About five years ago, we put down our go-to black eyeliners, picked up a brown one, and never looked back. After 15 years that were ruled by black liquids, it was the end of an era—but there was something that felt right about the new lock. Brown was softer and gentler, without the sharp severity of that old onyx wing.
We weren’t imagining things. In fact, this is why many beauty pros love using brown eyeliner— New York City-based makeup artist Natalia Thomas included. “I always find that a brown smokey liner gives a more sultry vibe, whereas black has a defiant or punky feel,” she says. “I reach for brown liner first when I want to convey a soft look and black when I want more of an edge.”
That softness also makes brown liner a common pick for those with smaller eyes or those with more mature skin types. When used to define the perimeter of the eye, black has the ability to create a “shrinking” effect and can also appear harsh, especially if you have fair skin, crow’s feet, or dark circles. Brown adds definition without looking overly stark.
When shopping for your first brown liner, Thomas suggests taking your eye color into consideration. “I recommend warmer, more copper-based browns for blue eyes to really make them pop,” she says. “For brown eyes, I love a darker brown that is closer to espresso. For green eyes, find a brown with maroon or purple undertones.” Ready to browse some browns? Whether you prefer gel, liquid, or pencil, you’ll discover the best brown eyeliners ahead.