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Which Makeup Brushes Do You Need?

Updated on August 14, 2016
Jayne Lancer profile image

A beauty consultant by profession, Jayne has been advising on correct skin and hair care, makeup, and other cosmetics for almost 20 years.

Which makeup brushes do you really need? Most women can’t do without a powder or kabuki brush, but what about a lip brush or a concealer brush? And how can you tell the difference between a good and poor quality brush? The answers are all here!

Good and Poor Quality Makeup Brushes

Why Pay More for Makeup Brushes?

You may find exceptions, but cheap brushes tend to shed, leaving more bristles than makeup on your face. This can prove frustrating, especially if it’s the brushes you use on a daily basis. Worse still, they can scratch and cause broken capillaries over time.

Good quality makeup brushes are handmade and able to stand a weekly wash without ever losing their shape, texture or density.

The Difference Between Natural and Synthetic Makeup Brushes

Brushes made from humanely harvested natural hair are best for picking up and evenly distributing powder products. However, the hair ends should be rounded. Brushes made from what are called ‘cut-offs’ will scratch and eventually cause permanent skin damage, which isn’t noticeable until it’s too late.

Because they’re nonabsorbent, synthetic brushes are appropriate for liquid and cream products, like foundation, lipstick, concealer, and highlighter. These, too, should have rounded hair ends.

The Large Powder Brush and the Kabuki Brush

These are the only brushes that allow even application over large areas.

The Large Powder Brush

You can use a powder brush for loose and pressed powder, as well as powder blush if you only want to add a touch of diffused color to the apple of your cheeks.

Because it leaves a diaphanous finish, the powder brush is also ideal for dusting bronzer over the whole face for a subtle, sun-kissed glow, or to veil your cheeks with a translucent highlighter product after applying blush.

The Kabuki Brush

For powder foundation, you’ll get better coverage with a kabuki brush, which can be used to apply any powder product over a large area, including blush, bronzer and loose or pressed powder.

The kabuki and powder brushes are often interchangeable, but because the former is more tightly bound, its coverage is fuller.

Not only is the kabuki brush for applying makeup, it's also the perfect tool for blending and buffing.

Blush Brush

The only way to properly apply powder blush is with a blush brush.

Use an angled brush to create a defined effect, and a tapered one for a more subtle, blended look. You can control color intensity by how much pressure you apply and size of brush—the smaller the brush, the more intense the color.

For contouring, you’ll get more natural-looking results with a tapered brush.

A large powder or kabuki brush is essential in any makeup kit.
A large powder or kabuki brush is essential in any makeup kit.

Concealer Brush

You can apply concealer with your finger, but a brush allows more control over the amount you apply.

Use a rounded concealer brush not only to cover spots and other irregularities, but also when using a light-toned concealer to highlight areas like the eye and mouth corners. The brush’s flat shape is also ideal to blend over larger areas, e.g., the chin or the bridge of the nose. For best results, apply with one side of the brush and blend with the other.

To disguise small flaws, use a precision concealer brush, which is pointed rather than flat.

Foundation Brush

Finding the right foundation for your complexion and the best way to apply it is a matter of experimentation.

Using your fingers will make liquid and cream foundation stay matte for longer. A dampened sponge will result in a super sheer finish. And a foundation brush will leave a sheer, perfectly blended, almost airbrushed finish.

There are two types of foundation brush—rounded and tapered. You’ll get best results from the denser, rounded type.

The rounded foundation brush is a larger version of the rounded concealer brush, and is used to apply liquid and cream products. The trick is not to literally paint the foundation on, which would leave a streaky mess, but to apply in short, criss-cross strokes from forehead to chin. Use only one side of the brush to apply, then go over your face again with the clean side using the same criss-cross strokes to blend.

The rounded foundation brush is also suitable for applying liquid and cream highlighter products.

Lip Brush

A lip brush needs to be firm in order that lipstick can be delivered evenly while using a fair amount of pressure. The tip may be rounded or pointed. The latter is useful for applying a matte lipstick as lip liner.

The advantages of applying lipstick with a brush are that it stays on longer and leaves a smooth, defined finish. It also makes it easier to stay within the contours of your lip liner.

For a softer, more casual look, you’re better off applying straight from the tube.

Eye Shadow Brushes

Whether you need eye shadow brushes depends on the effect you want to create. For a casual look, you can use your finger or an applicator, but if you'd prefer something more polished, you’ll have to invest in brushes.

Flat Tipped Brushes

Two eye shadow brushes you definitely can’t do without are a soft and a firm flat tipped brush. Use the soft brush to blend and to apply shadow to the upper lid and the area beneath the brow, and use the firm brush turned sideways for the lid crease and lower lash line.

Round Tipped Brushes

A firm, round tipped brush is ideal for feathering, while a soft round tipped brush is good for blending. You can’t do without these two if you want to create smoky eyes.

Pencil and Angled Brushes

To apply powder kohl or eye shadow as eyeliner, use a stiff pencil or angled brush, the latter of which is also perfect for applying eyebrow powder.

Use a soft pencil brush to apply eye shadow to the lid crease.

Whether you need eye shadow brushes depends on the effect you'd like to create.
Whether you need eye shadow brushes depends on the effect you'd like to create.

Cleaning and Caring for Makeup Brushes

To clean makeup brushes, deposit a tiny drop of shampoo or brush cleaner in the palm of your hand and rotate the bristles in it for about fifteen seconds. Rinse under tepid water until it runs clear, squeeze out excess moisture, then carefully tease back into shape. Lie brushes to dry on a counter edge so the bristles are in mid-air.

To avoid damaging natural bristles, wash with baby shampoo or a special cosmetic brush cleaner—never use strong detergents.

Brushes take up to 48 hours to dry, so wash them only when you won’t be needing them the following day. If you feel you can’t go a day without a particular brush, buy a spare one.

Never use or store makeup brushes after washing until they are completely dry.

Between washes, gently wipe on a dry, cosmetic tissue after each use.

Store in a lying position in a roomy case to protect from dust.

Photo Credits

First image by Kaboompics (

Second image by MicahSimpson760 (

Third image by Skeeze (

© 2016 Jayne Lancer


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