Makeup brushes are something you can buy for life. I still use makeup brushes that I bought 10 or 15 years ago – makeup brushes that are no longer available on the market for the most part. The right brush can make your makeup application relaxing and pleasant, while the wrong brush can scratch your skin and make putting on makeup a frustrating experience.
If you are starting to build or are looking to expand your collection of brushes, don’t be too afraid of splurging on the best makeup brushes on the market, because you’ll be saving money in the long term and ensuring a super beautiful makeup application for years to come.
The way makeup brushes are crafted and used has changed a lot in the last ten years, so I hope you’ll find this article useful whether you’re a newbie or an old-timer who’d like a refresher. I give the most thorough brush guide imaginable, talking about some important brush elements that influence how a particular brush will function.
I detail all of the main makeup brush types, going over what they are, what kind of makeup they are for, and how to use them. I have a few extra tips and tricks that apply to all makeup brushes, including very important instructions on how to clean and maintain your makeup brushes properly. Happy brushing!
Your Ultimate Makeup Brush Guide: Contents
- 23 Best Makeup Brushes to Buy
- Makeup Brush Elements to Recognize
- Types of Makeup Brushes & Their Uses
- How to Choose Quality Makeup Brushes
- Makeup Brushes vs. Makeup Sponges
- Makeup Brush Tips & Common Mistakes to Avoid
- How to Clean and Store Makeup Brushes
As always, I start off with some product recommendations, so this time around I’ve collected the 23 best makeup brushes available on the market.
1. Too Faced Kabuki Brush
This kabuki brush is one of the best makeup brushes for applying setting or finishing powder. This brush is quite large, so it ensures a quick application, and its bristles are super soft and luxurious on the skin. It is retractable and comes with a lid so it’s ideal for traveling or on-the-go touch-ups.
While it is recommended by Too Faced for bronzers and highlighters as well, I think it’s too soft and fluffy, so it is better for powders that don’t need to be applied densely. This brush is vegan, but it feels like soft animal hair. Buy it from Sephora!
2. Sigma Beauty F80 Flat Kabuki Brush
Despite the name, this kabuki brush is nothing like the previous one on this list. While it is also made of soft, vegan fibers, this brush is quite firm so it is actually ideal for cream and liquid applications rather than powders. This brush has a large, flat top, which makes it perfect for applying foundations. It covers the face quickly and creates a very seamless, blended finish, saving you the need for a sponge. As to be expected from one of the best makeup brushes, it is long-lasting and does not shed. Find it at Nordstrom!
3. Real Techniques Powder Brush
Real Techniques brushes are game changers – they hold all the quality of more expensive vegan makeup brushes but at a fraction of the cost. The colors of the brush handles are a bit more youthful than higher-end options, but if you like this aesthetic or only care about utility then any brush by this brand will be a great choice. This powder brush, in particular, is luxuriously soft and has a lot of yield, so it’s perfect for applying powder lightly without risking cakiness or compromising on a dewy glow. You can get it at Ulta.
4. Hourglass Veil Powder Brush
Hourglass products just scream luxury to me, and this dual-ended brush is no different. One end of it should cover all of your major setting powder needs, while the other can take care of setting hard-to-reach spots like around the nose or under the eyes, and it can also work for applying blush, contour, bronzer, or highlight. Can you just imagine? Apply your bronzer with the small end and then instantly flip your brush over to blend it out! The bristles are made of taklon, so it is vegan. Buy it from Sephora!
5. Morphe M459 1 1/4” Flat Contour Brush
Hundreds of beauty gurus, including ones with expensive tastes, have fallen in love with the reasonably priced makeup brushes from Morphe. The intense variety and specificity of their brushes make this unsurprising, with this contour brush being a prime example. It’s a firm, straight-edged brush that gives a very intense and sharp contour, which is fitting for your average influencer. You can also use it to quickly and easily contour the nose, and in a pinch it should also work for other complexion products. You can buy it from Ulta.
6. MAC Cosmetics 239 Synthetic Eye Shader Brush
This new, vegan version of the classic eyeshadow brush is just as good as the original. This flat, domed brush is perfect for getting a super intense layer of eyeshadow over the lid. You can even use the end of the brush to diffuse the edges or to bring the shadow down to the lower lash line. This brush is a must if you like creating complex eyeshadow looks! It is sold at MAC Cosmetics.
7. NARS #45 Smudge Brush
This brush is small yet mighty. It has short, tightly packed bristles in a narrow shape that make it exceptional for packing on and very slightly smudging both powders and creams. It’s ideal for applying crease colors if you’re going for a really intense and precise look, and it’ll also work for smudging and blending shadows or eyeliners under the lower lash line. Alternatively, it could work for applying an inner corner highlight, especially if you’re using a cream shadow. Order it from Net-a-Porter!
8. Hourglass Vanish Foundation Brush
This is another Hourglass brush that we had to recommend. It is a firm makeup brush intended for cream foundation applications. What makes it unique is its slight angle, which allows getting into the crevices of the face. Because of this it could also work for concealing or blending under the eyes or around the nose. As with other makeup brushes from this brand, it is vegan, durable and has the most gorgeous reflective handle. Pick it up at Sephora!
