guide to makeup brushes

Whether you’re a diehard makeup fanatic or simply like to dabble in the world of cosmetics, knowing about all the different types of makeup brushes and their uses is basically Makeup 101. We know, we know, it can feel hella overwhelming, but don’t sweat it! With makeup artist expertise, we’re sharing 14 essential makeup brushes that everyone should have in their collection and teaching you how to use each type. Our MUAs also dished on their favorite, must-have makeup brush suggestions to make shopping even easier. YW!

Read to the end for our absolute essentials and fave brush sets!

Face Makeup Brushes:

Brush Type: Foundation Brush

Foundation-brush

A foundation brush should be used for any type of wet foundation product, including your light, medium, and heavy foundation, tinted moisturizers, and alphabet creams (BB, CC, DD). You can also use this brush for larger areas you want to conceal. “In truth, beautyblender, $20, has taken over this category as a faster way to apply liquid concealer and foundation, but there are certain foundations that simply go on better with a brush,” says Alexis Androulakis, a makeup artist and founder of Fempower Beauty. “I usually lay wet makeup down with the brush and then take the blender to finish the job.”

Fave Foundation Brush: Shiseido Hasu Fude Foundation Brush, $32

Brush Type: Concealer Brush

Concealer-Brush

Concealer brushes are tiny, densely-packed brushes that allow you to apply a tiny amount of product to small areas with utmost precision. Because of its tiny size, you can easily use this makeup brush on any area of your face, including under and around your eyes, around your nose, and right on top of that zit that decided to make an unwelcomed appearance.

Fave Concealer Brush: Huda Beauty Conceal & Blend Brush, $25

Brush Type: Powder Brush

Powder-brush

“The powder brush is usually fluffy and designed to pick up a little less product when applying powder-based foundations and products,” says Androulakis. “I like to use this tapered makeup brush to put on a little loose or pressed powder on top of my concealer or foundation. It’s not dense, so it gently places the product on my face without overloading me with powder, which I love. I will occasionally bronze with this as well, depending on how bronze I want to look.” Pro Tip: If you’re looking for more coverage, use a denser powder brush. If you want light coverage, opt for one that has looser bristles.

Fave Powder Brush: NARS PRO Series The Brightener, $95

Brush Type: Kabuki Brush

kabuki-brushThe Kabuki brush is another type of makeup brush that’s used for applying loose powder, including foundation, blush, highlighter, and contour. You can also use them to help blend out products. The voluminous bristles are typically cut into a flat top, though it’s sometimes angled for more precision-powder work. Because Kabuki brushes are so versatile, we definitely consider it a must-have makeup brush.

Fave Kabuki Bush: Fenty Beauty by Rihanna Face & Body Kabuki Brush 160, $34

Brush Type: Blush Brush

Blush-brush

Blush and powder brushes look very similar, but the blush brush is notably smaller. This makes it easier to apply product to smaller areas of your face — such as blush on your cheekbones. Don’t let the name fool you, though. Like the Kabuki brush, the blush brush is pretty damn versatile and has many uses. You can use it for a light dusting of highlighter or contour, and Androulakis says she even uses hers “to create the most perfect draped eyeshadow and cheek look in under a minute. I can bronze, highlight, literally can do everything post foundation and concealer with this type of makeup brush.”

Fave Blush Brush: NARS Yachiyo Brush, $55

Brush Type: Fan Brush

Fan-brush

The primary use for a fan brush is to highlight. “You can use it to apply highlighter by gently sweeping powder onto the facial features you want to ‘bring forward,’ including cheekbones, nose brush, brow arch, cupid’s bow, and even décolleté,” says Gabriel De Santino, a makeup artist and the creator of Gabriel Cosmetics.

Fave Fan Brush: Sonia Kashuk Highlighting Fan Makeup Brush, $7

Brush Type: Highlighter Brush

Highlighter-brush

The highlighter brush is an alternative to the fan brush, so choose whichever one appeals the most to you. The fan brush does a wonderful job of applying a sheer amount of product to tricky spots, though some find that a highlighter brush is easier to manipulate and they like the heavier dispensing of product. To use, “start parallel to the eye — on top of the cheekbone — and dust highlighter onto the high points of the face before blending,” says Mary Irwin, celebrity makeup artist.

Fave Highlighter Brush: Sigma F35 Tapered Highlighter Brush, $25

Brush Type: Contour Brush

Contour-brush

The tell-tale giveaway of a contour brush is its super soft, densely packed bristles and angled head. This shape allows you to carefully apply your favorite bronzer or contour without depositing too much or too little product. You can use this makeup brush under your cheekbones, just under the jawline, and around your hairline. Irwin says, “Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t actually have anyone make a face while I’m contouring! Making a face just moves the skin around and changes where the color ends up. Instead, I make sure to apply exactly where I want it, and very carefully blend out.”

Fave Contour Brushes: Spectrum A05 Precision brush, $7, Huda Beauty Sculpt & Shade Brush, $25

Eye Makeup Brushes:

Brush Type: Eyeshadow Brush

Eyeshadow-brush

“Use an eyeshadow brush to distribute, blend, and shade your favorite shadows,” says Santino. “This type of makeup brush works great for applying shadow to your lid or crease and then blending it out. You can also use it for blending multiple shades on top of one another.” It’s a true makeup brush essential for anyone who likes to wear eyeshadow — even if they’re in the “one color is good enough for me” camp.

