As much as we want to save our hard-earned coins, makeup brushes are necessary to level up your makeup game. After all, brushes do what your fingers cannot: they allow for better precision and blend.
We know how daunting it is to shop for makeup brushes, especially since there are so many different shapes and sizes available in the market.
In this article, we give you the ultimate guide in understanding and shopping for makeup brushes. Your makeup preferences are personal, so experiment with different brush types and shapes to find the perfect one for you.
Should you choose natural or synthetic bristles?
There are two types of bristles that are available for makeup brushes: natural and synthetic bristles.
Natural bristles are of animal origin, derived from the hairs of animals such as goat, blue squirrel, or sable. These fibres are obtained either as the animal sheds its hair naturally, or when the animals are brushed with a comb.
Because they are made with real animal hair, natural bristles are incredibly soft and give the most luxurious application. However, due to the difficulty of obtaining these hairs, natural bristled makeup brushes are, as a whole, more expensive than synthetic bristles.
Natural fiber brushes also tend be hand-made by craftsmen, which contributes to its higher quality and higher price tag. Shedding the bristles from wear-and-tear is also more common with these brushes.
Synthetic bristles are, as the name suggest, man-made fibres usually created from materials like nylon, polyester, and taklon. These fibres and brushes are easier and cheaper to mass-produce, and are especially loved by people who want vegan or non-animal makeup products.
The feel of synthetic bristles on the skin may be more scratchy than natural fibres but there are exceptions to this rule (you may even need to pay premium prices for brands like Artis Brush which we reviewed here).
The major difference between natural and synthetic fibers is the characteristics of the bristle. Much like human hair, natural bristles have cuticles. Synthetic fibres have no cuticles and are completely smooth.
These cuticles may trap and absorb the cream/liquid molecules and affect the overall blending of your makeup. On the flip side, the cuticles help pick up or deposit excess powder and create a smooth blend.
As you may expect, the consensus is that natural-bristled brushes are superior for powder products, while synthetic bristles are better for cream and liquid products.
Because of this difference, natural fibers need more care and attention when you’re washing them as compared to synthetic fibers. We will teach you appropriate techniques to clean your brushes later in this article.
Finally, there is amalgamation between the two bristle types: duo fiber brushes. These brushes contain both natural and synthetic fibers, and generally tout greater application and blendability as it seems to combine the best of both worlds. One picks up the product better, while the other blends.
The density of a brush matters
Another point to consider when searching for your next makeup brush is the density of the bristles.
Density refers to how much bristles your brush contains and how tightly packed these bristles are. Generally, brushes with greater density pick up more product, which can make for quicker application, especially if you prefer a heavier coverage.
This also means that a denser brush would trap more product inside the bristles, such as cream and liquid foundations, which means you might tend to use up more product in the long run and need while also washing the brushes with greater attention.
Does higher price really mean higher quality?
We often have this conception that you get the quality you pay for. That is, the more expensive a product, the better quality it would be. This might not always be true for makeup brushes!
Luxury brushes, as mentioned above, are generally made of natural animal fibers and are hand-crafted and designed. You pay for the brand, the craftsmanship, and the experience. Many luxury makeup brush brands tend to be Japanese or have Japanese craftsmanship, attesting to the high quality of their products.
Mid-tier brands are more affordable and generally have selections that are made with natural and or synthetic fibers. These brands include 13rushes (a Singaporean brand!), M.A.C., Sephora Collection, Sigma, and Zoeva.
Finally, low-end brands are good for students or people who are just starting out with makeup and are not sure of their needs. They allow one to experiment with different shapes and density, and are almost exclusively made of synthetic fibers. Brands include Eco Tools, Innisfree, Morphe, Real Techniques, and Wet N’ Wild.
If all else fails, you can always invest in a makeup brush set first. They contain a variety of face and eye brushes and are usually great bang for your buck. Some of the brush sets readily available on Sephora can be seen here.
