Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.
Great-looking makeup requires the right tools for application, like a set of brushes that can allow you to easily apply eyeshadow, bronzer, foundations, and more. This largely holds true—any beauty YouTuber with a decent audience has at least one video devoted to makeup brushes—and even if you’re a novice, good-quality brushes that actually blend out eyeshadow like they’re supposed to make your life much easier.
But the quest for better brushes quickly turns into a Choose Your Own Adventure: Natural or synthetic hair? Rounded or tapered? Pencil or crease? Thank the sponge spears and cheap duo brushes that came with your eyeshadow palettes, then put them aside. Here, find best makeup brushes for novices and beauty stans, for those on and off a budget, and for every conceivable thing you’d need them for. Read on to learn about the best makeup brushes you can buy now.
Best for Applying Eyeshadow: Sigma E55 Eye Shading Brush
To properly lay down eyeshadow, you need a brush with a short, dense, rounded brush head. This Sigma brush, though synthetic, is supposedly a dupe for the discontinued MAC 239 brush, which was reformulated with synthetic hair earlier this year. The bristles grab on to eyeshadow easily and gently pat on cream or powder pigment all over your lid without poking you in the eye. The Sigma brush does a decent job of applying shimmer shadows, but performs best with matte formulas.
Best Budget: E.l.f. Brush Collection - 11pc
e.l.f. 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 of precious cash.
Best for Shimmer Eyeshadow: MAC 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 242, on the other hand, coaxes tricky shimmer, duochrome, and foil shadows on to your eyes with its flat synthetic bristles. It also applies regular matte shadows with no problem. The 242 is also one of the few makeup brushes that plays well with Colourpop eyeshadows, which are notoriously resistant to applicators besides fingers. Spray with setting spray beforehand then dip into your eye shadow for super metallic results.
Best for Blending Eyeshadow: Makeup Forever 242 Large Blender Brush
It sounds counterintuitive, but when it comes to blending eyeshadow, the less control you have, the better. Keeping an iron grip on the brush can make your eyeshadow patchy. This isn’t the case with more precise blending in the crease or outer corner (a smaller blending brush is totally appropriate in that case), but if you need to blend out a transition shade or soften edges, a brush with longer bristles, like this one from Makeup Forever, is your best bet. The large, flared synthetic brush head diffuses color all over the lid and blends shadow colors into each other 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. The 242 stays just as soft as when you first get it, even through regular cleaning.
Best for Liquid Foundation: 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, but its tightly-packed bristles can buff liquid foundation into the skin for an airbrushed finish. It also maneuvers foundation along the hairline without getting it on your hair, and makes a little product go a long way. The Cover FX brush is more petite than traditional buffing brushes, but the smaller size allows for better control. If you’re trying to cover up acne or texture, apply foundation to those spots in a stippling motion after blending out all over.
Best for Contouring: Real Techniques Bold Metals Collection Flat Contour Brush
This beautiful brush may be rose gold eye candy, but its dense, flat bristle head keeps it functional, too. The aluminum ferrule has a nice weight to it so it feels expensive but not unwieldy. Soft bristles massage product in, and according to reviews, resist shedding. Traditional contour brushes sculpt cheeks by sweeping product along the cheekbones, but the angled brush shape works best with powder (rather than cream) contour. This flat contour brush, however, lets you blend out both cream and powder contour while keeping the product exactly where you placed it, whereas a Beauty Blender or angled brush are prone to letting your contour roam. For best results, use the brush to blend upward and out.
Best for Setting Powder: 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 pick up setting powder and deposit it flawlessly on skin. No poky bristles, cakiness, or relentless shedding with this one—and it’s easy to clean, if you’re prone to breakouts.
Best for Bronzer: Marc Jacobs The Bronze Bronze Brush No. 12
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 that it lets you luxuriously sweep on bronzer like an unbothered, sun-kissed princess whose wrist movements have their own net worth. 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 Brush 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 eye shadow 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 hair, pony hair and microfiber bristles which allow for the most seamless blend every single time.
Each and every single brush is soft, resilient, and long-lasting so you won’t after to worry about it falling apart after one use. This set especially 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 Professional: M.A.C Cosmetics
Whether you’re a professional makeup artist or just an overall beauty lover, investing in quality brushes can make or break your makeup look. That’s why if you’re after professional-grade brushes then look no further than the OG of brushes from M.A.C Cosmetics. The brand offers both natural-bristle and synthetic options that blend your base, and your eye shadow with ultra-ease.
Featuring have a seriously wide variety of brushes that allow for precise application there’s something for every makeup-related task. The soft bristles feel good on the face too—and are never scratchy or tough. They also hold up to weekly washes and won’t shed on your face or in the sink. On top of that the sleek black handles and silver Farrells look pretty sitting on your vanity, and in your hand when you’re applying on yourself or clients.
Best Cruelty Free: Eco Tools
When looking for makeup brushes in general you always want to select a high-quality option that makes any products you use—high-end or drugstore—apply seamlessly leaving you with a blended and beautiful makeup look. While it’s easy to find these in the beauty space, the problem arises if you’re searching for the perfect makeup brushes in the cruelty-free market. While they’re definitely better for our furry friends, many cruelty-free tools get at bad rap when it comes to performance.
However, after trying Eco Tools' makeup brushes we can tell you these works just as well if not better than some non-cruelty-free brushes. The brand’s brushes are made with cruelty-free taklon bristles, sustainable bamboo handles, and other natural and recyclable materials so that not only you look gorgeous, but it also keeps the Earth looking gorgeous, too. These soft and luxurious-feeling drugstore brushes lay down eyeshadow, buff in bronzer, and allow you to paint your face without any streaks or uneven application.