I've recently tried two black liquid eyeliners in an attempt to replace the Stila liner (reviewed here) that ended up getting so frayed it's now unusable. Normally I don't like to have two products open at the same time that perform essentially the same function (much less three), but I disliked the first replacement liner I tried so much that I bought another. So here's a spoiler: the winner of the showdown is Liner #2, the absurdly named Physician's Formula Eye Booster 2-in-1 Lash Boosting Eyeliner + Serum in Ultra Black. I'm going to review the drugstore eyeliner that I do not recommend first (L'Oréal Lineur Intense Felt Tip Liquid Eyeliner in Carbon Black), and the much more impressive PF Lash Booster (hereafter) second.
First, let's look at swatches of both of them, with Stila's eyeliner as a comparison. On the left, I drew a single line to show the initial opacity and thinness of the point, and then I went back over the same swatch several time to show what happens when you add multiple layers.
Left to right: PF Lash Booster in Ultra Black, L'Oréal Lineur Intense in Carbon Black, and Stila Stay All Day Liquid Liner in Intense Black.
The Stila liner is more completely black on the first swipe than either of the other two and also has more sheen. Because of its frayed tip, that's as fine a line as I can get (and it's impossible to use on my eyelid, because there are fibers pointing in all directions). The PF Lash Booster is a close second, but you can see in the sheerer areas at the edges of the swatches that it's a warmer black than the Stila. It's also more matte, which can make it look darker on the eyelid. When you swatch all three of these eyeliners next to one another, the L'Oréal swatch in the middle looks almost brown. It's also much sheerer, even on the right where I tried to build it up.
I'll start by reviewing L'Oréal Carbon Black. I've been using the Lineur Intense Felt Tip liners for almost a decade in the shades Earthen Rock Brown (now discontinued) and Black Mica. These are the liners I learned to draw a cat eye with, and I think they're great. They have the advantage of having a felt tip point, but of an unusual type that never frays, so you get a firm, precise point. Because they dip into the liquid, however, rather than wicking it up like a marker, they don't dry out like other felt tip liners. I was very sad to discover that the brown shade had been discontinued, but I figured I would go ahead and try the only one I'd never used before, Carbon Black.
Unfortunately it doesn't measure up to Earthen Rock Brown or Black Mica. First of all, instead of the simple gold tube that that other shades come in, Carbon Black has shiny black plastic casing that looks and feels much cheaper. It's lighter, for one thing. Normally I don't really give a shit about cheap packaging so long as it's functional, but this is really bad plastic. It's soft enough that you can easily scratch it with a finger nail, but, worst of all, it has such a slick, almost oily-feeling surface that it's not easy to get a firm grip on it--especially if you've been using your fingers to apply other makeup and skincare products. That's a serious problem for liquid liner, where precision is the goal!
And, as you can probably figure out from the swatch above (and, um, because I already told you that I don't like it), the product itself isn't great, either. It's not very opaque, and if you try to go over the line again to build it up, it will remove the previous layer (whether you go over it before or after it dries). Take a look:
You can see actual strokes of the pen in the wing part of the line. Obviously most people are not going to be inspecting my face closely enough to see those details, but the overall effect is to make the line less even and dark. This is not an issue I had with the other two shades of Lineur Intense.
The other problem with L'Oréal Carbon Black liner is that it doesn't wear well at all, at least on my oily lids, even over primer. Here is the same eye after about 7 hours (in winter!).
Totally wingless! And my other eye actually fared much worse:
Not pretty. On the plus side (?) it's easy to remove, even without makeup remover.
