Waterlining For A Sexier You


If you Google "waterlining," as I have done, you’ll find overwhelming results for a kind of extreme sport known by this name, involving slightly slackened tightropes stretched high across large, placid bodies of water with a brave, blonde, sinewy soul attempting passage. Daring, serene, and intensely focused. All the things I’m not.

The only kind of waterlining I practice is lining the inside of my lower eyelid, also known as the waterline. It’s about as daring as I get. I actually thought it was kind of intrepid of me until I Googled the term. Ah well.

My regular eye routine can sometimes be a little bit basic. I like to think of it as Minimal Runway or Au Naturale, but, really, it’s basic. Like, no one’s ever stopped me on the street, gasping, "Oh, my God—you thought to pair brown mascara with a smidge of brown eyeliner at the corners of your eye? Can I take a picture of you for my blog? Is there a YouTube tutorial on this? Wow, this is groundbreaking! [Calls mother] Hey Mom, you’re not going to believe what I’m looking at right now. I’m sending you a picture—you’re gonna plotz!"

So, no, I’m usually not very glam. But! Add one swipe of liner on the waterline, and I am the Glammest of Them All.

Waterlining makes you look sexy because it gives your eyes this sense of about a 30 percent squint. Now, I know you may not think of squinting as sexy, but this isn’t grandpa-driving-in-a-hailstorm squinting; it’s not pained-parent-being-asked-for-money squinting, nor is it biking-through-a-gnat-cloud squinting. Those are more full-tilt, looking-at-the-sun squints, eyes almost closed. The waterline squint is just a slight puckering up of the eye, the way Angelina Jolie looks at Brad Pitt during the entirety of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. It’s the hallmark of a composed and confident sexuality. Not gaping, involuntarily wide eyes that give away their interest. The difference between a knowing look and an awkward stare? About a 30 percent squint.

I’ve been waterlining with Revlon Colorstay Eyeliner, whose color does indeed stay pretty well. The eyelid line being eponymously watery, some reapplication may be needed. And OK, I’ll admit—the liner is in Charcoal, which is still a bit toned down. So, basic glam? Still the most adventurous I get…

(Also pictured is Elizabeth Arden Color Intrigue Eyeliner in Pewter, which comes out as a bluer-based charcoal, if you’re into that.)

—Trace Barnhill

Photographed by Trace Barnhill.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • Kayla Tanenbaum

    not the point of this article but WTF is on your lips and can it be mine?

    • Trace

      Ha! Little embarrassing to say it, but there's no product on. Just good lighting, I guess. So, yes, the look can be yours!

      • Layla Corcoran

        I nominate 'Trace's Lips' as a future Glossier lipstick color.

        • Trace

          This is now my primary goal in life-- to wear "Trace's Lips" everyday. So meta.
          I second the motion!

          • Layla Corcoran

            Meta Makeup Love! I can see it now. Annie's Iris. Trace's Lips.

        • Vicki


    • Bella

      Try RMS Beauty in Demure!

    • Oui Capitan

      That's the first thing I noticed as well! Try Revlon's Pink in the Afternoon (based on Holly Golightly's lip color)

    • BluePotion

      I was going to ask the same.

  • Lizzy

    I've always water lined my eyes and think I look so weird/dead/empty without it! My favorite pencil is MAC Eye Kohl in Smoulder. It actually stays on all day.

  • Lulu

    This article is refreshing after hearing sooooo much about the cat eye look everywhere. I'm a total waterlining girl!

    • Carrie

      Wait, do other people not do both? I do a cat eye plus a waterline every day o.o

      • Mire


  • Megan

    I love the look of it I'm just afraid that it will make my eyes look too small.

  • http://coocooforcoco.blogspot.com/ Colleen

    I have small eyes and though I like the look on other people, I feel like it just makes my eyes recede too much

    • Layla Corcoran

      It might depend on colors. I have blue eyes, so the black makes them pop. If your eyes are brown, maybe try experimenting with some olive or plum tones?

  • Samantha

    The smoke-in-the-room kind of squint.

  • http://procrastinatingpretty.blogspot.com/ TheProcrastinator

    I feel like waterlining makes my eyes look smaller but maybe that's just my eyes squinting.

    • Trace

      See? I used to fear that too-- the small-eyed thing. Fear not! Embrace the squint--

      • mamavalveeta03

        I have small eyes, but I lined the waterline before going to work one day, and everyone went cuckoo over it! (And I worked as a makeup artist!) Try it and watch the reaction. It's instant sex appeal. Really!

