These 15 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 the 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: ArtisElite Mirror Oval 8 Brush

artis elite mirror oval 8 brush

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 Silver 11-Piece Brush Collection

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

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 Fan Brush: BH Cosmetics All Over Fan Brush

BH Cosmetics

This versatile fan brush features a blend of cruelty-free bristles with a tapered design to evenly apply loose or pressed powder for an airbrushed complexion. It's also a great choice for highlighter or bronzer, and you're getting professional quality without the designer price tag.

Best for Bronzer: Pat McGrath Labs Sublime Perfection Powder Brush

Pat McGrath Labs Sublime Perfection Powder Brush

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 Pat McGrath Labs 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.

Best for Contouring: Fenty Beauty Face Shaping Brush 125

Fenty Beauty by Rihanna Face Shaping Brush 125

This beautiful brush is pastel eye candy, but that's just one reason why we love it. The other? The 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 Eyeshadow: Sigma Beauty E55 Eye Shading Brush

E55 Eye Shading Brush SIGMA BEAUTY

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 Cosmetics 242 Synthetic Shader Brush

242 SYNTHETIC SHADER BRUSH

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

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: CoverFX Liquid Foundation Brush

COVER FX Liquid Foundation Brush

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 Powder: Real Techniques Powder Brush

real techniques powder brush

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 Cosmetics The Masterpiece Pro Signature Brush Set

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 On-the-Go Style Kit

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 lays down eyeshadow, buff in bronzer, and allow you to paint your face without any streaks or uneven application. 

Best Travel Set: Mented Cosmetics Mini Brush Trio

Mented Brushes

This mini trio of eyeshadow brushes is the perfect stash for your overnight bag. It comes with a pencil brush for smudging your lower lash line or corner highlight, a blending brush for blowing out the crease, and a flat shader great for applying shimmer shades and intense colors.

Editor's Pick: It Cosmetics Heavenly Luxe Makeup Brush Set

it cosmetics brush set

"Truly heavenly, truly luxe. These are the makeup brushes as far as I'm concerned—they feel like suede and blend even the most matte-foundations seamlessly. I'm fairly novice when it comes to creating more formal makeup looks, but these brushes make me feel like a professional makeup artist. Try them, love them, and become a Heavenly Luxe convert." says Faith Xue.

Runner-Up, Editor's Pick: Huda Beauty Tantour Brush

Tantour 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.

Final Verdict

To get a truly precise foundation application, we recommend the Artis Elite Mirror Oval 7 Brush. It isn't the most affordable option out there, but its versatility and effectiveness make it well worth the price. However, if you’re looking for something more budget-friendly, go for the e.l.f. Cosmetics 11-Piece Brush Collection. They are easily accessible, making them a great option for makeup newbies, and this kit gives you 11 different brushes to add to your collection.

What to Consider When Buying a Makeup Brush

Quality

Some makeup brushes can cost a pretty penny, but that’s because it can be quite the process to make a quality brush. Consider the sturdiness of the handle and how soft the bristles feel against your skin—these are both factors that will affect how long the brush lasts and the standard of your makeup application. The best makeup brushes should feel soft but with enough texture to blend your powder and products properly.

Synthetic vs. Natural

It might feel luxurious to have a fluffy makeup brush sourced from the finest animal hair or fur, but it’s not the most sustainable or cruelty-free option. Synthetic brushes have come a long way, and there are plenty of options to consider that are both earth and wallet-friendly. It’s also important to inquire whether or not a brand conducts animal testing. So if you want to be kind to animals while also being hypoallergenic (sounds like a win-win!), cruelty-free is the way to go.

Application

All brushes are not created equal. In fact, they are usually created with very specific uses in mind, and it’s important to use brushes for their intended use. If you’re new to the makeup world and you’re not quite sure where to start, makeup artist Tamekia Greer of Tamgee Artistry Studio recommends starting with a foundation brush, powder brush and a blush brush. A flat and a crease eyebrow brush are also good tools to have on-hand. 

FAQs

Do makeup brushes really blend better?

The answer is a resounding yes. While fingertips get the job done for low maintenance looks or multi-purpose pigments, brushes will help you achieve a streak-free, even application.

How do you clean makeup brushes?

Greer says, "For deep cleaning, I use an antibacterial bar soap combined with olive oil to help condition the brushes. In between deep cleaning I use Cinema Secrets Brush Cleaner.” Whichever cleaning technique you use, be sure to wash brushes thoroughly until the water runs clear.

How often should you clean your brushes?

“For all brushes, especially any brushes used for cream products, I recommend once a week to prevent possible skin breakouts and buildup on your brushes,” says Greer. “The cleaner they are, the better the application and the longer your brushes last.”

How do you store makeup brushes?

As long as your makeup brushes are kept dry and clean, feel free to get creative with brush storage. A marble or ceramic jar is an aesthetically pleasing option for storing on a countertop. If you prefer to tuck your tools away or take them with you on the go, a brush roll is a great choice.

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