Anyone who has had their makeup done by a professional makeup artist knows that their tool kits can be pretty intimidating — they have more brushes at their disposal than a Sephora stocks. So it’s easy to assume that some of the tools out there are best left in the hands of trained professionals.
But using the right tools really can make a difference, even in the hands of amateurs, and can help anyone get a polished look that makes the most of both their features AND their fave products.
So, we’ve narrowed it down to the eight must-have brushes you’ll find yourself using again and again. (Trust us — it’ll help you avoid wasting time and money on brushes bound for the “I don’t even remember what that’s for” pile.)
The best thing? Using the right tools not only makes our makeup look better, it means we don’t waste product. And as celebrity makeup artist Julianne Kaye points out, using the right tools can make even the most inexpensive products look like a million bucks! “We spend all this money on our makeup and then so many women scrimp on the brushes. I work with mass brands, like Maybelline, and I know they come with the little sponge applicators, but when I use my brushes, the makeup looks just as good as Laura Mercier would look.”
And always remember that brush maintenance is key, particularly when using brushes made with natural fibers. “Brushes can last a really long time if you take good care of them,” says Kaye. “Give them a nice wash with shampoo and leave them out to dry — do it once a week. They’re going to last longer and you’re going to get better makeup application that way.”
1. Foundation brush
Using a foundation brush is one of the best ways to get a flawless, professional-looking finish. A brush allows you to apply a light, even coat that’s always streak-free, and then blend it into the skin for a barely-there look. “This is a really good brush for buffing the foundation into the skin so it’s seamless — and if you have rough skin, this brush is great for getting into those areas. If you’re using your fingers you’re really just gliding over the skin,” says Kaye.
Try: A brush with synthetic bristles such as Eco Tools Bamboo Foundation Brush ($5.99, ecotools.com).
2. Powder brush
This brush is perfect for the application of powder foundations, such as mineral makeup, or for that final touch of translucent powder to set a makeup look. “All of my powder brushes are really soft, because you are putting this on your entire face. And some of the synthetic fibers I find are a little rough on your skin,” says Kaye, whereas softer natural fibers offer a smoother finish. Kaye says that application technique is important, too. “I know it takes a little more time, but those circular motions of buffing really make a difference — if you just blob it on you can get a really streaky finish.”
Try: A long, dome-shaped brush is great for precise application of loose setting powder or mineral foundations. We love the Nars Loose Powder Brush ($50, narscosmetics.com).
3. Concealer brush
Some concealers come in a self-applying stick or pen, so this brush is one that many people skip — but that can be a mistake, according to the pros. “I am such a big fan — the concealer brush is like my best friend,” says Kaye. “They can get into those areas that your fingers can’t get into and blend. Especially if you’re a little older and your skin is a little crepe-y around the eye area, in those inner corners, a concealer brush is really going to get product evenly smoothed out.” Kay also uses concealer brushes around the nose, and one of her tricks for killer brows is to smooth the brush, with just a little product on it, above and below the eyebrows. “If you just trace along the edge under the brow bone and above the eyebrow with the concealer brush you get that perfect edge to your brows — you can only achieve that with a brush.”
Try: A small, synthetic brush with slightly stiff bristles and a tapered end (so that it can access all areas and disguise problems such as blemishes or under-eye circles) such as this Make Up For Ever 6N Brush ($25, sephora.com).
4. Blush brush
One brush you should never be without is a blush brush. “The softer the brush, the more delicate the application is going to be. The more dense the brush is, the more color you’re going to get,” says Kaye. “Obviously when it comes to blush you’re better off building the color you want than just plopping a bunch of color down.” Many blush brushes have a slight angle, which follows the natural contour of the cheekbones and helps to ensure you put the right amount in just the right place.
Try: We love the Sephora Classic Blush Brush #40 ($28, sephora.com) — perfect for applying a pop of your favorite blush shade for those supermodel-esque cheekbones — and it’s also great for contouring and shading. “The particular thing I like about this brush — this is a staple of makeup artists — is that you have the ability to swirl around the cheek and get a nice pop of color, but then you can flip it and use that harder angle to go up to the temple and create more of a carved-out cheek,” says Kaye.
5. Eye shadow brush
This simple brush is ideal for applying a powder eye shadow smoothly and evenly over the entire eyelid. Never again use the plastic and foam applicators that come packaged with many eye shadow colors. (Seriously, never!) Look for a brush with flat, rounded bristles, and for this brush in particular, the pros recommend you go natural, not synthetic. “I love sable, it’s one of the softest hairs and it feels really good. Some of the flatter brushes, if they’re too synthetic, you get a sort of splotched lay-down of color,” says Kaye.
Try: Napoleon Perdis Tapered Shadow Brush Eyes 9b ($22, nordstrom.com) is the ideal size for application to the eyelid. “The Napoleon Perdis flat brush is great. It’s great for popping highlighter color under the brow bone, too, and great for applying the lid color,” say Kaye.
6. Blending brush
This brush is a must-have for those who like to blend shades at the crease of the eyelid for those softly smoky eye looks. “This tapered fluffy brush is ideal for the crease,” says Kaye. “It’s a critical brush to have. I find it’s the brush that I use the most — it’s just an all around perfect brush.”
Try: The MAC 224 Tapered Blending Brush ($31, maccosmetics.com) is the classic brush for blending eye shadow colors at the crease of the eye.
7. Angled brush
A lot of people think of this as a brush for the brows, but it is incredibly versatile, and is great for applying cream or gel eye liner, or even applying a powder eye shadow as a liner. “It can be used for everything, not just the brows. It’s one of those brushes where I wipe it down and I do something else with it,” says Kaye.
Try: Be sure to get an angled brush (most often they are synthetic) that is short and firm, such as the Hourglass Angled Liner Brush ($28, sephora.com). It’s ideal for creating that perfect cat’s eye flick.
8. Lip brush
Applying lipstick or gloss straight from the tube seems easy when you’re in a rush — but using a lip brush allows for more precise application, and means you can apply color more evenly. Retractable brushes are the best because they’re great for those on-the-fly touch-ups. “When you’re working with richer colors like a red or a bright orange, they tend to migrate, so when you have a great lip brush you can keep touching it up. If you don’t want to carry the bullet with you, just load up the brush and put it in your clutch,” says Kaye. “The key to a retractable brush is just to make sure you really clean it down after each use.” A lip brush is also a good way to get more use out of vibrant shades — so that vivid orange shade you spent good money on isn’t wasted — if it’s too “out there” for every day wear, use the lip brush to blend it with a softer shade.
Try: Bobbi Brown Retractable Lip Brush ($26, bobbibrowncosmetics.com)