Sunday, January 15th, 2012

By Sarah, Makeup Artist

Sarah Cormier is a self-taught makeup artist in Cincinnati, OH. She mostly does wedding makeup but also has experience working on various photo shoots, fashion shows, and films. In addition, she is a freelance artist for her favorite line, MAC!

When she isn’t busy with makeup, she teaches Spinning classes at her local gym, and also attends Body Pump, Pole Fitness, and Cardio Kickboxing classes. Her other hobby is shopping, favorite stores are Nordstrom, the MAC store, Lucky Brand, and White House Black Market. Sarah is happily married to her wonderful husband of two years, Nate. Check out her blog, Sarah C. Makeup and sarahcormier.com.


Photo by Melloveschallah

Tightlining: Why it’s life-changing

Many of us have experienced those moments where we discover a new technique that changes everything in our beauty routine, or at least, puts things into perspective. One such moment for me was when I saw the difference the simple act of filling in/reshaping eyebrows made to just about any face. It forever changed my approach to makeup because of how much it brightens the face, lights up the eyes, and creates an overall more polished look.It was like finishing a favorite outfit with the right shoes/purse/belt, etc.

But there has been another technique that trumped my eyebrow epiphany. It is the one trick in my back pocket to that puts the finishing touch on any type of look, from the smokiest eye to the “no makeup” makeup look. It works for all clients, regardless of age, race, eye shape, gender or skin tone. With the right tools, anyone can do it in two minutes or less. Ladies and gentlemen, the miracle move that I am speaking about is none other than tightlining.

Tightlining, for those who are not familiar, is where you apply eyeliner directly to your lash line, preferably from the underside of the lash line. Once you get good at it, you can do it within seconds. Tightlining is great for enhancing a smoky eye, but also if you prefer a very natural look and want your eyes to look brighter, bigger, and more awake. It can also make your lashes look longer and fuller. I consider tightlining to be somewhat of a miracle move because its such a minuscule effort but makes such a tremendous difference in your look.

The technique itself is simple in nature but could take a little practice for those who don’t have the steadiest hands. With one hand, gently lift your top eyelid so you can see your upper water line. With the other hand, apply liner into the underside of your upper lash line. There is another method for tightlining that involves sitting at your vanity with a mirror lying flat in front of you and looking down at it with your eyeballs while keeping your head up. I personally find the latter more difficult, but it is ultimately up to the individual to find which one works for best them.

Regardless of your preferred method, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of placing the product into the lash line (as in where your eyelashes grow out of), versus the waterline, which is the thin wet area of skin directly below the lash line. Granted, you can certainly line your waterline and also achieve a lovely result. But doing so is not considered tightlining. Lining the waterline can cause the product to transfer to your lower waterline since the area is wet. Because the lash line is dry, tightlining yields longer lasting, cleaner, and more defined results,.

Tightlining can be achieved with various types of eyeliner products including gels, pencils, and liquids.  One of my favorite products for tightlining is Laura Mercier Tightline cake eyeliner ($22.00), which requires a simple flat topped brush such as the MAC 212 or Nars #2 (my two favorites) and a little bit of water. Having been a MAC addict my entire life, I only recently discovered the Laura Mercier cake liner, and let me tell you, it changed everything! I am going to be filling my kit with it the first chance I get!

What about you? What are your favorite makeup techniques? Have you tried tightlining? What did you think of it?

Discussion and debate are highly encouraged, and we expect community members to participate respectfully. When asking a question, please check the FAQ section (above) for information about purchasing, price, dupes, and the like. If you have general feedback or need technical support, please contact us.

Comments that include advertisements, self-promotion, insults, etc. may be in violation of our comment policy and subject to deletion. Please see our comment policy for more information.

57 thoughts on “Tightlining: Why it’s life-changing

  1. Tightlining doesn’t always work on my eyes. My eyes tends to make it smear everywhere. It really depends on the liner. I’ve only hd luck with make up for evers aquatic liner. Ima try Laura Mercier cake liner now. Hopefully using a brush will not irritate it.

    A makeup technique that’s change my life is highlighting. It’s subtle but makes all the difference in photography. I use Macs Shell or Luna.

  2. Yes, I did that once for a photo shoot, on myself. I did my own makeup for that one. And wow! That was my first time doing it and I love it. Since then, I have been doing it quite often.

    I use a dark brown eyeshadow and a flat eyeliner brush.

  3. Wow this post is everything I needed! Thank you so much, it was a great help!!! =D xoxo From Brazil.

  4. Great post, I’m going to try tightlining but I’m scared that it’s going to be extra difficult to remove. Is that the case? ?

