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Kabuki brushes—they’re compact, cute, and incredibly versatile, perfect for applying all kinds of face makeup. Fun fact alert: They were originally named after the Japanese theatre, where actors used them to apply heavy layers of white rice powder across their entire face.
So, what defines a kabuki brush? First, the short handle (technically called a stem, FYI) and large, dense head of bristles. The bristles can be either flat, rounded, angled, or slightly tapered at the tip but either way, they are choice for seamlessly applying makeup over large surface areas. In other words, a kabuki brush is ideal for buffing on foundation, layering on powder, dusting on blush and bronzer, or using it as a finishing step to ensure all of your face makeup is perfectly blended. One brush, so many possibilities.
Don’t yet own one? Take your pick from any of the best kabuki brushes below.
Best Overall: Tarte Airbuki Bamboo Powder Foundation Brush
Reviewers rave about how well this works with both powders and all types of foundations, also calling out the ultra-soft feel of the bristles. We agree on both counts, and also appreciate that not only are those bristles vegan and cruelty-free but that the handle is made from sustainable bamboo, too. It also works particularly well to build up layers of powder or foundation, blending them all (without ever looking caked on) until you reach your desired level of complexion coverage.
Best Drugstore: Real Techniques Foundation Blender
Ultra-plush bristles blend, press, and buff on any complexion product. With a wider surface, we especially like this for full-face application of foundation, particularly since it works with liquids, creams, or powders. Also nice: Because the handle isn’t made of wood, you don’t have to worry about it getting wet and damaged when you clean your brush.
Best for Foundation: Fenty Beauty Face & Body Kabuki Brush 160
With an angled brush head and synthetic bristles, this option from Ri-Ri’s line works equally well with either powder or liquid foundation formulas. Happy users repeatedly call out how well it applies and buffs in makeup, and love how easy it is to hold thanks to the rounded handle. Plus, how pretty are the pink bristles?
Runner-Up, Best for Foundation: Sigma F80 Flat Kabuki Brush
The brand’s best-selling foundation brush, this is a favorite of Byrdie Associate Editor Eden Stuart. The bristles are unlike those you’ll find on any other brush, given that they’re made of the brand’s proprietary synthetic fibers, which are both ultra-soft and antimicrobial (always a win in our book). No matter whether you’re using a liquid or a cream base, buffing it on with this guy yields a perfectly airbrushed finish every time.
Best for Blush & Bronzer: Nars Ita Kabuki Brush
With a longer stem than many kabuki brushes, this is choice for those who may find traditional ones tough to hold. The small, flat head is designed for controlled color application and medium coverage, perfect when you’re trying to add a targeted flush to the apples of your cheeks.
Best for Powders: IT Cosmetics Love Beauty Fully Essential Kabuki Brush #207
Makeup artist and beauty expert Nick Stenson loves this pick, raving about the luxuriously soft bristles and weighted handle. It works equally well with both loose and pressed powders, and, as an added benefit, you can feel good knowing that a portion of every brush purchase is donated to Look Good, Feel Better, a program that helps boost the self-confidence of women facing cancer treatments.
Best for Body: Goerti Xuweigood Professional Body Makeup Brush
Kabuki brushes aren’t just for the face. They’re also the perfect tool for applying concealer, highlighter, or bronzer on the skin-below-your chin, think to add a glow to your collarbone or camouflage imperfections on your legs. One of Amazon’s top-rated kabuki brushes, this has a curved shape that hugs contours and makes this type of application easier than ever. The oversized handle is also great for covering larger areas of your body.
Runner-Up, Best for Body: Real Techniques Soft Glam Body Glow Kabuki Brush
“The dense, vegan bristles of this brush are great for using on the decolletage and body,” says Stenson of another one of his picks. He also calls out that it’s extremely durable, given the price point, and notes how pretty it is. Plus, you can use it to apply either powder or cream products.
Best Long-Stem: Milani Universal Kabuki Fan Brush
Sure, traditionally kabuki brushes have a short handle, but if you don’t love the feel of that, Stenson recommends this alternative. It’s easy to use and perfect for controlling how much product you pick up and apply, he says. Because it combines the short, dense bristles of a kabuki brush with a fanned shape, it’s also great for dusting on more sheer amounts of color, think just a touch of highlighter on cheekbones.
Best Budget: e.l.f. Kabuki Face Brush
You could easily spend big bucks on a kabuki brush, but if that’s just not in your budget, this mega-affordable option will most definitely get the job done. The synthetic bristles are as soft as those found in much more expensive brushes and can be used with either wet or dry formulas.
Best Angled: Real Techniques Angled Kabuki Brush
Kabuki brushes are most often touted as best for all-over makeup application, as is the case with powders and foundations. But they can also be used for contouring and highlighter, particularly when they’re angled like this one. “This super-soft brush is extra versatile and works well with liquid and powders alike,” says Stenson. Synthetic bristles make it easy to clean, he adds.
Kabuki brushes are much more of a versatile makeup tool than you might think. The Tarte Airbuki Bamboo Powder Foundation Brush is our favorite, a great choice for both foundations and powders of all kinds. You can also find top, affordable picks at the drugstore. The Real Technique Foundation Blender is one of our go-tos, as is The Real Techniques Angled Kabuki Brush, with angled bristles that are perfect for contouring and/or highlighting. And keep in mind that you can use a kabuki brush, like the Goerti Xuweigood Professional Body Makeup Brush, for applying body makeup on arms, legs, and decolletage, too.
What to Look For In a Kabuki Brush
Angled shapes are better for precision techniques, like contouring or applying bronzer; rounder shapes offer a softer, seamless blend, great for applying foundation or setting powders, says Stenson.
According to Stenson, the density of the bristles will dictate how solid your product application looks. The denser the brush, the more pigment is applied with each swipe, so keep that in mind.
“While a traditional kabuki brush has a very short handle or stem, they can still vary in shape and length. Make sure you feel comfortable holding and maneuvering the brush,” suggests Stenson.
How do you use a kabuki brush?
If you’re using it with a powder product, start by swirling it in a circular motion in the product. Tap off the excess then swirl it onto the skin. If you’re using it with a liquid or cream, dip it into the formula, then buff onto your complexion.
How do you clean a kabuki brush?
Combine a dedicated brush cleaner with water to form a solution in the palm of your hand. Swirl the brush bristles in the solution, then rinse, holding the bristles under running water at an angle so the handle doesn’t get wet. Repeat until the water runs clear. Blot dry with a paper towel, then lay over the edge of a counter to let the bristles dry without getting smushed.
What is a kabuki brush made from?
It depends. Handles are usually made from wood or plastic. Bristles can be either made from animal hair or synthetic fibers, or a mix of both.
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. While she tries to keep her stash of makeup brushes fairly streamlined, a kabuki brush is always in the mix.
Meet the Expert
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find enough kabuki brushes from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business to meet this percentage. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will evaluate the product ASAP.