10 Makeup Artist-Approved Kohl Eyeliners For Sultry, Smokey Eyes That Last

Stemming back to ancient Egypt, when people would grind up charcoal to use as eye makeup (do not try at home), the dark smokey eye style has atimeless appeal.If youre craving a sultry, smokey, smudged eye makeup look, look no further than kohl eyeliner.

Kohl the ingredient is not approved for cosmetic use in the United States. It’straditionally made from the salts of heavy metals, including lead, which, needless to say, can be detrimental to your health. So, when you see the word “kohl” on a product label these days, it’s likely only referring to the color and texture of an eyeliner.Modern kohl liners are perfectly safe to use and pack a dramatic punch with a dark, smokey hue and super-soft, smudgeable formula. 

You might also see a formula labeled as ​​”kajal,”which celebrity makeup artist Jamie Greenberg notes is essentially the same as kohl. The two terms are used interchangeably to indicate that the pencil in question has the silky, easy-to-smudge texture youre after.

We conducted hours of research on the best kohl eyeliners available today (that are safe to use, of course), evaluating them on their ingredients, texture, ease of application, and setting time. After consulting with a makeup artist, and considering dozens of options, we recommend these top-rated products to give you the smokey eye look of your dreams.

Best Overall

Charlotte Tilbury Rock ‘N’ Kohl Eyeliner Pencil


View On Sephora View On Nordstrom View On Charlottetilbury.com

What We Like

  1. Waterproof
  2. Goes on smoothly
  3. Supports natural collagen production

What We Don't Like

  1. Some reviewers say it doesn’t completely set

Although it’s called kohl, this formula is more of a liquid-kohl hybrid. It boasts the supremely silky application of a liquid with the easily-smudged texture of kohl. (And if you really want to up the smudge factor, just buff it out with a brush.)

We love that it’s waterproof, lasts up to a whopping 14 hours, and is infused with crushed pearl powder to boost collagenin the delicate skin around your eyes (hello, sneaky skin benefit).1While there’s a nice range of dark shades to choose from, we thinkthe eye-opening nude tone is a must-try.

Who It’s For

This liquid-kohl hybrid is perfect for anyone who likes to mix it up with eyeliner on the lash line and/or lid.

  • Type: Liquid-Kohl
  • Shades: 3
  • Free of: Parabens
  • Size: 0.04 oz
  • Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Budget

Rimmel Scandaleyes Waterproof Gel Eye Liner Pencil


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What We Like

  1. High intensity color
  2. Smudge-free
  3. Quick-drying
  4. Comes with thin professional brush

What We Don't Like

  1. Sparkle version lacks sufficient shimmer

Not only is this liner a fan favorite, it rivals (if not outperforms) many of its much pricier counterparts. We loved that this waterproof formula didn’t run or smearthroughout the day, and were impressed with how efficientlyit stayed in the waterline. Plus, the gel formula glides along the skin without ever pulling or tugging—our biggest eyeliner pet peeve. We do wish the sparkle shade had more oomph though.

Who It’s For

If you’re looking for a reliable kohl liner on a modest budget you’ll love how this one compares to the pricier varieties.

  • Type: Kohl
  • Shades: 7
  • Free of: Alcohol
  • Size: 0.004 oz
  • Cruelty-Free: No

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Best Drugstore

NYX Professional Makeup Slim Eye Pencil in Taupe


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What We Like

  1. Wide range of shades
  2. Hydrating formula with coconut oil
  3. Bold aesthetic

What We Don't Like

  1. Difficult to remove

We love that this drugstore pick is creamy, pigmented, and available for a great price. It’s one of the brand’s best-sellersfor a reason— it contains hydrating coconut oil for asilky texture and feel, plus it comes in a dizzying array of 24 shades(purple and lavender shimmer are our go-tos).2And no matter which hue you choose though, the rich pigments pack a serious color punch. It does take a few swipes of a makeup remover to get off the eye though.

Who It’s For

Drugstore beauty shoppers will appreciate how accessible this formula is and how many shades there are to test on the spot.

  • Type: Kohl-Pencil
  • Shades: 24
  • Free of: Alcohol, Parabens
  • Size: 0.04 oz
  • Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Waterproof

Kulfi Underlined Kajal Eyeliner


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What We Like

  1. Infused with antioxidants
  2. Highly pigmented
  3. Even works on oily eyelids

What We Don't Like

  1. Not compatible with moisturizer

Sure, you want a kohl liner to look smudgy, but you also want to be able to control the smudges and not have them happen on their own accord. Enter this option, a favorite of celebrity makeup artist Jamie Greenberg. “It’s waterproof and doesn’t move, even staying on the waterline nicely,” she says. The only thing that can derail this formula is moisturizer, so be sure to skip the eye area when you’re applying skincare products.

