Remember the time when the more expensive thing was better? These days, especially in the world of beauty products, that’s no longer the case. In fact, every luxury item has a comparable dupe—and they almost always end up being a fraction of the price. The same can be said for makeup brushes. To put it simply, the affordable makeup brushes of today have evolved—we’re talking high-quality bristles, sleek styles, and designs that make them easy to clean.
“Makeup brushes are a must,” says celebrity MUA Nydia Figueroa. “Applying makeup with a brush is better than fingers alone because you’re able to achieve seamless results." Figueroa suggests having at least five brushes in your arsenal: a foundation brush, a concealer brush, a tapered eyeshadow brush, a blush brush, and an angled contour brush.
To make life easier for you, we researched the best cheap makeup brush sets on the market now.
e.l.f. Cosmetics Precision Brush Collection
Give an airbrushed, soft-focus finish
Helps you achieve a great contour
Some brushes are rough
You’ll have what you need and more with this nine-piece brush set. Our favorites are the stipple brush and the airbrush blender, which are both effective at giving you that airbrushed, soft-focus finish. And if you’re a big contour fan, you’ll love the sculpting brush, which gets into the hollows of your cheeks. Did we mention these brushes are all 100% vegan and cruelty-free, too? Score.
Price at time of publish: $50
Number of Brushes: 10 | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Akstore 16-Piece Makeup Brush Set
Includes pieces for wet and dry application
Soft in feel
Large variety for different needs
Need a good scrubbing to clean
With 14 pieces in this brush collection, there's a tool for every situation—trust. From a flat-angled brush for highlighting to a classic detail brush for filling in your lips, you'll be able to create looks for all occasions. Highly rated, reviewers love the variety, how soft the bristles are, and the perks of a cleaning mitt and makeup sponges.
Price at time of publish: $10
Number of Brushes: 14 | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Face Set
EcoTools Start the Day Beautifully Kit
Provides the key pieces for everyday routines
Could blend makeup better
If you’re a minimalist, you only need a few key brushes to execute your everyday makeup routine. Included in this essential kit is an angled foundation brush, blurring brush, crease brush, angled liner, and blush brush. What I love about this set is that you can interchange brushes, too—I find that the angled foundation brush works great as a contouring brush, and the crease brush moonlights as an eyeliner brush.
Price at time of publish: $13
Number of Brushes: 6| Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Eye Set
Sephora Collection Eyes Uncomplicated Brush Set
All brushes are super soft
It blends really well
It helps create more intricate eye looks
Reviewers say that certain deep shadows will stain brushes even after cleansing
This eye brush set helps you create every type of eye look that you ever wanted to do. It contains six different types of brushes — a large tapered blending brush, a medium shader brush, a detailed blending brush, a small dome brush, a round pencil brush, and an angled eye brush — so you can blend in colors, create different designs, or stick to the classics like a smokey eye. It also comes with a brush cup for easy storage.
Number of Brushes: 6 | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Skincare
Real Techniques Prep + Prime Set
Includes latex-free foam sponge for smooth finish
Easy to clean
Includes some harsher brushes
We all know the golden rule: Skincare first, makeup second. This brush set takes that to another level. There’s a dry facial brush to exfoliate and get your blood flowing, a prep brush to use with your moisturizer or serums of choice, an under-eye massager to use with your eye gels and creams, and a lip exfoliating brush that’ll pair nicely with your lip balm. Taking care of your skin, after all, is the best first step to any killer makeup look.
Price at time of publish: $20
Number of Pieces: 4 | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
BS-MALL Makeup 18-Piece Brush Set
Perfect for beginners
Plethora of brushes for multiple applications
Gentle for sensitive skin
Quality could be better
If you’re looking for a brush set to end all brush sets, here it is. With a whopping 18 pieces, this set literally has everything you could need. From a lip brush to a blender brush to a flat angled brush, this kit has you covered from top to bottom. Reviewers love the lush, soft nylon bristles as well as the champagne gold details. Perfect for a beginner or intermediate, you can’t go wrong with it.
Price at time of publish: $16
Number of Pieces: 18 | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
BH Cosmetics Travel Series 7 Piece Face & Eye Brush Set with Bag
Comes with convenient traveling pouch
Plays well with liquid, cream and powder formulas
Quality could be better
While traditional makeup brushes are still slim enough to tote around, sometimes you need something smaller to make room for everything else you need on-the-go. Enter this seven-piece travel kit, which has mini versions of the makeup brushes you need and a travel pouch. Whether you love contour or a bold lip, these vegan essentials will keep you looking on point wherever you are.
Price at time of publish: $20
Number of Brushes: 7 | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
MODA Totally Electric 5pc Complete Face Kit
It contains the essentials
The bright colors are fun
Bristles are super soft
Reviewers don’t recommend this for bold looks
MUA and MODA Brush artist Rachel Mazza says this is the best mini brush set. “You have two essential brushes for the face, two for the eyes, and a cute carrying pouch for on-the-go,” she says. It covers the basics for an everyday look, and it comes in really fun neon colors.
