An instant pick-me-up in pencil form.
I don’t tie my self-esteem directly to my appearance, but I can’t deny that when I look good, I feel good. Makeup is a quick way for me to boost my aesthetic and, by the aforementioned logic, self-esteem. However, if I spend hours trying to achieve that ~perfect~ look, I get frazzled and wish I’d spent less time getting ready.
In turn, I experience borderline-debilitating anxiety that smudges any look-good-feel-good attempt. Luckily, my roommate inadvertently found a way for me to don an edgy makeup look that relaxes me as I create it: painting my lids with colorful eyeliner.
On one of our recent trips to Ulta, my roomie beelined to NYX’s Vivid Brights Colored Liquid Eyeliner ($9), saying it was perfect for #hotgirlsummer. I love looking at bright colors, and this felt like an easy way to incorporate vibrant hues into my everyday life, so I got the Lilac Link shade—a pastel purple.
Since then, I’ve spent six weeks experimenting with colorful eyeliner. In that timeframe, I realized that my new makeup practice boosted my confidence in my creativity, my social skills, and myself.
Makeup artists and psychologists agree: colorful eyeliner is a dopamine dupe
I’m not saying I’m lazy, but I’m also not not saying that. To save time, I prefer to keep my routines as basic as they come. Essentially, I drink my water, apply my sunscreen, and mind my business. That’s it.
Because of that, I’m usually a very bubbly and cheerful person. However, there are times when the news makes me sad or life gets me down in other ways. With my new makeup routine, I noticed that I smiled more at myself in the mirror—even on my more challenging days. Seeing those colors on my face made me feel happier than I would’ve sans eyeliner.
“Colorful eyeliners are my go-to for summer,” says Tara KP Troszak, a makeup artist and writer based in California. “They are such a fun and easy way to make any eye look pop.” As far as her tips for creating show-stopping lid looks? “My favorite way to wear colorful liner is in the waterline with a neutral shadow. I also love a bright graphic wing when I’m feeling extra creative,” she says.
It’s not just makeup artists who think there are perks to painting your face. According to a 2020 qualitative study titled Paint a Better Mood? Effects of Makeup Use on YouTube Beauty Influencers’ Self-Esteem, “Makeup use may have a more direct effect on self-esteem if internally motivated and viewed as a mechanism for creativity, mastery, agency, and human connection.”
And that’s precisely how I was using it—as creative expression and an icebreaker.
“[Creating looks with colorful] eyeliner can establish a more playful, casual, fun, or flirty mood,” says Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a neuropsychologist and director of Comprehend the Mind. “You wouldn’t necessarily wear blue eyeliner to a [corporate] job because it kind of gives you this effect or feeling that you’re ready to party.”
I actually wore bright liner looks to multiple work functions—as a lifestyle writer, a nanny, and to my cousin’s wedding, garnering compliments no matter the occasion. The compliments are great, of course, but there are other, more hard-hitting benefits of using my eyelids as a canvas.
“The brain gets a lot more stimulation, a lot more pleasure, out of brighter colors,” says psychotherapist Aimee Daramus, PsyD. “In fact, sometimes in therapy, bright colors can be used to help somebody who’s having trouble being in the moment.” This technique is called chromotherapy (or color therapy), which can be helpful in treating anxiety and depression.
Even though I just used eyeliner instead of light therapy, I still felt the benefits of adding color to my everyday life.
How (and why) wearing colorful eyeliner helps boost my mood and confidence
1. It lets me explore my artistry
I can’t draw, paint, or sketch to save my life, so I always thought I wasn’t artistic. Once I started to do different looks with my vibrant liners, though, I started to see and appreciate my artistic side. Where I would go out bare-faced before, I now try to match my makeup with my outfit—which I did for a couple of launch parties, Mother’s Day, and my cousin’s wedding.
2. It’s a big payoff for not so much work
I like to spend my time running, dancing, hiking, at the beach, and with my family and friends. Frankly, I don’t love spending time getting ready. For that reason, I keep my skin-care, hair-care, and makeup routines super basic—like, I don’t wear any makeup most days. However, because the liner usually just takes me one stroke of the brush, I found a perfect mood-boosting beauty hack, even when there was nothing else on my face. I timed myself for the Celopatra-esque look below (which I did in my jammies, by the way), and it took just about three minutes.
3. People always compliment it
People can’t stop telling me how cute my colorful eyeliner is—my roommate loves it, my mom loves it, my sister loves it, my uncle loves it… pretty much everyone loves it. And, honestly, as a Leo sun, I live for the applause.