Who It’s For

This waterproof formula can take whatever you throw at it, from a workout class to a night at the club. Its a deal for busy, active folks.

  • Type: Kohl-Kajal
  • Shades: 5
  • Free of: Alcohol, Parabens
  • Size: 0.012 oz
  • Cruelty-Free: Yes

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Best for Beginners

Jillian Dempsey Kohl Eyeliner

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What We Like

  1. Natural and cruelty free
  2. Full of vitamins and oils
  3. Soft but effective blender tip

What We Don't Like

  1. Tends to fade

If you want to get that kohl eyeliner effect but aren’t quite sure how to achieve it, try this guy. Thedual-ended pencil features a silky tip on one sidethat delivers just the right amount of pigment and a built-in smudger on the other, great for buffing out the color.

The formula is completely natural, cruelty-free, and filled with moisturizing ingredients like jojoba oil, marula oil, and shea butter.34We found this eyeliner soft and silky, and loved the smudger for creating aperfectly imperfect look. Our one complaint is that it’s prone to fadingand needs reapplication throughout the day to keep the pigment intense.

Who It’s For

This easy applicator with a buffing tool is great for kohl newbies.

  • Type: Kohl
  • Shades: 4
  • Free of: Alcohol, Parabens
  • Size: 0.012 oz
  • Cruelty-Free:Yes

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Best Double-Duty

Stila Stay All Day Smudge Stick Waterproof Eye Liner


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What We Like

  1. Lasts up to 12 hours
  2. Immediate color payoff
  3. Very moisturizing

What We Don't Like

  1. Hard to apply and remove

“This is another fabulous formula thatglides on and literally stays in place all day,” says Greenberg. (More specifically, the waterproof pick lasts up to 12 hours.) But what we love most about it is the creamy formulaworks just as well as an eyeshadow as it does a liner. Simply buff over your eyelid with your fingertips or a brush for an eye shadow look.

We like it for those who don’t love traditional pencil formats; it has atwist-up tipthat requires no sharpening. It’s not the easiest to take off at the end of the day though, so stock up on eye makeup remover.

Who It’s For

This supremely smudgeable formula can be used as a liner or an eye shadow, making itperfect for streamlining your routine.

  • Type: Kohl
  • Shades: 12
  • Free of: Alcohol, Parabens
  • Size: 0.01 oz
  • Cruelty-Free: Yes

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Best Shade Range

MAC Eye Kohl Eyeliner

Mac Cosmetics

View On Ulta View On Nordstrom View On Maccosmetics.com

What We Like

  1. Silky smooth, matte, or pearl finish
  2. Glides on easily
  3. Really makes the eyes pop

What We Don't Like

  1. Not very transfer-resistant

A true cult classic, MAC’s eyeliner comes in a line-up of theclassic dark shades you’d expectfrom a kohl formula—black, brown—but also in some moreunexpected colors, such as a matte white and vibrant green. It’s available in a variety of finishes, too (like pearlized and sparkle). 

Whatever shade and finish you choose, thepencil glides on smoothly and has the added benefit of being ophthalmologist-tested, a boon for those with sensitive eyes. It’snot super transfer-resistant, though, so be careful not to touch your eyes too much after you apply.

Who It’s For

If you like to experiment with colors and finishes, this kohl liner range from Mac won’t disappoint.

  • Type: Kohl
  • Shades: 5
  • Free of: Fragrance, Oil, Formaldehyde, Hydroquinone, Triclosan, Coal Tar, Toluene, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Gluten, Phthalate, Parabens, Mineral Oil, Petrolatum, Polyethylene, Lauryl Sulfate, Oxybenzone
  • Size: 0.04 oz
  • Cruelty-Free: No

Best Unique Shades

Younique Moodstruck Precision Pencil Eyeliner

Younique Products

View On Youniqueproducts.com

What We Like

  1. Smudge-free
  2. Full of natural ingredients
  3. Variety of fun colors

What We Don't Like

  1. Can apply in a blotchy way

Greenberg loves the “smooth and soft formula,” as well as all of the colors this pencil comes in. Speaking of, these aren’t just your basic shades but somemore unique options, think a robin’s egg blue, royal purple, and crisp white that can be used along the waterline tohelp make you look more awake. Some reviewers noted that it can look blotchy when applied, so be prepared to practice if you want a perfect finish.

Who It’s For

We recommend this kohl liner for anyone who likes to think beyond the traditional black, charcoal, and brown shades (and is a practiced eyeliner applier).

