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Shifty Eyes: My Eyeliner Won’t Stay Put!

By Amalah

Our intrepid advice columnist is still on maternity leave. Here is a question she answered before her new baby, Ezra’s birth, in preparation for time off with her young ones. Applause, please.
When I put on my eyeliner in the morning I do it with my face very close to my mirror and I swear to you that my eyeliner goes to my lashline. I put on my eye shadow first and then I use either Clinique’s Quickliner for eyes which is a plastic twist up or Maybelline’s Cool Effects which is a fat pencil. I smudge with either the built in foam smudgey thing on the Clinique or a q-tip or a brush with the Maybelline. And again, close up and from far away at home my liner goes to my lash line. I then put on mascara and go. And I don’t smudge too much, I like the line to be there. Is that weird?
BUT! When I get to work and go to the ladies room and check my makeup as I’m washing my hands I see a space between my liner and my lashes. This is driving me nuts! I can even see it when I pull my head back and give it a look from far off. And I swear I’m not touching my eyes.
Am I doing something wrong? Why is this skin suddenly showing up? Ever had this problem? Help me before I have the darn stuff tattooed on my lids like that freakish Barbie woman!
Eye Need Help

Well, like many of these makeup application questions, I can make a few guesses based on what you’ve told me here — hopefully one of these is close to the mark and makes a difference.
fyeye.jpgPossibility number one: You need an eyelid primer. Are your lids prone to shininess? Is your shadow also shifting or smearing during the day? Do you notice lines in your eyelid crease from transferring liner or shadow? You may want to try an eyeshadow base or primer to give your eye makeup a more matte surface to cling to. If you have a Sephora nearby, go with naked eyes and try out one of the eye primers by Benefit or Urban Decay, then apply your makeup as usual and see if it makes a difference. (My personal favorite is F.Y….eye! by Benefit, but I think it really depends on your shadow and liner — some cosmetics take to different primers differently, and the same goes for foundation/primer combos.)
Possibility number two: You aren’t getting your liner close enough to your lashline. Yes, I believe you when you say it touches your lashline in the morning. That still might not be close enough. Liner should ideally be pretty much IN your lashline. Remember, the whole point of eyeliner is to create the illusion of thicker, fuller lashes — not to actually have a visible line on your lids. Women who opt for harsh lines framing their eyeballs are seriously missing the point. Subtlety! Is your friend!
When you apply your liner, are you tilting your forehead TOWARDS the mirror or away from it? You should be tilting your head back slightly so you can actually get the pencil super close to your lashline — tilting your head forward means you aren’t getting the crucial under-lashline view. (Oh, and you should be pulling your lid gently taut — it’s easier to end up with an imprecise line on a relaxed lid.)
Possibility number three: You’ve just gotta blend that line in more. If your liner really is shifting upwards during the day, primer SHOULD stop this. If you’re just not really getting the liner as close to your lashline as you think you are, a little extra attention and proper head tilt during the application process should do it. If neither of these things work…well, this might just be something to do with your eye shape. Everybody’s eyelids are unique, and this could just be something caused by the way your eyes blink.
My right eye, for example, was smashed and slashed up in a car accident when I was a teenager and my lid required a lot of stitches and plastic surgery. You can’t see the scars, but I am now doomed to my eyeliner transferring to the crease, no matter what I do. It’s just…kind of wonky that way.
So you may need to rethink your liner style. Try a thin pencil instead of a fat one, and blend the line in completely. Or use a powder shadow instead of a pencil and apply with a proper brush. Not smoky or anything, just very, very soft and subtle. Blend down towards your lashes as well as up and to the outer edges. Make sure you’re washing your smudging tools regularly too. (Those foam things and Q-tips are okay, by the way, but you might want to try an actual angled eyeliner brush, while we’re just tossing possible solutions out there.)
If all else fails, keep a blending tool in your handbag. I keep tissues and a travel-sized eyelid base (similar to Benefit’s Boi-ing) for dabbing and concealing that pesky crease problem in my right eye. When you notice the patch of eyelid showing through, pull out your little travel brush and reblend the line. You can use your pinky finger in a pinch, but that may result in a more smeary look than a polished one, and further contribute to any oil/shine problem that’s causing the shifting in the first place.


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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So just throwing it out there, but have you tried liquid eyeliner? If you’re under 35 (once you get a little older your eyes tend to have more creases and it doesn’t look as smooth), you may want to give it a shot. There are only 2 ways that I can get a good clean line with my eyeliner, and one is using a liquid eyeliner, the other is using an sharply angled brush and a good eyeshadow and drawing my eyeliner on that way. I just can’t seem to get the look I want using a pencil – I… Read more »


I made the switch to gel eyeliner. Love it! Stays put until I wash it off. Bobbi Brown makes a great one, but I have the MAC version, which has served me well. I just dab it on with a flat brush. I only need a tiny bit, so my little pot will probably last me a loooong time.


Is it possible that when you put on your eyeliner in the morning, that your eyes are still a LEETLE puffy from sleep? And then, by the time you get to work, they’re all non-puffy, and that’s creating the space between the lashline and the pencil line?
Honestly, I don’t know, but this is the theory I’ve been using for myself, so I’m just throwing it out there to see if anyone else can verify.


I’m going to 2nd the recommendation for an eyelid primer, though my fave is the Urban Decay Primer Potion (at Sephora – though some Ulta stores have also started carrying). I used the FY-Eye for a while, but found that it was to cakey, whereas the UDPP leaves a smoother base that even my $1 drugstore eyeshadows become crease-less with!


I have to say that my favorite of the eyeshadow primers is Too Faced Shadow Insurance. I used it before a party where I may have ended up in the pool and my eyeshadow and liner where in the exact same place as they where before I was thrown in. Also instead of a liquid or pencil liner I use the Stila Smudgepot with an angle brush for liner. It likes to stay in place even without using the eyeshadow base.

Lisa M
Lisa M

Emily, I’ve been having the same problem (puffy eyes…thanks, boys). I’ve been using the Garnier anti-puffy eye thing and have noticed a difference.