9. Fenty Beauty By Rihanna Tapered Blending Brush 210
Rihanna’s makeup brushes are quickly becoming cult-favorites, and this pink little blending brush is no different. Blending brushes are extremely versatile, so it makes sense to own a few of them. Use this one to blend your eyeshadow, set the under-eye area or apply nose contour. Since it is a fluffier brush, it is best used for applying and diffusing powder products. As cute as this brush may be, it’s also durable so it doesn’t shed and it stays soft even after a few washes. Find it at Sephora!
10. Sigma Beauty F90 Fan Brush
A fan brush is a unique and polarizing makeup brush that you will probably want to own if you struggle with applying your blush, contour or highlighter softly. This brush fans out to cover just the right amount of space, but it still has the light touch of other powder brushes. Like the other makeup brushes on this list, the quality of this vegan brush is phenomenal so this brush should hold up for years. It is available at Nordstrom.
11. Rae Morris Jishaku 6 Deluxe Pro Blender Brush
Rae Morris is an exceptional makeup artist with a truly unique range of gorgeous makeup brushes – if you’ve got money to burn, buy them all. They have a magnetized bottom, so they can stand up on a magnetized surface (which the brand also sells), which allows them to stay clean when not in use.
One of the more unique makeup brushes in the range is this blending brush. Its bristles are made of cruelty-free goat hair and they are as soft as can be. It is larger than your average eyeshadow blending brush but is smaller than most complexion powder brushes, so it can be used anywhere on the face where powder needs to be applied or blended in a diffused manner. It is sold via Net-a-Porter.
12. Japonesque Round Concealer Brush
Japonesque is a brand with an old history of brush construction, though in the last few years they seem to have taken a backseat. This is unfortunate because they still make some of the best makeup brushes on the market!
I decided to feature this concealer brush that is a must-have for anyone who has to deal with the occasional blemish or spot. This synthetic brush is exactly the right size to pack concealer on localized areas, though it can be used for other detailing work with cream products, including lining lips or eyes. Order it from Dermstore!
13. Anastasia Beverly Hills #12 Large Synthetic Duo Brow Brush
Paired to go with the iconic ABH Dipbrow, this synthetic angled brush is excellent for filling in brows but it could also work for lining the eyes. The size of the brush is large enough for filling in the brows all over with powder or pomade, but with a bit of practice you might even be able to make it work for the natural micro-hair look that is becoming trendy. Unlike with cheaper brow brushes, this one stays firm and packed even after repeated washing. Pick it up at Nordstrom!
14. Fenty Beauty By Rihanna Cheek Hugging Bronzer Brush 190
This brush is totally gorgeous, both in look and in function. It has the most unique angled shape that allows it to hug the cheek as you apply bronzer, highlighter or blush. You will feel oddly special and taken care of when you use it. It is very soft so it gives a more diffused wash of color, which is why I don’t recommend it for contouring. You can purchase it from Sephora.
15. Bobbi Brown Eye Sweep Brush
This is a tightly packed eyeshadow brush that sits somewhere between a setting/ blending brush and a typical eyeshadow brush. If you would rather keep your collection a little smaller, then this would be one of the best makeup brushes for you, since it can take over the role of multiple eye makeup brushes. The best use for it, however, is to get a quick sweep of base eyeshadow all over the eye. It is available at Nordstrom.
16. Surratt Beauty Artistique Highlight Brush
I think putting on highlighter is the most low-effort yet high-drama part of my makeup routine, so I definitely like feeling special when I do it. This Japanese handcrafted brush can definitely help with that. It is intended for highlighter application, although it could probably work for lots of other complexion powders. Because it is made of squirrel hair, it is impossibly soft, but the pointy candle shape of it does provide some control. Have it shipped from Net-a-Porter!
17. Make Up For Ever 216 Medium Precision Eye Blender Brush
This round eye makeup brush is also known as a crease brush, and it is the best makeup brush style for applying dark eyeshadows in the outer corner and crease. It is firm but not overly so, so it is able to deposit color as well as diffuse it. It can also be used to smudge eyeliner and create a smokey look. Because of its soft vegan bristles, it will never poke or irritate the sensitive eye area, and because of the level of work that went into crafting it, it will never fall apart or shed hairs. Pick it up from Sephora!
18. Ulta Buffing Concealer Brush
The second concealer brush I’m recommending here is the best makeup brush for those wanting to apply or blend their under-eye concealer or lid primer with a brush rather than fingers or a sponge. It acts just like beauty blender, giving a seamless, diffused finish to your concealer. You can also use it for super precise cream contouring and highlighting! Get it at Ulta!
19. Huda Beauty N.Y.M.P.H Body Blur & Glow Brush
Bronzers and highlighters are not just for the face! That beautiful glow can also be imparted to the body – the shoulders and collar bones, in particular, can benefit from a wash of luminescent powder, and if you’re planning to wear a short dress this summer your legs might benefit from a creamy body highlighter or leg makeup.
This vegan brush has a curved design that conforms to the body, and its synthetic bristles can work with both creams and powders to cover a lot of space quickly and to give a seamless finish. This makeup brush might seem a little extra, but what’s wrong with that? You can buy it at Sephora.
20. Tarte Etch & Sketch Double-Ended Bamboo Liner Brush
I love me a gel eyeliner, but it won’t work with every brush. However, this delicate little brush from Tarte is perfect for getting the sharpest point. It is dual-ended, with an angled end that makes getting a wing easy without hitting the mirror with the other end of your brush, and a straight end that allows you to get a super fine line right up against the lashes. You can also use it with a damp eyeshadow. If you’re feeling really creative you can use it with your brow pomade to achieve hair-like brow strokes. It is available at Ulta.