Price at time of publish: $21
Number of Brushes: 4 | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Contouring
e.l.f. Cosmetics Complexion Essentials Brush & Sponge Set
The bristles blend and contour easily
You also get two sponges
It comes in really pretty rose gold packaging
Reviewers say the blender is not as useful as the brushes
Made with your face complexion in mind, this brush set gives your four brushes and one sponge to make contouring super easy. The bristles are synthetic and super soft against the skin, but it holds onto product so you can precisely define your face. The pretty rose gold handles are also just nice added touch.
Price at time of publish: $24
Number of Brushes: 4 Brushes, One Sponge | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best on Amazon
MODA Prismatic Deluxe Makeup Brush
You get 10 essential brushes for $25
Bristles are super soft
Easy to use
Reviewers say that the bold colors can be too much
Mazza says this brush set is the best value that you can get on Amazon. “You have every brush you need, including 5 eye and 4 face [brushes] to create a full face for only $25,” she says. The bristles are also super soft, and reviewers say that they’re easy for anyone to use. It also comes in a mermaid-esque turquoise and pink metallic colors, which could be divisive for some.
Price at time of publish: $45
Number of Brushes: 3 | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Set with a Sponge
Real Techniques Everyday Essentials Makeup Brush Set With 2 Sponges
You get two sponges
The angled sponge blends seamlessly and gets to hard-to-reach places
You get essential brushes for everyday makeup looks
Reviewers say that the brushes don’t blend that well
Celebrity MUA Taylour Chanel’s pick is this set from Real Techniques. You get four essential brushes and two angled sponges to cover all your face makeup needs. The sponges blend foundation seamlessly, and with their angled shape, it can to crevices and other hard-to-reach places on your face to get the coverage you want.
Price at time of publish: $20
Number of Brushes: 4 Brushes, 2 Sponges | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Jessup Vegan Makeup Brushes Set
You get 12 brushes
It’s plastic-free and vegan
This is a pretty comprehensive brush set — you get 12 brushes — for a decent price. You get four face brushes and eight eye brushes to cover every type of makeup look, from every day to bold, intricate looks. Each brush is also plastic-free and 100% vegan and cruelty-free.
Price at time of publish: $28
Number of Brushes: 12 | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best With Natural Bristles
Sonia Kashuk Limited Edition Color Shock Set
It contains 10 brushes
It has a sleek, colorful design
Bristles are super soft
While still cheaper than most natural brushes, it’s one of the pricier options on this list
On aesthetics alone, these Sonia Kashuk brushes are just stunning to look at, with the handles dressed in neon pink and orange colors. But proving that it is both stylish and functional, this set is made with goat hair to provide you super soft bristles that hold onto product and blend color and shades into the skin seamlessly. You get 10 brushes to cover all your face makeup needs.
Number of Brushes: 10 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Real Techniques Artist Essentials Makeup Brush Set
You get five brush essentials
Bristles are soft
Bristles blend makeup well
Reviewers say that the fan brush isn’t as useful as the others.
Celebrity MUA Dillon Pena loves Real Techniques for cheaper makeup brush alternatives. One that he consistently reaches for is this essential brush set. “These sets don't break the bank, and the quality is amazing,” he says. You get five essential brushes to cover the basics of your face makeup routine. The synthetic fibers are soft and blend any liquids and powders seamlessly for any makeup look you need.
Price at time of publish: $20
Number of Brushes: 5 | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes
If you're on the hunt for an affordable makeup brush set, you can't go wrong with e.l.f. Cosmetics' Precision Brush Collection. If you're looking for a set to use for skincare pre-makeup, reach for Real Techniques' Prep + Prime Set, which includes ingenious products that focus on prepping your skin before applying makeup. Lastly, if variety is what you're after, opt for BS-MALL's Makeup 18-Piece Brush Set, which includes a wide array of brushes for every type of look.
Meet the Expert
- Nydia Figueroa is a celebrity makeup artist. She has over 15 years of makeup experience, and her work has been featured in New York Fashion Week and The Miss Universe pageant.
- Rachel Mazza is a makeup artist and MODA Brush artist. She has over five years of experience working with clients to create bold makeup looks and hosts a beauty podcast Lipstick Biddies.
- Taylour Chanel is a Los Angeles-based celebrity makeup artist. She has over 10 years of experience working with celebrities such as Tiffany Haddish, Alton Mason, and Kiana Madeira, and campaigns with Ulta, SavagexFenty, and Nordstrom.
- Dillon Pena is a celebrity makeup artist. He has worked with celebrities such as Beyoncé, Bebe Rexha, and Jackie Cruz, and his work can be seen across editorial pages and campaigns for huge brands.
What To Look For in a Cheap Makeup Brush Set
Number of Brushes
Pena says that you should decide what purpose you want the brush set to serve before buying a set. “Do you want to do a full face? Do you want to focus on complexion? Or eyes alone?” he says. For a very basic everyday look, he says you really only need five brushes: a foundation/concealer brush, powder brush, eyeshadow brush, and a blush/highlighter brush.
