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There’s just something about the tactile nature of applying makeup with your fingers — it feels intrinsic, even foolproof. Meanwhile, grabbing a makeup brush to accomplish the same tasks can feel like more of an undertaking. But just ask almost any professional makeup artist how they feel about makeup brushes and you’re likely to hear a ballad of love.
“As a makeup artist, brushes really are my most treasured tools,” says professional makeup artist and founder of Westman Atelier, Gucci Westman. “They are extensions of my hands; they elevate everything I do for my clients.
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Simply put, the best makeup brushes achieve things mere fingers cannot. “The right brush can disperse product more evenly and smoothly across the skin,” says Westman. “A great brush can also make certain makeup applications that might feel intimidating super easy.”
The Different Types of Makeup Brushes
The general brush types are made with synthetic hair, natural hair (made of animal hair — often from goats, boars, and squirrels), as well as a combination of the two. Other brushes come with silicone tips and sponges.
“These days, most makeup brushes are synthetic hair,” says Jenn Streicher, professional makeup artist, founder of the new curiosities shop Scout and co-founder of LA beauty studio STRIIIKE. “But that’s only in the last 10 years. Real animal hair has been used a lot in the past, but we’ve become much more conscious.” And with huge advancements in technology, faux bristles have become unbelievably soft, nearly indestructible and even antimicrobial.
Not only are synthetic makeup brushes more humane, but they also tend to just work better. “They absorb less product and work really well for both cream and powder products,” says celebrity makeup artist Patrick Ta and co-founder of Patrick Ta Beauty. He prefers to use synthetic brushes for all his makeup applications.
Beyond the makeup brush material, there’s a vast world of brush types built for every task — from laying on foundation to blending and contouring. According to Sébastien Tardif, makeup artist and co-founder of Veil Cosmetics, makeup brushes fall into 14 categories.
Foundation brush: Has flat, dense bristles for more coverage or a fluffy tip for a more airbrush-like finish.
Concealer brush: Includes small, flat, and compact bristles with squared-off or rounded tips, but can also come in a fluffy, medium-density for a more airbrushed application.
Powder brush: Has big, medium fluffy rounded tips that are usually designed for face powder.
Blusher brush: Usually an oblong shape with medium density.
Bronzer brush: Offers round, condensed, flat tip meant for either cream or powder formulas.
Buffer brush: A medium to very dense bristle brush with a fluffy rounded tip. “It’s a versatile option that can blend your contour/blush, remove excess skincare/foundation/powder, and help blend edges of your foundation into your hair, ears and neck area,” says Tardif.
Contour brush: A medium to tight bristle brush, usually with a side angle to sculpt the cheek and jawline.
Kabuki brush: Compact powder brush with a fluffy or flat tip (depending on the need) and usually with a short handle, aka stem.
Eyeshadow brush: Comes in a variety of sizes, from medium-soft blending brushes to those featuring small, compact and rounded tips for stamping.
Eyeliner brush: A flat-tipped brush that can be rounded, pointed or squared off–depending on the line preference.
Smudge brush: Includes a small, very condensed rounded tip for extra blending of eyeliner.
Lip brush: Has a flat, rounded, or squared-off tip to apply, clean up or blend lip products.
Fan brush: A fan-shaped brush that’s perfect for removal of extra powder under the eyes or removing eyeshadow fallout, but can also be used to apply highlighter/shimmer.
Eyebrow brush: Offers small, stiff bristles with a flat and thin profile (with or without angle) that are designed to apply hair-like strokes of product into brows.
How to Find the Best Makeup Brushes for Your Needs
Feeling overwhelmed with options? “To determine what makeup brushes you need, you first have to determine what makeup you use the most,” says makeup artist Streicher says. If you prefer powder eyeshadows, she recommends investing in a variety of eyeshadow makeup brushes, or if you find yourself with a variety of foundations, a beautiful foundation makeup brush for seamless, polished coverage may be ideal.