21. bareMinerals Maximum Coverage Concealer Brush
This flat concealer brush reminds me of the concealer brushes that were popular when I was in makeup school. It is larger than other concealer brushes, so if small blemishes are your main concern, it might not be ideal. Its shape allows it to deposit a lot of cream product, though it’s not the best for blending.
There is so much that this brush is fabulous for: laying down under eye concealer or eye primer, putting on cream eyeshadow, applying cream highlight or contour to the nose, and my personal favorite – applying glitter! The unique texture of the vegan bristles grabs both loose and liquid-suspended glitter without making a mess and then deposits it fully wherever you want it to go. Find it at Nordstrom!
22. Kevyn Aucoin The Concealer Brush
This is one of the smallest brushes on this list, but it’s also one of the best makeup brushes around. It’s a super tiny brush intended for concealing really small or delicate spots, but we’re actually obsessed with it for lining the lips and are willing to bet it’ll also work for getting hair-like strokes with eyebrow pomade. It might seem too expensive for such a small brush, but this is a true buy-it-for-life item, especially when other small brushes tend to fall apart within a couple of years. It is sold at Sephora.
23. Real Techniques Blend + Blur All Over Brush
For some reason oval brushes feel a little more luxurious than typical makeup brushes, even if they’re not always useful. These brushes happen to work quite well for cream foundation, though, since they can really press it into the skin and then buff it out flawlessly. However, cheaper ones are often brittle, so the handle can snap.
That’s definitely not the case with this brush, which has a gorgeous matte handle that is very durable, and a very soft set of bristles that will feel like a hug against your face. This brush is on the larger side of things, so you might want to choose a similar but smaller one if you want it to get into the crevices as well. You can buy it from Ulta.
Before we get into individual makeup brushes and what they’re for, I want to talk a little bit about some main makeup brush elements that will influence how a specific brush will function. These include material, size, firmness, and a few other factors.
Each makeup brush is a combination of a few different elements that ultimately make it ideal for doing a specific thing. By understanding what those elements are, you can learn to get creative with your brush use and really get the most out of your makeup brushes.
It used to be that expensive, high-quality makeup brushes had bristles made of animal hair. The common hairs came from horse tails, sables, or squirrels. Cheaper makeup brushes were made of taklon.
In that time, the common advice was that animal hair brushes should only be used for powder products, while synthetic brushes should be used for cream products like foundations or concealers. This was because the animal hair bristles would absorb the cream product, expand, and then break more easily – whether this was true or not is unclear.
These days, however, animal hair brushes are becoming increasingly rare and most makeup brushes are vegan and cruelty-free. This is because the technology for making taklon bristles has seriously improved, with synthetic brushes being just as soft and durable as animal hair ones, if not more so.
These days you can use a synthetic brush for just about anything. Brands that used to make animal hair brushes, like MAC, are slowly shifting over to having all-vegan brush lines, while brands like Too Faced, Fenty, and Real Techniques stuck to vegan brushes straight off the bat.
When it comes to makeup brushes, size does matter. This is easy to understand, so I’ll explain it quickly. The more space a brush needs to cover, the larger it should be. Because of this, makeup brushes used for all-over complexion products like foundation and powder should be the largest in your makeup brush set.
Makeup brushes that need to cover a little less space or that need to get into crevices like under the eye or around the nose should be a little smaller, while the smallest brushes should be saved for more detailed work like eyeshadow, eyeliner or lipstick application.
If you have a very small or angular face, you might choose to use makeup brushes that are smaller than is common, since an overly large brush might be harder to work with. You might find yourself preferring to use an eyeshadow blending brush to do your contouring for example, or you might prefer to apply your crease color with a tiny highlighting or pencil brush.
Now this is where I think things get interesting and not too obvious. Makeup brushes with shorter, more tightly packed bristles will be firmer to the touch, while brushes with longer, more loosely packed bristles will be softer and more yielding.
When used in a stippling motion firmer makeup brushes will deposit more product in one place than their softer counterparts. When used in a blending or dragging motion the firm brushes will grab on to more of the product on the skin and move it around more, while the softer brushes will give a softer, more diffused blend.
Firmer makeup brushes are usually better for buffing on cream and liquid foundations or for applying darker powders (contour and crease shadow, for example), while softer brushes are better for applying a sheer amount of powder (light wash of base eyeshadow or a thin, non-cakey layer of setting powder).
Brushes of medium firmness can work well for applying slightly heavier layers of powder or for blending eyeshadow.
• Intended Application Side
There are two ways in which a makeup brush can be used to deposit product on the skin. You can use the end of the bristles or you can use the side.
Back when I was first starting out in the makeup industry there were a lot more makeup brushes that were meant to be used with the side of the bristle – foundation and concealer brushes in particular. Back then, those were the main brushes that would almost always be made of synthetic bristles, and you would use them to brush on the cream products. They would deposit a lot of product at once, but would usually leave visible edges that would have to be blended out with a makeup sponge.
These days, many new synthetic brushes are crafted specifically to apply cream products with the top part of the bristles in a seamless way, and the old concealer and foundation brushes have mostly disappeared.
