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How Do I Get a Smudged Eyeliner Look?

Alex Tree
Updated Jan 25, 2024
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There are several ways to achieve a smudged eyeliner look, but the best methods differ for everyone. One way is to apply an eyeliner and then smudge it with either your fingers or a makeup sponge. On the other hand, some people prefer to sleep on their eyeliner to achieve a more authentic smudged look in the morning. In addition, some eyeliners are easier to smudge than others or easier to remove if you mess it up the first time. Overall, smudged eyeliner is generally regarded as a good starting place for people new to eyeliner, because it does not require the same precision as creating a smooth line.

The exact method of putting on eyeliner varies from person to person. Most makeup artists recommend placing your elbow on a surface and then leaning your hand against your face. With the eyeliner pencil or brush in hand, draw a line on, above, or below your eye. Choose whatever method is best for you, even if it means standing in front of a mirror with no elbow or hand support. Once the line is drawn, gently smudge it with either a finger or small sponge.

If you have chosen to sleep on the eyeliner, put it on as you normally would and go about your day. At night, remove your other makeup so there is as little product on your pillowcases and bedsheets in the morning as possible. Sleep on bedding you would not mind ruined if the makeup happens to permanently stain it. The eyeliner should be at least somewhat smudged in the morning, but it will likely need some touching up.

Many people believe pencil and cream eyeliners smudge much better than liquid. Liquid eyeliner can smudge a little, but it generally needs a lot of coaxing. On the plus side, liquid smudged eyeliner tends to stay put longer than the other options and is more likely to be waterproof. Pencil and cream eyeliners are usually easier to apply, however, because the applicator is larger. Liquid eyeliner pencils typically have a small tip that requires a very steady hand and months of practice to perfect.

No matter your choice of application or eyeliner, smudged eyeliner is normally a quicker look to sport than a straight line. It might also require less upkeep should you cry and wipe your eyes with a tissue. Some dampness in addition to a wiping action will cause non-waterproof eyeliner to just smudge a little bit more.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Alex Tree
By Alex Tree
Andrew McDowell is a talented writer and WiseGEEK contributor. His unique perspective and ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner make him a valuable asset to the team, as he crafts content that both informs and engages readers.

Discussion Comments

By Perdido — On Apr 06, 2012

@ysmina - I slept in eyeliner once, but it was only because I had no way of washing my makeup off. I had gone camping without remembering to take off my makeup before the trip, and this was a primitive campsite.

I have sensitive skin, and it did not react well to the overnight eyeliner. I got little white bumps all over my lids because of it, and I haven't slept in makeup since.

I suppose if your skin is tough enough, sleeping in eyeliner could work. However, you would have to be careful not to rub your eyes when you woke up in the morning, or you could destroy the whole look.

By kylee07drg — On Apr 06, 2012

@anamur – I had no idea that eyeliner made for smudging even existed. That is pretty cool.

I have just been using the fattest eyeliner pencil I can find, because it gives me more product more quickly. The more eyeliner I have on my eye, the easier it is to smudge.

I extend the line a little past my eyelid, and I use my pinky finger to smudge it upward a little. I do it gently so that I don't erase it totally. It's best to get it all done on the first try, because going back and adding more eyeliner can mess up the flow of the line.

By turquoise — On Apr 05, 2012

@ysmina-- Don't try to smudge a liquid liner! It doesn't work! Even if it does, it looks horrible and you have to apply so much pressure on your eyelid that it irritates it!

The best eyeliner for this in my opinion is a really soft eyeliner pencil. It could also be called a gel eyeliner pencil. These are so soft that smudging them takes no effort at all!

I like to smudge my eyeliner with my finger, to be precise, my ring finger. It's way softer than a sponge. The ring finger is also the finger that applies the least pressure out of all fingers. So there is no chance of irritating the eye.

By ysmina — On Apr 04, 2012

I tried to smudge a liquid liner once but it didn't go too well! It actually dried so quickly after applying that I had to wet my finger a little to get it to smudge. But then, it didn't look even. It looked like I just cried! Maybe it was a smudge-free eyeliner!

I've never heard of sleeping on the eyeliner to get a smudged look. Has anyone actually tried this? Does it work?

It sounds kind of funny to me and I never sleep with makeup on. I guess I could remove all my makeup and then make a fresh line before I sleep. But I don't move at all while I sleep, so I'm not sure that the line will actually smudge.

And wouldn't it make my eyes look tired? What kind of a touch up do I need in the morning if I decide to try this?

By serenesurface — On Apr 04, 2012

The easiest way to get a smudged eyeliner look is to use an eyeliner pencil that's been made especially for it. These usually come with a little smudging sponge on the other end so that after you apply eyeliner, you can turn the pencil over and smudge it.

I've been using one for many years, since they first came out actually. What I do is I apply a thin line from one end to the other. After applying eyeliner, I take the sponge tip and smudge the liner on the outer corner of my eyes. I don't touch the inner corners. I think this gives a really nice, kind of smoky look to my eyes. It's hot!

Just make sure to wash that little sponge once in a while because it gets dirty after smudging and bacteria can accumulate on it.

Alex Tree

Alex Tree

Andrew McDowell is a talented writer and WiseGEEK contributor. His unique perspective and ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner make him a valuable asset to the team, as he crafts content that both informs and engages readers.
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