The Best Contouring Brushes for Next-Level Sculpting and Shading

Our best overall is Charlotte Tilbury Powder & Sculpt Brush

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Liliya Rodnikova/Stocksy

When it comes to mastering the art of contour, there are several important steps involved. First, you’ll want to nail the technique. (Spoiler alert: It’s not as hard as it seems, so don’t be intimidated.) Then, you need to find the right contour formulas as cream and powder can yield very different results. Next, it’s time to find your shade—another pivotal step, given that going too gray or too dark can quickly leave your skin looking muddy and streaky. And finally, once you’ve checked all those boxes, it’s time to find the right tool for the job.

Byrdie Researched & Approved

Our best overall pick is the Charlotte Tilbury Powder & Sculpt Brush, a versatile, hand-crafted contour brush that can be used with either powder or cream. For a more affordable pick, consider Real Techniques Sculpt & Shape Dual-Ended Brush, which is highly effective at sculpting and contouring. We also love that it comes with a retractable cover for protective storage.

Just like with makeup, not all contouring brushes are created equal. “There’s a huge selection when it comes to contour brushes — different shapes, various angles and curves, and ones made for specific formulas, including cream, liquid, or powder,” explains StyleSeat makeup artist Manuel Espinoza

We spent hours researching the best contouring brushes, evaluating each on size, how ergonomic it is to use, shape, angles, or taper,  plus the types of bristles used and their density. Our team then combined these results with our research of fan favorites plus makeup artist-recommended picks to create this list.

Read on for the best contour brushes for a seamless look.

Best Overall

Charlotte Tilbury Powder & Sculpt Brush

4.7
Charlotte Tilbury Powder & Sculpt Brush

Nordstrom

What We Like
  • Medium size brush head works well on both larger and smaller areas

  • Faceted handle that won’t roll of your counter or vanity

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Who else recommends it? Allure and Cosmopolitan both picked the Charlotte Tilbury Powder & Sculpt Brush.

In our expert opinion, there’s truly nothing this legendary makeup artist can do wrong with her eponymous brand. Exhibit A: This ultra-luxe brush that’s worth the price given its versatility. With a tapered end, it can be used not only for contouring but also for blush or even to apply highlighter. To go back to the luxe aspect, it’s also worth pointing out that it’s hand-crafted by master brush makers in Europe, a beautiful and long-lasting addition to your vanity.

Brush Material: Synthetic Fibers, Wood | Features: Tapered end for additional use for blush and highlighting | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Overall, Runner-Up

Patrick Ta Major Sculpt Contour Brush

Patrick Ta Major Sculpt Contour Brush

Sephora

What We Like
  • Works well with cream and powder formulas

  • Uniquely tapered shape

What We Don’t Like
  • Expensive

Another foolproof pick, this is one of Espinoza’s favorites. “This brush works great for cream and powder products,” he says. “The tapered bristles will help you achieve a soft, blended look with no sharp lines, leading you to achieve the perfect, subtle contour.”

Brush Material: Synthetic | Features: Densely-packed brustles, curved head, fan-like design | Cruelty-free: Yes

Best Drugstore

EcoTools Wonder Color Finish Brush

EcoTools The Wonder Color Finish Brush

Ulta

What We Like
  • Plenty of bristles for even coverage

  • Sustainable bamboo handle

  • Affordable

What We Don't Like
  • Doesn’t work great with powder formulas

One of the few drugstore brands that are doing the eco-friendly thing right, this brush is vegan and PETA-certified with a handle made from renewable bamboo, one of the most sustainable options available. The bristles (there are more than 60,000 of them) impart beautiful coverage and color payoff and come in an oval shape perfect for placing contour. You can also use the brush wet or dry; just dampen the bristles to sheer out the color.

Brush Material: Recycled Aluminum, Plastic, Cotton, Bamboo Fibers | Features: Made up of 60,000 fibers for full-color application | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Size 8 inches

Best for Powder

Sephora Collection Pro Contour Brush #79

Sephora Collection Pro Contour Brush #79

Sephora

What We Like
  • Soft and fluffy bristles

  • Sustainable wood handle

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

  • Reviewers say it’s so soft that it doesn’t pick up enough product

Soft, tapered, and perfectly fluffy, this pick is perfect for dusting on and blending powder formulas. It's equally effective at applying color as it is at buffing and blending the result, with a versatile size that can be used pretty much anywhere on the face. Bonus points for the vegan bristles and sustainable wood used for the handle.

