How To Use Every Makeup Brush Like a Pro
Seriously, how in the heck do we use all these makeup brushes? And do we really need five different brushes to apply foundation? In short, yes (we’ll explain). We love being hypnotized by watching MUAs and beauty vloggers do their thing, but we’re lost after the second makeup brush…and do we even own a stippling brush?
So rather than buying brushes in bulk only to use them incorrectly, or not at all, Beauty Banter talked to some pros so that we can finally figure out the correct way to use the endless variety of brushes. If you really want to nail #flawless makeup application, you’ll want to take notes.
Put your glasses on, consider this Makeup Brushes 101:
Synthetic vs. Natural – Generally speaking, synthetic refers to man-made materials like nylon, and natural brushes are, well, you know, natural, made out of a variety of animal hairs (i.e. pony, sable, squirrel, badger, goat). Synthetic brushes are best for liquid and cream products, like foundation, and natural brushes are meant for powders, says Min Min Ma, celebrity MUA who’s painted the girls from Girls. MUAs agree, since synthetic brushes have a tighter bristle gathering, they’re ideal for precise application and perfect for liquid products because they don’t have a cuticle, so product won’t get trapped in between the bristles. Natural hair brushes have a softer “free-flowing sweep” that’s great for blending and softening edges, says MUA Jenai Chin, who’s responsible for that Kendall Jenner snake tattoo, so they’re best for powder products. An important rule of thumb from world-renowned MUA and founder of Trish McEvoy Beauty, Trish McEvoy says: “softer, longer, and less densely packed brushes pick up less makeup and therefore give a wash of color, whereas shorter, more densely packed brushes give a more intensely pigmented application.”
Foundation brush – There are different types of brushes meant for foundation, and the one to use depends on the look you’re going for. Also, keep in mind liquid foundation versus cream and powder formulas…yep, there are brushes meant for every texture.
Flat: Looks like a good old-fashioned paint brush, this brush is the most commonly used for applying liquid foundation onto the face, usually “painted” on and then blended in with a sponge or blending brush. It’s the most versatile of brushes, says Trish, because the rounded edge can be used to blend and contour too. Try: Bobbi BrownFoundation Brush ($45).
Flat-topped: For blending and buffing liquid foundation into the skin, a flat-topped brush like YSL Touche Eclat Foundation Brush ($45) or Shiseido Foundation Brush ($30) works best. Because flat-topped brushes are densely packed, they provide medium-to-full coverage. For a seamless application, Trish McEvoy suggests “gently pressing” product into skin.
Try: IT Cosmetics Heavenly Skin Skin-Smoothing Complexion Brush ($48) and Heavenly Luxe Flat Top Buffing Foundation Brush #6 ($48), Ilia Perfecting Buff Brush ($44), and Bare Minerals Core Coverage Brush ($30).
Concealer brush: A concealer brush is small, flat, or round, depending on the the formula of concealer being used (i.e. liquid, cream, powder). It’s size and shape is meant to hit the small areas and corners of the eye area for precise spot application.
Powder brush – A.k.a. the face brush. While a powder brush is generally used for applying loose or pressed powders, it can also be used to apply liquid foundation. The latter will provide an airbrushed, soft focus finish, says MUA and Make Up For Ever Pro and Media Educator, Nicholas Lujan, who suggests dabbing the product where coverage is needed, and then quickly buffing in an outward, circular motion (this is the way we should be applying concealer too, FYI).
Try: Le Metier de Beaute Foundation Brush ($75).
Tip: Suzy Gerstein, MUA who’s worked with Christy Turlington: “I like to use a small domed eyeshadow brush to apply loose powder, rather than a traditional big brush. The tapered shape and small size helps control application and keep the areas meant to be dewy from getting over powdered.”
Round: A round, fluffy brush will have more loosely packed bristles and give a sheerer coverage, says Trish McEvoy. For applying powder and mineral foundations, opt for a big, ball brush like IT Cosmetics Heavenly Luxe Jumbo Powder Brush #3 ($58) and Heavenly Luxe Wand Ball Powder Brush #8 ($48) or Le Metier de Beaute Powder Brush ($95).