We do still see flat eyeshadow brushes, usually with a rounded top, and with firm, tightly packed, long bristles. With these brushes, the sides are perfect for packing on heavy layers of eyeshadow on the lid. The product comes on with maximum pigmentation, and only the edges need to be blended out with a softer brush.
I relegated brush shape to the end because I don’t think it matters as much as the other elements. Size and firmness are much more impactful than whether your brush has an angle.
With that being said, you will still see that some makeup brushes are often a little narrower or have an angle, particularly when they are meant to apply a product in a long sweep – think eyeliner, brow powder, or contour under the cheek. Usually you will be able to achieve the same effect with a round brush, just as long as it is not too wide.
The shape of the handle and its angle in relation to the brush head might be more significant for you, however. Naturally, you want a brush that is going to be comfortable for you to hold. For some that could mean a brush with a thicker or longer handle, while for others it might mean a brush that is held in a specific way against the face.
For instance, there are the oval brushes that became very trendy a couple of years ago. The most unique thing about those brushes wasn’t the oval shape – that was just a gimmick. What was unique is that they were held with the handle parallel to the face, which made for a much easier application for some people, especially if they wanted to get close to the mirror without the handle of their brush stopping them.
This unfortunately did not work for any eyeshadow brushes, but oval brushes proved to be useful for cream foundation and contour. Similarly, an eyeliner brush with a bent ferrule can also make for an easier eyeliner application, for the same reasons.
I’m not a big believer in rules, especially considering just how much has changed in the makeup world since I went to makeup school. While some makeup brushes are better suited to some applications than others, consider this a loose guideline.
Once you understand the basics of the shape of each brush and which materials it works best with, you will find it easier to break these rules to achieve a makeup technique that works best for you.
• Flat-Top Foundation Brush
The modern-day foundation brush is a stiff yet soft synthetic brush with a rounded head and a flat top. It is a fairly large brush, though it is usually not as big as a powder or kabuki brush.
The bristles themselves tend to be straighter and firmer than the bristles of a powder brush. This kind of brush applies cream and liquid foundations beautifully, with a seamless finish and without any lines or streaks.
An oval foundation brush is actually just a variation on the typical flat-top foundation brush, with the main difference being the size of the head and the angle of the handle. Some brands might refer to it as a buffing brush or even as a kabuki brush, although that’s not quite right.
To use: You can use a foundation brush either by dispensing a bit of foundation directly on it or by dotting the foundation on the face first and then using the brush to blend and buff it out. To achieve a higher coverage, use the brush in a tapping or stippling motion. To blend or sheer out your foundation, use a circular, buffing motion to move the product around your face.
• Flat Foundation Brush
I think of this as the old-school foundation brush. It is a flat, synthetic brush with long, stiff bristles and a domed top. It is meant to be used sort of like a paint brush, with the flat side of the bristles coming in contact with the skin rather than the top of the bristles.
This type of brush has fallen out of favor in recent years because while it works for applying foundation it doesn’t blend it out, so a sponge is still necessary.
To use: If you do happen to own one of these makeup brushes you can still use it if you like. You can dispense foundation directly on the brush, and then tap it on the skin to transfer a large amount or drag it on in downward motions to sort of paint the skin with it. Use a damp sponge to blend out any streaks or visible brush strokes.
Tip: You can also use the slightly domed/ pointed tip of this brush to get a fine line of contour cream under your cheekbone or along the side of your nose.
• Dual-Fiber Stippling Brush
Before flat-topped makeup brushes popped on the market there was a brief period when dual-fiber brushes were the go-to makeup brushes for applying foundation seamlessly. The main difference between a dual-fiber and a flat-topped brush is that a dual-fiber brush is made of two types of bristles that are distributed evenly – there is a long layer of synthetic bristles and a shorter layer of natural bristles.
The synthetic bristles help apply the product, while the lower natural bristles help to buff it into the skin. While stippling brushes were definitely a step up from the flat foundation brushes, they were not quite as good as the modern flat-topped brush.
To use: Despite the name, straight up stippling doesn’t work super well with this brush. Once again, you can dispense the product directly on the brush, or dot it over your skin, and then use a circular buffing motion to move it around and sheer it out so it covers the face evenly.
• Soft, Large Powder Brush
Large, soft powder brushes are basically the perfect thing for applying setting powder to the face. They usually have a rounded or domed tapered top though they can also be a bit more candle-shaped.
High-quality powder brushes feel soft, fluffy and luxurious when they touch the skin, so using them can be one of the most pleasant parts of the makeup application process. The softer and more yielding the brush, the less heavy a layer of powder it will dispense, so it is perfect for setting makeup without having it look cakey or overly matte. Most powder brushes on the market these days are synthetic, though historically they used to be made of animal hair.
To use: Swirl the brush in your powder container to load it up. Tap off the excess onto a tissue, and then use a tapping motion to apply the powder all over your face. The reason for the tapping motion is that you want to press the powder into the face. If you were to swipe the brush over the face you would end moving your unset foundation around, potentially removing it or causing streaking.
Reload the brush with powder if necessary. If you’ve overapplied powder, wipe the brush clean with a dry towel and then move it over your face in a circular buffing motion to remove the extra powder.
Tip: You can squeeze the bristles of the brush to get a narrower shape that will fit more easily along the sides of your nose. In a pinch, this can also allow you to apply blush or contour powder with the large brush.
• Kabuki Brush
A kabuki brush generally refers to a brush with a smaller handle (though this is not mandatory) and a large head. The bristles fan out in a round shape, with either a very slight dome or a totally flat top.
