Don’t use the same brush for shading as you do for defining—let us guide you to the right types of makeup brushes.
Did you know that there are at least five different types of makeup brushes for eye shadow? Yes, five—and not all of them are used to actually apply any makeup.
Those beautiful makeup brush sets can be so expansive that they stump even the most hardcore beauty enthusiasts. What makeup brush do you use for what task? Is that a sponge at the end of that brush? What do you do with that fan? And can someone tell me what that little comb is for?
We can! In the video above, Colleen and Michelle give you a little overview of makeup brushes, but for more detail, read on, and let us help you figure out the best makeup brushes to use for your eyes, lips, and face.
Other names: angled eyeliner brush, small angle brush, slanted eyeliner brush
Use it for: lining the eyes
These brushes are typically synthetic, which is best for gel liners, but they can also be used for powder liner. This brush can also be used whenever you need a straight edge, such as when you’re tracing lips with concealer or filling out the brows.
Other names: liner brush
Use it for: precise eyeliner application
This brush's precision tip makes it perfect for creating a thin, smooth stroke along the lash line. Use it with liquid or gel eyeliner, or dip it in brightly colored eye shadow for a bolder look. On variations of this brush, the ferrule, or metal part, is angled for more precise application.
Other names: smudger brush
Use it for: applying shadow to the lash line or smudging out eyeliner
With its dense bristle arrangement, use the smudge brush to apply and blend bold bursts of color. Create a smoky eye by using it to smudge pencil or gel eyeliner. Rather than bristles, some iterations have tiny sponge ends, which are best for softening lines.
Other names: blender brush, eye blender brush, eye shadow blender brush
Use it for: softening and blending eye shadow
This fluffy brush with soft bristles is designed not to apply color, but to blend it. Blending might be the most important step of any eye shadow application, smoothing out uneven lines and softening harsh color separation.
Other names: shadow brush, eye shader brush
Use it for: bold application of eye shadow
Whether you want an office-friendly pop of eye shadow or a head-turning evening look, this brush is what you'll use for shadow application. It doubles as a blending brush, as long as you remove any previously used color from its bristles.
Other names: sponge applicator, sponge-tip applicator
Use it for: applying pressed or lightly pigmented eye shadow
While not quite a brush, a good sponge applicator is a good tool for applying shadow that's prone to fallout, so you won't get speckles of shadow on your freshly blushed cheeks, as well as chalky cosmetics that brushes can’t pick up. With a larger sponge than that on a some smudger brushes, you can amp up the drama with a dense, heavy layer of shadow.
Other names: eyebrow brush, lash brush, spoolie wand
Use it for: grooming and shaping eyebrows
This brush is designed specifically for the eyebrows, making quick work of brushing brow hairs into place and applying brow gel. If you use it after filling your brows in, a spoolie can soften the color so it looks more like your natural eyebrows.
Other names: lash/brow groomer, lash comb and brow brush
Use it for: shaping and grooming brows, and separating lashes after mascara application
Use the bristle side to shape and groom the eyebrows or to blend brow color for a more natural appearance. The comb side is used for separating mascara-darkened lashes, removing any clumps in the process.
Other names: slanted eyebrow brush
Use it for: defining and filling in brows
This brush looks nearly identical to the angled eyeliner brush (which you technically could use for the same purpose) with one difference—these bristles are stiff and densely packed. The stiffness makes it easier to apply heavier color underneath the brows. Use the slant to your advantage: holding the brush at a 45-degree angle works for shading, while a 90-degree angle is great for creating precise lines.
SHOP EYEBROW BRUSHES
Other names: lipstick brush, precision lip brush
Use it for: controlled application of lipstick and lip liner
This pointed brush plays a number of roles, besides applying lip color all over the lips. The brush's precise, tapered bristles can blend lip liner inward and create a more natural-looking base for lipstick. You can also dip this brush into your liquid lipstick and use it to line your lips.
SHOP LIP BRUSHES
Other names: concealer blending brush
Use it for: applying and blending concealer
This densely packed brush is made to evenly distribute opaque liquid and cream formulas. Use it to apply concealer to any blemishes, under-eye circles, or discoloration, and then blend.
