If you ever smeared a half inch-thick circle of black eyeliner under your eyes as a teen—and didn’t we all?—then you already know full well how tricky bottom eyeliner can be. Do it correctly, and you’ve got natural-looking definition that goes perfectly on its own or with other eye makeup; do it wrong and, well, it just doesn’t look good. Simple as that.
Fortunately, applying eyeliner to your lower lid the right way actually isn’t hard—it just needs to be approached with a bit more caution. We’ll tell you all about how it should be done.
Get your freshly sharpened liner pencil at the ready, follow these steps and tips, and you’ll master the perfect bottom eyeliner look in no time.
Keep Your Lines Thin
Keep eyeliner on the lower lid thin and inconspicuous. The obvious pitfall of bottom eyeliner is that it can create the impression of dark circles beneath your eyes, which no one wants. Keeping the line thin and soft by using the side of the tip of your liner pencil, rather than pressing down, is key for avoiding under-eye darkness.
Line the Outer Three-Quarters of the Eye, Avoiding the Inner Corner
Adding dark liner to the inner corner of the eye “closes” the eye and makes it look smaller—that’s what you don’t want.
Instead, use a light hand to sketch out a soft line just below your bottom lashes so that there’s a bit of waterline exposed to keep the area looking light—it’ll add the definition you’re going for without changing the proportions of your eyes.
Don’t Line the Inside Rim
Lining the waterline in black to define the eyes has grown in popularity in the past few years, but we strongly advise that you don’t do it, especially on the lower lash line. Not only will it make your eyes look darker and smaller (are you sensing a theme here?), but the potential eye health repercussions—infection, itchiness, and just run of the mill irritation—make it even more unappealing. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
Be Careful About Blending
You want to blend the liner into the lash line and at the edges so it looks naturally defined, rather than harsh, but blending too much can cast a grayish shadow around the area, which will, again, contribute to the appearance of dark circles. Blend upward and side to side, and if you notice the liner starting to make eyes look a little dull, it’s time to stop blending and start cleaning up.
Always Clean Up Afterward
Yes, always. Dark, smudgy liner that extends too far down past the lash line will make you look tired and, worse for the wear, not bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. A tapered Q-tip dipped in makeup remover will clean up the area so your eyes stand out the way you want them to—as in, people will ask you how to get the same look, not if you’ve been up all night.
A version of this article was originally published in August 2015.