Also, the bristles themselves are vital for accomplishing a task. “If you’re going to use something for blending, then you’re better off with a fluffier type of brush, but if you’re looking for something to add more coverage, then a flat type of brush surface is best,” says Tardif.
The world is your makeup-covered oyster, but there are a few types of brushes the experts love using in their kits. Ta always recommends fluffy, tapered brushes because of their ease of use and versatility. “They really help to make sure that product is evenly distributed and harsh lines are diffused,” says Ta. For eyeshadow, a small fluffy brush is a great starting point, says Tardif, because you can tap on eyeshadow, blend it out, smudge, etc.
Troi Ollivierre, co-founder of lash brand LoveSeen, adds that it’s also okay to opt for makeup brushes that have multiple uses, since “finding the right brush is a preference and takes practice,” he says.
And rather than reaching for the $1 option from the beauty supply store, Westman notes that it’s important to invest in high-quality makeup brushes, as these “game-changing” versions, she says, will better apply makeup and last you longer.
Now that you’ve learned everything you’ve ever wanted to know about makeup brushes, it’s time to go shopping. Below, find the 21 best makeup brushes for every type of makeup look you want to accomplish.
1. Spectrum x KJH 25-Piece Makeup Brush Set
Best Professional Makeup Brushes Kit
The collaboration between UK-based Spectrum and Lancashire-born but now NYC-based makeup artist Katie Jane Hughes took a year and a half to perfect — and the results are nothing short of magic. The most important aspect for Hughes to nail was the texture of the bristles: “They’re so soft. It’s a nice touch, because some brushes can be scratchy and actually ruin your makeup as you’re putting it on if they’re too rough,” says Hughes.
The $230 price tag on this 25-piece set may give you a bit of sticker shock, but when you actually do the math, you’re paying about $9 per brush. The brush set also comes with an upright (vegan leather) storage pouch to keep brushes pristine, as well as a microfiber towel to buff off excess product between applications. Complete with everything from fluffy concealer brushes to precision liner brushes, this kit is just what you need to channel your inner professional makeup artist.
2. Sigma Beauty Basic Eye Brush Kit
Best Eye Makeup Brushes Kit
Created in 2009 by a molecular bacteriologist and a civil engineer, Sigma Beauty celebrates the science of makeup. This is evident even in the brand’s makeup brushes, which are made from patented fibers that are antimicrobial, hypoallergenic and minimize product absorption for a flawless blending experience. And in the short 12 years of being in business, the brand has already been awarded more than 60 patents worldwide on their beauty inventions. It’s one of the best makeup brush sets for effortlessly applying brow gel, eyeliners, and shadows too.
3. Westman Atelier Blender Brush
Best Blush Brush
Handmade in Kumano, Japan by the oldest brush makers in the world, this Westman Atelier blender brush features cruelty-free nylon bristles for perfect product pickup and flawless, foolproof application. This blender brush couldn’t be easier to use and every detail is thoughtful. For example, it features a smaller handle, which Westman prefers as it makes the brush feel more like an extension of her hand. It’s ideal for applying blush, particularly Westman’s best-selling Super Loaded Tinted Highlighter, which acts as a blush/highlighter/bronzer in one swoop. However, reviewers sing the makeup brush’s praises for flawless foundation application, too.
4. Monika Blunder Hybrid Cream Brush
Best Do-Everything Makeup Brush
The professional makeup artist’s eponymous brand is known for its sensitive, clean formulations and Austrian influences (such as the inclusion of edelweiss as a key botanical ingredient and German product names). But as magical as Monika Blunder’s Cover foundation is, her Cream brush might just be the brand’s real secret weapon. Created from synthetic fibers, the makeup brush is perfect for applying foundation, concealer, cream blush and even bronzers. And, due to the brush’s small shape and texture, you can blend, layer and buff flawlessly every time.