Kabuki brush: A small, usually rounded brush that’s used for applying loose powder to the face. It’s shape allows for even blending, and it can be conveniently used to apply foundation, powder, and blush.
Try: Nars Kabuki Ita Brush ($55), great for contouring due to it’s angled shape, Make Up For Ever 102 Small Foundation Kabuki ($36), best for applying liquid and cream foundation, Make Up For Ever 136 Pro Bronze Kabuki Brush ($32), doubles as a “buffing” brush, and Make Expert Veil Brush #13 ($42).
The All-Purpose: Artis brushes have the reputation of being the Rolls Royce of makeup brushes. The Artis Palm Brush ($65) looks like a scrubber, but it’s designed to apply foundation, special effect finishes, and body paint. Needless to say, it’s a pro brush. Owner and creator of Artis brushes, Matthew Waitesmith suggests: Holding the Artis Brush handle between thumb and fingers, float and glide, don’t grind or bounce. We found this brush to be best for buffing foundation when covering a larger area at a time; since it’s bigger, there’s less control if you’re targeting small areas. Matthew says, “Pick a brush size that generally matches the size of the area you want to cover.”
Blush, bronzer, and contour brushes – Again, the right tool depends on the type of formula being used. For powdered blushes and bronzers, a round, fluffy brush will make for seamless application, whereas a flat foundation brush or beauty blender (more on that later) is best for applying liquid formulas. We’ve singled out some brushes that are meant for bronzer, blush, and highlight. And remember our handy “3” trick for applying bronzer.
Try: Ilia Finishing Powder Brush ($44), Surratt Beauty Artistique Highlight Brush ($115), Cle de Peau Beaute Powder & Cream Blush Brush ($50), IT Cosmetics Heavenly Luxe Airbrush Powder & Bronzer Brush #1 ($48).
Stippling brush: A stippling brush has different sets of bristles, loose, usually white fibers at the top and densely packed bristles at the base. It’s design is meant to pick up and deposit product more efficiently, and here’s the best (and kind of annoying part), it can be used to apply foundation, blush, bronzer, powder, and highlighter! For a no-makeup-makeup look, this brush is ideal as the loose bristles at the top lightly deposit product. We find it great for blush, highlighter, and setting translucent powder all-over.
Try: Make Expert Stipple Brush #12 ($42)
Fan brush: It’s shaped like a fan, hence the name, and is meant for applying bronzer and highlighter, since it’s lightweight and makes for foolproof application.
Try: Laura Mercier Fan Powder Brush ($30).
Tapered brush: A tapered brush refers to its namesake, as it gradually gets thinner, similar to a stippling brush. These brushes are ideal for applying powder, blush, or bronzer onto the cheekbones and temples, or for contouring the face.
Try: Kevyn Aucoin The Blush Brush ($48)
Beauty Blender – The Original Beauty Blender debuted in 2003, and the rest, as they say, is history. You will not see a makeup tutorial that does not feature a beauty blender. The egg-shaped sponges work wet and dry, to perfectly blend makeup into skin, providing a more flawless finish and eliminating lines and streaks. There are dozens of varieties and sizes of blenders, meant for applying foundation, concealer, and even contour.
Try: Beauty Blender All About Face ($38), featuring three different sizes of the iconic blender, so you can nail expert blending!
Tips: Keep brushes clean with IT Brush Bath Purifying Brush Cleaner ($18) or Make Up For Ever Instant Brush Cleanser ($22). For a gentle and affordable cleanse, MUA Robert Greene, who’s dolled up Tinashe and Emily Blunt, uses Johnson’s Baby Shampoo ($4) to clean brushes, “because it keeps them soft.”
Shop the post for MUA-approved makeup brushes…
–Claudia Mercado is a beauty-obsessed writer living in Long Beach, CA.