Brush Material: Synthetic Fibers | Features: Tapered end for targeted application | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best for Powder, Runner-Up

Fenty Beauty Sculpting Bronzer Brush 195

Fenty Beauty Sculpting Bronzer Brush

Sephora

What We Like
  • Ultra-soft bristles

  • Unique shape that makes for precise yet diffuse contour

What We Don’t Like
  • Best used with powder products only

  • Expensive

“Best for powder products, this tapered brush is designed with a spade shape to contour the face with precision,” explains Espinoza. “The shape, plus the soft, synthetic bristles, are made for controlled placement and are perfectly fit for your jawline, temples, and the hollows of your cheeks.”

Brush Material: Synthetic fibers | Features: Tapered and spade-shaped head, fluffy and soft brush | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Dual-Ended

Huda Beauty Sculpt & Shade Face Brush

Huda Beauty Face Contouring Sculpt & Shade Brush

Sephora

What We Like
  • Multi-tasking brush

  • Works great with cream and powder formulas

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

“I'm not a pro when it comes to contouring, but this angled brush makes it that much easier to chisel your jaw or make your cheekbones pop,” says Byrdie associate editor Holly Rhue of her fave. It can be used with either powder or liquid formulas; the smaller size has more densely-packed bristles for precise application, while the larger end has fluffier ones, which are great for buffing away tell-tale lines.

Brush Material: Synthetic Fibers | Features: Dual-ended for both liquid and powder contour formulas and bronzers | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Fan Brush

Sigma F42 Strobing Fan Brush

Sigma F42 Strobing Fan Brush

Neiman Marcus

What We Like
  • Antimicrobial fibers

  • Comes with a two-year warranty

What We Don't Like
  • Not the best if you want a dramatic contour color

While fan brushes aren’t traditionally associated with contouring, they should be. They’re ideal for imparting sheer washes of color, perfect for someone who wants to use a contour product to create natural shading rather than dramatic sculpting. Espinoza adds that they’re particularly good to pair with cream formulas since they help to control exactly where you want the heavier texture of the product to go. Plus, they’re also absolutely perfect for dusting complementary highlighter tones onto cheeks and brow bones. This particular brush is super durable, boasting antimicrobial synthetic bristles, corrosion-resistant metal on the ferrule (the part that connects the bristles and handle), and a waterproof handle.

Brush Material: Synthetic Fibers, Plastic | Features: Corrosion-resistant metal on the ferrule and waterproof polymer-based handle creates durability | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Size: 175mm

Best Densely Packed

Pat McGrath Labs Skin Fetish Sublime Perfection Concealer Brush

pat mcgrath concealer brush

Pat McGrath

What We Like
  • Great for concealing and contouring

  • Unique bristles that make for seamless blending

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

Pick up this concealer brush and use it for both concealing and contouring purposes. The brush head is angled and the bristles are nice and dense, giving you perfect control over how much product is picked up and laid down. Speaking of, those bristles also feature a patent-pending technology to make blending more seamless than ever. Try it and you’ll see what we mean.

Brush Material: Synthetic TRX Fibers | Features: Patent-pending TRX fiber technology bristles deliver superior pickup and effortless blending | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best for Cream

Real Techniques Sculpt & Shape Dual Ended Brush

Real Techniques Sculpt & Shape Dual Ended Brush

Amazon

What We Like
  • Built-in cap

  • Dual-ended

  • Lightweight and easy to hold

What We Don’t Like
  • Bristles could be slightly longer

Any type of cream formula is best paired with a brush that has synthetic bristles; they won’t absorb the product as natural hairs can. This one features high-quality synthetic bristles that rival many of those found in much pricier brushes—it’s another great cheapie—and has the added benefit of being dual-ended as well. (The other side is slightly fluffier, great for powder formulas.) We also appreciate the retractable cap that helps protect the bristles.

Brush Material: Synthetic fibers | Features: Dual-ended brush, large densely-packed end with shorter bristles for sculpting, smaller end for details | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Mini

Morphe M164 Small Flat Angled Contour

Morphe M164 Small Flat Angled Contour

Morphe

What We Like
  • Great for smaller spots

  • Affordable

What We Don’t Like
  • Not for people looking for a natural contour effect

For contouring smaller spots such as the nose and cupid’s bow, smaller, angled brushes will help you create the most precise contour effect, says Espinoza. This scaled-down option is our pick. The bristles are slim yet dense, and reviewers (most of whom say they love it for contouring their nose) note that it works well with both cream and powder formulas.

