Brown vs Black Eyeliner: Which Shade Is Perfect For You?

close-up of a young woman getting eyeliner applied to her eyes

Brown vs black eyeliner: How do I choose? This troublesome question crops up all the time! Whether there is a specific look you want to achieve, or you are simply trying to decide which color would compliment you the most, the answer isn’t an easy one.

There are tons of things to consider when picking out the right eyeliner. You may even find that you actually enjoy nontraditional colors more; green, blue, purple, or burgundy!

The options are endless! Below we will hash out the key differences between brown and black eyeliner, the pros and cons of both, and figure out which eyeliner would be best for placing more emphasis on your eyes.

Should I Wear Brown Or Black Eyeliner?

When you are trying to choose between brown or black eyeliner, keep in mind how you want your eyes to appear. Brown is a more natural color all around. Both darker and lighter shades of brown can give you a softer look, since it will add depth to your eyes.

Another benefit of using brown eyeliner is its more natural look: Smudged or not, brown liner can draw subtle attention to your eyes and lashes without the risk of looking too minimizing.

In fact, tons of celebrity stylists have been swearing by brown to achieve more glowing, awake looks. You will gain dimension when using brown liner.

Black is more striking—the contrast is far more harsh. It is an old favorite of many who wear makeup and, honestly, when it looks good, it looks good.

Even though black is a more unforgiving color choice when picking an eyeliner, it has an awesome ability to draw attention to any sharp lines you intend to make (think of the classic winged look).

A downside of black is its ability to highlight tired eyes. Part of the reason black eyeliner is more finicky is because it is a bolder color than brown; darker, bolder colors are a more dangerous territory than warm neutrals.

Is Brown Eyeliner More Flattering?

In most instances, brown eyeliner is a more flattering choice when compared to black. With its benefits of being a warm, natural color it can compliment nearly any eye color.

Also, brown eyeliner has more versatility with it’s undertones than black does; this allows brown eyeliner to be more adaptable than others. For wanting to enhance the natural shape and color of your eyes, brown eyeliner is certainly a better choice.

However, other colorful options remain that you may find flatter your eyes more than brown. Similar to brown, these colorful eyeliners can have various undertones, and can be both dark and bright.

Is Black Eyeliner Out Of Style?

Despite the ever-rising popularity of brown eyeliner, I would argue that black eyeliner is not out of style. It is still an incredibly popular color choice and I do not see it going anywhere soon.

Beauty articles back in 2020 prophesied the end of black eyeliner. Accusing the color of being too dreary, drab, and oppressive, many were hoping to leave the liner in the past.

This had followed the trend of black slowly fading away from the public’s affections since the 2010’s, when bright, poppy colors became overwhelmingly in.

Ironically in February of 2021, black eyeliner stole the show at New York Fashion Week. Collections by Rebecca Minkoff, alice + olivia, Libertine, and many others featured looks that relied on heavy black eyeliner to complete.

Is Black Eyeliner Aging?

Black eyeliner does run the risk of having some adverse effects, including making you look tired or older. This can be attributed to the heaviness of the color.

It unintentionally can draw some attention to fine-lines and wrinkles when smudged, or it can make the wearer look tired when the smudging happens beneath the eye.

Additionally, when using black eyeliner to tightline (application of your eyeliner to your waterline) you run the risk of looking much older than you are. This commonplace makeup practice makes eyes smaller and—since it follows your natural waterline—droopy as well.

Should Your Eyeliner Match Your Mascara?

Technically, you can wear whichever color combination of eyeliner and mascara you want! There is no specific how-to when it comes to matching, or mismatching, your makeup.

However, in an interview with L’Oreal Paris USA, celebrity makeup artist Sir John advises to use the same colors, and to avoid using colors that would be more than two shades apart from each other since more attention will be brought to the eyes when there is a unified front.

Overall, you should follow your heart on this. Ultimately, one of the many awesome things about makeup is the creative freedom that comes with it. Brown eyeliner with brown mascara? Great!

Black mascara with blue eyeliner? Superb! Black eyeliner with pink mascara? Wonderful! The important thing is that you choose colors that compliment or enhance your natural pigments.

Can I Use Brown Eyeliner With Black Mascara?

Using brown eyeliner with black mascara is a great combination to wear. Notably, the placement of the colors will accentuate your eyelashes in a minor way; enough to grab attention, but not enough to overwhelm your face and create any unbalance.

The warmth of the brown eyeliner will give thickness to your eyelashes from the base while also creating a natural color for complementary pigment in your eyes and skin to latch on to.

Meanwhile, the black mascara can make your eyelashes appear fuller and longer. When worn together, the combination offers you a charming and casual everyday look.

Should I Wear Black Or Gray Eyeliner?

In most cases, gray eyeliner highlights hazel eyes better than black will. Otherwise, in most other cases when choosing between the two, you may want to choose black. Keep in mind the shade of eyeliner can largely affect the overall look as well.

In a broader sense, warm grays will be a more favorable choice to black eyeliner since they are closer to the universally appealing browns.

On another hand, jet blacks can really make brown and green eyes shine. When making this decision, consider what color your eyes are, and pick the one that will give your eyes the biggest boost.

Does Brown Eyeliner Make Eyes Look Bigger?

Brown eyeliner is a great option for making your eyes look deftly bigger. Most brown liners do a great job at opening and brightening your eyes.

When paired with a white or a lighter eyeliner color (light pinks, nudes), brown eyeliners can widen your eyes. This has to do with light colors being generally used as highlighters. Further, if you use a brown liner that has a shimmer to it, the highlighting effect will be amplified.

Does Eyeliner Make Your Eyes Look Smaller Or Bigger?

