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These 11 Makeup Brushes Put Sponges (and Fingers) to Shame

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You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who didn't believe that makeup brushes are an integral part of any beauty routine. Sure there are blending sponges and even our own (clean) fingers that can do the job, but for a truly precise application of eyeshadow, bronzer, and more—and a finish that makes your skin looked like you just walked out of a professional makeup studio—you'll need the right makeup brushes in your kit. Period. To that end, we rounded up best makeup brushes for novices and pros, for those on and off a budget, and for every conceivable thing you’d need them for.

Read on to discover the best makeup brushes you can buy now.

Best Overall: Artis Elite Mirror Oval 8 Brush

artis elite mirror oval 8 brush

Courtesy of Sephora

This makeup brush isn't the most affordable out there, but its versatility and effectiveness make it well worth the price. Since it can blend liquid, cream, and powder makeup including foundation, bronzer, blush, and contour, it takes the place of multiple brushes in your routine. What's more, the bristles feel like a pillow against the skin and reveal a flawless finish. One more benefit (for good measure): Even the handle has been specially designed for the ideal grip so you can glide the brush across your face, neck, and chest without getting a cramp.

Best Budget: e.l.f. Cosmetics 11-Piece Brush Collection

e.l.f. Cosmetics 11-Piece Brush Collection

 Courtesy of e.l.f. Cosmetics

e.l.f. Cosmetics makeup brushes are easily accessible and affordable, making them a great option for makeup newbies. With this set, you get everything you need if you’re a beginner, on a budget, or both, all in a water-resistant zip-up case.

It’s a good mix of face and eye brushes, including the beloved “C” eyeshadow brush (which is perfect for packing on shadow), an angled brush for blush or contour, and a fluffy powder brush. If you need to build your makeup brush collection from scratch, this set is a great way to start without emptying your pockets.

Best for Eyeshadow: Sigma E55 Eye Shading Brush

E55 Eye Shading Brush SIGMA BEAUTY
Courtesy of Nordstrom

To properly lay down eyeshadow, you need a brush with a short, dense, rounded head. This Sigma brush features synthetic bristles that grab on to eyeshadow easily and gently pat on cream or powder pigment all over your lid without poking you in the eye.

Runner-Up, Best for Eyeshadow: MAC 242S Synthetic Shader Brush

Courtesy of MAC

Shimmer shadows can seem like a bait-and-switch without the right brush. They’ll glimmer in the pan, only to coat your finger and refuse to transfer to your lid or barely adhere to the brush at all. The painterly MAC 242S, on the other hand, coaxes tricky shimmer, duo-chrome, and foil shadows on to your eyes with its flat synthetic bristles. It also applies regular matte shadows with no problem.

Best for Blending Eyeshadow: Make Up For Ever 242 Large Blender Brush

MAKE UP FOR EVER 242 Large Blender Brush
Courtesy of Sephora

If you need to blend out a transition shade or soften edges, a brush with longer bristles, like this one from Make Up For Ever, is your best bet. The large, flared synthetic brush head diffuses color all over the lid and blends shadow colors with ease. And since the bristles are on the longer end, go in with a gentle hand for better control—try holding the brush near the end as you blend.

Best for Liquid Foundation: Cover FX Liquid Foundation Brush

COVER FX Liquid Foundation Brush
Courtesy of Sephora

For liquid foundation, look for a dense, flat-topped brush. This Cover FX brush works with liquid, cream and powder formulas; its tightly-packed bristles can buff liquid foundation into the skin for an airbrushed finish. It also maneuvers the foundation along the hairline and makes a little product go a long way. The brush is more petite than traditional buffing brushes, but the smaller size allows for better control.

Best for Contouring: Real Techniques Bold Metals Collection Flat Contour Brush

Real Techniques Bold Metals Collection Cosmetic Brush - Flat Contour
Courtesy of Target

This beautiful brush is rose gold eye candy, but that's just one reason why we love it. The other? Its dense, soft bristles massage product in and resist shedding. You can use it to blend out both cream and powder contour while keeping the product exactly where you placed it.

Best for Powder: Real Techniques Powder Brush

real techniques powder brush

Courtesy of Amazon 

For a powder brush, you don’t have to go high-end. You do, however, need a brush with soft enough bristles to dust powder over your makeup without streaking. The synthetic bristles on this fluffy, rounded Real Techniques brush picks up powder and deposits it flawlessly on skin. No poky bristles, cakiness, or relentless shedding with this one.

Best Set: SHANY Masterpiece Signature Brush Set, 24 Pieces

If you’re after a brush set that you can lean on when applying your entire makeup look—from your eyeshadow to your foundation to your bronzer, blush, and highlighter—then this 24-piece set from SHANY is definitely the one for you. These professional-grade brushes are made with an expertly-curated blend of sable-, goat badger-, and pony hair and microfiber bristles that allow for the most seamless blend every single time.

Each and every single brush is soft, resilient, and long-lasting so you won’t have to worry about it falling apart after one use. This set in particular features oak and rosewood handles with a sleek, black finish. Each brush is hypoallergenic and anti-bacterial, so it won’t be the culprit of any break out in between washes. Plus, it comes in a vegan leather brush roll so it’s easy to stash away or take it with you when you’re traveling. 

Best Cruelty Free: EcoTools 5-Piece Travel Collection Makeup Brush Set

When looking for makeup brushes you always want to select a high-quality option that makes any products you use—high-end or drugstore—apply seamlessly. While it’s easy to find these options, the same can't be said when you're only looking to invest in cruelty-free brushes that work really well. But EcoTools changed that in a big way with their all-star, cruelty-free makeup brushes.

The brand’s brushes are made with cruelty-free Taklon bristles, sustainable bamboo handles, and other natural and recyclable materials. This set of brushes lay down eyeshadow, buff in bronzer, and allow you to paint your face without any streaks or uneven application. 

Best for Bronzer: Marc Jacobs The Bronze Bronzer Brush No. 12

MARC JACOBS BEAUTY The Bronze - Bronzer Brush No. 12
Courtesy of Sephora

This brush is an indulgence for sure, but an oversized, fluffy, reliable one at that. Aside from the actual functionality, the best part of this giant Marc Jacobs brush is how luxurious the bristles feel against the skin. The soft, synthetic bristles and slightly tapered dome shape diffuse bronzer without much work, which is a relief if you’ve ever tried to rescue patchy bronzer. The brush also lets you pick up and tap off product as you need.

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