How to Use Water-Activated Cake Eyeliner — Expert Tips

I can’t go on Instagram or even TikTok for more than a minute before seeing someone slosh their liner brush around in a pot of water-activated cake liner and paint on opaque, bold eye makeup looks. Apparently, this is the liner formula to use at the moment. Pencils and pens are things of the past. However, cake liner is an old-school staple that makeup artists often rely on for matte, graphic looks. I asked some to help me better understand the formula and how to make the most of it.

What are cake liners?

To put it simply, cake liners are no different than watercolor paints that you dip a wet brush into, says cosmetic chemist Ginger King.

In makeup terms, New York City-based makeup artist Benjamin Puckey compares them to pressed shadows. “But when you mix them with a liquid they turn into a creamy liquid liner that dries down to a matte finish,” he explains. When creating vintage-inspired liner looks from the ’60s and ’70s, he grabs a cake liner because they dry down to a crisp matte that photographs well. Also, “I like how the application process feels more painterly,” Puckey adds.

New York City-based makeup artist Mollie Gloss echoes his sentiments, adding cake liners are best when she needs a neon pigment or when she wants a mess-free powder finish. I’ve also noticed people often use them for mastering gorgeous gradient liner looks.

Although they are smudge-proof, they aren’t waterproof because they are water-based, so you can’t really cry with them on unless you want a color drip look. Waterproof liners, on the other hand, are usually formulated with oils or silicones, and as we know, water and oil don’t mix, King notes.

Which cake liners do experts use?

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