Chanel says that brushes come in different bristle sizes for versatility. “You can achieve most makeup looks with a small array of strategically curated brush shapes, but having a variety will allow you to push your creative boundaries,” she says.
Mazza agrees and adds that brushes have different bristle sizes and lengths, mainly for how much product you want to pick up and apply. “Brushes that have longer, more fluffy bristles will both pick up a small amount of product and apply it in a more diffused way,” she says. “Brushes that have shorter or denser bristles, like eye shadow brushes or contour brushes, typically pick up more product and apply in a more targeted way.” She likes to use smaller brushes for smaller parts of the face (think eyes, nose contour, or eyebrows) and for detailing work like spot-concealing blemishes or under the eyes.
The length of your brush handles don’t matter that much. Chanel prefers a standard size with a little weight to them so that you have more control. Mazza adds that regardless of the length of your brush handles if you hold it higher towards the bristles, you apply more pressure and product. If you hold it at the end of the brush, it will have a lighter touch and a smoother blend.
Chanel explains that a thick and dense brush is meant to pack on color or add product in a precise area. For example, an eyeshadow brush is usually a small rounded-end dense brush to give you the most payoff. Mazza adds that using a denser brush will provide fuller coverage, like with a liquid foundation.
Softer and less dense brushes, Chanel says, will give a diffused effect and softer color application. Mazza also says that fluffier or duo-fiber brushes will give you more of sheer and buildable coverage.
Natural v. Synthetic
Mazza says that synthetic brushes are made with fibers that are manmade, such as nylon. Natural brushes are commonly made from squirrel, goat, or from a Kolinsky sable’s (a species of weasel) tail. The main difference, she says, between the two is that natural hair typically holds onto pigments better, whereas synthetic brushes have more of a slip.
Chanel adds that their use of natural brushes over synthetic brushes and vice versa comes down to preference and longevity. She says that natural bristles will stain and blend easier and feel slightly more luxurious. Synthetic brushes, she says, are usually less expensive, and come in more unique shapes and sizes. “I don’t feel like one is better than the other,” she says. “I keep a mixture of synthetic and natural hair brushes in my kit.”
But if being cruelty-free is important to you, Mazza says that there have been great strides in how brushes are made, and to have synthetic brushes hold products just as well as natural ones. Plus, she says natural brushes can typically dry out faster and require more care when cleaning.
You'll want the bristles of your makeup brushes to feel soft and dense and have bend to them. You'll also want to take note of any bristles shedding. If you do observe any fall-out, pass on them. And if you’re an animal lover, brushes that are marked vegan are animal hair-free and usually cruelty-free, as well.
Some people may want three brushes, while others may opt for a set of 13. Think about your makeup needs and go from there. The more you spend on your makeup look—whether it’s a smoky eye, bold lip, or immaculate contouring—chances are you’ll need a substantial kit.
Is it bad to use cheap makeup brushes?
Choosing a less expensive option when it comes to makeup brushes doesn't have to mean sacrificing quality. Thanks to today’s technology, there are a wide variety of brushes and brush sets that offer great results without a high investment.
What are cheap makeup brushes made of?
Nylon is the most common material used to make makeup brushes that don’t command a high price tag. Slender, resilient and super soft, nylon bristles make easy work of applying color and blending, and since they’re synthetically produced, they’re also vegan.
What makeup brushes should a beginner buy?
Figueroa recommends starting with five basic brushes: a foundation brush, concealer brush, tapered eyeshadow brush, blush brush and an angled contour brush. Fortunately, many starter sets come with these and then some, giving you plenty of variety.
Are synthetic brushes better than natural?
The most noticeable difference between synthetic and natural brushes comes down to softness, as the former tends to be not as soft as the latter. Fortunately, there are a slew of synthetic brushes that come pretty darn close to their natural counterparts, and do just as good a job.
How do you clean makeup brushes?
Cleaning makeup brushes is pretty simple. Chanel says to find a cleaning solution (she likes something like Cinema Secrets) to either spray or dip the tip of the brush and wipe the product off on a microfiber towel. For deeper cleanses, Mazza says to gently lather brushes, then squeeze out excess water, and lay flat to dry overnight.
Chanel emphasizes the importance of not pulling the bristles while you clean them and trying to avoid letting liquid touch the base of the metal that wraps around the bristles to the handle; she explains that it will deteriorate the glue inside holding the brush together and shorten the lifespan of your brushes.
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie contributor Syden Abrenica has years of experience in the editorial beauty industry. She’s written for magazines like Health, Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, and more. When she’s not testing out innovative makeup brushes, she’s renovating her century-old home and watching Disney movies with her husband, son, and three rescue dogs.
Audrey Noble has over eight years of experience in the beauty industry, previously holding editorial positions at Vanity Fair, Allure, Byrdie, and Refinery29. Her work can be seen in Vogue, Harper’s BAZZAR, InStyle, WWD, Bustle, POPSUGAR, and more. Always testing out new TikTok makeup trends, she’s constantly on the hunt for the best affordable makeup brushes.