5. MAC 170 Synthetic Rounded Slant Makeup Brush
Best Foundation Blending Brush
MAC was one of the first brands to launch brushes specifically for makeup application (before, makeup aficionados had to head to the art store and grab paintbrushes). The brand’s 170 synthetic rounded slant brush is one of its global best-selling makeup brushes and is ideal for applying, buffing and blending any type of foundation. As the brush name says, the rounded slant shape is key — the size, paired with the dense, velvety soft fibers, provides maximum coverage (without a cakey or uneven finish).
6. Trinny London T-Kit 3-in-1 Makeup Brush Set
Best Travel Makeup Brush
British-based brand Trinny London specializes in cream-based stackable makeup and skincare, so it’s no wonder the label’s first foray into makeup brushes is a 3-in-1 stackable and portable system. A lip brush, liner and eyeshadow brush in one slim wand, the T-Kit is a no-brainer for streamlining your makeup bag on the go. Featuring cruelty-free synthetic fibers, these makeup brushes are not only a breeze to use but are fast-drying after a cleaning — making them the perfect travel companion.
7. Patrick Ta Contour Brush
Best Contour Brush
Famed makeup artist Patrick Ta may be a tad bit biased, but his favorite makeup brush right now is his new Patrick Ta Contour brush. “The unique shape of it really allows for the most seamless product application to all areas of the cheek,” says Ta. The synthetic fiber brush is designed to seamlessly blend both cream and powder formulas, and the tapered bristles create a soft, blended look with no obvious makeup lines. One reviewer said, “This brush makes an amateur look like a pro. I love the preciseness and the easy application with the brush.”
8. Anastasia Beverly Hills Dual-Ended Angled Eyebrow Brush 7B
Best Brow Brush
Unsurprisingly, all of Anastasia Beverly Hills’ top-selling brushes are for brows — the hallmark category that brow guru Anastasia Soare made into a modern-day beauty craze. This 7B brush is beloved for its ability to precisely apply powder or gel on brows with the tapered, angled end of the brush, and then comb through even the most unruliest of hairs with the spoolie end. The lush, synthetic fibers on the dual-end brush are perfect for shaping and blending to create a more natural brow look.
9. Morphe M173 Chubby Buffer Concealer Brush
Best Concealer Brush
Morphe has a cult-following for its affordable, yet professional-quality offerings. And one of its best-selling makeup brushes to date is this short, dense synthetic fiber concealer brush. The rounded tip can bend into any nook or corner, making blending or buffing around the eyes, nose and lips a breeze.
“I love a small flat concealer brush with a rounded tip, because I can use it not only for concealer, but for spot concealing (both blemishes and sun spots),” says Tardif. “It’s also great for detail work on the face with foundation, and I can use it to apply lipstick.”
10. Roen Everything Eye Brush
Best Eyeshadow Brush
Founded in 2019, Roen is inspired by professional makeup artists but designed to be used and enjoyed by everyone. The brand’s richly pigmented and ethical-sourced eyeshadows work perfectly with this easy-to-use vegan and cruelty-free eye brush. Smudge, blend and line to your heart’s content with the dome-shaped makeup brush, which allows for both precision and blending of edges to offer what the brand describes as a “combination of ultimate control and softness.”
11. Sephora Collection Pro Foundation Brush #56
Best Airbrushed Foundation Brush
With over a thousand glowing reviews, the Sephora Collection foundation brush has been deemed by customers as one of the best makeup brushes for foundation. Together, its domed shape and densely-packed, soft bristles can help create a nearly airbrushed application. The vegan, synthetic brush is also beloved because it’s so versatile, able to be used with everything from powder to liquid and BB cream for medium to full coverage. One Sephora reviewer said, “I use liquid foundation, and have found I use less product. This brush applies it so evenly and smoothly that it truly looks airbrushed.”