While soft to the touch, these makeup brushes tend to be firmer than traditional large powder brushes. They are often bigger in size, as well, and are able to cover more space. A kabuki brush will dispense more powder onto the face, so it sets cream products more thoroughly and gives a more matte finish.
To use: Just like with a regular powder brush, swirl the kabuki brush through the powder, tap off the excess, and then using a tapping motion apply the powder to the skin. Use a softer powder brush to remove excess powder, if necessary.
Other Complexion Brushes
• Soft Medium-Sized Brush
Imagine a smaller version of your typical powder brush. Because of their size, medium powder brushes are better for applying more localized powder products like blush, highlighter, bronzer or contour powder but in a light, diffused manner.
You can use the same brush for all of these products as long as you clean it in-between, though for most it’s easier to have one brush per product category. When I travel I save space by using one medium brush for contour and another medium brush for both blush and highlighter.
To use: It’s important that your foundation is already set before you start, or you risk having the brush drag on your foundation and cause streaking. Swirl the brush into your product of choice and brush it on. Go over the area with your larger powder brush in a circular motion to blend.
Your highlighter should go on the top of the apples of the cheeks and dragged up towards the temple (you can also lightly diffuse it over the center of the forehead and above the lip), blush should go slightly below the highlight on the apple of the cheeks and towards the temples, and a contour should be applied below the cheekbone from the center of the ear to just below the apple of the cheek.
You can also apply the contour with the medium brush below the jawline and along the perimeter of the forehead.
Tip: Medium brushes are also better for applying mineral powder foundations, since they allow a bit more control than their larger counterparts but still don’t dispense as much product as a firm brush.
• Fan Brush
The fan brush is even softer and has an even lighter touch than your softest traditional round powder brush. The bristles of this brush fan out from the ferrule (the metal part that holds the bristles together) into the shape of… well, a fan.
As a result, the super soft bristles are not sitting too densely next to each other so they apply powder products very lightly and softly. This is great for applying a very natural wash of highlighter, bronzer or blush, especially if you usually have a heavy hand or if you don’t have time to blend things out.
To use: Using a fan brush is quite simple, since all you have to do is swirl and brush. Make sure to use the length of the brush by holding its top part parallel to your cheekbone when applying. This will allow you to really optimize your application and to cover a lot of space as quickly as possible.
• Firm Medium-Sized Brush
The medium-sized firm brush is nearly identical to the soft medium-sized brush, with one key difference: it’s a little bit firmer. Occasionally these types of makeup brushes will also have a flatter top, though not always. A firm brush will deposit more product on the skin, so it’s better for products that you want to go on more saturated.
Personally, I prefer a firmer contour brush, though others might prefer a firmer highlighter brush, for example. Firmer brushes also tend to work better with cream products of various types, assuming they are synthetic.
To use: For powder products, use the firm medium-sized brush the same way you would a softer one. For cream products, it is better to do the application either before or after applying foundation but definitely before setting the foundation with powder. Use a tapping or gentle brushing motion to dispense more product and follow it up with a circular motion to buff out and blend.
• Angled Powder Brush
An angled powder brush is very similar to a regular medium-sized blush/ contour brush, with the main difference being that its bristles get gradually longer from one side to the other so that the brush is angled and the top will have a slightly narrow and long shape. This makes the brush seem a little sharper and it allows it to cover a narrow space with a shorter swipe, which is why it’s ideal for contouring. It can also work for applying blush and highlighter.
To use: Swirl it in the powder, tap off the excess, and brush it on, just as you would with other medium-sized brushes. Make sure to use the length of the brush to your advantage.
Lipstick and Concealer Brushes
• Flat Concealer Brush
A flat concealer brush looks a lot like a smaller version of a flat foundation brush, with the same straight bristles that intentionally look and feel synthetic. It is best for applying cream products, with its primary intended purpose being for applying concealer, though it’ll also work with eyeshadow primer, lipstick, or cream contour/ highlighter.
It is large enough to easily apply under-eye concealer but also small enough to do more detailed work. These days, many popular concealers come with an applicator attached to the lid, but when that’s not the case a concealer brush can be extremely useful.
To use: Dip your brush into the concealer tin or apply a few drops of concealer directly on the brush. Wipe it over the back of your arm or on a metal palette just to make sure the product is evenly distributed on the brush. To cover blemishes or spots tap the flat side of the brush over the specific spot, and then blend the edges either with a sponge or with the tip of the brush.
To apply your cream product over larger areas, use more of a brush motion to dispense and move product, and then use the tapping motion to diffuse streaks or lines.
Tip: Use your concealer brush to create an outer perimeter line for your lips, which will act as a guide for your lip liner and lipstick and will also prevent bleeding. Alternatively, use the brush and a bit of concealer to help fix any lip liner or eyeliner mistakes and to sharpen those lines.
• Tiny Concealer/ Lip Brush
A tiny lip or concealer brush is an even smaller version of the flat concealer brush. It is much easier to work with if the primary thing you’re trying to conceal is super small pimples, and it is also fabulous for applying lipstick – it’s small enough that it’ll allow you to line the lips flawlessly.
Some brushes may be marketed specifically for concealer, while others will be marketing specifically for lipstick, but functionally they are indistinguishable.
