It would be hard to put on your makeup without some good makeup brushes. Sure, in some cases and for some products you could use your fingers to dab and blend, but you’re going to need at least a few brushes for application. Shopping for a makeup brush can be overwhelming, though. There are so many brands, options, and styles. And then there’s always the question—do I really need a 20-piece set of brushes that costs hundreds of dollars? Because yes, some brushes can be pricey, too.
If you’ve ever caught yourself wondering about these things and if certain brushes are worth it, I’ve got you covered. I’ve been thinking those things too and decided to go to people who probably know about every type of brush, bristle, and brand out there—makeup artists. I asked them to help break down the different types and how to shop for the perfect brush. And I put it all into this guide for you below.
First, let’s start with shopping tips for brushing. Should you shop for them individually or buy a set? Well, it looks like a package deal is best. “If you’re just starting out, look for brushes that come in a set,” says makeup artist Renée Loiz. “This way you will get more bang for your buck. Getting the basics (powder, blush, foundation, concealer, eyeshadow, crease, lip) is really all you need. Top that off with a stellar brush cleanser and you’re good to go!”
And makeup artist Maya René suggests opting for full-size brushes rather than travel-size ones. “Although they’re cute in size and can fit in your purse, they’re just not practical,” she says. “I guarantee you the application won’t come out as flawless unless you have a teeny tiny face. However, if you come across a brush set with the full-size brush head and just a travel-size handle then that’s worth looking into. Sephora and Morphe are great places to shop to start your collection!”
Bristles and brush shapes might not be the first thing you consider when shopping for a brush, but the types you choose could make or break your makeup application. It depends on what types of makeup formulas you’ll use more often (liquid, powder, etc.) and what kind of look you are going for.
When it comes to bristles, there are natural, synthetic, and a blend of both. René says duo-fiber brushes (a blend of synthetic and natural hair) are great for buffing and blending in cream or liquid products and leave an airbrushed, seamless look. You can also use them for some powder products. Synthetic brushes are great for skincare applications and liquid or cream foundations and concealers. Natural brushes are mainly used for loose or pressed powder products. And some brushes are dense or loose. “Short dense brushes are great for contouring or applying full coverage foundations to skin with texture, whereas loose fluffy brushes are great for light applications of products,” René explains.
As for shapes, René says there’s no wrong way to use them but she gave some ways she personally uses each:
Tapered: Great for blending
Flat/Dense: Full-coverage application or creating shapes on the face (like contouring with cream products)
Fluffy/Round: Great when used for concealers, eyeshadows, blushes, highlighters, and blending out harsh lines
Fluffy Angled/Tapered: Great for bronzers and blushes, sometimes highlighters
And of course, when you’re shopping for a brush, you’re mostly going to pay attention to the types of brushes out there. And there are so many. So here’s a breakdown of the most common ones and their uses.
Normally a foundation brush is flat with wide bristles and is used to apply cream and liquid foundations, Loiz says. “The brush should be flexible and moves easily around your face when applying. [It] can also be used to apply cream or liquid blushes and bronzers,” she adds.
“A powder brush is used to apply any type of powder from loose to pressed to foundation powders,” Loiz says. “It’s usually the larger brush out of the pack and has a wider bristle shape.” And makeup artist Tobi Henney adds that it can be used to eliminate any shine on the T-zone.
The name kind of says it all—Henney says this brush is used to create more dimension to the face.
“This brush is slightly smaller than the powder brush and the bristle shape is complementary to your cheek shape,” Loiz says. “The blush brush should fit perfectly on the apples of your cheeks—where you would naturally place blush. You can also use this brush for bronzing, highlighting, or contouring.”
Henney says you can use a fan brush to add highlighter to the tops of the cheekbones. It can also be used to apply bronzer and setting powder.
This doesn’t really need an explainer because it’s another brush that’s name is self-explanatory. Loiz calls it “the little sister to the foundation brush.” She says it has a similar shape and bristle flexibility, but is smaller—all of which make it easy to apply the product uner the eyes and onto blemishes.
Henney explains that a pencil brush can be used to add highlighter to the inner eye or the brow. It also comes in handy for smudging eyeliner and eye shadow.
“The name says it all. Use this slender tapered bristle brush to get eye shadow right into your crease,” Loiz says. “When applying, start by placing the brush on the outer corner of your crease and gently blend inwards. Where you place the brush first is where the most color will be deposited.”
“This is the main brush you’ll need for eye shadow,” Loiz says. “It’s flat and a little sturdier than the crease brush because you’re tapping the color onto the eyelids instead blending and swashing the color on. Tapping with a more sturdy brush will deposit the color more evenly and show off the intensity of the color as well.”
“This can be used to smudge eyeliner or apply eyeshadow to the top and lower lash line,” Henney says.
Loiz says these brushes are most likely synthetic, which make it easier to clean when using creamy lip products. “This brush is smaller in size and the bristle shape is flat and designed to move with flexibility around the lips,” she explains.
If you’re able to care for brushes they should last you for a long time. “Cleaning your makeup brushes gets rid of product build-up, germs, and bacteria that has collected in them,” Loiz says. “It also helps preserve the ‘life’ of your brushes. If you don’t clean them regularly, the bristles will fray and start to break off. The brushes also will start to accumulate bacteria which can lead to skin irritations, acne, and infections.”
Henney recommends using the BeautyBlender BlenderCleanser Solid Pro on your brushes. “I start by running each brush from my set under some running water. Next, I lightly swipe the brush across the Blendercleanser,” she says. “The next step is to run the brush over the silicone brush cleanser tool to help remove the makeup build-up from the brush. This step is best done under running water. Continue this step until the brush is completely free of makeup product. Next, it’s best to squeeze all of the water from the brush, and lastly, lay the brush to dry on a countertop with the brush hair off the edge to help get as much air to all sides for a fast drying process.”
As for handling the brushes, Rene recommends placing your brushes in a separate bag or container to allow the brushes to maintain their original shape and reduce shedding. If you notice the hair is falling out of your brushes or the product is not coming out, then it might be time to get new ones, Loiz adds.