Your Guide to Every Type of Makeup BrushFebruary 08, 2023
If you ask any makeup artist, you’ll find that one of the keys to achieving a gorgeous makeup look is the beauty tools you use to create it. “You can have all of the most expensive makeup in the world, [but] if your applicators are awful, your glam will be too,” says Judi Gabbay-Braha, a New York City-based makeup artist. “Makeup brushes are just as, if not more important, than the makeup you’re applying.”
With that said, there are tons of makeup brushes on the market — and many of them look so similar that it’s difficult to tell which one does what. So ahead, we’re sharing what you need to know about the different face makeup brushes and their uses, plus how to care for them so they last.
Do Face Makeup Brushes Really Make a Difference?
Having an appropriate makeup brush for the steps in your makeup routine can make a huge difference in the outcome of your look. Using the correct kind of brush, whether it’s a tapered foundation blush or a flat concealer brush, can change how your makeup applies and help give you a smooth finish.
Another thing to note before picking up your tool is if it’s a natural or synthetic makeup brush. Natural hair makeup brushes are often made from animal hair and are known for their blending and pick-up properties, whereas synthetic makeup brushes are made of man-made materials like nylon and are great for precise and streak-free application.
What Do You Use Each Makeup Brush For?
Just like makeup products themselves, makeup brushes can be used in multiple ways. While one might be labeled as a blush brush, you might prefer it for contouring and that’s okay — don’t hesitate to experiment. However, if you’re curious about the main types of brushes for face makeup, there are several.
Foundation brushes tend to be flat or rounded and densely packed so that they can buff and blend product into your skin smoothly.
Flat Foundation Brushes
Flat foundation brushes are flat like paintbrushes and are used to apply an even layer of foundation across your skin. Use light strokes to blend the foundation into your skin.
Concealer brushes are similar to foundation brushes, they’re just smaller so that they can get into hard-to-reach areas, like the inner corners of the eyes. They come in flat shapes as well as rounded shapes to buff and blend.
Big, round, fluffy brushes are typically used to apply powder when setting the face. They’re not too densely packed so that they don’t add excess product to the skin.
Bronzer brushes are typically in between blush brushes and powder brushes in terms of size. They’re usually fluffy and either round or oval in shape to cover a large surface area.
Contouring brushes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but you’ll commonly find them in small round or oval shapes with densely packed bristles in order to place and blend product with precision.
Blush brushes often look like small powder brushes — they’re usually round or slightly angled. They’re fluffy and loosely packed so they don’t deposit too much color at once.
Like contouring brushes, highlighter brushes come in different shapes and sizes. They’re often cone-shaped, fluffy brushes which are great for delicately applying highlighter to the cheekbones, or fan brushes, as seen below.
Fan brushes have flattened, splayed-out bristles that resemble a fan. These are best for precise highlighter applications.
Makeup sponges are made from absorbent, sponge-like material. To use, dampen your sponge and then use light tapping motion to blend out foundation and other cream or liquid products. A sponge will give you less coverage than a foundation brush, making them perfect for more natural looks.
Sponge brushes are just like makeup sponges, except the sponge is on top of a brush handle. Some people find the handle of a sponge brush gives them more control than the sponge alone.
Stippling brushes are amazing for full-coverage application of foundation and other liquid and cream products. These brushes tend to have loosely packed white bristles at the top with denser black bristles at the bottom which help push product into the skin.
Kabuki brushes are short, round brushes that are great for applying foundation or powder while you’re on the go or traveling, thanks to their compact size.
Eyeliner brushes are thin, pointy brushes that are best for applying powder, cream and gel eyeliners. Some eyeliner brushes have an angled tip to help make it easier to draw on winged eyeliner.
Eyeshadow Blending Brushes
Eyeshadow blending brushes are small, fluffy brushes that help you create a seamless blend between eyeshadow shades.
Pencil brushes are small pointed brushes with densely packed bristles. They’re ideal for drawing and smudging thin to medium lines of shadow along the upper and lower lash lines.
Smudge brushes are small brushes with densely packed bristles.They serve a similar purpose to pencil brushes, except they tend to have flat or rounded edges and are great for smudging out a smoky eye along the lower lash line.
Angled Eyeshadow Brushes
Angled eyeshadow brushes are less fluffy than eyeshadow blending brushes, but not as densely packed as pencil and smudge brushes. They are ideal for applying eyeshadow to the inner and outer corners of your eye.
Eyeshadow Crease Brushes
Similar to blending brushes, eyeshadow crease brushes fit nicely in the crease of your eye and can be used to apply a transition shade to your crease.
Mascara wands are spoolies that are great for combing through clumpy lashes. Keep a clean mascara wand on hand to help define and separate your lashes between coats of mascara.
Lip brushes are small, densely packed brushes that make it easy to trace your lips with a liquid or cream lipstick. They’re perfect for very precise or detailed lip looks.
Which Makeup Brushes Are Best for Beginners?
If you’re first starting out with makeup, there’s no need to spend tons of money on a bunch of expensive brushes. Like makeup, preferences also come into play with brushes — so starting out with a few inexpensive staples is key until you find what you like. If you’re looking for a great foundation brush, we love the NYX Professional Makeup Can’t Stop Won’t Stop Foundation Brush. It can also be used for contouring or cream blush application, so at $15, it’s a great place to start.
Once you have a foundation brush, consider adding a makeup sponge, blush or bronzer brush (many are multi-purpose), an eyeshadow blending brush, an eyebrow brush and a powder brush to your collection. NYX Professional Makeup has many affordable options. Makeup artist Gabbay-Braha recommends brushes from the brands Sigma Beauty and My Kit Co.
How to Store Your Makeup Brushes
If you want your makeup brushes to last for years, don't just throw them loosely into a makeup kit. Doing so can cause the bristles to get crushed and distorted, and it can also be unsanitary — especially if you have spilled or dirty makeup in your bag. Instead, stay organized and clean by using a brush roll or a brush organizer. You can also get creative by standing them up in a decorative jar or container.
How to Wash and Dry Your Makeup Brushes
Washing your brushes is important for hygiene reasons, but it’s also important in order to remove excess pigment and product from the bristles so that you get a smooth, clean application. To clean them, look for a gentle face wash or bar soap — ensuring the cleanser is gentle is important because harsh cleansers can loosen the glue that holds the bristles together.
Then, hold the brush with the bristles pointing down and lather them in the soap and water. Softly scrub the lathered-up brushes in the palm of your hand and rinse thoroughly until the water stream runs clear. Once they’re clean, lay them flat and let them dry overnight.
How Often to Wash Your Makeup Brushes
It’s best to wash your brushes once a week, however, should you skip a week, don't sweat it. Just don’t go much longer than that. Re-using gunk- and dirt-ridden brushes can cause breakouts and also introduce other nasty skin reactions and allergies to your complexion. Plus, the buildup of color on your brushes means that the shade you intend to apply to your face may not be what you actually get.
When to Buy Replacement Makeup Brushes
Makeup brushes don’t have expiration dates like makeup does, but you might need to replace them every once in a while. If you notice that your brushes smell, are shedding every time you use them, or have gone flat, it’s time to replace them.
Additional reporting by Ariel Wodarcyk