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How to Do a Smudged Eyeliner Look the Indie Sleaze Way

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Photo by Stuart C. Wilson / Stringer / Getty Images

We grew up lusting over the smudged eyeliner looks from our favorite bands on Warped Tour, but as we got older and experimented with makeup, we found that this look can absolutely serve IRL too. But if you’re not careful, your edgy rocker-girl eyeliner attempt can end up looking more and more like sad raccoon eyes.

So what’s the secret to this iconic look? We asked makeup expert Charlotte Knight for everything you need to know about smudging your eyeliner the right way. Here’s what you need to know about smudged eyeliner looks.


About the Expert:

Charlotte Knight is the founder and CEO of CIATÉ LONDON.

What Is a Smudged Eyeliner Look?

According to Knight, “A smudged eyeliner look is a grungy and fun way to add some edge to your makeup.” You might have noticed the indie sleaze making a resurgence, thanks to TikTok, but for those of us who lived it, we remember the start of this look all too well.

“It can be traced back to the music scene with punk, grunge, and rock & roll bands all historically opting for the look—however, today's inspiration is speared on by 90’s grunge, early 2000’s Indie Sleaze and a pinch of Tumblr edginess,” remembers Knight.

How to Create a Smudged Eyeliner Look

1. Grab the (Right!) Products

BEAU G CHIS Smudge Brush

Knight recommends nixing liquid liners as they will only cause peeling when trying to attempt this look. “A kohl pencil will be your best friend on making this smudge liner look as this is easiest to both layer and to smudge,” says Knight. “This is because it is blendable and is designed to be smudged out, unlike liquid liner, which is designed to be sharp. So rather than blend, [liquid liner] tends to lift and peel.” You’ll also need a smudging brush or an eyeliner smudging sponge brush. We love the BEAU GÂCHIS brush for this look.

2. Add Your Eye Makeup Base

TOO FACED COSMETICS Natural Matte Neutral Eye Shadow Palette

Before reaching for the liner, Knight recommends starting with a neutral shadow base to really make the eyeliner pop. We recommend the Neutral Matte Shadow Base from TOO FACED. Build out a foundation for your eyeliner with the lighter shades.

3. Apply Your Kohl Eyeliner

CIATÉ LONDON Wonderwand Gel-Kohl Hybrid Liner in Black

Knight says the key is to apply the liner tightly around your entire top and bottom lash lines. For this look, we love the CIATÉ LONDON Wonderwand Gel-Kohl Hybrid Liner in Black. You can use it as a razor sharp liner on days when you want a cat eye, or smudge it out for a grunge look as soon as you apply it.

4. Smudge It Out

As soon as you apply the liner and before it sets and dries, grab your smudge brush and “buff this out with small strokes,” says Knight. “This is when you can play with shape, too, so you could smudge a small wing if you wanted to, or round your eyes out for a more doe look.”

5. Add Mascara

MILK MAKEUP Rise Lifting & Lengthening Mascara in Elevate

No punk princess look is complete without tons of swipes of mascara to top off the look, says Knight. We love the MILK MAKEUP Rise Lifting & Lengthening Mascara in Elevate for the fanned-out grunge lash effect you’re after.

6. Set It and Forget It

MORPHE Continuous Setting Mist

“To best keep your smudged liner in place, you could set over it with some black shadow and make sure to apply a few layers of setting spray, too, to limit movement throughout the day,” says Knight. Go for the darkest shade of shadow in your palette to complete this look, and finish with a spritz of MORPHE Continuous Setting Mist (an IPSY member fave!).

Want in on all the IPSY fun? Take our Beauty Quiz now to get started with your own beauty subscription. Already a member? Refer your friends to earn points, which you can use toward products. Either way, don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and TikTok @IPSY.

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About the author
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Brittany Leitner
Brittany is an award winning beauty, health, and lifestyle writer and author of the poetry book "23 Emotions." She has eight years of experience writing for brands like Elite Daily, The. Dr. Oz Show, Shape, Stylecaster, Bustle, and more.
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Article Last Updated May 1, 2023 12:00 AM