12. Guide Beauty Eyeliner Duo
Best Innovative Eyeliner Brush
Achieving the perfect cat-eye is no easy task, especially if you lack steady hands. That’s what former veteran makeup artist and beauty educator Terri Bryant discovered after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease — and ultimately led her to create Guide Beauty. Founded just last year, the brand is focused on a new breed of patent-pending beauty tools designed to put an end to uneven eyeliner and messy mascara splotches (as well as blotchy brows thanks to the brand’s special brow tool). Created with input from makeup users, industrial designers and ergonomic experts, the Eyeliner Duo makes any type of eyeliner application a breeze to accomplish. Instead of being an actual brush, the Wand features a soft, flexible precision tip applicator that’s easy to smoothly glide over eyelids for foolproof results.
13. Real Techniques Everyday Essential Kit
Best Budget Makeup Brushes
Real Techniques has been serving up quality tools at budget-friendly prices since 2011, and this Everyday Essential kit is one of its all-time bestsellers (and perfect for beginners). You’ve got everything you could need for a quick look, including a Blush Brush, Miracle Complexion Sponge, Deluxe Crease Brush, Setting Brush, and Expert Face Brush — all for under $20. The synthetic bristles are ultra-plush, so you can blend like a pro even if you are just starting on your makeup journey.
14. Make Up For Ever 242 Large Blender Brush
Best Eyeshadow Blending Brush
Makeup artist Ollivierre says this large eyeshadow blending brush is one of the best makeup brushes you can buy. “It’s amazingly soft on the eye, and the shape is the ultimate for blending,” says Ollivierre. It’s soft, long fibers can be used with any type of eyeshadow, be it a cream or powder.
The brush took Make Up For Ever five years to develop, and, along with the other 75 makeup brush styles from the brand, has gone through 25 production stages by 30 craftsmen and has been checked for quality 50 times. So, yeah, the brush will last you a good while.
One enthusiastic Sephora user explains 242’s brilliance best: “I have blending brushes from Zoeva, Sephora, MAC, and Sigma…Decided to give this baby a try, and Holy crap! I was shooketh. So soft, and blends beautifully.”
15. Chanel Dual-Ended Lip Brush
Best Lip Brush
Instead of simply swiping on lipstick or gloss, professional makeup artists often use lip brushes to apply color and achieve the perfect pout. This Chanel brush will help you up your lip game with its angled tip for precisely outlining lips, and a flat side to color in lips quickly and easily. One Chanel user said the product made accurate lip lining a cinch, which is an impressive task, particularly for those of us that have spent minutes (if not longer) correcting wayward lipstick in the mirror. Plus, it’s convenient to have on the go; you can even re-load lipstick onto each side of the brush, put the included end caps on and reapply anywhere.
16. Hourglass Ambient Lighting Edit Brush
Best Highlighter Makeup Brush
Two heads are better than one, and the same logic applies to this two-headed, multi-tasking brush. It’s designed to be used with everything from powder to creams to liquid formulas and blend in bronzer, blush, and highlighter and more. The round-shaped end is particularly convenient for coloring temples and cheek hollows, while the tapered side works beautifully for more precise applications, like with blush and highlighter.
And as with all things Hourglass creates, this makeup brush is entirely vegan and cruelty-free. The brand even donates a percentage of its annual profits to the Nonhuman Rights Project, a U.S.-based organization that works to secure fundamental rights for animals.
17. IT Brushes Love Beauty Fully Essential Kabuki Brush #207
Best Kabuki Brush
A kabuki brush is a brilliant way to buff on foundation, bronzers and powders, and if you select a rounder brush, you can achieve an airbrushed look rather effortlessly. The fluffy, soft (synthetic) hairs on this IT kabuki brush make it fantastic for seamlessly blending both loose and pressed powders, bronzers and highlighters. And the short, weighted handle makes it simple to grasp onto for easy control and maneuvering.
