Makeup brushes are something you can buy for life. I still use makeup brushes that I bought 10 or 15 years ago – 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 one 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. We present the best makeup brushes ever for a full-face makeup look, also talking about some important brush elements that influence how a particular brush will function.
In this article:
- Our Picks of the Best Makeup Brushes
- What to Look for in the Best Makeup Brushes for You?
- How to Choose Quality Makeup Brushes?
Our Picks of the Best Makeup Brushes
We’ve collected the 23 best makeup brushes available on the market, from foundation brushes to eyeshadow and lip makeup brushes.
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.
What to Look for in the Best Makeup Brushes for You?
To make your selection process easier, 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 makeup 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.
How to Choose Quality Makeup Brushes?
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.
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.
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!
Photos via @janicejoostemaa, Instagram, Sephora