It’s time to start powdering your undereye area after concealing. Issue not resolved? Go ahead and get yourself a beauty tubes mascara. If all of these methods fail, it’s time to look inward and ask yourself, Do I buy Crappy Products? If so, get yourself some quality products. They might be more expensive than what you normally use, but if you want or need to have a professional image, I think it’s worth it.

I do want to add that even if you are using the best products in combination with the right techniques, you might see a tiny bit of smudging after 10-12+ hours. That’s why God gave us pinky fingers–to wipe away any trace of rogue eye makeup. No one looks perfect all day, folks. Touchups are necessary. Your 6:00am makeup will need to be refreshed at 6:00pm, and you may have some small smudges that only you can notice. That’s normal. What I want to do is get you away from those super obvious smudges that distract people when you are talking to them. And hopefully this post can help with that. Because, dear Lord, people are going to have a hard time listening to your flawless presentation/perfect sales pitch/inspired lesson plan if you look like Ke$ha.

Questions? Get at me.

Have a beautiful day 🙂

43 thoughts on “Eye Makeup Smudges, Be Gone!

  1. I couldn’t agree more with you. In fact a few weeks ago I was desperate for a brow pencil so thought I’ll just grab a cheap one from the chemist which I never usually do but was desperate as I did. All I can say is Omg worst product I’ve ever bought in my life. I’ve bought some cheap brands before and they’ve been great but this add the worst ever. It was more like a kohl pencil abs smudged everywhere….I had to take it off and fix my Foundation, I was not happy and I have now sworn off this brand forever lol. ……. so yes pay a little more always and if in a hurry go without and use what you have on hand.

  2. Wow this is a comprehensive list, I would have never considered that me skipping out on eyeshadow could be the cause of my product transfer! I am guilty of being one of those people who decided to skip out on eye makeup completely due to this problem but now I’m raring to go at it again. Though I have to argue that the solution to Crappy Products doesn’t always have to be switching to high-end brands. I find reading reviews before purchasing anything a much more pocket-friendly protection from Crappy Products haha. Other than that, this was a great read!

  3. This was so detailed and awesome! I have sensitive large eyes, and fatty eyelids and am trying to find out how this eyeliner thing works lol. I’ve gotten really good recommendations for products but since my eyes water easily and produce a lot of oil, I end up with a stub instead of a wing 😥
    I’m gonna give these all a try! Thanks so much 😀

  4. I’m using two faced primer under shadow and atelier gel eyeliner which is set with powder, for mascara I use a waterproof one.
    When I’m outside my eyes water and I end up like a panda!
    Almost given up hope of ever being able to wear my cat eye look.

      • I use eyeshadow to set it and have tried without a concealer which made no difference.
        It’s Atelier Paris gel eyeliner which is meant to be one of the best for staying power.

  5. Hmmm. It’s hard for me to say without knowing the product, but if you have consistently used that eyeliner and tried it in combination with different eyeshadows, different waterproof mascaras and with and without the concealer, it may be the eyeliner. Have you tried MAC Fluidline gel eyeliners?

  6. I have a problem with my eyeliner transferring onto my eyelids even with eyeshadow. I use liquid liner, and it doesn’t always happen but on those important occasions it goes ridiculous. and I can wipe it away but it still continues to transfer onto my lids, the worst part is I can only tell by feeling like I have something wet on my eyelid. ive tried multiple eyeliners and expensive ones too but it still happens sometimes.

    • I’m sorry to hear that! Have you ever try setting it with an eyeshadow after the liner has dried? And do you wear an eyeshadow and/or eyeshadow primer when you use liquid liner?

