Brushes vs. Sponges vs. Your Fingers: This Is the Real Difference

Updated 06/06/19
how to apply makeup
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Over the years, I’ve heard it all—this makeup artist loves to use her fingers while that celebrity prefers a brush. Another expert will swear by Beautyblenders ($20). Kylie Jenner even applies her moisturizer with a brush. The advice is helpful, but often it leaves me with even more questions. What is the best way? And which products call for what tools? I’ve been applying my foundation with a sponge, my eye shadow with a brush, and blending on my concealer with my fingers. But I’m curious if I’ve got it all wrong—if, dare I say, I could look far more flawless during a night out if I swap out the tools I use for each step.

I decided it was time to find definitive answers. I sent a (fairly frantic) email over to a few of my most trusted makeup artists. They calmed my fears, explained each step and the reasoning behind it, and even recommended a few favorite products to keep me (and now, you!) covered. Keep reading to get all the answers.

Original Illustration by Emily Roberts

Blushington’s makeup and beauty lounge expert Samantha Freda explained, “The difference between brushes, sponges, and using your fingers is all about the product being used at the time. Using your fingers gives you a more concentrated application while using a sponge gives an extremely blended, flawless finish. A brush allows for really concentrated placement.”

Freda continued, “A sponge is ideal for a flawless natural foundation application. Brushes are best for shadow placement and powder applications, and fingers are great for products that need to be warmed up a bit to blend.”

So far so good.  

“My favorite product to apply with my fingers is Stila’s Convertible Color ($25) because I have complete control over the amount of product and blendability. If you opt to use your fingers, you always want to use your ring finger to apply the product. It uses the least amount of pressure—always tap; never rub.

Stila Convertible Color $25
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This sheer lip tint doubles as a creamy blush to add just a touch of color on the go. As such, it’s really great to apply with your fingers because it practically melts into the skin.

But, Freda admits, “If I had to choose my favorite method, it would be using a sponge for everything. The coverage is buildable, the end result is practically flawless, and the makeup will last you all day.” She adds, “You always want to get your sponge wet before using it to allow for even distribution. If you’d rather use a brush, don’t be too heavy-handed—you want everything to blend. Build up to the amount of product you’d like to apply instead of brushing it on all at once. The large tapered brush by Bdellium Tools yields the perfect contour.”

Bdellium Tools Studio Line DF Large Tapered Blending Brush $13
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This handcrafted antibacterial blending brush from Bdellium’s studio line is eco-friendly and great for blending and sculpting contouring products.

The Alima Pure team crowdsourced some advice as well. They suggested, “Using different methods of application and mixing up your tools is a great way of experimenting and customizing your routine.” So, it does help to do a little trial-and-error. 

For pressed eye shadow, they recommend using your fingers, as it gives the greatest color payoff and most controlled application. Alima Pure’s eye shadow is blended with avocado oil (read: they’re super silky), so the texture blends well without a brush. “It’s also a great highlighter,” they dished. “Apply a lighter, pearlescent shade like Isla with your ring finger along the brow bone, cheekbones, and Cupid’s bow. It instantly brightens your whole complexion in seconds, using just your fingers.”

Alima Pure Pressed Eyeshadow $26
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Use this fuchsia compact for an eye shadow or blush, or highlight with a slightly more nude-y pink. 

For more helpful expert advice, make sure you've read through these 10 secret makeup rules Charlotte Tilbury wants you to follow.

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