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The Best Water-Activated Eyeliners & How to Rock the TikTok Trend

by Suka Junin

Sep 13, 2021

We’ll let you in on how to achieve the popular graphic eye liner look that’s taking off.

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Ever wondered how those TikTok girls do their bold, graphic eye looks? We have three words for you: water-activated eyeliners. Similar to face paints and watercolor, water-activated eyeliners (also called "cake liners") have the same idea. With these types of eyeliners, you can treat them like paint and your eyes like a canvas.

For everything on these special liners, keep reading below. We’ve also compiled some of the best cruelty-free water-activated liners to start adding to your makeup collection.

What are water-activated eyeliners?

Just like watercolor paints, water-activated cake liners come to life when you dip a wet brush into them. Once it transforms into its new, creamier form, it’s ready to use on the eyes. For comparison, they are similar to pressed shadows, except they turn into a creamy liquid consistency when it’s met with water. When dried, these liners leave behind a crisp matte finish. Think of these liners as adult face paint, which you can use to create fun and bold eye looks.

Water-activated eyeliners generally comes in little pots of colors, while some brands have released them in a palette form like eyeshadows. Whichever you go for, they all can get the job done as long as you have a brush and good old tap water.

How to activate them

Water is the easiest and most convenient way to make the liners useable. Keep in mind that because these liners are water-based, they won’t be waterproof. Make sure not to cry or check the weather for rain before stepping out with these liners on! However, despite the fact that it has a water base, these liners are smudge-proof.

Instead of water, you can replace it with a liquid binder for prolonged wear. For example, a few drops of Inglot’s Duraline onto your liner will not only make it last longer, but give the liner a more workable consistency.

The tools

Applying liner generally requires precision, and it helps if you have the tools to make it easier. Use a thin liner brush or a fine flat angled brush, depending on what look you want to create. Good brushes to add to your collection would be E.l.f.’s Precision Eyeliner Brush for accuracy or BH Cosmetics’ Bent Liner Brush for seamless winged looks.

Interestingly, the most precise of brushes can be found in a set of nail art striping brushes. You can use these for the eyes to get super thin lines for those graphic liner looks. Its thin bristles are especially helpful for beginners who are finding precision a bit of a challenge.

How to apply them

You can wet the pigment directly in its pan. But for the product to last longer, it’s best to do it outside of its of its packaging. To do this, scrape off some liner onto a palette or another clean container and add a few drops of water. Mix together with a brush and keep adding water or more liner to get a gel-like consistency.

The water to liner ratio depends entirely on the look you are after. Adding more liquid will create a sheer finish, while adding less liquid gives a creamier and more opaque effect. Using less liquid will let the product dry faster, too. Swatch the liner on the back of your hand to see if you have the consistency that you want. Once you’re happy with it, you can go ahead and paint straight onto your lids.

The Best Water-Activated Eyeliners

Have all your favorite liner colors ready to go in a convenient palette! SUVA Beauty has a line of three palettes: UV Taffies for pastel hues, UV Brights for bold shades, and UV Primaries for those that like to mix up their own colors. Bonus: all shades glow under UV light! Each palette has five shades that you can mix and match with, as well as their signature fine liner brush. The formula delivers solid opaque colors, which has a reputation for staying on all day.

If you’re new to the cake liner game and not ready to invest in a full palette, try out individual pots of colors. SUVA Beauty’s Hydra Liners come in various shades, perfect for adding color to the lash line or using as body art. The formula goes on the skin easy with not patchiness, while remaining smudge proof. While they’re known for their bright neon hues, Suva also has a good range of metallic shades in blue, rose gold, gold, and lilac.

Water-activated eyeliners don’t always mean bold and bright colors. Various brands have more conservative shades for those that prefer a more neutral look, like Kryolan. Their Cake Eye Liner Set includes shades like black, deep purple, and dark green. This set is also packaged in a practical casing that includes a mirror and a brush, making it the perfect travel buddy as well. A little goes a long way with this liner set as well. Users have praised its ability to stay on the whole day using only a tiny amount of water.

You can’t get a more shocking combo of bright colors than Anastasia Beverly Hills’ NORVINA Electric Cake Liners. The trio of liners are available in two different color sets, with each set containing colors versatile enough for various looks. You’ll find that this will be your go-to liners for festivals or parties, thanks to the colors’ glow-in-the-dark effect. While the lighter colors may need some build up, the liners are generally pigmented and creamy. It may also be hard to lose a color, as the liner pans stick together like magnet.

Another inclusive water-activated liner palette for the books is By Beauty Bay’s Aquavated Liner Palette. With five ultra-pigmented shades, this palette has both bright and pastel shades to create many looks. The formula is said to be long-lasting, smooth and has good consistency – you won’t find these liners cracking half way through the day!

Barry M’s Hi Vis Neon Water Activated Color truly lives up to its name, with a collection of seven vibrant shades. The bright hues from this range is suitable to use on the face, as well as body, for a complete festival look. With a quick dip of water, these small pots of color will glide on smoothly and will dry almost instantly so you can head out in a flash.

For essential neons, check out Makeup Revolution’s Neon Heat Hydra Liner Set. it comes in a set of four water-activated liners: bright yellow, cobalt blue, neon pink, and deep purple. Think of all the exciting color combos and graphic designs you can make with these vibrant hues! The liners are very pigmented, giving this set a good color payoff rating according to users.

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