  • Anastasia

    Some people really can pull that off. On me it just looks weird, and my eyes look so small. Kinda sad, since I really like the look

  • http://jcrineer.com/ Jackie

    Alas, I can't even waterline, I end up with black everywhere. Pencil or gel eyeliners, even above the lash line, run all over the place on me.

  • CherHorowitz

    Love your eyebrows, you jerk.

  • Averill B

    Fantastic use of imagery.

  • Bella

    Your hair is perfectly disshevelled in just the right way. very occasionally, lining my waterlines looks good. Most times, though, I think it makes me look hard.

  • Kelly Cummins

    I've tried waterlining for special evenings out, and, alas, I am not a good candidate for this beauty technique. As a contact lens wearer, I always end up with slightly obscured vision by the end of the night since a film develops no matter the eyeliner brand. Also, I hate the weird black inner eye crusties that I have to repeatedly try to remove.

    • Layla Corcoran

      Try Makeup for Ever Aqua Seal. I use that and it never smudges. I blend it with black eyeshadow then use a tiny paintbrush.

  • http://BikePretty.com/ Bike Pretty

    Yay, Trace! Write all the articles please, thank you!

  • http://ontheeleventh.wordpress.com/ Ess Tee

    Y'all. Waterlining is the shizz, OK?! I do this everyday of my waking life.

  • Lauren

    You look a bit like Anne Hathaway

  • Shirin

    the more I look at this photo the more I like it - subtle and understated is the new black!

  • Madeleine

    Bahahaha! Witty AND informative! It's so true about the sexy squint!!

  • Wanderslut852

    I was planning on a no-eye-makeup day, but after seeing this I had to line my waterlines. No regrets. I used MAC kohl in Teddy.

  • Calin

    waterliners unite!

  • LB

    "Dry" the waterline gently with a Qtip or the tip of a tissue before applying liner, it will stay much longer.

    • Liz-motherfcking-Taylor

      wow somehow I never thought of this. Good tip! Maybe then it will stay on me.

      Yay Trace!

      • Trace

        Yay Liz!

    • Heather

      I've tried this and it doesn't work for me. Nothing gets it to stay. I think my eyes just aren't made for waterlining.

  • ModernGrace

    Waterlining has always been easier for me when I have no time and don't feel like carefully applying liner to my lids. I use the L'Oreal Smoldering eyeliner in black. To me it's a sultry look in the winter with a stained pout.

  • Layla Corcoran

    I use a three-pronged liner by Too Faced (https://www.toofaced.com/p/eyeliner/3-way-lash-lining-tool/) to blacken all the spaces between my eyelashes. This sucker is the greatest thing ever. For the actual waterline, I rub a thin brush wet with some Make Up for Ever Aqua Seal against some black eyeshadow, or I will mix it with some Bare Escentuals loose eyeshadow. Waterlines never budge and don't get in my contacts. I can't put eyeliner on myself. I look like I was attacked by a drunk kindergartener. So this was my solution, so I could do big girl makeup.

    • Ellie

      I think you just changed my game. Thanks much!

      • Layla Corcoran

        You are welcome : ) Lots of trial and error went into that. Glad to share!

  • http://Medium.com/@hager_emma Emma Hager


  • Jennafer

    I am a dedicated water liner. I prefer to imagine no one can detect my make up so my technique is a bit different. Full waterline of the upper lid, then pencil thin waterline half to 3/4 of the lower (sometimes completed by lining, waiting a moment, and then using a q tip to remove excess at the interior edge of the lower lid). If I want to be extra fancy, yet still undetectable, put a tine flick at the top lid edge on top and a seperate flick on the bottom, kind of like painting two exta eyelashes. These flicks cannot meet for then it closes the eye, not good for those with a lot of real estate on their faces like me, left with a gap at the outer corner it opens the eye up. This is a modified trick I learned from a remarkable good friend of mine who performed with Liberace and did make up for miss America competitions. His techniques are less subtle than mine, but his work inspires my au natural style.

    Oh and I love Tom Ford's deeper liquid liner which I heard about here. Although I have heRd many artists swear by stila's version which I will try someday

  • http://evenifnobodyreadsthis.blogspot.com/ bp

    You wrote this for me, didn't you? It looks great on you & I always feel like quite the vamp when I make the effort to line mine too! Fun read!

  • ekq

    This may be a stupid question - but how DO you waterline? I have tried so may times and while I have had MUAs do it fine a few times, when I try it feels like that "line" I feel I am supposed to be hitting, the pencil just slips right off. Like the pigment doesn't adhere. What am I doing wrong?

