Wondering which makeup brushes you really need? We've handpicked the best makeup brush for every step of your makeup routine so you can apply like a pro
In the construction industry one might say that a workman is only as good as his tools, and it seems that this beauty business isn’t so different from your local building site really - success and a great finish can depend entirely on your equipment. I’m not suggesting that you apply your foundation with a forklift truck; but the right brushes and tools make heavy handed application obsolete and can help you to achieve the kind of seamless finish you were aiming for.
Makeup brushes aren’t always de rigeur and finger painting is not to be sniffed at, especially where cream eyeshadow is concerned, but arm yourself with a select few high quality tools and you never need tackle a tidemark again (so long as you look after them - read my guide to how to clean makeup brushes here ). Whether they're made with synthetic bristles or natural hair , I’ve splodged, blended and buffed to find the very best makeup brushes that deserve a place in your kit - shop from my edit below to create your own brush kit with all the essentials...
Best foundation brush: Zoeva Silk Finish Brush, £12.99
Soft yet sturdy and never known to leave a streak, this dual-purpose liquid foundation and powder brush makes light work of both stippling and smoothing, and the size is ‘just right’ in a Goldilocks vein. If you can’t afford to splash out on extended brush family, this is a truly marvellous multitasker, plus it’s vegan and the rose-gold version is quite the looker.
Best liquid foundation brush: Cover FX Liquid Foundation Brush, £32
With a flat rather than angled head, this circular brush buffs cream and liquid base into the skin for a light, sheer finish. You can dab or pat more product onto areas where you’d like more coverage, but otherwise blend, blend, blend until the product diffuses. If you’re after a “no makeup” makeup look, this is the tool for you.
Best stippling brush: Real Techniques Expert Face Makeup Brush, £10
This Pixiwoo designed staple has just had a design refresh, with sleek, ergonomic millennial pink appropriate packaging, but this firm foundation brush isn’t just for the youth - it’s especially proficient when it comes to stippling on liquids and creams on all skins thanks to its broad brush head. The finish is seamless, not streaky, and price wise it’s a steal.
Best buffing brush: Morphe Pro Deluxe Buffer Brush, £16
With a rounded brush head and dense synthetic bristles that don’t shed (NOTHING more infuriating), this is just the thing for sheering out cream, liquid and powder base, and the stubby handle makes it really easy to control. It’s soft and easy to wash too.
Best concealer brush: MAC 195 Concealer Brush, £21
Another synthetic base brush ( synthetic brushes are often the kinder, smarter choice - no squirrels are harmed and the bristles don’t absorb precious product), this tapered concealer brush is firm and straight to the point. It’s adept at tapping concealer over scars and tackles large blemishes head on (smaller ones may require a more petite brush). It’s also ideal for blending out under eye concealer and makes light work of fiddly or forensic eyeshadow application.
Best powder brush: Suqqu Face Brush, £170
If the queen has a makeup brush of choice, it’s probably this one. It’s the crème de la crème of multi-purpose powder brushes, and it’s rumoured to be so soft that you might be tempted to spend hours just stroking your face. Use it to apply loose powder , blusher and bronzer. It serves a multitude of uses and essentially does the blending, contouring and highlighting for you according to many a pro makeup artist, so maybe, just maybe, that justifies the triple figure price tag. Let’s just say that I couldn’t get my hands on one to test - it’s the toolkit holy grail.
Best highlighter brush: Charlotte Tilbury Powder & Sculpt Brush, £35
This bud-shaped brush makes instant supermodel bone structure almost attainable for us mere mortals. Smaller than regular powder brushes, with a softly pointed end for more detailed highlighting, Charlotte’s magic wand creates shadow and light almost by itself. No wonder Kate Moss et al rely on Ms Tilbury - she can make every woman look smoking in seconds, and if the quality of this brush is anything to go by her tools are akin to an extension of her artistic hands.
Best kabuki brush: Daniel Sandler Kabeauti Brush, £27.95
Because if you're going to pick a kabuki brush, pick one by a makeup artist, right? In Daniel’s own words, “it's as soft and fluffy as a bunny, as well as being a great multi-tasker. As it's so voluminous, you can use it to apply powder or bronzer in a flash, as well as any liquid body makeup or bronzing lotions- the finish is natural and completely streak-free. Basically, it’s ultra versatile”. It’s big, it’s beautiful and it works wonders on the décolletage .
Best blusher brush: Bobbi Brown Blush Brush, £37
SO SOFT. So strokey. Really long. Like a wand. Anything that distributes my favourite beauty product of all time is already magic in my eyes, but Bobbi Brown has pulled it out of the bag with this natural bristled blusher brush. The domed shape ensures that colour ‘pops’ in exactly the right place and the brush picks up just the right amount of pigment - no clown cheeks or rouged jowls in sight. It’s easy to build colour and sweep powder towards the temples if desired, and has just the right amount of ‘fluffiness’ - not so delicate that it’s inefficient and not so stubby that it makes blusher appear unnatural.
Best bronzer brush: Benefit Hoola Brush, £17.85
Now, I’ll acknowledge that this brush looks a little funky, but it means business when it comes to applying and blending bronzer so that it looks as natural as possible. Given that its namesake Hoola bronzer is a tried and trusted industry favourite, it only follows that this picks up just the right amount of powder and the tapered brush means that it doesn’t migrate all over your face.