How to clean and store brushes
Before deciding to invest in makeup brushes, you need to know the steps of cleaning and storing them properly so that they’ll last the longest time possible. It is generally recommended to clean your makeup brushes at least once a week.
Not only is regular cleaning more hygienic for your skin, helping to prevent breakouts caused by bacterial accumulation on your brushes, cleaning also ensures that the bristles are healthy and can prolong its longevity.
These are some tips on how to clean your brushes:
- You can use soaps specially formulated for brush cleaning, or even just baby soap or shampoo. The soap should be gentle to protect the bristle integrity yet effective enough in removing makeup.
- Mix a small amount of olive oil (approximately a pea-sized drop) into the soap used. The oil will help to break down the makeup so it can be removed easily. The oil also helps to condition the bristles so that they do not dry up and break apart (especially important for natural bristles).
- Use a brush cleaning mat, like the Sigma Spa Express Brush Cleaning Glove. They feature ridges which help provide extra friction to remove any stubborn makeup left on the brushes.
- Warm (but not hot) water can be helpful in loosening stubborn makeup.
- If you are really pressed for time, use instant brush cleaners like IT Cosmetics It’s Your Brush Love. They are effective, quick, and dries instantaneously but they should not replace regular washing with soap and water.
- Make sure that water does not get into the barrel of the brush (the metal casing), as it will weaken the glue that holds the bristles together. Run water down the brush barrel and never upwards.
- Dry the brushes with the bristles angled downwards or flat on the table. Never dry them with the bristles pointing upwards as the water can seep into the barrel and damage the glue.
- Invest in brush guards – they are slipped over the bristles while drying so that the shape off the brush is kept intact. You can also use them to protect your brushes if you’re popping them into your makeup pouch for the day or for an overseas trip!
- After cleaning, clean the brush handle with rubbing alcohol to ensure maximum cleanliness.
How we have structured this guide
There are many different types of makeup brushes for different parts of the face. We have broken them down into three large categories – Face, Eyes, and Lips.
Face includes foundation, concealer, and coloured face brushes (i.e. for blush, bronzer, contour, and highlight), and powder brushes. The eye category is broken into three: blending and packing, eyeliner, and eyebrows. Lastly, the lip brushes aid you to get the sharpest and cleanest lip lines.
Of course, these brushes can be used interchangeably. You will notice how similar shapes are repeated in different categories in different sizes and they can definitely be used for the same functions. For example, a blush brush can be used to apply powder foundation, and a small eyeshadow brush can be used to liner the eyes and the lips.
Beauty sponges can be used to blend foundation, concealer, cream blushers, bronzer, contour, highlighter, and can even set your makeup when dabbed in setting powder. To make sure this is a comprehensive guide, other miscellaneous beauty complements like sponges, like the BeautyBlender, will be included as well.
As a final note: please do not feel the need to get every brush in each category. Get what you need based on your regular makeup habits and your budget!
1. Foundation brushes
Foundation brushes, including beauty sponges, aid you to create a flawless, airbrushed base so that your makeup look can stand out.
Consider using natural bristles for powder foundation and synthetic bristles for liquids and creams. Do note that using brushes to apply foundation might leave brush streaks, but these can be easily blended away with a beauty sponge or with circular buffing motions.
Paddle foundation brush
This brush is shaped like a paddle, which allows you to paint on your foundation. This brush shape helps to provide the maximum coverage that your foundation can offer, but it might be difficult to buff and blend the foundation into your skin due to its flat and dense shape.
Dual-ended foundation brush
This Tarte dual-ended brush showcases the classic shapes of foundation brushes. Both sides have the same function, but the angled end might make it easier for you to get a seamless blend in the nooks and crannies of your face, such as the area around your nose and around the eye sockets.
Use both stippling (patting or dabbing) and buffing motions to apply and blend foundation into the skin.
Kabuki foundation brush
This large kabuki brush is made of the same material as the Tarte brush above, except that is larger and can blend a larger surface area at a time. It speeds up your work, but the large surface area means you may not be able to perfectly blend the contours of your face.
