If you want something done right, you’ve got to use the right tools. A no-brainer, right? But when many roads lead to the same place, sometimes the best tool can get neglected in favor of whatever you have on hand at the moment. Maybe you’ve just kept all the errant brushes and sponge-tipped applicators that came with the palettes you own, and they’ve been fine for now. But if you’re never that pleased with how your makeup turns out, it could very well be those random tools that are at fault. Don’t feel pressured to splurge on a whole makeup brush kit (unless you want to, of course), but here’s a little 101 on which makeup brushes should belong in your set and why.
Eyeshadow Brush. This comes in slight variations of size and shape. They generally have rounded or oval brush heads with densely packed but not stiff fibers. The more densely packed, the more powder pigment it can pick up on the fibers. You can evenly apply shadow to the entire lid with this brush. If the head is on the larger side, you can also multitask with it by applying any other powder makeup in a targeted area—like powder highlighter or setting powder for under-eye concealer.
Concealer Brush. This is a great for targeted concealer application. Some argue that finger application is best when it comes to concealer—and that may be true for the under-eye area—but for concealing zits and blemishes a brush is best since it can evenly apply product in all the little nooks and crannies, rather than tamping down the coverage on the tallest point. These brushes are relatively small and flat with a rounded or almond-shaped tip and short-bristled with firmly-packed fibers. The idea is that you can get into as small a spot as possible for coverage in all the spaces.
Blush Brush. These are probably the image that pops into your head when you think “makeup brush.” Do you wear powder blush? Then a blush brush should be in your makeup kit! This is a full-headed plume of a brush with a rounded head—sometimes angled— for swirling into your blush powder and sweeping along your cheeks. The angled blush brushes are for more of a contoured look or a more targeted application, but you can also achieve this with any old blush brush. It’s all in the application. Since these heads are often very full and plush, they’ll likely pick up way too much pigment upon first dip/swirl. Make sure to tap the brush against your hand, the blush compact, or the edge of a surface to remove excess product before sweeping on your face. Don’t confuse this for a powder brush, the beefed up version of a blush brush with a bigger head but softer density for applying powder to set your makeup. Not everyone is going for that matte look, so a powder brush isn’t totally necessary unless you live and die by makeup-setting powder (there are setting sprays that solve this problem while also imparting a natural finish).
Foundation Brush. Along with new formulas of foundation, the brush of this is often evolving. The classic shape looks a bit like a super-sized version of a concealer brush. It’s meant to sweep liquid foundation around your face to evenly distribute. This works well for sheer to medium coverage, though you may sometimes see brush streaks if you don’t blend well enough. Now there are thick round flat-topped foundation brushes that are versatile for powder, cream, or liquid foundation. You can tap this one straight into the foundation and onto your skin for heavy coverage, twist it around your skin for medium coverage, and sweep it for sheerer coverage. You can also use these brushes for BB creams and tinted moisturizers if you want a more even application than just using your fingers. One perk of using a foundation brush as opposed to a sponge is that they are easier to clean.
Angled Eyeliner Brush. This will be your saving grace to create that ubiquitously tricky cat eye. Got a gel liner? Got one of these brushes? Done and done. These flat firm angled brushes are great for making any powder shadow into an eyeliner if you dampen it with water or saline solution beforehand. Since they’re on the firm side, you can also use powder shadow to tap into your lash line for a controlled smudgy or just a deepened lash look. You can even use this as a brow definer with brow powder or gel. So many crucial uses!
Smudge Brush. AKA the “smudger brush,” this is another eye makeup fave for creating a smokey eye, applying shadow in your eye crease, or just softening a liner look. They have very short, almost stubbly fibers that are densely packed—great for smudging in controlled amounts. Using a regular eyeshadow brush for this might blend too much or too wide of an area.
Lash Comb. OK, not technically a brush, this baby sniper comb is so necessary for de-clumping freshly mascara’d lashes. Since these come with a tiny toothbrush on the other side generally, they also double as a brow groomer. If you’re more about brows than lashes, you can use the comb to apply a clear brow gel and then brush it through with the other side. But mostly, this is capital for clump-removal.