Best contour brush: Laura Mercier Glow Powder Brush, £29
This new for 2019 contouring brush ensures that highlighting powder is applied in precisely the right place - the curved brush head hugs cheekbones and distributes glow at the high points of your cheeks, preventing that all-over highlighter tin-man effect. It helps to create a luminous, sculpted look with very little effort on your part
Best setting brush: Ecotools Full Powder Brush, £8.99
To set makeup you need a fluffy brush that will distribute powder lightly and evenly without disturbing your base. This soft synthetic option does just that at a bargain price and picks up both pressed and loose powder efficiently without going overboard- tap off the excess and lightly swirl over skin to mattify without making skin look cakey.
Best fan brush: Smashbox Fan Brush #22, £20
I’ve always eyed the fan brush with suspicion, it’s the exotic yet mysterious creature peeking out from behind a bush deep in the makeup brush jungle. It looks funky, but no one's quite sure what it does, or where to put it, or when to use it or… yes, we’re stumped. It’s virgin territory for many of us, but this one especially is well worth getting to grips with, especially when it comes to creating ethereal, lit from within cheekbones and, less glamorous but equally necessary, doing a quick clean up without disturbing the rest of your meticulously applied makeup. This Smashbox model is light as an angel’s wing and applies powder products with a delicacy and subtley that you’ll struggle to achieve from any other brush. If you’re trialling a darker shade for the first time this brush will allow you to experiment without going overboard, and will clean up residual powder nicely when you’ve finished. Turns out that I’m a big fan of the fan after all.
Best eyeshadow brush: The Body Shop Eyeshadow Brush, £9
This eyeshadow brush feels more expensive than it is (incredibly silky, not a bit scratchy) and hugs the eye socket, ensuring a photoready finish whether you’re using cream or powder shadow. Use the soft tip to push shadow into the lower lashline. Simple, but effective.
Best angled eyeliner brush: Liz Earle Brow and Eyeliner Brush, £13.50
Who knew that a skincare led brand could bring the goods in the brush department, but this double-ended brow and liner tool is the bee’s knees. On one end you’ve got a precise slanted liner brush that creates razor sharp eyeliner looks or fills in brows neatly, while the spoolie on the other end is handy for blending both eyebrow makeup or combing through clumpy mascara. It’s a seriously dependable addition to your brush roll.
Best smudge brush: Laura Mercier Smudge Brush, £23
If smokey, lived-in eyeliner is more your style, meet the smudge brush. It softens harsh lines and blends shadow and liner for a seamless, painterly effect. Its neat, natural bristles make getting close to the lash line a piece of cake.
Best lip brush: No7 Lip Brush, £10
I’ll be honest, I’m an ‘apply from the bullet’ kind of girl (and I’m in good company, as Mary Greenwell is too), but for occasions when laser-like precision and technical perfection is required, this neat lip brush will ensure that no lip colour strays from its designated path. Use it to line the lips and fill them in with an even layer of colour. It’s also masterful well it comes to defining the cupid’s bow for a classic Monroe mouth. Wash and use it as a concealer brush to really make this brush sing for its supper.
Best brow brush: Anastasia Beverly Hills Sable Duo Brow Brush #17B, £18
For au naturel brows, a spoolie brush is just the thing. If you’re blending brow powder, pencil or wax, a bristled brush is a must. Anastasia Beverly Hills is the queen in this department; a double ended spoolie plus angled brush takes care of both grooming and finickity blending.
Best undereye concealer brush: Spectrum Under Cover B03, £4.99
Described as a ‘baby buffer’, this flat topped concealer brush is far fluffier than the average and works concealer into the under eye area gently yet flawlessly. Soft, vegan and handy for applying highlighter and shadow too, the fact that it’s available in a ‘unicorn’ inspired colourway is merely a bonus.
Best blending brush: Urban Decay Pro Finger Brush, £18
Like your own pinkies, but better. This firm, rounded blending brush keeps cream and powder just where you want it, allowing you to stipple on shadow, blend in highlighter or dab on shadow with precision, whether you want to play something down or make an impact. The silken bristles are also made from recycled plastic bottles, so extra kudos to The Finger. Also it kind of sounds like a Bond villain which delights me.
Best dual-ended brush: Shiseido Face Duo Brush, £52
On first glance this geometric scarlet makeup brush doesn’t look dual-ended, but on closer inspection you’ll find a gel tip that acts as a bouncy, targeted makeup sponge (and it doesn’t absorb your precious product). Use the tip to apply cream, liquid and gel base and the synthetic ‘diamond cut’ brush to blend powder and diffuse liquid makeup. It’s handcrafted in Japan, which goes some way towards explaining the price point…
Best all-rounder: Kohl Kreatives Small Rectangle Brush, £15.99
Disregard the fact that this looks more like a toothbrush than an artful liner applicator: this unusual brush has a lot to give. Firstly it’s vegan and cruelty-free, secondly all profit from purchases of Kohl Kreatives brushes goes back to Kohl Kares charity, an initiative that provides support and cosmetic masterclasses to cancer patients, those suffering from conditions such as alopecia and vitiligo , burns victims and those transitioning from gender to another. As for this brush in particular, the brand is keen for you to use it however and wherever you choose, and it works wonders for fluffing up brows, softening eyeliner and diffusing lipstick, to name just a few application possibilities. Also, it stands up by itself. Magic.
Best starter kit: Kissbobo Makeup Brushes, £10.99
Makeup brush purists often dismiss synthetic fibred brushes as inferior to natural animal hair brushes in terms of blending prowess, but this abundantly soft and fluffy vegan brush set proves naysayers wrong. The tools distribute product evenly without the merest hint of caking or shedding, and the silky fibres are simple and easy to clean, making them the perfect staple for everyday use. The set contains seven splendid synthetic brushes for just £10.99, which is a total steal for high performing, impeccably hygienic brushes. Bravo KISSBOBO.
How (and how often) to clean your makeup brushes