    • Sarah Cormier

      Joanne,
      I have not had any trouble with removal. Remove your eye makeup as you normally would, and then gently lift your lid & check for any residue that might still be in your lash line. If you see any, simply use a little extra eye m/u remover directly to the area and then rinse off with water. I have never had to do that though, usually just a few passes of eye m/u remover on a cotton pad and then a rinse with water does the trick for me!

  5. I just discovered this week, just how much of a difference groomed eyebrows make to your appearance and I’ve spent all weekend practicing my technique. It is one of those real epiphany moments that I think all girls would agree with, and if you’ve not bothered with your eyebrows before I highly suggest you do as it really is life changing!
    Tightlining is a technique I’ve wanted to perfect for years. Thanks for the tips on how to achieve the look, I shall be practicing having perfect eyes and eyebrows all day now :)

    Steph xx

  6. Avatar of Lily lily

    This post needs an example to be really helpful.

  7. Oh yeah, don’t I tightline! My particular eye shape allows me to go crazy with eyeliner without looking too dramatic or trashy, so I definitely go all out with my gel liner and Bobbi Brown Ultra Fine Liner Brush! It is instant definition!

    That and a good loose powder is also pretty life-changing. I used not to use any product in my under-eye area because whatever I did it made my lower eyeline smudge. After discovering Tarte Smooth Operator finishing powder however, I can now safely do so without worrying about my lower lash line turning into a smudgy mess!

  8. Shilpa

    LOVE LM’s cake liners!

  9. Sara

    Everyone says you should fill in your brows, but I find that it makes my eyebrows too intense. I keep them pretty natural, only tweezing or waxing the stray hairs, while keeping the natural shape. Filling them in, even with a color lighter than my own makes my feel like my eyebrows are dominating my face. I prefer to make them fade a bit.

  10. I’ve tried it before and it hasn’t worked very well (it tended to smear onto my lower lashline) but I might have just been using the wrong products. When I apply mascara though it tends to naturally tightline so I don’t know how effective tightlining on its own would be.

  11. Bozena

    I’ve been tightlining my eyes for a while and for me it really is a game changer. The MAC Fluidline and flat brush (like MAC #212) work best. It takes me literally no more than a few seconds to do each eye. For a natural look you just stay within the lash line, for more dramatic smoky or cat eye – extend the line above your lash line and beyond the corner of your eye; it is so easy with the flat brush!

  12. Jen

    When I first started using pencil eyeliners I tightlined too because I thought it was supposed to be done like that but it just ended up with the eyeshadow smudging all over the bottom of my eyes because I would close my eyes and sleep on the train, so now I just put it really close to the eyelash instead of into the line. I also have oily lids so that might be why it easily smudged down.

  13. Avatar of Esther Esther

    I wish I could tightline, but I’ve got shaky hands, so I always end up poking myself in the eye every few seconds :/

  14. Yara

    I know tightling very well, and tried about 20 different products (both liners and brushes) and the best one so far is REVLON COLORSTAY EYELINER, for this purpose. The tip of this liner is just “made for” easy tightling…

    • I second this! I struggled with a few products for tightlining, eventually getting reasonably good at it, and then I tried my Colorstay, and whoa – it’s like swipe swipe, and you’re done and it’s perfect.

  15. Angie

    I have no idea why this tickles so much when I try it…I end up giving up everytime :(

    • Sarah Cormier

      Some people are more ticklish than others Angie! I have had a few clients that simply could NOT handle it when I attempted to tight line their eyes because it gave them the tickles (the same with several people and lip liner!). Everyone is different in this way and that is okay! One way to achieve a very similar look (and someone has already kind of touched on this in another comment), is to “fake” it with mascara. Simply dip your wand into the mascara and then place it right close to the lash line. Use small up/down strokes to apply the bulk of the product to the base of your lashes, from the inner corner to outer corner. Reload your wand and finish with longer sweeps to coat from base of lashes out to the tips. NOTE: Trying this with a thickening formula will not work as well and likely get very gunky. This is best with a lengthening or basic formula.

      • Angie

        I just noticed you replied! Thanks so much for the tip! it’s always nice to learn from someone with great expertise, and experience with all kinds of different skin tones, skin types and I guess tickle levels ;) I will try the mascara trick. Thanks again!

    • Avatar of Pami Pami

      The same thing happens to me! It’s almost impossible for me to do it, which is so frustrating because the results are really amazing!

      A similar “life changing” trick for me was when I discovered the Chanel Clair eye lining pencil. It was the first (and only) pencil I have ever been able to use on my lower waterline with any success at all, and it brightens my eyes in a beautiful, yet subtle way (like the way upper dark tightlining adds definition).

      I agree with @ cat nguyen about highlighting (and subtle contouring). If done subtly, it’s another one of those tricks where you look “better”, but anyone would be hard pressed to figure out why.

      I love watching Lisa Eldridge video tutorials for help & inspiration.