To use: As with a larger concealer brush, load it up with makeup and then either tap it on to deposit a maximum amount of product or brush it over the skin to deposit a lighter layer and move it around.
• Buffing Concealer Brush
A buffing concealer brush is like a smaller version of a buffing foundation brush, with shorter bristles and a flat top or slightly angled top. This brush’s main purpose is to blend out concealer and ensure it has a very even, smooth finish, whereas a flat concealer brush is primarily meant to deposit the concealer on the skin.
The action of this kind of brush is comparable to that of a makeup sponge. Some brushes are somewhere in between the two designs, so they are fatter than a flat concealer brush but still have some room for applications with the side or for blending with the top. Beyond concealer, a buffing concealer brush is also great for applying cream blush, contour or highlight.
To use: Dot the concealer over the skin first or deposit a small amount of it on the brush. Tap it against the skin to deposit product and use a gentle circular motion to blend and buff out.
• Flat Eyeshadow Brush
Lid brushes are flat eyeshadow brushes that stand out as one of the few brush styles where the flat side of the bristles is the part that comes into contact with the skin. These makeup brushes are perfect for covering a lot of space and really packing on product.
Their size tends to be just right for totally covering the eyelid with just two or three presses, allowing for a quick lid color application. Their tops tend to be rounded, which prevents harsh lines on the eye and saves you some blending work.
To use: Tap or pat the side of the brush into your eyeshadow of choice. Apply the eyeshadow to your lid by pressing or tapping the brush against it. Use the top of the brush to blend out the edges or to apply the shadow under the lower lash line.
Tip: Dampen your eyeshadow brush with water or a setting spray before using it to apply loose eyeshadow pigments. This will prevent fall-out under the eye and will also help intensify the color.
• Eye Highlighter Brush
An eye highlighting brush is a smaller version of a flat lid brush that is often a little fluffier and less firm, though it’s still mostly flat with a rounded top. This brush is small enough to easily fit into the inner corner of the eye and apply highlight, and it also works well for highlighting under the brow.
If you have very small eyelids or if you like to create complex eyeshadow looks with multiple colors on the eyelid, then you will find this makeup brush easier to control. It is also great for any kind of detail work that is done with powder, like applying highlighting powder to the top of the nose.
To use: Load the brush up with powder by tapping or patting it over the product, and then use a tapping motion to apply it to the inner corner of the eye. Move the color around and blend it with a light brushing or pulling motion.
• Round Crease Brush
This unique eyeshadow brush has a cylindrical shape that makes it absolutely perfect for applying darker eyeshadows in the crease and outer corner of the eye. It is at the exact level of firmness for both depositing and blending eyeshadow, and its size is ideal for most eye shapes.
To use: Load up the top of the brush with eyeshadow, and tap off the excess. To deposit a lot of color, use a tapping motion to apply, or use a brushing motion to get it on and move it around. The classic shape for applying would be in a V at the outer corner of the eye and then in a windshield wiper motion over the crease, though of course this totally depends on the type of makeup look you’re creating.
Tip: Use a clean crease brush as a blending brush for very delicate or dark makeup looks where a large blending brush can be too bulky.
• Pencil Brush
A pencil brush looks a little bit like a crease brush but it is smaller and more pointed. Pencil brushes don’t have a clearly defined role, but they can work in a few ways.
Because they are pointed, these makeup brushes can give a very precise application of highlighting eyeshadow. They can also be used to smoke out eyeliner or to apply a thin line of dark eyeshadow to the lower lash line.
If you have very little space above your eyelid then you might find you prefer this smaller brush for applying eyeshadow to the crease or to the outer corner of the eye. In a pinch it would also work for filling in the brows, and could probably double as a concealer or lipstick brush.
• Soft Blending Brush
A soft blending brush has a lot of uses. The primary one, of course, is to blend eyeshadows together so they look more diffused and without any harsh lines. Softer blending brushes don’t pull on shadows as much as firmer ones, so their blending effect tends to be softer but also harder to control. As a result, they work best with light and medium eyeshadows.
Soft blending brushes can also work for applying setting powder or base eyeshadow all over the eye to set concealer or eye primer. They can be used to set the under-eye area, or any other spots that are hard to reach with a larger powder brush. Lastly, it can be used to apply blush or highlighter, especially for people who have a smaller face or more delicate features.
To use: To blend with this brush, use it either when it’s clean or when it’s loaded up with a transition shade. Work it over the area you would like to blend in either small circular motions for delicate work or in a back and forth motion for intense, all-over blending.
• Firm Blending Brush
Firm blending brushes are similar to the softer ones, but their bristles tend to be a little shorter and more tightly packed. As a result, they move color around a little bit more and blend more strongly.
They are great for toning down the intensity of dark eyeshadows, and because they are packed tighter, they allow for a lot of control around edges. Like their softer counterparts, they can be used to set crevices as well as apply base colors to the lid, but just be aware that they will deposit the color more densely than their softer counterparts.
Because they are firm, they also work quite well with cream products, both for applying and for blending. This can include liquid eyeshadows as well as contour creams. This kind of brush can also work for applying medium tones to the crease, especially if you have a bit more lid space, and a regular crease brush is too small.
To use: Blend with this brush like you would with a softer blending brush, by using a softer circular motion or by moving it back and forth.
• Small Angle Brush
Small angle brushes are thin and narrow makeup brushes with an angled top. They are sometimes referred to as eyebrow brushes or angled eyeliner brushes, since they can work beautifully for both purposes.