This densely packed brush is best suited for powder foundations, but you can also use it for body highlighter like Rihanna. Work this brush in a buffing action for more perfect results every time.
Fluffy powder foundation brush
This brush is used mainly for powders, and its soft shape allows to you buff any mineral or powder foundation into the skin so that it looks natural and airbrushed.
Beauty sponges can be used either wet or dry. Real Techniques advises users to use their sponge dry for fuller coverage, and wet for more natural coverage.
Whichever way you choose to employ, do note that beauty sponges tend to absorb foundation and you will have to use more product than usual. Nevertheless, the beautiful finish sponges can give is unparalleled and sponge devotees (like us) swear by it.
Use stippling motions to pack and blend foundation.
2. Concealer brushes
Because you’re typically only applying concealer on smaller areas of your face, and these can be at harder to reach places like around the nose or if you’re spot-concealing pimples, concealer brushes tend to be smaller and allow for more precise application.
Dome-shaped concealer brush
This brush is retractable so bringing it around with you is a breeze. Blend concealer and any cream products with a stippling and buffing motion.
Paddle concealer brush
This flat concealer brush allows you to stipple concealer on to targeted areas. You can use the brush to carve out a spotlight/halo on your eyelids or to do a cut-crease eyeshadow look with concealer as well.
Angled concealer brush
Similar to the previous brush, this angled concealer brush provides precision. The brush has an added benefit in that it is able to blend out concealer edges, especially important when concealing blemishes.
Rounded (dual-ended) concealer brush
It does everything that the Kat Von D brush above can do. With this brush shape, you can use both stippling and buffing motions.
Triangular concealer brush
Making waves for its unique shape, this triangular Sigma brush allows you to precisely reach into the inner tear duct area and around the nostrils for perfect blending.
Face colour brushes
Similar to foundation brushes, the general rule of thumb applies where you’d typically choose synthetic bristles if you use predominantly cream or liquid products for the rest of your face colour, or natural bristles if you like powders.
This is not a hard-and-fast rule, especially since there are now a ton of natural or synthetic brushes out there being marketed for a well-rounded performance, so don’t be afraid to try something out of the norm.
These face colour brushes may be named for a certain function, like a blush brush, but they can actually be used interchangeably if you so wish. A blush brush can be used to apply bronzer or contour, and vice versa!
This shape allows you to pinpoint the area that you want to apply the product and buff them into natural perfection. A denser brush would pick and deposit greater pigmentation.
A smaller version of the previous brush, its size provides greater precision.
The tip of this oval-shaped brush can be used for targeted application while its sides gently blend the product into the skin. The oval-shape also means that the bristles are less dense and would give a softer finish.
The shape and size of this brush allows you to diffuse powder bronzer over large areas of your forehead, temples, and cheekbones.
Used for powder products, this Kat Von D brush has two ends. The slanted edge can be used to carve out a defined contour line on the cheekbones and jawline, while the oval side blends them out.
The smaller oval shape on this brush allows for more precision application and blending.
The flat shape is more suited for liquid or cream formulas of contour, highlighter, or concealer products. The shape allows you to draw a precise contour line that reduces excessive roundness of your face, showcasing your supermodel angles.
Cut with a steeper angle than the Kat Von D brush, the slant provides more hug and angles to your cheekbones and jawline.
Another portable brush from Fenty Beauty, use this brush to sweep and blend highlighter to make those cheekbones pop.
This tulip-shaped brush allows you to place the highlighter at the exact spot before blending it out.
Same as the previous brush, the shorter bristles of this Sigma brush is less malleable and allow you to blend the highlighter in a more concentrated manner.
This brush sports an unconventional design that will hug your cheekbones, applying highlighter like a dream.
A fan brush allows you to blend the highlighter in a soft and gentle manner. You can use the fan brush to contour as well.
4. Powder brushes
These four brushes all do the same thing. They pick up powder, lay them gently onto your skin, and buffs them perfectly in. The only real difference you need to decide between is their shape and density.