  7. I’ve just recently gotten into make up and I never used to wear it but now I love it! I’ve been having this problem. But reading this I think I found the problem. At first I thought it was because I already have dark circles from lack of sleep but if I look closely, I can see traces of eyeliner under my eye. I put a thin line on top and half a thin line on the bottom and it looks great in the morning but a few hours into the day and I can already see it. I’m definitely going to try the eye primer. I use liquid eyeliner, from past experience I prefer liquid. I think another problem is that since I used liquid foundation, I try to cover my dark circles as much as I can but I it seems as though combining those two doesn’t work. Is there anyway that they can work together without smudging? Even if I don’t wear eyeliner on the bottom, it still ends up smudging. This was a great article, with many great tips, thank you! Any personal tips for me or how I can do it better without smudging?

    • Thanks, Hannah! If you use liquid eyeliner at your lower lashline, try tracing it with a black matte eyeshadow after. That may help with the smudging. MAC LiquidLast Eyeliner is a great liquid eyeliner that doesn’t move, so you may want to try that. I would use a concealer, not a foundation, under your eyes. Wait a minute or so after you apply it then set it with powder. Good luck 🙂

  8. I have deep set eyes and I’m starting to think that this is making it impossible for me to wear eye makeup! I have tried mostly expensive products such as gel liners (Bobbi Brown),pencil liners (even makeup forever which everyone swears by), used damp brush with shadow for liner, eye primer and more expensive eyeshadows (urban decay, smashbox) but EVERYTHING transfers to my crease/lower brow bone! I think that b/c my eyes are deepset, my lids “rub” against my brow area when they are open (I just have a lot of brow space. I don’t know if I’m explaining this right or labeling the area right – I just know that the makeup transfers from my lid to higher up on my eye (where the lid touches when open). Is there any hope for me?

    • I definitely think there is hope, Heidi! I also have deep set eyes. I encounter the same problem if I don’t use a good eye primer and quality eyeshadow before applying eyeliner. Make sure that there is some eyeshadow (either the same color used on your lid or your crease color) in your crease which should help the “catch” the eyeliner. I have the best luck with MAC eyeshadows. If you are using kohl pencil eyeliners, there is a good chance they will transfer if you don’t set them with an eyeshadow.

      If you are seeing transfer on your browbone, that is most likely mascara from your top lashes. You can prevent that by a) Using a quality mascara and b) Applying a thin layer of translucent powder to your browbone. That will act as a shield against the mascara without adding any color to the area.

      I hope that helps!

  9. I have oily skin. In the past I applied eyeliner pencil by itself to the upper lashline and I’d see some black eyeliner smudging on the bottom half even though I didn’t do anything there. That annoyed me for a bit.

  10. I use a eye primer from tarte, eyeshadow, Dior mascara, and a liquid eyeliner pen from Maybelline. I always notice after a little while of wearing my makeup that I get the dreaded black smudging underneath my lower lashes towards the outer corner of my eyes. I have tried applying eyeshadow under my lower lashes but the smudging always appears. I’m not quite sure what is the cause of it, Help!

  11. I’m sure most of you are 20 or 30 years younger than I am, but I’m still trying to “put on a good face” occasionally. I fight dry skin, so have to add eye cream first and foremost. If I don’t, eyelid skin becomes crepey and flakey. Ages me a good 10 years. So then, I put on a concealer (never powder for then I look just like Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?). Inevitably, I take my troubles to various beauty product counters (rarely a drugstore, as my problems are WAY too complicated for that). The “beauty experts” convince (and sell) me numerous products, which in short order, end up in one of my three deep bathroom drawers of rejects. I have new things to try from Benefit I bought today, but the Glo-Minerals I bought last month will go to the drawers. The powder in those is obvious, and exaggerates every line and wrinkle, in spite of what the saleslady told me. First, I have to get to the dermatologist about a severe allergy I’m having to the lash extension adhesive that was applied recently in desperation to avoid the whole eye makeup thing. Guess I’ll just turn off my LED 15X magnifying mirror for now.

    • Judith, I’m sorry to hear you are having trouble with eye makeup. The lash extension adhesive reaction can certainly aggravate a situation like that. As far as anti-aging products, I think prescription retinol is the way to go. You can use that on your face and around your eyes. I’m sure you look great, but definitely turn off that magnifying mirror! No one looks good in those.