Angle brushes work with both cream and powder products to fill in the brows, line the eyes, or for any other work that requires careful lines. You can also use them to smudge or smoke out eyeliner, much like with a pencil liner. Personally, I love using angle brushes for carving out a V at the outer corner of the eye with eyeshadow, and then using a pencil or crease brush to blend it out a bit.
To use: Angle brushes allow for a ton of control so you can use them to apply makeup in one straight line or in small strokes depending on the part of the face you’re making up and the effect you would like. You can use small strokes to mimic hairs on your brows, or use it to totally fill in the brows instead.
If you’re using an angle brush to apply eyeliner, it is better to stick to smaller strokes near the lashes and then switch to brushing on a longer line when doing the wing or the top part of the liner.
• Straight Brush
A straight eye brush is basically the same as angle brush, except without the angle. It can be used for the same purposes as an angle brush, and you may find it more comfortable to work with if your eyes are not particularly curved. Use it exactly as you would an angle brush.
• Eyeliner Brush
While small angle brushes may sometimes be referred to as an eyeliner brush, the true eyeliner brush is a small brush with only a few bristles that come together to make a pointy, fine tip. Depending on the way you apply your eyeliner, you might prefer this kind of eyeliner brush or you might prefer an angled one.
The thin eyeliner brush is ideal very precise applications of gel or powder eyeliner, since its fine tip allows for a very thin line and a sharper wing – even thinner than what you can achieve with an angle brush.
To use: Much like with an angle brush, you want to use smaller, overlapping strokes when applying eyeliner very close to the lash line. Use a smooth, single stroke when working on the wing or on the top part of the liner.
Tip: For some, an eyeliner brush with a ferrule that is slightly bent is ideal since it allows for a better angle, especially if you’re applying your eyeliner in front of a large hanging mirror.
It is not clear whether a spoolie counts as a makeup brush or not, but you still might find one on one end of your angle brush, or you might get one in a makeup kit. A spoolie is essentially a clean mascara wand, and it shouldn’t be used to apply products.
Instead, use your spoolie to brush your eyebrows after you’ve finished filling them in, or use it to comb your lashes to separate them out both before and after your mascara application.
One easy way to ensure that you’re buying a durable and long-lasting high-quality brush is to only select brushes from our list of the best makeup brushes. However, it can still be useful to know how to recognize a great brush, so here are our tips to make your shopping experience a rewarding one.
• Have a Plan
If you’re a hardcore makeup fan then you can certainly pick up one or two of each brush category, but for most of us 5-10 makeup brushes will be plenty to complete a full face.
If you don’t wear much complexion makeup but love going all out with eyeshadow then you’ll probably need around 4-5 eyeshadow brushes alone, while if you like your skin looking perfected but you tend to keep the eyes neutral then you might only need 1 or 2 shadow brushes but 4 or 5 complexion brushes.
• Softness is Key
High-quality makeup brushes are soft to the touch. When in store, you can pass and tap the brush over the inner part of your forearm to make sure you can’t feel any of the individual bristles and that it doesn’t sting or scratch your skin.
• Doesn’t Shed
Nothing is worse than examining your finished makeup in the mirror only to discover a bunch of errant hairs covering your face. It’s even worse if the hairs are somehow trapped under the powder, so you can’t just brush them away but you have to pick them off with tweezers. Just writing about this is making me oddly angry.
Avoid the anger and frustration by sticking to high-quality makeup brushes that will not shed. In store you can check for shedding by very lightly pulling on the tips of the bristles, although usually it’s only after a few washes that a brush will begin to shed, so reading reviews will also be useful here.
• No Visible Glue
Visible glue on the top or bottom of the ferrule of your brush is a sure sign that no one really cared or put much effort into crafting it. The visible glue itself is not a utility problem, but it’s an indicator that the brush went through poor quality control and that it might have other construction issues.
• Firmly Held Together
A common issue with low-quality brushes is that they fall apart. Usually, the ferrule and bristles will fall off of the handle if the brush wasn’t adequately glued down. By jiggling the ferrule a little bit you can feel how securely it was attached to the handle. If it doesn’t feel stable then you can now predict that it’ll fall apart in a few weeks or months.
• Price Isn’t Indicative
Just because a makeup brush is expensive doesn’t mean it’s well made. The reverse is true as well, with many affordable makeup brushes functioning just as well as more expensive ones. This why you always want to read reviews and check for all of the little signs, no matter the price level of the brush you’re considering.
• Read Reviews
A brush might seem soft and durable in the store but then it can become scratchy after it’s been used and cleaned a few times. Reading reviews will let you know how the quality of the makeup brush has held up over time!
A lot of the work that some of these makeup brushes do can also be done by a sponge – that is undeniable. This is especially true when it comes to more high-quality sponges like the Beauty Blender, which works for applying both cream and powder makeup products.
In a pinch, you could probably do your whole face with just one or two Beauty Blenders, but the question here is which will give you the best makeup application.
Quick refresher: high-quality makeup sponges are used damp, to give a really flawless finish to cream products and to deposit high amounts of powder products. Because they are used damp they don’t absorb too much product and they are also able to keep cream products a little moister, which keeps the skin looking more hydrated.
Personally, I don’t find sponges great for depositing product on the skin because they don’t give a lot of control. I prefer applying foundation and concealer with a brush that has a handle or even with my fingers.
