Makeup Brushes – A Complicated Art

Believe me, I understand – choosing a makeup brush is indeed a bit tricky. There are so many questions – what type of brush do I need, why is this one shaped like this, what is the best hair for the brush…. All these factors add up to paying anywhere from $5 to $50 for a makeup brush. What’s the difference?

There are several key components to make you aware of when looking at makeup brushes. The shape of the brush, the brush hair or material, and even how the brush is made is also a factor.

If you end up buying a cheap brush, don’t be surprised when it falls apart in a few months. Just the same, it doesn’t mean the most expensive brush is the best brush. Some major labels or designers are charging high prices for the same type of brush you can buy elsewhere online.

So what should I look for? Here’s a guide to help you examine the top three most important factors when choosing a makeup brush: type, shape, and hair.

Brush Type– There are many, many types of brushes, and in general, a makeup brush is made for one section of the face. You have your foundation brushes, your powder brushes, then you have eyeshadows, lips, brows….oh my goodness – there are so many! Here’s a list of the top types of brushes and their general uses (please note – you can get creative and use these brushes outside of the scope of their original intent.  For simplicity, I am only going to focus on the general uses).

Foundation – Foundation brushes are large brushes, and almost look like a paintbrush. These types of brushes are used with liquids, creams, and mousse type foundations.

Pro Makeup artist technique – As an option instead of this brush, use disposable sponges to stipple liquid foundation on the face, rather than “painting” with a brush. Never use your fingers – you add more oil to your face. Sponges create a more organic look as brushes can give the impression of makeup that has been painted on – even displaying the brush streaks!

Concealer – A smaller version of a foundation brush, this is used to place concealer in smaller, often more delicate locations (under eye, inner nose area, covering trouble spots).

Pro Makeup artist technique – I generally only use this type of brush for everything face related – applying creams, primer, and concealer. I use the sponge for the foundation and go over the face to give a more natural and polished look.

Powder – These can range in size from Jumbo to regular, and are for applying facial powders – either foundation powder, oil blotting powder, or even Bronzer (though Bronzer brushes are typically a more blunt shape)

Pro Makeup artist technique – Don’t “wipe” powder over the face as you risk removing your foundation product. Instead dot or lightly stipple powder over face to help create a satin-smooth finish (vital for photos!)

Blush – These also range in size and shapes (rounded, angle) and are used to lightly apply blush across the cheekbone.

Fan Brush – Used for many techniques. Typically used for contouring, light powder application, or even eyeshadow.

Pro Makeup Artist Technique –Use your fan brush to lightly apply shadows by holding the ends of the brush like chopsticks and pinch together– almost like collapsing the fan. This provides a soft yet targeted way to apply eyeshadows!

Eyeshadows –There is a wide-range of eyeshadow brushes. For now, I’m going to focus on the only three you really need – overall shadow, crease, and lid brush.  The overall brush – sometimes called Oval – is a larger, rounded shape brush that is used to apply eyeshadow over all of the lid and eye area. The Crease brush is used to apply shadows in the crease area. The lid brush is a smaller oval and usually rounded shaped brush. This is to apply shadows directly on the lid.

**Stay-tuned for more details on eyeshadow brushes in a separate blog entry.**

Eyeliner– Used for many techniques. Typically used for contouring, light powder application, or even eyeshadow

Pro Makeup Artist Technique – my favorite eyeliner brush is the bent-angle. This is designed to ergonomically balance against the angle of your hand and your eye.  

Brow – Use to shape or more importantly applying brow powder to lightly fill-in and shape brows in a natural way. (Also remember to follow-up powder with brow setting wax)

     Other Brushes:

Here are some other brushes you may run across. I see these as nice-to-have’s but not really a staple in your everyday makeup kit

Bronzer Brush – As mentioned above, bronzing brushes are generally more of a blunt-ended powder brush. This helps to apply bronzer and create that “sun-kissed” look.

Lash/Mascara Fan – Instead of using the mascara wand, a lash fan will help to separate lashes even more and provide even mascara coverage (no more clumpy spider lashes!!)

Grooming Brush – used for unruly brows or for combing lashes. Typically, I just use the stiff fibers of a brow brush to do this. Only a very small number of women benefit from buying a grooming brush.

Stipple Brush – used to literally “stipple” and dot makeup over specific areas.  I typically use this for cream blush on mature skin so you don’t overapply the product – which makes dry skin look cakey.

Brush Shape

Dome – While there is some variation in this type, I am generally referring to rounded brushes with a slightly curved outer edge. This is a great way to get powder into the many countours and rounded edges of the face.

Angle – Angle brushes are a great way to get the most color in a targeted spot. Usually these are used for blush brushes and eyeshadows.

Flat – Flat brushes are blunt ended brushes – can be used for concealers, bronzers and some eyeshadow brushes.

Brush Hair

Another important factor in brush selection is the brush hair. Here are the three main types of hair or material you want to look at for your makeup brushes.

Taklon/Synthetic fiber – used for liquids and creams since it is non-porous and will not absorb the liquid like hair will. This is typically seen in Foundation, Concealer, and some eyeliner brushes.

Sable Hair – Great brushes that will last a lifetime with proper care. Sable brushes are resilient, amazingly soft and durable. This hair comes from mink found in Russia and China and can be found in 3 types: Kolinsky (highest quality), red sable and sable. These brushes are perfect for eyeshadows.

Pro Makeup Artist Tip- Sable brushes can be used with wet or dry products, making it very versatile.

Badger Hair – These are top quality brushes for use with powders, fan brushes, and other face brushes. The softness and durability makes this type of brush a favorite among my brides.

There are so many other types of hair – squirrel, pony, goat – all are great for their respective makeup types, but will not last as long or be as soft as sable or Badger.

Pro Makeup Artist Tip -Ever notice most brush sets have the same type of brush hair? This is a big no-no. As outlined above, not all hair types are best suited across all areas of the face. You need a hybrid makeup set that chooses the best for each area.

So there’s it is – a quick guide to help you chose a makeup brush!


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