  • Evelyn Brockmann

    Owww Trace, here goes my habitual fangirling again! I had been rooting for you to join the team, HURRAAYYYY, very happy Friday Feelings!

  • jellymo

    Good stuff! On a similar note, "Squinching" has also been thoroughly investigated by buzzfeed: http://www.buzzfeed.com/tabathaleggett/is-squinching-the-secret-to-looking-amazing-in-photos-lets-f#1d5olqc

  • Hrönn

    I used to be scared of waterlining for the same reason as others are mentioning here, until I finally came to my senses and realized that small eyes are just as beautiful as big ones. Waterline away girls.

    • Layla Corcoran

      You can also waterline with beige which will make your eyes larger and also makes me look more awake early in the morning.

  • Trace

    You can try to sop up some of the wetness with a tissue, bit of quality TP, or (as suggested elsewhere here in a great comment), a Q-Tip. And when applying the liner, really go at it. I do think the ColorStay's color indeed stays, but it's not all gooey kohl creaminess. You'll need to go ahead and layer it on repeatedly. And, I'll admit, you may want to holster a liner for reapplication. As with all beauty, there's an element of transience to this look--

  • jl

    I find that if a girl doesn't typically wear eyeliner, but will wear it on occasion, it's really pretty and flattering. BUT if she wears it every single day and then you see her once without it it's kind of like....uh....what happened to your eyes? I don't know, personally when I waterline I feel like I may as well be dressed in drag, or like I'm maybe going to go blind at some point, or like holy cheese and rice....dark circles, dark circles, dark circles...

  • ashley

    actually just re discovered this method as i had recurring nightmares of high school me overdoing it. (matchy matchy days = coordinating ny&co tops of my mothers with eye makeup) always thought it somehow created dark under eye circles, but i'm probably remembering an era before discovering concealer

  • Autumn

    Estee Lauder kajal pencil eyeliners are amazing for waterlining. Guerlain's kajal is too messy for me. I like the kajal formulation in a normal pencil.

  • Sue

    Not using black in the waterline isn't always about "guts", charcoal/grey can be more flattering. I'm dark skinned and charcoal reads blue-ish on me which is very nice against brown eyes (I use Elizabeth Arden's eye pencil in gunmetal). Drying with a q-tip and applying to the upper waterline as well (this helps colour transfer to the lower waterline throughout the day) keeps it around longer. Also, not drawing it right into the inner corners avoids the goop look. If you're tired of cat eyes, this look can be fun. Lisa Eldridge's youtube makeup tutorial on Bip Ling called "coloured mascara" features a grey waterline on brown eyes.

  • http://www.fancyalterego.wordpress.com/ Heather P.

    I wore my eyeliner like this earlier in the week, and one of my students stopped class to ask me what I used!

    For the record, it was a Sephora kohl eyeliner. They create the perfect amount of subtle smudge, but totally seem to stay in my water line most of the day!

  • kahutson

    Hey Emma I have a question for u please get back to me

  • Ona_in_Barcelona

    This is the Tom Ford squint! (I don't think the man has fully opened his eyes for the last three years)

    • Layla Corcoran

      I would die for a Tom Ford Top Shelf.

  • Heather

    It does not matter what kind of eyeliner I use or how I apply it....it simply does NOT stay on my waterline. I think some people's eyes just aren't shaped to facilitate this.

  • emdare

    Tried waterlining today and wearing it inside to get comfortable with it but really like it so far.

  • Sophia

    And far easier than a cat-eye!

  • http://frivolousgirl.com/ Isabel

    Just tried this and No. I had to hide my face when passing my mom on my way to the bathroom to wash it off.

    It looks soo good on picture, but really harsh on me. And makes my already small eyes smaller.
    I used to do "punk"-smokey eyes as a teen. It didn't look good on me then and neither now. :/ too bad.
    Also, my eyes does seem to have a permanent squint. Maybe a softer Brown shade would do better?

  • Sharon Macklin

    I waterline daily. My eyes aren't that big, but if I don't I feel like they disappear! I've been using Chanel Stylo Waterproof in Noir Intense on my upper waterline and Charlotte Tilsbury liner in Audrey on the lower. It works for me!

    • Layla Corcoran

      What color is Charlotte Tilsbury liner in Audrey?

