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

woman with bare makeup touching her face

Imaxtree

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 Beautyblender. 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 and often wonder: Is there a "right" way to apply makeup? Could it not just be to each their own?

To find definitive answers, I tapped Blushington’s makeup and beauty lounge expert, Samantha Freda, and MUAs at Alima Pure. Not only did they dispel my doubts, explaining when and how to use each makeup application tool, but they also recommended a few of their favorite products to keep me (and now, you!) covered.

Keep reading to find out the truth behind the brush vs. sponge vs. finger debate once and for all.

The Best Ways to Apply Makeup original illustration

Byrdie / Emily Roberts

Fingers

While personal preference certainly plays a role in what makeup application tool you reach for, the strategy should also be a deciding factor. Freda explains, “The difference between brushes, sponges, and using your fingers is all about the product being used at the time." For instance, "Fingers are great for products that need to be warmed up a bit to blend." (Think: cream eye shadows, makeup primer, and concealer, to name a few). "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," adds Freda.

If you opt to use your fingers, it's best to use your ring finger to apply the product since it uses the least amount of pressure. Also, always tap and never rub.

For pressed eye shadow, the Alima Pure team suggests using your fingers, as it gives the greatest color payoff and most controlled application. Alima Pure’s Pressed Eyeshadow ($26) is formulated with avocado oil (read: they’re super silky), so the texture blends well without a brush. “It’s also a great highlighter,” they dish. “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.” Just keep in mind that before applying any makeup with your fingers, you wash your hands first. The last thing you want is an instant breakout courtesy of dirt-, bacteria-, and oil-ridden fingers.

Brushes

Similar to using your fingers, brushes allow for a concentrated application—but even more so. This makes them ideal for applying shadows and powder, notes Freda. However, when using a brush, she warns: "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 ($12) by Bdellium Tools yields the perfect contour.”

And if you're unsure of which brush to use for what, you're not alone. There are so many brushes out there that finding the right one(s) can be overwhelming. However, after talking to experts and testing out brushes of our own, we've narrowed down our picks to just five essentials: powder, blush, foundation, flat eye brush, and eyeshadow crease brush. Our complete brush guide will let you in on when or how to use each one—plus a few bonus options for all of your other makeup application needs.

Sponges

If a flawless finish is what you're after, look no further than a sponge. Freda says, “A sponge is ideal for a flawless natural foundation application"—and perhaps, everything else, too. She admits, “If I had to choose my favorite [makeup application] method, it would be using a sponge for everything. The coverage is buildable, the result is practically flawless, and the makeup will last you all day.”

To get the most out of your sponge, always wet it before use. This will ensure that the product is applied and distributed evenly.

And while we can't help but like what we like, sometimes a little trial-and-error can go a long way; meaning, it's worth exploring other tool-product combos to determine what works best for you. The Alima Pure team agrees: “Using different methods of application and mixing up your tools is a great way of experimenting and customizing your routine."

How to Apply Foundation With a Sponge

Shop Products

Stila Convertible Color
Stila Convertible Color $25
Shop

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

Pink eyeshadow compact
Alima Pure Pressed Eyeshadow $26
Shop

Use this dusty pink compact for an eye shadow or blush, or highlight with a slightly more nude-y shade.

Bdellium Tools Studio Line DF Large Tapered Blending Brush $12
Shop

This handcrafted antibacterial blending brush from Bdellium’s studio line is eco-friendly and great for blending and sculpting contouring products.

BeautyBlender
Beautyblender Original Beautyblender Makeup Sponge $20
Shop

We can't talk sponges without mentioning Beautyblender. This simple yet miraculous egg-shaped sponge seamlessly blends makeup into the skin to give you an airbrush effect.

Related Stories