I want to point out that the brown Lineur Intense wasn't as bad as this! There's something specifically inferior about Carbon Black. Here's Earthen Rock Brown at the end of a day of wear:
A little fading, but it's mostly intact. It didn't just fall right off my face. And that photo was taken during the sweaty summer! Dammit, L'Oréal, why did you have to discontinue it? I will note that if you too are mourning the loss of this perfect brown eyeliner liner, the Lancôme Artliner Precision Point Liquid Eyeliners are supposedly exact dupes for Lineur Intense (though one hopes the black performs better). They are, however, three times the price--but they come in ten different colors, which is tempting. (Meanwhile, until Earthen Rock Brown disappears entirely, there are some left on Amazon for $15.)
I think you can see why I ended up buying another black liquid eyeliner. You know, to get something that actually works. I picked up the PH Lash Booster on the recommendation of many wise people, including Renee, whose review you can read here. And I was not led astray. But before I tell you about how wonderfully this eyeliner works, let's take a moment to roll our eyes at the marketing. This may be the most ridiculous packaging copy I've seen yet:
It's all a lot of weasely language that, when combined with the word "serum" in the name of the product, suggests that there is something in here that will make lashes grow longer or thicker (or something). But if you read it closely, all it really says is that when you wear eyeliner, your eyelashes look nice. "100% of Women saw Enhanced Lashes Instantly!" Weird capitalization aside, and ignoring the fact that they apparently need to emphasize that they tested this on women . . . um, no shit? 100% of people thought their lashes looked better with eyeliner on? And then there's that "After 2 weeks" photo where apparently the thing that happened after two weeks is that the model put on some mascara. In case you can't read the fine print at the bottom, it clarifies that all those people surveyed thought that their eyelashes looked better when they were wearing both eyeliner and mascara.
The PH Lash Booster eyeliner is in a pen form, but it has a brush tip, rather than a felt tip. I assume the tip will stay in shape longer than a felt tip would, but I haven't had it long enough to know for sure. The bristles comes to an extremely fine point, as you can see in the first photo in this post. They are so smooth that I can swipe the liner straight across my eyelid in a single motion without it skipping or dragging. It also doesn't seem to lose saturation while I'm using it, which is a problem I've had with marker-style eyeliners in the past. I like to hold the pen on an angle so that it's almost parallel to my eyelid and I'm partly drawing with the side of the brush. That allows me to start with a fine point at the inner corner and thicken as I draw.
As the swatch above showed, Ultra Black is very black indeed and, though you might not need to, you can easily layer it to build it up to complete opacity. Here is my baby wing:
The brush can easily be used to dot at the base of the lashes, and I wish I'd done more of that here. It's an easy way to make your eyelashes look thicker. If your eyelids are not 35 years old like mine, you can probably get a perfectly smooth, crisp line using this eyeliner--I'm not a perfectionist. Just in case you're curious, I draw my eyeliner on with my eye open to get the shape right (like so), because that wing above looks like this when I close my eye:
And here is my eyeliner at the end of the day, 7-8 hours later:
Pretty good, right? Maybe some slight fading in the wing and around the edges. I actually had a hard time remembering which were the before and which were the after photos, but the indoor lighting in the after photos is worse, and my eye is more bloodshot at the end of the day, so that settled that.
I would highly recommend the Physician's Formula Eye Booster 2-in-1 Lash Boosting Eyeliner + Serum in Ultra Black based on my experience of a few weeks of use. (I'll check in again when I've been using it longer, but I haven't heard anything about bad happening with longer term use.) It's super easy to use, so it would be an excellent choice if you're just teaching yourself how to do liquid liner. It's black and opaque and matte and long-lasting. I don't know what else I could ask for. Oh, it's cheap, too! I mean it's regularly about $12-13, but Physician's Formula's whole schtick seems to be to price things a little higher than most other drugstore brands and then constantly put them on sale so you think you're getting a bargain. You probably will never need to buy this at full price. In fact, you can get it on Amazon for about $8, which is around the typical on-sale mark at the drugstore.
After my success with Ultra Black, I'm now really intrigued about the Brown color of this PF eyeliner. So far the only place I've seen it is on Ulta's website. Has anyone tried it? Is it as good as the black?