Presented with more than one way to do something, I almost always choose the easiest option. I feel fine about that: I’m not lazy, I’m just efficient. And if my makeup doesn’t go on perfectly because I chose to smear it on my face with my hands instead of fiddle with proper tools, so what? At least it’s on, and at least it took under three minutes. That’s something to be proud of, I think.
Or thought, rather.
What I’m not proud of: believing this for so long. Because once I actually learned how to use makeup brushes of my own accord, and not because some makeup artist or person on the internet told me which ones I “absolutely need” (I do not respond well to that stuff), I was able to accept that they exist for a reason. That reason is because they make applying makeup easier and also better. Easier and better, even, than the hands-as-tools approach, which I should not have been surprised by given that most primates figured out just how handy external tools can be long before I did.
I love makeup brushes now (!), but it is important to note that I still only use two, and would actually recommend that other efficient individuals like myself who would like to join chimpanzees as established tool-users also begin with approximately two. Because I really, truly believe that unless you’re a person who regularly wears “dramatic eye makeup“—and if you are, I’m sure you already own a vast wardrobe of brushes and do not require my gentle advisement—you only need two. Maybe three. Four, tops.
But I do have a confession to make before I fill you in on my amateur plan of attack. I’m a beauty editor, and I should really know better, but I’m also, like, kind of a renegade? So that’s my excuse for sometimes using brushes in ways that are not their intended purpose. I use a flat, stiff contour brush—the Sonia Kashuk Contour Brush No. 30 ($15.79)—to press liquid foundation into my skin. The unyielding bristles make it ideal, I find, for building coverage where you need it, and I’ve had more success using this brush than any designated foundation brush, which tend to create visible brushstrokes. Hate it.
It’s that one brush, and that one technique, that convinced me that maybe a beautyblender wasn’t actually the only thing I needed. (Also I started using it in the first place because I got it confused with a foundation buffing brush because they look really similar and I won’t apologize for that.) My foundation lasts longer and looks more polished, and it takes me no longer than a minute or two and leaves significantly less product sitting on my hands, which I always suspected might be kind of a waste.
I have also formed a deep emotional attachment to the humble kabuki brush, a very soft, very fluffy thing that really “does it all.” Mine is so ancient as to no longer be available on the internet so I can’t show it to you, but the e.l.f. Retractable Kabuki Brush ($6) is quite similar. I use it for powders of any ilk, including finishing, foundation, blush, bronzer, and highlighter. Versatility is a good thing.
Without fail, any magazine, Instagram celebrity, or pushy Sephora salesperson will suggest that, even if you’ve never used a makeup brush before, you need about 18 of them and you need them right now. “Indispensable,” they say. Air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep—and makeup brushes. But it’s a lie, and nobody likes being lied to, so buy whichever ones look good to you and use them however you please. Don’t worry about reading long tutorials or YouTube videos by 16-year-olds about How to Use Every Type of Makeup Brush if you don’t want to. You’ll live, I promise. Here, six brush sets, all under $25, so you can decide if you even like them without saying “no thanks” to anyone who works on commission.