A pointed tip gives precision, while a denser brush allows you to pack more product (like powder foundation) and buff them out in less time.
DV Tip: Use a powder brush to lightly dust over your entire face as the last step of your makeup routine to ensure that everything is seamlessly blended.
5. Eye shadow brushes
Eye shadow brushes focus mainly on blending and diffusing because these are critical to create any seamless and perfect eyeshadow looks. Another type of eyeshadows are for packing on colours, shimmers, glitters, or be used to cut creases.
A cult favourite, the M.A.C. 217 brush is renowned for it blending ability. M.A.C. has also recently revamped all their brushes to use only synthetic fibers.
This small Sigma brush is especially useful for detailed blending of a small area on the eyelid, or for people who have less eyelid space.
The fine point of the brush allows you to blend precisely while build the colour of your transition and crease shades.
Similar to the Sigma E25 brush, this small brush helps with detailed blending. The shape slightly varies and is more dense and stiff as compared to the E25.
A classic eyeshadow blending brush shape, this Zoeva 227 brush can be easily used to both pack and blend. In fact, a staple brush like this can be easily used on its own to create a full eyeshadow look.
Besides precise blending, this minute eyeshadow blush can help pack and smudge colours on the lower lash line.
The slant on this brush will help it fit precisely into the contours of the eye crease and contour for perfect blending.
This brush can be used to pack on eyeshadows like glitter and shimmers, or do a cut-crease with concealer.
Canadian YouTuber Christine, also know as SimplyNailogical, loves using these foam applicators to pack on shimmers and glitters.
6. Eyeliner brushes
Eyeliner brushes fall into two categories. One category has a fine, sharp tip which allows you to create a sharp line with gel eyeliners or eyeshadows. The other allows you to smudge the eyeliner to create a diffused and smoky look.
This Studio 10 brush showcases both eyeliner brush categories perfectly. The angled side for sharp lining while the rounded edge to smudge and diffuse the line.
This popular Sephora eyeliner brush showcases an ultra fine tip to create the thinnest line possible. The angling of the bristles also helps you get as close to the lash line as ergonomically possible. Most eyeliner brushes are not angled, so if you love this one, you’ll be a loyal fan for a long time.
7. Eyebrow brushes
A sharp and fine brush tip is necessary to create hair-like strokes for a natural looking brow. A spoolie is equally important to help blend out these strokes so it does not look too harsh and drawn. The brush tip should be a nice middle ground between being too stiff and too malleable,
Most eyebrow brushes have the brush and spoolie sold separately, but this Benefit eyebrow brush combines them in one product for your convenience.
8. Lip brushes
Lip brushes are generally found in a shape like a rice grain. The minute and fine size of the brush allows you to create sharp and crisp lines with your favourite lipsticks.
You can also use them to apply concealer or foundation around the lips to create a crisp line as well.
We felt that these miscellaneous beauty application products were worthy of mentioning as they could prove to be necessary in perfecting your makeup game.
Tweezers can be used to get rid of excess hairs on your face or to place false eyelashes nicely onto the lash line. Another variation of the tweezers shown has a pointed tip.
Curling your eyelashes gives them a necessary lift so that mascara would more be effective and the false eyelashes would blend in more seamlessly with your natural lashes.
Find an eyelash curler that fits your eye width and shape properly or it might be uncomfortable to use – they may even pinch you! Shu Uemura has eyelash curlers that are cult status, especially for Asian beauty junkies with a more shallow eye depth than other ethnicities.
A pencil sharpener is not just for students. A well-sharpened lip liner or eyeliner pencil will make them work more effectively and efficiently for you.
Powder puffs helps you pack and blend powder onto your face. Makeup artists also use them as a shield to prevent their hands from touching the client’s face.
The spoolie can help you brush out clumpy eyelashes or to make your brows look more natural. The scissors can be used to trim your brows or cut your false eyelashes to the correct length.