Eyeliner can have the ability to make your eyes appear both big or small: It all depends on your application. More often than not, you want to not use too heavy of an eyeliner line unless you want to make a statement.

If you desire smaller looking eyes, stick with darker colors and tightline your eyeliner. By continuing your eyeliner to the top of your upper lash line, you are forming a connection between the top and bottom lashes.

This grants the appearance of minimizing your eyes by filling up open space with a dark color. If larger eyes are what you want, tightline your waterline with a nude or a white eyeliner.

Avoid using harsh colors too heavily, and strategically place dark eyeliner at the corners of your eyes for an open-eye look.

What Type Of Eyeliner Is Best For Small Eyes?

Those of you who have small eyes would benefit from using brown and other light-colored eyeliners. Black eyeliners should be used with conservation when being applied to small eyes.

Stick with thin lines on your upper lid. Also, you should avoid tightlining your waterline with black and similar dark colors like navy, plum, and rust. If you do choose to tightline, opt for soft pinks, white, nudes, or other gentle, fleshy shades.

Taking this into consideration, remember there is nothing wrong with wanting to use dark eyeliner if you have small eyes. In fact, you definitely do not have to refrain from using it!

Smokey eyeliner beneath the lashes—just not on the waterline—can greatly complement smaller eyes and help shape them.

Is Eyeliner Good For Big Eyes?

When working with big eyes, there is no reason why you should not be using eyeliner (unless you just don’t want to)! If you have large eyes—which are also fondly called doe eyes—and you want to make them appear smaller, you should stick with darker colors.

If we refer to notable celebrities with large eyes like Mila Kunis and Amanda Seyfried, they tend to follow the trend of applying black eyeliner to their waterline. The dark color encases the eye, causing it to appear smaller than it really is.

However, just because this is a common practice does not mean this is what you must do. If you want to embrace your big eyes, there is no reason you can’t leave beneath your eyes bare, or even use lighter eyeliners when tightlining.

Who Can Wear Green Eyeliner?

Green eyeliner flatters individuals with darker eyes more often than not. If you have brown, light brown, or hazel peepers, then green eyeliner of any shade can really make your eyes pop!

On the other hand, if you have green or blue eyes, you may want to avoid using green eyeliner in case it makes your eyes look washed out. However, if you have green or blue eyes with a substantial amount of gold in them, a green eyeliner can compliment your eyes.

The reason for this is the color theory: Green sits across from red on the color wheel. So, red—the base pigment for many browns and darker golds—is complementary to green.

Despite this, some makeup artists do give green eyeliner the OK when it comes to individuals with green eyes because it can grant your eyes a seamless, monochromatic look; the same rule applies to individuals with blue eyes.

For example, Emma Stone has green eyes and has worn green eyeliner on countless occasions for events, as well as blue eyeshadow.

By using bright shades with lots of shine to them, Stone successfully curbed making her eyes appear dull and lackluster. More importantly, she avoids using greens that are an exact match to her natural eye color.

It is for this reason why her green-on-green technique has worked so well. Another example of celebrities matching their eyeliner to eye color can be seen in both Cara Delevingne and the late Princess Diana.

Neither of these iconic women have shied away from wearing various shades of blue eyeliner on top or bottom lash lines in the past.

Oftentimes, those with blue eyes will wear a dark navy eyeliner; the color, while similar to black, contains blue undertones that will enhance the wearer’s irises according to beauty experts: This is the most common shade of blue that Delevingne tends to wear.

Furthermore, Delevingne has not only worn blues on her lids and her waterlines, but she has also worn an electric blue mascara on a handful of occasions.

Alternatively, Princess Diana was notorious for wearing electric blue Elizabeth Arden eyeliner along her waterline in the color Blue Khol 636.

Apparently it was one personal beauty choice that stylists were unsuccessful in getting her to drop until she met Mary Greenwell, her would-be stylist, who convinced the Princess to adopt more neutral eyeliner in the 90’s.

Of course, these choices are purely personal and not everyone is comfortable shading their eyes with anything that could be considered too bright.

Saying this, bold colors are not for everyone; many people may worry about having too much color. If you want a more put-together look, brown and black eyeliners are your safest options.

Brown vs Black Eyeliner: Final Thoughts

In conclusion, brown vs black eyeliner comes down to a personal preference. Brown eyeliner is fantastic for daytime looks, or when you want to have more natural looking eye makeup.

Since brown liner is warmer, it looks great on most eye colors (especially so on blue eyes) and adds depth and dimension to your eyes when gently smudged.

Meanwhile, there is nothing wrong with wearing black eyeliner either. Keep in mind, however, that black eyeliner can give one the appearance of being tired if it has significant fallout beneath the eyes.

Additionally, the harshness of black liner can make eyes appear to be drooping when tightlined, thus making the wearer look older. There are steps you can take to combat these effects if you do desire to wear this classic color.

Now when it comes to nontraditional eyeliner colors it is always important to consider the color theory when picking what color would be best for you.

Opposites are complementary because they emphasize the opposing color’s qualities (green and red, purple and yellow, blue and orange). Also remember the effect you want to achieve in the end!

The application approach and colors you choose could make your eyes appear wider, smaller, more bright, or more dark. Makeup is all about channeling your creativity: expressing and reflecting your inner self.

I encourage you to experiment and find out what looks you like or don’t like, and which looks you would like to try to emulate.

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By Cierra Tolentino

Cierra Tolentino is a beauty writer at Kintegra Research. She loves keeping people up-to-date with the latest beauty trends in skincare, hair care, and makeup. Finding answers to tough questions is her thing. When she has free time you can find her chasing down a clumsy toddler and obsessively drinking tea.