18. Fenty Beauty Precise Definition Eyeshadow Brush 220
Best Smudge Brush
It’s said that this unusual tapered-tip brush was created after Rihanna’s favorite smudge brush was flattened in her makeup bag — and she loved the new iteration even more. The ultra-soft tapered point delivers intense eyeshadow payoff, without all the messy fallout. Not only can you use this Fenty Beauty brush with powders, but its vegan bristles also hold enough shape to define your lash line and diffuse eyeliners for an instant smokey eye. Additionally, the 220 also works overtime can be used for highlighting wherever you so desire.
19. Clé de Peau Beauté Concealer Brush
Best Luxe Concealer Brush
Founded in Japan in 1982, Clé de Peau Beauté remains a pioneer in skincare with its patented Skin Intelligence technology (the brand’s name literally translates to “the key to skin’s beauty” in French) — but don’t forget about its celebrated makeup products and tools, too. The former are packed with skin-loving ingredients, while the makeup brushes blend like a dream. The concealer brush is made from silky smooth synthetic fibers and created by brush artisans from Kumano, Japan for an ultra-luxurious feel and finish.
20. Cozzette Beauty P375 Stylist Eyeliner Brush
Best Eyeliner Brush
Are you looking to up your eyeliner game? Grab this ultra-thin brush that the pros like Danessa Myricks use to nail everything from a delicate liner to a graphic Twiggy-inspired look. The bristles are made of vegan, synthetic fibers and the handles are crafted from sustainable wood.
“We all need a very fine-tipped eyeliner brush, which is great for more of a liquid lash line finish or precision line application along the lashes,” says Tardif.
21. Wayne Goss Edit Brush 03
Best Powder Brush
Speaking of Danessa Myricks, the professional makeup artist and beauty brand founder knows her way around a makeup kit. So when she raves about particular makeup brushes, you know they’re good. “The wizardry of [makeup artist and YouTube sensation] Wayne Goss is clearly evident in the mastery of his brush collection,” says Myricks. Handmade by master artisans in Kumano, Japan, the calligraphy-inspired brushes are made for those with super sensitive and oft-irritated skin (although they’re not vegan, as they’re made with goat hair.)
Myricks uses the brand’s 06 brush for powder application. “It applies powder evenly and effortlessly to those hard to reach places, like under the eye, the inner corners of the eye, the base of the nose and rounded areas, like around the cheek and along the hairline.”
How to Store Makeup Brushes
You’ve invested money and time into finding your dream makeup brushes, so you’d like to put them on display on your vanity and show them off, right? Wrong (sorry). “I store my brushes upright in a travel-friendly pouch with a top, so they stay dirt-free,” says Ta. Dust isn’t the only issue with storing your makeup brushes out in the open — the soft bristles can also pick up bacteria and pollution in the air. It’s best to store brushes in a breathable pouch so they remain perfectly clean.
How to Clean Makeup Brushes
First and foremost, wash your brushes and any accompanying storage containers (both inside and outside) on a weekly basis. Both Ta and Streicher use Parian Spirit’s Brush Cleaner. “It’s super effective, quick and has a nice orange fragrance,” says Streicher. However, most experts suggest simply using a gentle cleansing face soap or ultra-gentle dish soap. Bonus points if you spritz rubbing alcohol on the bristles, which Ollivierre says he always finishes with after a gentle cleanse.
Also, keep in mind the water temperature when washing your brushes. Although you might be tempted to use to turn the dial on an ultra-hot setting, this can actually damage your brushes. Instead, aim for lukewarm water. “Hot water will destroy the adhesive/glue over time that holds the hair, and cold water will not properly clean your stubborn pigments,” says Tardif. He suggests rinsing the brush tip first under lukewarm water, placing a small amount of soap in the palm of your hand, twirling and foaming the brush and then rising until the water flows clear. Then, squeeze off the excess water and dry the makeup brush on a flat surface while the bristles are combed into their original shape.
“Do not leave to dry standing up in a cup holder as the water will seep into the ferrule and in the long term ruin the adhesive that holds the bristles together,” says Tardif.