      • I do use retinol on my face, but haven’t ever put it around my eye area just because the skin there is sensitive and thin. I did try a suggestion here to put a very fine highlighting powder (lightly!) around my eyes, and that seems to have stopped most of the smudging of mascara. Yay! As for foundation, I did find one finally that doesn’t just sit on my face accentuating every pore–Giorgio Armani makes a beautiful one. Thanks for suggestions!

      • You’re welcome, Judith! I’m glad things are working out better for you. I love the Armani foundations too. I use their Luminous Silk foundation on many of my clients. Enjoy the rest of the weekend 🙂

  12. Hi Allison, I have a few questions that I’d appreciate your opinion on. First question is about setting spray, I’ve never used it before and got one so I’m curios when to use it? I’m wondering if it’s used before or after mascara? I don’t want my mascara to mess up by getting it wet. Would the setting spray mess it up? And should I spray it on my lips after doing them, or not spray the lips? And also about my eyeliner, I use a pencil one on the upper water line to make my lash line fuller, but I notice that the black eyeliner pretty quickly ends up in my tear ducts and down the inner corners of my eyes a bit. How would I fix this, to stop it from happening?? ^_^ (And just fyi I use a moisturizer, then face primer and foundation, then I conceal, then powder *bake* my under eyes.) And sorry if this posts twice I’m not sure it went thru so I’m reposting.

    • Hi Krystal! To answer your questions 1) Use setting spray after all of your makeup is done, including mascara. 2) Hold the bottle a few inches from your face and mist the spray on. If you do that, it won’t effect your mascara. 3) Setting spray isn’t really meant for lips. If you want your lipstick to last longer, your best best is to start with a lip primer like Too Faced Lip Insurance. After that dries, line and fill in your lips with a liner the same color of the lipstick you want to use, then apply your lipstick on top of that. 4) There’s not much you can do about waterline eyeliner migrating. We have moisture in our eyes so it’s bound to happen. Some, like Topshop Waterproof Kohl Eyeliner, are better at staying put for longer, but in my experience, they eventually all end up in the tear ducts, at least a little bit.

      I hope that helps!

      • Thank you sooo much Allison this really helps! I appreciate your response, yay now I know! :3 And thanks also for the eyeliner recommendation. ^.^

  13. hai Allison

    I have a few question, I just change my eyeliner from liquid to gel, I only use for my upper lids, but it smudging to my lower lid, and make it like I havent sleep for weeks…. it also happened before when I used Mac liquid eyeliner, Pls help me what to do? thank you so much


    • Hi Yully. You might want to try tracing over the gel liner with an eyeshadow in the same color. You should also use an eyeshadow primer and a base color on your lid to help prevent oils from your eyelid from coming through, which is likely what is causing the smudging. I hope that helps!

  14. This is an awesome post, and I am going to try all your suggestions! I swear that eyeliner is sentient and always wants to run away from my eyeline…

  15. Hi Dear, Thank you, for these really helpful tips. I have an unusual problem…I had cancer on my lower eyelid that required surgery. The surgeon did a wonderful job replacing 70% of my eyelid. The skin from behind the ear is used, since it does not get much exposure. However, it is not truly an eyelid although it looks good. It is Very sensitive to anything landing on it, and I have not found any mascara (expensive or cheap) that doesn’t flake off tiny bits which irritate my lid. Do you know of any product I might be able to use? I have been wearing eye-shadow and liner without mascara, but it sure doesn’t look as attractive as mascara provides. Thanks, Mary

    • You’re welcome, Mary! I hope you are doing well now… I think a beauty tubes mascara could be great for you. Beauty tubes encapsulate the lashes instead of being painted on top of them, so there is no chance of flaking. You remove the mascara with warm water and a light pressing motion instead of eye makeup remover. This the site: https://www.blincinc.com/en_us/mascara I hope that helps.

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