The different makeup brushes and their uses
I’m often asked about makeup brushes. There’s a huge variety available on the market and they vary in quality too. A beginner can find this rather bewildering so I’m now going to tell you about the kinds of brushes available, how to choose the best and how to use them.
POWDER EYE SHADOW BRUSHES
1. Flat with a rounded end: this brush is a basic and is the most common one. You can get long ones, short ones, thin ones or thick ones. Using the flat surface, you can apply eye shadow over a large surface like the mobile lid or under the eyebrow. So it’s the ideal brush for basic colours all over the lid.
Obviously, the length and width of this model vary a lot. The wider it is, the less precision you will have. You can also use this brush for the eye contour with the thin part if it’s flat (thickness can vary), but there are better, more precise brushes for this task. Suggestion: Clinique Pinceau paupières ombreur.
2.Angled brush: this one is more precise. The wide, thick version is ideal for the eye socket as well as the outer corner of the eye. Thinner versions can also be used for the eye contour but again, there are more specific brushes for this. Suggestion: M.A.C Pinceau Ombreur biseauté moyen # 275.
3. Round with long, supple bristles: I’m a fan of this type of brush. Some companies refer to it as a blending brush and indeed, it can do that job, but I prefer it to do the banana shape in the eye socket. Its soft hairs are ideal for this. Place it at the outer corner of the eye and make a zigzag movement to form an arch shape as far as ¾ of the way across the lid. This brush will help you get a blended sophisticated look in no time, even for beginners. But it does have a couple of disadvantages. When you’re using this brush, protect the area under the eye, especially with dark colours as the long hairs can make the powder fly off onto the skin under your eyes or on the cheekbones. Also, it’s difficult to get an opaque finish because the soft hairs don’t carry enough pigment. So it’s perfect for a lightly made-up look. It’s available in natural hair, goat, marten or squirrel. Suggestion: NARS Pinceau yeux #13.
4. Very wide, flat, dome-shaped: like the previous brush, this one is also used for blending. It’s good for this but I prefer it to create a magnificent smoky eye. I use the flat side for large areas and the domed end to do the arch in the socket and around the eye contour. As the hairs are short and dense, you can get more opaque effects than with the preceding version. It’s my favourite for layering. Suggestion: Sephora Pinceau Estompeur paupière #14.
There’s another good version of this model. The hairs have a similar shape but they’re shorter, cut square and the whole brush is flatter. I love working with this one, useful for the eye contour, close to the lash line, for blending your pencil line. Great smoky look! Suggestion: NARS Pinceau Yeux #15.
5. Small, round, thin and quite pointed: This is ideal for lining or structuring. Use it with eye shadow for a super smoky eye contour or for more precision when creating structure. Great for a sideways V shape ( >) between the outer corner of the eye and the socket. The round shape gets into those difficult-to-reach corners and the stiff hairs give you more opaque coverage. It’s a must for a makeup artist’s kit! I use it together with the brush mentioned in point 3. Suggestion: M.A.C Pinceau Crayon #219.
6. Tongue-shaped, flat, quite long, sythetic bristles: This is the great blender. The synthetic hairs slide easily over the lid and allow you to mix eye shadows and soften them without removing them which could be the case if you use a natural brush. You can get it tongue-shaped (like those French biscuits: “langues de chat”, sometimes known as lady fingers) or you can get a more square-shaped one. I prefer the rounded shape which gives a more uniform effect. The long hairs give it flexibility of movement so that you can easily adjust the intensity. Suggestion: Lise Watier Pinceau Estompeur.
7. Sponge-tip applicator: not very exciting but also a must in your brush kit. It allows quite a bit of precision and also, opacity. If you think your eye shadow isn’t opaque enough, try the sponge applicator and you’ll see a difference. However, this tool isn’t really designed for blending, smudging or lining the socket. You’ll have to use another brush as well. Use it on the whole surface of the lid, just the mobile lid or the brow bone. You could also use the end for lining the eye. Forget the mini-applicators that come with the eye shadow you buy. Get one with a long handle. Suggestion: Make-Up Forever Applicateur Mousse. This is a good one because it’s refillable: (a sponge-tip applicator doesn’t last as long as a brush).
Tip: don’t clean it with alcohol or a brush cleaner that contains alcohol, you could dissolve the glue that holds the sponge to the handle. Clean it with shampoo and water, rinse it, then squeeze it into a tissue and let it air-dry.