Fave Eyeshadow Brushes: Morphe W13 Oval Shadow Fluff, $9 (best for blending and base shadows), Morphe M167 Oval Shadow Brush, $7 (better for intense pigment payoff and concentrated application).

Brush Type: Eyeshadow Detail Brush

Eyeshadow-detail-brush

As the name implies, an eyeshadow detail brush is used for applying product on smaller, more confined areas around the eyes, says Dana Rae Ashburn, makeup artist and founder of ABLE Cosmetics. “They’re especially great for working in tight areas, such as the inner corners of your eyes, and will help you control product more easily.”

Fave Eyeshadow Detail Brushes: Morphe M210 Small Chisel Fluff, $3, Mac 231 Small Shader Brush, $21

Brush Type: Angled Eyeliner Brush

Angled-eyeliner-brush

The angled eyeliner brush is pretty straightforward and considered a basic essential for anyone who wears eyeliner (which is prob #mostofus). Santino says, “The thin, flat surface lets you get a smooth and even application of eyeliner. Simply dot your lash line with color using the top of the brush and then smooth and elongate it by sweeping the brush over your lash line from end to end.” Angled eyeliner brushes can also be used to smudge out a pencil eyeliner for a softer look, to define an eye crease, and to apply brow powder with better precision.

Fave Angled Eyeliner Brushes: Gabriel Cosmetics Angle Brush, $14, Morphe M160 Angle Liner Brush, $4

Brush Type: Liquid Eyeliner Brush

Liquid-eyeliner-brush

While angled eyeliner brushes are great for soft and smudgy looks, a liquid eyeliner brush is all about precision. This one is absolutely essential if you use a potted gel/liquid liner, which some prefer for its lasting power and inky application. Also, though many liquid eyeliners come equipped with their own brush built into the product, some prefer to deposit the color on their own liquid eyeliner brush and apply it that way.

Fave Liquid Eyeliner Brushes: Sigma E10 Small Eye Liner Brush, $10.50, Morphe M250-S Detail Liner, $3

Brush Type: Spoolie

Spoolie

If you’ve got full brows or long eyelashes, having a quality spoolie on hand is a major beauty routine game-changer. “A standard spoolie is great for brushing out your brows before and after applying your favorite brow product,” says Ashburn. “You can also use it to soften the look of product, or to comb out clumps in your mascara.” Often, spoolies come with an angled brush on the opposite end that’s intended for a brow powder.

Fave Spoolie and Angled Brow Brushes: Anastasia Beverly Hills Brush 7B – Dual-Ended Angled Brush, $18, Morphe M158 – Angle Liner/Spoolie Brush, $4

Lip Brush:

Brush Type: Lipstick Brush

Lipstick-brush

“A lipstick brush is meant to make applying the perfect lip color a breeze. The firm edge of the brush makes it easy to precisely line your lips while the flat surface enables you to quickly and accurately fill in lips with your favorite color,” says Santino. “Whether you are looking for a plumped look or a simple glossy finish, this is a must-have makeup brush.”

Fave Lip Brushes: e.l.f. Retractable Lip Brush, $3, Real Techniques Lip Color & Blur, $9

Makeup Brush 101:

Final Word to the Wise: If you’re reading through this list thinking to yourself, “omg there’s no way I can afford all these different brushes,” let us help you out by creating a priority list. The most essential makeup brushes to add to your collection include the foundation (and/or beautyblender), kabuki, blush or contour, eyeshadow, angled eyeliner, and spoolie brushes. If you’re someone who loves liquid eyeliner or very detailed eye looks, you’ll want to include the eyeshadow detail and/or liquid eyeliner brushes to that list. From there, we recommend the following in this order: concealer, lipstick, powder, fan or highlighter, and contour.

best multi-use brush

The truth is, you can often use many of these brushes for more than one purpose! Sometimes we’ve done everything from dusting powder on our T-zone to contouring, blushing, and highlighting all with one powder brush, aka The Real Techniques Blush Brush, $9.

The Best Makeup Brush Sets:

You can also find some really great brush sets that pack in the essentials and help cut costs. We’re loving the Complete Makeup Brush Collection, $98, by Walford Richards Designs, which packs 12 hand-crafted, cruelty-free makeup brushes, that tick all of our essential face and eye brush boxes!Complete Makeup Brush Colle

They work effortlessly, and we LOVE the faux leather case it comes with, which makes them great for travel and storing hygienically.

We also love the affordable bundles available at RealTechniques.com, their brushes are great quality and last forevaaahhh. The Real Techniques Everyday Essentials Brush Collection, $20, is an excellent makeup brush set for beginners and even makeup lovers.

Real-technique-brushes

The set has the perfect powder brush for laying down all types of powders (RT 400 Blush), the RT 200 Expert Face Brush for powder and liquid foundations (that also works great for contour), the RT 40S Setting Brush that’s awesome for blending out shadows and highlighting, the RT 300 Deluxe Crease Brush, that layers and blends eyeshadows like a dream, and finally, our all-time fave makeup sponge.

Did you guys find this makeup brush guide helpful or do you already own all of these! If so, let us know your fave brushes in the comments below.