  • Type:Kohl-Liquid
  • Shades: 7
  • Free of: Fragrance, Formaldehyde, Hydroquinone, Triclosan, Coal Tar, Toluene, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Gluten, Phthalate, Parabens, Mineral Oil, Petrolatum, Polyethylene, Lauryl Sulfate, Oxybenzone
  • Size: 0.04 oz
  • Cruelty-Free: No

Best for a Dramatic Effect

Rituel de Fille The Black Orb Enigmatic Eyeliner


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What We Like

  1. Rich, semi-matte finish
  2. Only made with natural ingredients
  3. Buildable

What We Don't Like

  1. Takes practice to perfect

For anyone looking to really drive home the smokey, smoldering eye vibesthat you get with a kohl liner, this pick can’t be beaten. The name says it all; instead of coming in a traditional pencil, this is, well, an orb of deeply pigmented black kohl pigment.

You can apply it as you would a powder, using an angled liner brush, though it’s so creamy and intense that it can even be smudged on the lower and upper lash line with your fingertipsfor a very dramatic look. Happy users rave about how buildable the color is, too, but getting the right look does take practice.

Who It’s For

This deeply pigmented black liner is our favorite product for creating drama with one makeup product.

  • Type: Kohl-Cream
  • Shades: 1
  • Free of: Fragrance, Parabens, Alcohol
  • Size: 0.24 oz
  • Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Splurge

Victoria Beckham Satin Kajal Liner

Victoria Beckham

View On Victoriabeckhambeauty.com View On Violet Grey View On Bergdorfgoodman.com

What We Like

  1. Decadent brown shade
  2. Great staying power
  3. Dermatologist tested

What We Don't Like

  1. Could be more durable in construction

This pick may be pricey, but it’s well worth every penny in our opinion. It’ssupremely creamy, and never tugs or skips when applied. It’s also ophthalmologist- and dermatologist-tested so atop choice for anyone with sensitive eyes, and safe to use on the waterline, even for contact lens wearers.

We love how easily it applies and that it’s highly pigmented for maximum color payoff. But our favorite aspect is the built-in smudgerwhich helps create the perfect smokey eye effect. Some reviewers felt that the pencil could be more durable, so take care not to drop it.

Who It’s For

If you have a bit more money to invest, this velvety kohl liner with a handy smudging tool is worth it.

  • Type: Kohl-Kajal
  • Shades: 8
  • Free of: Fragrance
  • Size: 0.042 oz
  • Cruelty-Free:Yes

Where We Stand

Overall, our favorite kohl eyeliner is the Charlotte Tilbury Rock ‘N’ Kohl Eyelinerbecause it’s super silky, long-lasting, and available in a nice range of colors. We also loved our budget pick,Rimmel Scandaleyes Waterproof Gel Eye Liner Pencil—it glides on beautifully, delivering smudge-free intense pigment.

How We Tested & Reviewed

To compile this list, our team of editors and contributors spent hours researching the best kohl eyelines on the market, evaluating their key features, such as wearability, ease of application, and overall effect. We considered reviews from customers and other trusted sources. We also tested several options ourselves for days at a time and then collaborated with a makeup artist to ensure we made the best picks.

Attributes we evaluated each kohl eyeliner on:

IngredientsTextureEase of applicationSetting time

What to Look for in a Kohl Eyeliner

Kohl or Kajal:

Greenberg points out that kohl and kajal mean the same thing and are often used interchangeably. Seeing either term on a pencil is a sign that it has that silky, easy-to-smudge texture youre after.

Soft, Moveable Texture:

Its this soft texture that will allow you to create a smokey look. Make sure to opt for a pick that doesnt tug at the delicate skin around your eyes, especially if you have sensitive skin or are an eyeliner newbie. If your eyes are sensitive, try the ophthalmologist- and dermatologist-testedVictoria Beckham Satin Kajal Liner.

How Quickly It Sets:

A kohl formula is meant to be smudged out, so you’ll ideally want to find an option that gives you enough playtime to work with it before it totally sets in place, points out Greenberg. TheRituel de Fille The Black Orb Engimatic Eyelineroffers buildable, smudgeable pigment for dramatic results.


How do you sharpen kohl eyeliners?

There’s nothing fancy or special you need to do here; just a traditional, classic eyeliner sharpener will get the job done, says Greenberg.

How do you apply kohl eyeliners?

Because these are so soft and creamy, your best bet is to first create small dashes, suggests Greenberg. Then use an angled liner brush, or even your finger, to blend these dashes so that they connect into one line. Continue buffing if you’re after a more smudged effect.

Do kohl eyeliners expire?

Not in the traditional sense, but it is a good idea to replace any pencil eyeliner after about a year of use, or sooner if you have any kind of eye infection.

We Put 20 Waterproof Eyeliners to the Test—These 10 Outlasted Rain, Tears, and OrangetheoryEdited by Ally Hirschlag

Article Sources

We takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.


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