Makeup brushes are a minefield. Most beauty lovers know what a flat foundation brush or large kabuki does, but a fan brush? They’re more of a mystery. We’ve seen them waved around on many a beauty blogger’s YouTube, but the tools have earned a reputation for being (at best) frivolous and (at worst) totally pointless.
Looks can be deceiving, though. Fan brushes are just as functional as they are fun and have so many uses in your daily makeup routine. Because the delicate nature of these brushes makes for a gentler touch, they’re great for sweeping away eye shadow fallout underneath your eyes, applying barely-there mascara, or lightly touching up face powder to deftly banish midday shine. They can even be used to smooth on a thin layer of a clay face mask or nail a multi-masking regimen. By using a brush instead of your fingers, you end up wasting far less product.
However, the fan brush really comes into its own when it’s teamed with a highlighter (ideally, a powder illuminator with ample shimmer for the fanned bristles’ softer touch). Stroking glow-giving pigments on the tops of the cheekbones and the Cupid’s bow with a full, fluffy fan brush will ensure such flawless blending that your skin appears almost airbrushed. Swirl the bristles in the powder, tap off excess, and then lightly glide the brush along the high points of your face for a makeup artist–level highlight.
If you’re not sure which fan brush to use—or which highlighter to use one with—we've compiled a roundup of five highlighting dream teams that will make your complexion gleam.
For Holographic Highlight
This chunky, wide fan brush is a breeze to use. With a light hand and a dab of Lime Crime Hi-Lite Unicorn Palette ($53), you only need to gently nudge your cheekbones to create a veil of striking, shade-shifting iridescence. The glimmering green is a surprisingly wearable pick that’s perfect for festival season, while the rose gold can be worn day-to-day as a brow-bone highlight or shimmering eye shadow.
For Precise Highlight
The pigment punch of a metallic powder requires a fine brush for precision. Apply Smashbox’s ultra-coveted Petal Metal Highlighter ($30)with a smaller fan brush, and focus the rose gold shimmer on the areas you want to enhance, like the inner corners of eyes and the bridge of the nose. Using a tool this tiny allows you to gradually build up shimmer to the level you want.
For Body Highlight
This super-soft, super-dense jumbo brush is perfect for blending highlighter along your décolletage, the tops of the shoulders and down the center of your shins. Gently swirl it in Make Up For Ever Pro Light Fusion Highlighter ($39)—a gel-like powder that frosts your skin in seconds without ever appearing cakey on limbs.
For Natural-Looking Highlight
Because this face fan brush is denser, you can use it to both contour and highlight. It offers less of a whispering stroke and more of a blend that’s ideal if you want a subtle glow. Team it with Iconic London Luminous Powder ($37)—a silky, soft-focus pigment that can be swept all over the high points of the face to give the illusion of a sun-kissed glow.
For Strobed Highlight
The buzz around strobing might have died down, but it’s still the most failsafe way to achieve supremely dewy skin, and the fan brush is your number one tool for getting the look. After tapping a liquid illuminator—try Charlotte Tilbury Flawless Filter ($44)—on the cheekbones, use this short-bristled brush to pack the powdered Revolution highlighter on top. Keep layering for a hyperreal effect.