  • VivianLOVEine05

    Sometimes, if I want a real "smolder-factor" I will use Urban Decay eye pencil in "Underground", which is a taupey-brown, on my waterline and inner corner, use a dark brown on my upper lash-line and then use the same Urban Decay just above my lashes. I smudge that out and create a wing so that it elongates my eye. And finally, I finish off with a medium shade in my crease and a highlight at my inner corner, my brow-bone, the center of my lid, and underneath my lower lashes. I feel that black can contrast too much, especially on my pale skin and blue eyes, so having the browns makes it look sexier and not so dramatic. It's just so much fun to play around with so many different looks and because I am not one for standing out on a daily basis ( I am a concealer-loose-powder-and-highlighter-type-of-girl) this is especially great when you want to have a great night out look.

  • mamavalveeta03

    I line the upper lid waterline, too. It's more subtle than eye liner and still packs a punch. Not a "kick boxing punch", or a "drunk in a bar fight punch", but you know what I mean...

  • http://fauxsomuch.wordpress.com Kaitlin Brunsden

    Kind of unrelated but how can you wear eyeliner effectively if you have glasses? I mean average eyeliner as well as waterlining/cat eye. I hate that I have to wear glasses but I scarred my corneas via poor contact hygiene and switched to glasses full time for the last year. I was always an avid eyeliner fan but have found since glasses it really doesn't have the same impact. I've gotten really lazy with eye makeup because I feel like they're covered anyway... Basically a swipe of Mac's Rubenesque and curl my lashes. I miss the eye drama. :/

  • Layla Corcoran

    I think others may see 'dark and evil' as 'smoldering and sexy'

  • Lucy Amon

    Could you share some secrets on this hair situation? Dang.

  • Michelle K. Lee

    sometimes I did waterlining... and now I feel like I should find some colored eyeliners to try more waterlining instead of just typical cat-eye do's ! :)

  • hayley

    after reading this i dabbed and swooshed on a waterlined smoky eye on friday night in the time it took my boyfriend to do the dishes. the quicker the better i think with these kind of looks - too perfect, and it veers into hittin da clubz territory (not always bad, but not appropriate for the bar i was heading to).
    point of the story is: people didn't even recognise me. in a good way.
    thanks for reminding me to embrace the squint trace xo

  • Ali from TX

    Totally relate to this post.. I always thought a sleepy, bedroom eye is so much sexier than a cat eye. Yes water lining makes the eyes smaller (and I have small eyes as it is), but my eyes look so much more intense. Like Trace said, it totally makes them squinty sexy"... Love posts like this! You get me Trace!!

  • Shannah

    Unf Trace you are my ultimate girl crush. Ideal haircut, ideal lips, ideal witty writing style. Thank you for existing and please continue these posts.

  • Kirochka

    Thanks for this. I'm in a constant fight against dry eye (we're talking Restasis, punctal plugs, lots and lots and LOTS of preservative-free artificial tears, Omega 3s...). If I tried this, if I even could (not likely, given my complete and total lack of ability to line my eyes), I think it would be a disaster. I always envy other people who can do it, but alas, it's not for me.

  • http://teadrifters.com/ Audra

    So good to know. I'm squeamish about things near my eyes, so I'm happy to have a medical reason not to try it!

  • Cara

    Trés sexy, but I find that it brings out even the slightest hint of under eye circles.

  • Amber-Sophie

    I must say that I am a bit disapointed that you promote Elizabeth Arden here on your blog since it is testing their products on animals...

  • BluePotion

    You do have great lips. If I could have mine done to look like them I would.

  • Christie Lopez

    I've always ONLY waterline my eye's as opposed to "lining" my eyes. I agree 100% with you Trace. I've had better luck with some liner's over others. First, it HAS TO BE WATERPROOF. After all, it is the water line. If you don't use a waterproof version, you can guarantee yourself that it's going to end up disappearing from your waterline and reappearing in other areas around your eye. The best waterproof liner I've found so far is "Smashbox Always Sharp Waterproof Kohl Liner". They have a great color selection (though I usually use basic black names "Raven") from brown to blue to emerald to charcoal (just to name a few) and even a "Nude" color. They even state in their product description that it can be used for the inner rim. Just keep in mind that even though this is a waterproof liner, you are applying it to a waterline so reapplication may be necessary throughout the day/night. My only complaint about he Smashbox liner that I feel like the pencil itself doesn't last long. It's a self-sharpening liner that sharpens every time you twist off the cap and sometimes I've had the tip break off which wastes the liner. I feel like each pencil I buy only lasts for around 1-2 months. If anyone knows of any other great waterline and waterproof eyeliner's please, please, please share. I'd love to have a back-up or even try something else.