      Thanks for the article Sarah, it makes me want to try again! BTW, how stiff is the brush? Would the Smashbox #9 for cream liners work or is that too stiff? How about the Stila #28 smudge brush?

  16. Poor Christine can’t do this :(

  17. Annalogik

    I would love to see a picture of how this is done…and how it is removed! :)

    • Avatar of Lily lily

      Yes! I tried to do this once and it wouldn’t wash away!

      • Sarah Cormier

        I use Almay eye makeup remover (the liquid kind, not the pre-soaked pads). Saturate a cotton pad and apply to the eyelid. This usually gets it off for me. If not, you can lift your lid up and gently give the tightlined area a few more passes if you see any residue. Then rise. Keep in mind though, I use a cake eyeliner with water when I tightline on myself. This means it isn’t waterproof. If you are using either a waterproof liner or gel, or a cake liner with a tightline fluid (which tends to be waterproof or resistant), then that could make it harder to remove.

  18. Anna

    Thanks for this post, incidentally I just tried tightlining this week, but couldn’t figure out how to remove the eyeliner at the end of the day. Any suggestions?

  19. Avatar of Michelle Michelle

    I tightline my eyes almost everyday. I usually go with a plain black or brown eyeliner (usually black, but brown is good for ‘natural’ looks). It defines my eyes just enough to give my eyelashes a break from mascara, which is a hassle to remove. I still have to curl my lashes, though.

  20. Andrea

    I have been tightlining long before I even knew that is what it was called. I prefer pencils like Chanel or Lancome – they work so fast and stay put all day. I remember my sister once watching me put my eyemakeup on and she said “that looks like it hurts…I could never do that”. But for me it’s like brushing my teeth or applying lipstick, it’s just become routine.

  21. Chelley

    Been doing it for years. Never knew it had a name!

  22. Carolina

    I’d like to say this tip is really great! I just discovered the technique the other day and it goes so much faster than my previous over the lashline lining. I also think it enhances the eyeshadow rather than steals it’s “spotlight”. With this technique am never late to anything anymore ;D

  23. Violet

    I know that this technique is great for many – but I’ve tried it on several occasions and it’s not for me. I have really dense lashes so the effect is lost – and it’s really uncomfortable to try.

  24. rimanuela

    I used tio tightline for the last 15 years….its not THAT special IMO..i didnt know it was a technique lol

  25. leah

    Okay, maybe someone here can help me. I’ve tried tightlining a number of times and every time I do it it accentuates the tiny bit of skin NOT coated with eyeliner (above the lid) and mascara. I mean, I look ridiculous with a skin colored line between my lashes and the tightline. What am I doing wrong? I use black liquid liner, black mascara, and stila kajal black liner on my water line.

  26. lashlady

    Love the tightline. It is perfect for no make up look days to make your eyes pop. Benefits waterproof liners work great, decrease the smudge/smear factor.

  27. i agree with everything except not lining your waterline. I have always heard that was considered tightlining. Just fyi. And I like the thing on lower lashline but its really hard for me to not look like a “slut” because of the way my eyes are shaped. I’m Chinese and I can’t figure out how to do this. Because when I do, in order to achieve a good look I have to put on a decent line to get it into my lashline and then rub off most of it so it’s not halfway down my face. le sigh

  28. Heather

    What a well-written post! I can tell you have taught this technique before!

  29. Arlette

    I have to agree, Sarah – tightlining has been THE makeup epiphany in my life, and I’m no spring chicken anymore! ;-) Many makeup techniques become less flattering or less appropriate as we approach and then pass through middle age, but not tightlining – in fact, I think it makes the eyes look younger and clearer. I only discovered it a couple of months ago and I love it!!

    Thank you for a fabulous post, Sarah.

  30. Avatar of Cat Cat

    Tried it for the first time yesterday and it ended up great! Have never heard of it before. I couldn’t get it removed though. I tried to remove it with just regular cotton balls and makeup remover like I always do and used extra ones more on the bottom of my eyelid but it seems super difficult to reach that area. I ended up not succeeding :/

  31. I absolutely love to tightline my eyes, makes them look bigger and brighter! If I have no time for makeup, I always at least do that. :)

  32. Avatar of Veronica Veronica

    I occasionally try tightlining, but I find it tends to irritate my eyes depending on what I’m using. My mascara tends to work well enough to define it anyhow. My sister swears by the technique, though.

  33. What type of eyeliner are you using? It may not irratate your lid but the under lash line is much more sensitive. I would reccomond using a cream pencil. My favorite is the MAC GraphBlack TechnaKohl cream liner . Hope I helped! 

  34. 19bubblynicole98

    Are you supposed to use mascara before or after you tightline? Or are you supposed to use it at all?

  35. Cynthia Stader

    Just found your site! Looking forward to reading more!