I’ll admit it. I have a major obsession with makeup brushes. I have literally hundreds. But don’t worry—you don’t need to run out and buy a slew of brushes to cram into your makeup bag. You just need the right tools for the job to get the best results from your makeup.
Brushes let you be more precise than using your fingertips or even sponges. They help you draw on the perfect winged eyeliner, add depth and contour to your eyes or mask blemishes and undereye dark circles.
In general, with powder, such as shadow, blush or bronzer, you want to use a brush with natural fibers. For cream makeup, such as foundation, concealer and liquid eyeliner, choose a synthetic brush because they’re better at blending liquid makeup.
My top five must-have brushes are:
When you apply foundation with your finger, it’s not as even. Use a foundation brush instead. I love Eco Tools Bamboo Foundation Brush ($6). It’s synthetic, flat and wide so you can get even coverage. Start by applying the foundation with the brush in the middle of your face and fan out from there for better coverage. It’s a lot easier to blend. I do a cross-hatching technique when I go down, over and across so you don’t get any streaks or lines and the coverage is even.
I always have multiple powder brushes in my kit. Opt for ones that are soft—it should feel good against your skin—and dome-shaped. I love Hakuhodo G544 Powder & Liquid brush ($30). It’s one of the softest brushes I have ever used and is good for both creams and powders, including blush. The brush also lasts a super long time.
For sweeping on eyeshadow, I like a flat-topped, oval-shaped brush for all over color and a brush that’s small, soft and domed for perfectly blending in shadow. With the smaller brush, you can deposit a lot of color or a nice thin wash. I like MAC 188 Small Duo Fibre Face brush ($34) to distribute shadow all over the eye, and MAC 217 Blending brush ($22.50), which is great for depositing color into the creases as well as all over color.
Synthetic brushes are best for applying liquid makeup like eyeliner. Laura Mercier Flat Eye Liner brush ($25) is great for mashing color into the lash line. Or you can try Eco Tools Bamboo Smudge Eyeliner brush ($5), which is a bit more rounded so it’s more versatile.
Contrary to popular belief, applying concealer with your fingertips won’t get you the coverage your crave. You’ll get much better, even coverage with a brush. Look for a synthetic concealer brush with a very flat, oval shape for easy application. My favorite is Face Stockholm Camo Oval Tip Brush #15 ($20)—it’s the best concealer brush I have ever found. I think have 20 or 30 of them! You can also disguise the worst pimple with it and a dab of concealer. It’s magic.
Specialty Brushes You Can Live Without
Even though I always use them for work, you don’t really need a lip brush. With fan brushes, I normally think they’re a joke—I always end up throwing them out or giving them away, but the exception is this one, which is quite nice and designed to sweep on loose powder: Laura Mercier Fan Powder Brush ($30).
As for eyebrow brushes, I’m a pencil girl. Eyebrow pencils are indispensable and good for grooming your brows. I think eyebrow brushes deposit too much color and then you end up with Groucho Marx eyebrows!
Keep ‘Em Clean
It’s important to clean your makeup brushes, especially your concealer, foundation and eye shadow brushes because you could be spreading bacteria everywhere (conjunctivitis is not sexy!). You don’t need to buy an expensive brush cleaner for your makeup brushes. I use a gentle dishwashing detergent, such as Seventh Generation, Dawn or Palmolive. Clean your brushes once a month, such as the first of the month so it’s easier to remember.
When to Give Them the Brush Off
I’ve had some brushes for more than 10 years. But if you don’t take care of them, especially when you’re traveling, they can get banged up. It’s time to toss a brush if the hairs don’t go back together or lay flat anymore—it’s like when you have damaged hair and your hair breaks. You can extend the life of your brushes by keeping them in separate container rather than with the rest of your makeup in your bag. Or better yet, use travel brushes. Eco Tools makes a great travel brush set ($11) that comes in a natural cotton and hemp bag, which keeps the hairs from getting all jacked up when you travel. The brushes are cruelty-free, synthetic and really soft. You can also throw it in your purse for touch-ups during the day.
Like a good relationship, if you take care of your brushes, they can last forever.