I do love using the Beauty Blender afterwards to sheer out and blend the product. A buffing foundation brush could certainly give you the same seamless finish, but I love that the Beauty Blender also adds hydration and luminosity to the look.
When it comes to powders, even firmer brushes will deposit less product on the skin than a damp sponge will. Since I prefer a more luminous finish I definitely prefer applying setting powders with a soft brush, though on rainy days and when I’m feeling a little oily I will use a firm brush instead.
If you have very oily skin or you love a very matte finish, you might choose to set your foundation with a sponge. You might also find that you like to set some parts of your face with the help of the sponge, and other parts with a powder brush.
I highly recommend that you play around and try both makeup brushes and sponges for various applications, so you can find out what works best for you.
• The motions you use when applying makeup matter just as much as the makeup brush. Remember that tapping will deposit product, while brushing will move it around. Circular brushing will help blend and sheer out makeup.
• You’re allowed to use artist brushes as makeup brushes, as long as you wash them first! They don’t tend to look as elegant as traditional makeup brushes, but they can work beautifully. One of my favorite blending brushes was a super soft and very yielding squirrel hair brush that I bought at an art store, for example!
• Use the size and shape of your brush to your favor! Don’t try to apply lid eyeshadow with the fine tip of a brush and don’t try to apply a thin line of nose contour with a big blush brush. The surface of your brush should be about the same size as the surface to which you’re applying makeup.
• You can squeeze the head of your makeup brush in order to force it to conform to a particular facial feature. For example, by squeezing a powder brush into a longer and narrower shape you can use it to apply a sharper line of contour powder.
• Remember to control your pressure, and to start off gentle. Using more pressure when applying products will deposit more on your skin while using more pressure while blending will take more product off, so remember to adjust your pressure slowly and gently until you achieve the effect you want.
• Don’t throw your makeup brushes around! Because they come into contact with your face it’s important to store them somewhere clean where they’ll be safe from pets and children.
• Don’t forget to clean your makeup brushes regularly! Keep reading to learn what methods I suggest for cleaning your brushes well without damaging them or having to buy expensive brush cleaners.
• If you’ve just cleaned your makeup brushes, don’t leave them side up when they are damp or the water will get into the ferrule and loosen the glue holding the bristles together.
• If you find your hand hurts from hold brushes that are too small, pop into the office supply shop and pick up some cushioned pencil grips. They will make your brush handle more ergonomic and may even save you some lifelong issues. You can also find some cool options on Amazon.
If you have high-quality makeup brushes that you store properly and clean on the regular, then you will never have to replace them. Makeup brushes are the kind of items you can buy for life and pass down to your children, but you have to take care of them.
Additionally, cleaning your makeup brushes regularly is very important for the safety of your skin. If your brushes are overloaded with makeup (especially cream products) then they are also going to be holding a lot of bacteria. Using dirty brushes can cause skin issues not to mention that it’s also going to impact how well your brushes work.
Weekly Cleaning and Sanitizing
• If you wear makeup on a daily basis then you should wipe down and sanitize your makeup brushes at least once a week, although you might prefer to clean them up after every makeup application.
• The purpose of weekly cleaning is to sanitize the brushes and remove some makeup build-up from them.
• For weekly cleaning, a dedicated brush cleaner and sanitizer like the Cinema Secrets one from Sephora can do a wonderful job, although I’m actually quite happy with using a 99% isopropyl alcohol spray, since it dries quickly and kills most microbes.
• You can either dip your brush into your cleaner of choice and then wipe it off on a towel or paper towel, or you can spray your brush with the cleaner and then wipe it off.
Thorough Cleaning and Conditioning
• The purpose of a more thorough cleaning is to remove all traces of makeup from your brushes and to condition them. You should do this around once a month or once every two months.
• You will need a gentle shampoo and conditioner, and a running tap. You can also pick up a dedicated brush cleaning soap like this Sephora one.
• Dampen your brush under the tap.
• Put a small drop of shampoo in your palm or directly on the brush, or swirl the brush against the soap to load it up.
• Swirl the brush against your palm or against a silicone brush cleaning tool in order to work the shampoo or soap into a lather and to break down the makeup that is deep inside the brush head.
• After a few seconds of lathering and swirling, rinse the brush clean under the tap.
• Take a small drop of conditioner, and repeat the swirling and massaging motion in order to allow it to fully saturate the brush.
• Rinse the conditioner off under the tap.
• Use a soft towel to pat the brush, and then lay it down over a different towel to allow it to air dry.
• Repeat the process with all of your makeup brushes, and then allow them to air-dry for a least a few hours.
Storing Your Makeup Brushes
• When your makeup brushes are clean and dry, you can store them in a brush bag or sitting upright in a cup.
• While traveling it is probably going to be easiest to just keep your brushes in your makeup bag.
• When your makeup brushes are drying after a cleaning it’s important that they be either flat or upside down, so water doesn’t seep into the ferrule, and it’s important that they be in the air where they can dry properly.
• You can also experiment with making your own brush holder! It can be as simple as filling up a large jar or cup with beads, so that when you put your makeup brushes in they won’t move, or as elaborate as sewing a foldable bag with elastics to hold the brushes that you can hang on the wall by the mirror.
Photos via @janicejoostemaa, @laura.craffey, @ohuprettythings, @ymorbeauty, @vivaluxuryblog, @kenzas