BRUSHES FOR FACE POWDER
1. Classic loose powder brush: You simply have to have this in your kit. Thick, round, dome-shaped, made with natural bristles, this brush will not only apply loose powder but also compact powder and bronzer. If you only had to buy one brush for the face, it should be this multi-tasking tool. Natural hairs will apply the powder more uniformly. They’re also softer, feel nicer on your face, and won’t irritate sensitive skins. -Suggestion: Elegant Faces Pinceau fard à poudre.
You can get a bigger one which is ideal for bronzer. The bigger the brush, the more diaphanous and uniform the effect! That way, you’ll avoid dividing lines. If the powder you’re applying is darker than your skin, use the biggest brush possible, with natural, soft, not-too-dense hairs. Suggestion: Clinique Pinceau à autobronzant.
2. Blending brush: natural or synthetic, this brush is ideal for blending. Its hairs of different lengths create a smooth uniform finish. Great for blending powder like the edges of blush, shadows, highlighting powder etc. Suggestions: Kryolan Premium Smoothing Brush.
3. Kabuki brush: this short, wide brush has dense, firm hairs (denser and firmer than the loose powder brush) and is great for all powder textures. Good for touch-ups too because it’s easy to carry around in your purse. You can get travelling versions in little pouches. It’s the case of the MAKE-UP FOREVER version. I like it for powder or mineral foundation because the density and firmness give you more coverage. I don’t recommend it for bronzer however because you could get dividing lines or streaks. Suggestion: Make-Up Forever Pinceau Kabuki HD.
4. Bell-shaped brush with flat end for mineral powder: I really like this one for mineral-type or powder foundations. Many companies advertise it as a blush, contouring or bronzer brush. It’s very versatile. Apply the product with pressing circular movements so that the product will sink into the skin. The bell shape and flat end are ideal for this. Dip the flat end into the powder or the compact and then onto the skin. Flawless look guaranteed! Suggestions: Stila Double duty cheek contour and blush brush .
Other shapes are available for applying mineral powders, including the Kabuki. But I prefer the flat-ended version which crushes the pigments more effectively. In the end, what you need is a firm, dense brush for this job; that’s the way to get good coverage. Ex: Sephora Pinceau Poudre Minérale.
5. Contouring or angled shaping brush: this will not necessarily be essential for the average woman but it’s useful for makeup artists to create light and dark areas and structure the face. I use it to structure the cheeks by applying a dark powder under the cheekbone. Its thin, angled shape is ideal for all facial contouring as it is extremely precise. Suggestion: M.A.C Gros pinceau biseauté pour modeler.
6. Classic blush brush: smaller than a powder brush, it allows your more precision. If you use a powder brush, you could cover too much. The classic version is thinner on one side and wider and flatter on the other. You can get round ones but they’re no so versatile. The advantage of this one is that you can use it for other tasks like shaping and defining by pressing lightly on each side to make it thinner and then using the wide, flat side to apply highlighting powder on the top of your cheekbones. Suggestion: Laura Mercier Pinceau fard à joues.
7. Fan-shaped brush: it’s not for everyone but it’s a useful multi-tasker. Thin or thick, they both have their advantages. The thin version is great for sweeping off excess powder or eye shadow which may have fallen onto the cheeks. It’s good for blending too and gives a uniform finish. I like to use it to apply powder under the eye before applying dark eye shadow (smoky eye) so that you don’t spoil your foundation if some colour happens to fall on the cheek. The thicker version can be used to distribute face powder to get a light transparent look. The difference between the two versions is not only the thickness but the rigidity. The thin version is more rigid to remove powder excess and the thick version’s soft hairs transfer more pigment onto the skin. The thin one will be useless for applying powder as it will remove it at the same time. Suggestions: Make-Up Forever Pinceau éventail.
8. Mineral foundation brush
For loose mineral powder or mineral powder foundation, both types of brush (natural or synthetic) can be used. (see my example at #3)
Many companies offer a synthetic brush specifically designed for mineral powders. Synthetic hairs crush the pigments better and allow for a more uniform coverage. A natural hair brush also does a good job but you have to be sure to press firmly in circular movements. You can get good results if the hairs are quite short and dense enough.
BRUSHES FOR APPLYING CREAM OR LIQUID PRODUCTS
1. Classic: long and very thin, this one looks like the ones included in tubes of eyeliner. Using it takes some practice but it’s worth persevering. With it, you can vary the thickness of the line by pressing lightly or hard (light = thin line, hard = thick line). Suggestion: Sephora Pinceau eyeliner no17.