Other names: angled contour brush, contouring brush
Use it for: precise application of blush, contour, or bronzer
With firm bristles and an angled tip, this brush is designed to create a more defined line than its softer, rounder brush counterparts. That makes it perfect for creating the illusion of shadow under the cheekbones or jawline, or even adding a bold streak of blush to the cheeks.
Other names: highlight brush, tapered brush
Use it for: light application of highlighter, blush, or shimmer powder
With loosely packed, soft bristles, this brush is designed to apply products that need to go on sparingly, such as brightly colored blush and intense shimmer. You can also use it to apply shimmery highlighter on the high points of your face, such as the cheekbones, nose, and center of the forehead.
Other names: large powder brush
Use it for: applying a light dusting of face powder
This big, fluffy brush full of loosely packed bristles will pick up just the right amount of pressed or loose powder. Just tap off any excess before you sweep it on.
Other names: stipple brush, foundation stippling brush
Use it for: applying a light application of cream blush or highlighter
Usually a hybrid brush with finer fibers near the tip of each bristle, the stippling brush has a knack for creating an airbrush-style finish with liquid or cream foundation. Start by pouring a small amount of foundation on the back of your hand and gently tapping the brush into the liquid. Use that same tapping motion to distribute the foundation evenly all over your face, then gently swirl the bristles around over the applied foundation for an even finish.
Other names: flat foundation brush
Use it for: applying liquid foundation
Like the stippling brush, the foundation brush is primarily designed to apply foundation. Like a paintbrush, this one has bristles that are tightly packed together, making it perfect for picking up and applying foundation. For the best of both worlds, try using both brushes: apply foundation with the foundation brush, and then blend and finish with the stippling brush.
Other names: tapered blush brush
Use it for: a natural application of blush or bronzer
This soft, fluffy brush, which was designed for applying blush to the apples of the cheeks, creates a more subdued finish than the contouring brush. This brush comes in a variety of shapes, each designed for a particular application style. Try a few out to find the one that works for you.
Other names: blending brush, face blending brush
Use it for: naturally blending makeup on the full face
Despite its name, this brush can be used to apply foundation, blend makeup, or both. Like eye shadow, face makeup should always be blended for the most natural appearance possible.
Use it for: applying a light dusting of powder, highlighter, or shimmer
This gentle brush with sparse, soft bristles works well for sheer applications. Use it to apply a light touch of blush, shimmer, or bronzer on the cheeks, or even brush a clean one under the eyes to remove any leftover flecks of shadow.
Other names: buffer brush
Use it for: applying an even application of face powder, bronzer, or blush, or for blending
Despite its name, the kabuki brush is all about subtlety. Soft and fluffy, yet usually compact, the brush may be used to apply finishing powder or blush with a feathery finish. Its softness also lends itself to blending—simply swirl the brush in circles to soften any harsh lines in your foundation, blush, or contour.
SHOP FACE BRUSHES
The bristles on makeup brushes come in one of three forms: natural, synthetic, or hybrid. You may find sets that include brushes made of one type of bristle, or a mix of each. That mix is usually by design, since each type of bristle lends itself to a specific type of makeup.
Made from real animal hair, natural bristles have a porous structure that makes them perfect for picking up color from powder cosmetics. However, they're not as ideal for cream and liquid products, and they can be harder to clean. Plus, if you have animal-hair allergies or care about being cruelty-free, you may want to stay away from natural bristles.
Because synthetic bristles aren't as absorbent as their natural counterparts, cream blushes and liquid foundation won't get trapped their bristles, and they blend eye shadow and other cosmetics to a natural finish without removing much color. They're still no match for natural bristles when it comes to applying powders.
You can often spot hybrid brushes by their telltale two-tone design, as each individual bristle in is made of both natural animal hair and synthetic material. Combining these two materials creates a versatile tool that lends itself to applying and blending virtually any type of makeup.
This article was originally written by Ashley Hamer and has since been updated by our editors. Illustrations by Michelle Klosinski for Groupon.