The compliments are also fertile grounds for connecting with other people, which is something I love to do when I get the chance. Even if I’m not feeling up to approaching someone, chances are I can get them to approach me if I’m wearing super-artistic eyeliner.
The colorful eyeliners I tried and the ones that makeup artists love
Even though I’m not a makeup girlie, I am well aware of NYX’s reputation as a long-lasting, affordable drugstore brand, so I was excited to try these when my roomie and I selected four shades to play with. We got white, lilac, light pink, and dark pink, but the line comes in nine colors. The pigmentation of these liquid liners is honestly unmatched.
My one complaint about this colorful eyeliner is that it can peel off if you don’t put a couple of layers on at the start. That said, if you apply two coats, you’ll see your vibrant reflection in the mirror and smile just like I did.
Though I didn’t try this one myself, I am pretty comfortable saying that this colored eyeliner is a heavy hitter. I’m not usually a huge fan of celebrity beauty brands, but Lady Gaga definitely delivers here. More than 1,500 reviewers have given this liner 4.5 stars and say that this liner “stays put and the pigment is incredible.”
I geeked out a little over the innovative design, too. Most eyeliner pencils on this list just come in a regular tube, but this Haus Labs pick has a smudge brush at the bottom. It’s available in 18 shades, which you can get in matte or a shimmery finish, and contains vitamin E oil and argan oil to help support your lashes.
Both Hilario and Troszak give rave reviews to Halsey’s About-Face Fluid Eye Paint. Hilario says these little babies are “really pigmented and great quality. Some liquid liners tend to look cracky and dry, but these were smooth.” That’s even more impressive once you consider that this formula has a matte finish.
About-Face’s eye paint also brings all the colors of the rainbow to life, considering it has more than 30 shades available. You can opt for pink, blue, green, purple—seriously, any color you can dream up. For me, application with this was kind of tricky because the brush is relatively thick. If I want a thinner liner, I’ll likely have to buy a brush to help with that.
If you’re a fan of Shein, allow us to introduce you to their makeup brand: Sheglam. At only $3, Shein’s colorful eyeliner is the most affordable on this roundup. I didn’t test this, but I have other Sheglam products and formed some opinions based on that. For instance, while the makeup offers lovely pigmentation, it won’t last you all day or night. I’d say, at best, it’ll last you four hours. According to the brand, this liner is sweatproof and smudge-proof, but my experience with other SheGlam products tells me that might not be the case.
If you opt for this liquid eyeliner, you’ll have six shades to choose from: dark green, bright red, sky blue, pink, light purple, and yellow. Regardless of which color you get, though, you’ll receive a matte finish.
If Makeup Forever had a fan club, Joshua Hilario, a New York- and New Jersey-based makeup artist, would be its President. “I have fallen in love with the Makeup Forever Artist Color pencils,” says Hilario. “These pencils are the most versatile and user-friendly pencils I have ever worked with. They glide easily on the waterline; you don’t have to work it on or rub aggressively to get the payoff you want.”
Hilario adds that there are 19 shades, and you can create graphic looks with this the same way you can manifest a smokey eye. I will say, however, that there don’t appear to be bright colors—think yellow and lime green—on this list, likely because the formula serves double duty as a lip pencil. That said, there are some pretty gorgeous pinks and reds in the line that will make for a great pop of color on your lids.
“This is the best affordable gel eyeliner pencil for the waterline,” says Troszak. “Bring on the warm summer nights, festivals, and smudge-proof eyeliner. I’m here for it.” I didn’t test this one myself either (since I’m but one person on usually tight deadlines), but I’ll take Troszak’s word for it. “They’re good and cheap,” she says. And reviewers agree.
Out of more than 60 reviews, 57 people have awarded this product five stars. One user says, “The formula goes on super smooth, no tugging on my hag eyes, and it stayed put all night! No smudging, no breaking up, no disappearing on my oily eyelid.” While this pencil may look like it twists to deliver more product, note that it needs to be sharpened.
I’ve always been a liquid liner stan for formulas that go on top of my lids. I find that they’re easier to apply and more pigmented, so I usually don’t even bother with colored pencils. However, the Precision Colour Pencil from 19/99 earned its place on my colorful eyeliners roster.
Not only is it super pigmented, but it also glides on easily and you don’t have to keep applying it for it to show up on your skin. Like the NYX Vivid Brights, this pencil is available in nine shades. Unlike the NYX product, though, those shades are primarily reds, pinks, oranges, and two blues. So if you want to create a rainbow look, you’d be better off shopping elsewhere.