The Best Contouring Brushes for Next-Level Sculpting and Shading

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When it comes to mastering the art of the contour, there are several important steps involved. First, you’ll want to really 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 product; not all contour formulas are created equal, and 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.

Just like with makeup, not all contouring brushes are created equal. When searching for the right contour brush, it’s important to consider everything from the size, which should work ergonomically, to the shape and its angles or taper, to the types of bristles used and their density. So, to make that final step in the process that much easier, we did the hard work for you.

Read on for the best contour brushes on the market now.

Best Overall: Charlotte Tilbury Powder & Sculpt Brush

Charlotte Tilbury Powder & Sculpt Brush

Courtesy of Nordstrom

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.

Best Budget: E.l.f. Cosmetics Contouring Brush

E.l.f. Cosmetics Contouring Brush

We’re all for saving your hard-earned cash by choosing inexpensive makeup brushes—particularly because these days, there’s a treasure trove of standouts to choose from. Here’s just one of those, a wallet-friendly choice with dense bristles and a short and structured shape that’s great at strategic and targeted color application, which is exactly what you want when you’re contouring.

Best Drugstore: EcoTools Wonder Color Finish Brush

EcoTools The Wonder Color Finish Brush

Courtesy of Ulta

One of the few drugstore brands that's really 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's 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.

Best for Powder Contour: Sephora Collection Pro Contour Brush #79

Sephora Collection Pro Contour Brush #79

Courtesy of Sephora

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 end 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.

Best for Cream Contour: Real Techniques Sculpting Brush

real techniques sculpting brush

Any type of cream formula is best paired with a brush that has synthetic bristles; they won’t absorb the product like 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), with that classic angled shape that’s so perfect for contouring.

Best Dual-Ended: Huda Beauty Sculpt & Shade Face Brush

Huda Beauty Face Contouring Sculpt & Shade Brush

“I'm definitely 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.

Best Mini: Morphe E8 Detail Contour

Morphe E8 Detail Contour

The scaled-down size of this pick makes it the perfect choice for sculpting and shading smaller spots, like around the bridge of your nose or a particular part of your cheekbone. The bristles are slim yet dense, and while they work especially well with cream products, they can also be used to apply powder formulas.

Best Fan Brush: Sigma F42 Strobing Fan Brush

Sigma F42 Strobing Fan Brush

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. Plus, they’re also absolutely perfect for dusting complementary highlighter tones onto cheeks and browbones. 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.

Best Densely Packed: Pat McGrath Labs Skin Fetish Sublime Perfection Concealer Brush

pat mcgrath concealer brush

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.

Best Portable: Fenty Beauty Portable Contour & Concealer Brush 150

Fenty Beauty Portable Contour & Concealer Brush 150

Okay, we know contouring isn't quite as easy to do on-the-go as, say, applying lipstick, but if you're doing it, you need this brush. And regardless, it’s a great pick for anyone looking to streamline their makeup bag and eliminate bulky brushes. The retractable contour and concealer brush has soft and tapered bristles that are specially cut for extra application. Also nice: The tube is magnetic, and attaches to the brand’s Matte Skinsticks, one of our favorite contouring products.

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 down the water down the length of the bristles, not up.

Bristle Density

How dense your contour brush's bristles are determines 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, 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!"

  • 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 a blush brush. Unlike blush brushes, which are more rounded, 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."

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