2. Angled brush: wider than the previous brush, but flat and angled, this one allows you great precision. Use it at right angles to the face so that you only use the tip. You can’t vary the thickness of the line with this one. Your line will be the same width as the brush. You can also use it for eyebrow makeup. Suggestion: Lise Watier Pinceau eyeliner.
3. Flat and square: not very thick but wide and square-cut, this one is for girls in a hurry. Thanks to its width, just three movements and your line is done. Just apply the product with the tip, no movement necessary. As with the angled brush, use the end to determine the thickness of the line.
Next time you buy an eyeliner brush, ask about the hairs. It should be made of synthetic hairs, ideally nylon, so that you can use any type of product, powder, cream or liquid. Synthetic hairs are smoother so it’s easier to glide the brush along the edge of the lashes.
Other types of eyeliner brush exist but they’re usually variants of the three types described above. Ex. Thierry Mugler Pinceau Eyeliner (a variant of the angled brush) and Benefit Get Bent Eyeliner Brush (like the classic one but angled)
Face synthetic brushes
1. Brush for liquid or cream foundation: I like to use a foundation brush, not only for makeup but also for skin-care products. I use it on my clients when applying a moisturising or clay mask. I find it more hygienic as there is no hand contact with the face but especially because it gives a nice natural uniform finish..
The foundation brush is usually made of nylon fibres and I’s better than your fingers (which often take off more product than they leave) for applying foundation. You waste less makeup than with a latex sponge which can absorb too mush product. A latex sponge doesn’t cover redness so well either..
A foundation brush applies the right amount of product and gives a natural look with the desired level of coverage. Try it; you won’t be able to do without it!
There are different shapes of foundation brushes: flat and round. I much prefer the flat one because it’s wider and covers a larger area.
However, the round one, as it has a more pointed end, can get into those difficult-to-reach areas like the sides of the nose but it’s probably more useful for professionals than for everyday use.
The flat brush has a square or tongue-shaped end (like the #190 by M.A.C).
2. Concealer brush: this is useful for more precision in the eye area. It’s very difficult to apply concealer with your fingers. For example, you can’t hide a pimple or a scar effectively by using just your fingers. The brush enables you to reach small specific areas. It’s ideal for the inner corners of the eye, near the nose where you often find bluish veins, for the hollows under the eye which are often quite fine, and also for the sides of the nose etc.
Concealer brushes are mostly flat. I use the flat side for most of the under eye area and also the hollow part which is harder to get at. Most of theses bushes have a tongue-shape (like the le #07 by NARS). It’s more practical for most uses because the rounded shape enables you to follow the contours of the face, except for pimples and small scars where other versions would be more accurate, like the ones that look like eyeliner brushes or a more pointed (or smaller) “cat’s tongue “version that combines the advantages of both (Sephora Point Concealer Brush or Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage).
3. Brushes for cream eye shadow: many models are available but you can also use your concealer brush to apply cream eye shadow. It’ll do a great job.
If not, then the other kinds can be used for specific tasks so it depends on your needs but start by trying your concealer brush. If it works, you’ll save money.
4. Lip brush: For me, this is a must. When you’ve tried it, you won’t want to go back to applying lipstick or gloss directly from the tube. A brush will give you more precision. It’s easy to go outside the lip contour when you apply directly from the tube. With a brush, you get a perfectly-formed mouth shape and use the correct amount of product for the desired coverage.
As with other brush types, you can get all sorts of lip brushes. Most of them have a lightly rounded tip but the finer they are, the more precise. I don’t really like the square-ended ones but you can get extra-pointed ones which are great for the lip contour without using a lip pencil though they’re less effective for covering the whole surface, particularly if you have full lips because the result will be less uniform. The brush stokes will be more visible and it’ll take longer to do. It all depends on your needs.
The other thing to consider is the closing system. Some are retractable, which is useful to protect the bristles and not leave stains in your purse. Others have a lid that closes over the brush. Both are great for carrying in your purse but all the other types are good for home use. I keep a long easy-to-use version at home and a retractable one in my purse.
There are other types of brush but it would be impossible to evaluate all of them. The ones in this article are all in my kit and that’s fine for me but another makeup artist may recommend other choices. It’s a mater of taste.
To take care of your brushes, consult my article on how to clean your makeup brushes
When you see all these brushes you perhaps realise why everything looks better when done by a professional makeup artist! Just like the hairdressing salon, talent and experience are essential of course but if you don’t use the right tool, you won’t get good results! Have you ever tried to hammer a nail in with your hand?
*Please note I got my brushes a long time ago, so maybe some of the suggested brushes in this article don’t exist anymore, but you can ask a beauty consultant for a similar brush in an other brand.