Brush Material: Synthetic fibers | Features: Small, flat-angled brush with short bristles | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Size: 6 ⅛”

Best for Cheekbones

Fenty Beauty Cheek-Hugging Bronzer Brush 190

Fenty Beauty Cheek Hugging Bronzer Brush 190

Sephora

“This brush is plush, large, and chiseled, making it a great option to snugly glide product over the curves of your face, including your cheeks, jawline, and temples,” says Espinoza of another one of his favorites. The bristles also tout a unique, asymmetrical cut that delivers just the right amount of product every time. It does work best for powder formulas, but that can be either contour color, bronzer, or highlighter.

Brush Material: Synthetic fibers | Features: Extra-large brush with soft bristles, chiseled edge to match the contours of your face | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Final Verdict

Contour brushes abound, and it’s important to think about both where on the face you’ll be using it as well as with what type of product when choosing one. The Charlotte Tilbury Powder & Sculpt Brush and Patrick Ta Major Sculpt Contour Brush are our top two favorites, both on the slightly more expensive side but with unique shapes that make for a very versatile contour application. The Real Techniques Sculpt & Shape Dual-Ended Brush is a nice, more affordable alternative (and has the added benefit of being dual-ended).

Meet the Expert

Manuel Espinoza is a makeup artist and a StyleSeat Pro based in Los Angeles with over a decade of experience in the industry.

What to Look For in a Contour Brush

Easy to Clean Brush Head

Cleaning your makeup brushes doesn't need to be a chore—but if a contour brush isn't easy to clean, it will be one. Ensure the brush will be easy to clean by choosing one that connects easily to the handle without any parts that may be tough to wash or get into. Byrdie writer Devon Hopp recommends lukewarm water for the cleaning water temperature, and to always run the water down the length of the bristles, not up.

Bristle Density

How dense your contour brush's bristles are determined by how full or light the coverage will be, so select according to the amount of coverage you generally seek from contour. Sephora Collection's national artist Helen Phillips says to "to look for brushes with dense bristles" for full coverage, and "for lighter coverage, use a fluffier brush."

Slant, Taper, and Angle

Contour brushes may have bristles that run straight across, at a single slanted angle, with a triangle right angle curve in the center, a fan appearance, or even a step-looking shape. The angle impacts the amount of coverage you'll get from the brush, with sharp slants providing more full coverage than softer angles.

Ergonomic Shape

If a handle doesn't fit comfortably in your hands, the brush won't yield good results. And similarly, if you can't work with the slant or angle of the brush while holding it, the results won't be ideal. Select a brush that, above all else, is comfortable in your hands. When considering how you'll want to use the brush, follow Phillips' guide for contouring, for which you'll be "starting at the tragus of your ear and lightly sweeping down toward the edge of your lip (this is where your line should be). Then, push into your cheek to find the most hollow point (this is where it should appear the deepest in tone) and blend, blend, blend!"

FAQ
  • What kind of brush do you use for contouring?

    To contour your face, you use a contour brush. These brushes differ from other makeup brushes, such as blush brushes. Unlike more rounded blush brushes, contour brushes come in a variety of angled shapes.

  • What should I look for when buying make up brushes?

    When selecting a makeup brush, you want to focus on a few key factors: bristle density, material, and shape, handle length and brush head size. For home use, full-size brushes are great, and for travel, minis are your best bet.

  • How do you blend when contouring?

    A Beautyblender is an ideal way to blend contour into your face seamlessly. Byrdie writer Devon Hopp says to "take a dampened Beautyblender...and softly blend out the dotted line. Continue to carry the color up along your temples and down along your jawline."


How We Researched

To compile this list, our team of editors and contributors spent hours researching the best products on the market in this category, evaluating their key features—like ingredients, shade range, or design—in addition to reviews from customers and other trusted sources. We then used this research to assign a star rating from one to five (five being the best; one being the worst) to certain products on the list.

Why Trust Byrdie

Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. Since she has yet to master the art of contouring, she relied on expert intel and tons of reviews and consumer input when researching this article.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. The 25 best makeup brushes to level up every part of your beauty routine. Allure. https://www.allure.com/gallery/best-makeup-brushes

  2. 10 best contour brushes for a flawlessly sculpted face. Cosmopolitan. https://www.cosmopolitan.com/style-beauty/beauty/g38802716/best-contour-brushes

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