Must-Have Makeup Brushes for Blush, Foundation, Contouring, Highlighting, and Powder

Must-Have Blush Brushes
Must-Have Blush Brushes

For nearly a year, I’ve been broadening my brush horizons and specifically testing an array of brushes from several brands. These are the brushes that I continue to reach for even after I’ve wrapped up testing. You’ll most likely see similar shapes across the brushes I’ve pulled, as these are the shapes/sizes that I find to work best for how I apply my makeup.  I tried to keep the list to my very, very favorites–ones I reach for and will use over and over again. I have also made the hard choice of choosing between children by trying to pick my ultimate favorite out of each grouping. When there are multiple brushes that are similar in shape/quality, I’ve also included those so you can have a few brands (and price points, sometimes) to choose from.

I would LOVE to hear about your must-have face brushes, if you would be so kind as to share below!

Note, I have about 30 brush reviews I’ve yet to post, so some brushes mentioned here will eventually have fully fleshed out reviews, complete with individual photos. Stay tuned!

Blush Brushes

I like somewhat flat, lightly domed or tapered, and moderately dense brushes for most blush application. These types of brushes work well for applying cheek color and laying down good color in one go, and then they work well to blend and diffuse the color once on the skin. If I could only pick one, I’d recommend Hakuhodo J5543— the Tom Ford Cheek Brush is just as superb but it is more expensive (and they are very comparable).

  1. Tom Ford Cheek (06) Brush ($78.00) is a luxurious brush that’s densely-packed with bristles and as soft as silk.
  2. Hakuhodo J5543 Blush Brush ($60.00) is very similar in shape to Tom Ford’s Cheek brush, it’s just not quite as dense. I use these two interchangeably.
  3. Sephora PRO Precision Blush (73) Brush ($32.00) is flatter than the two above, and it is slightly tapered, so it works well for really dragging and drawing color upwards towards the temples of the face. It’s also less dense (because it’s flatter), so it can work well for applying more pigmented blushes without going overboard.
  4. Honorable Mention: Hakuhodo Large Yachiyo Brush ($48.00) is a fluffier, tapered, slightly domed-shaped brush that’s not too dense but not too airy. This is a newer addition to my routine, but I had been using NARS’ Yachiyo brush previously and this is similar in use (it’s not as tapered as NARS’). It’s not as soft as the above three brushes, which makes it particularly useful for a blush that’s sheer–it tends to grab pigment really well because it dislodges the powder from the surface more readily than the other brushes.

Foundation Brushes

I typically use liquid foundation, as it tends to be the best fit for my skin type, so my choice of brushes reflects that. If I had to pick one from these four (money being no object), it would be Tom Ford Cream Foundation (02) Brush. However, knowing that it is extremely expensive, I think Real Techniques Expert Face Brush gives this a real run for its money, and at a fraction of the cost, would be my recommendation in most cases.  I would start with that one, quite honestly, and if you were happy with that, then no reason to tempt yourself further!

  1. Real Techniques Expert Face Brush ($8.99) is a synthetic brush that’s great for applying, blending, and buffing in liquid foundation. It’s incredibly affordable and works well.
  2. Hakuhodo G5556 ($69.00) is a blend of synthetic and goat hair with a round brush with an angled, flat edge. It works well for buffing and blending out foundation.
  3. Hourglass Foundation/Blush Brush No. 2 ($58.00) is a synthetic brush with a longer brush head and a rounded, slightly domed edge. This has been a go-to brush applying liquid foundation for at least year prior to trying some of my other new favorites, but I still like this one a lot. I like this one for particularly thin or watery foundations. I will note that it can be a pain in the behind to get totally clean and pristine again.
  4. Tom Ford Cream Foundation (02) Brush ($72.00) is a smaller, dense, somewhat flat and rounded brush that delivers an exceptionally streak-free, well-blended, flawless finish with ease. This brush was also the easiest to clean.

Contour Brushes

The most common type of contour brush is an angled brush, but I also like a tapered shape. If you don’t do a lot of contouring, you may find a tapered contour brush works better because it can also be used to apply blush or highlighter. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend MAC 168, as it has been a cult favorite for years, and it remains a classic in my stash.

  1. Hakuhodo J5521 ($36.00) is a small, tapered brush that works well for contouring and highlighting, so I really like that it’s a more veresatile/dual-purpose brush. It’s very soft, picks up and lays down powders well, and is easy to clean. If you want something more affordable, the Contour Brush in Real Techniques Core Collection ($17.99) is a nice alternative.
  2. Hakuhodo J511 ($33.00) is a small, angled brush with silky-soft bristles and a moderate density–it has a fluffiness to it that works well for blending and laying down natural contours. This is smaller than MAC 168, so it would be ideal for smaller faces or for more detailed/precise contours.
  3. MAC 168 ($35.00) is a classic, and it’s still a favorite for me. It’s just the right size–not too big, not too small–soft, blends powders beautifully, and fits well into the hollows of the cheek. It has a nice fluffiness that works well with contouring/sculpting powders to deposit enough color but not too much all at once.

Highlighting/Finishing Brushes

Fan brushes, in general, are superb for giving a soft, diffused coloring with minimal blending required. I really think they’re an underrated tool! I always reach for these throughout the week. I find the size, shape, and materials of the MAC 184 to make it my favorite–I like that it’s a blend of fibers, so it still works well with cream/liquid products as well as with powders.

  1. MAC 184 ($24.00) is a duo-fiber fan brush that’s not too big or too small (I really love the size), and I love that it works well with powders, liquids, and creams. I tend to use it for highlighting or finishing powders, but I also use it for applying cream blush or any intensely pigmented blush that I need to take it easy on.
  2. Sephora PRO Fan Brush #65 ($27.00) is wider and denser, so it is particularly lovely for applying an all-over highlighter or finishing powder.
  3. Hakuhodo J4004 ($26.00) is incredibly soft, so if you have more sensitive skin, it may be the best bet for you when it comes to a fan brush. It’s slightly smaller than MAC 184, but it has a nice feathery quality to it and I reach for it when applying a more frosted highlighter.

Powder Brushes

I find myself using Make Up For Ever #128 anytime I apply a setting powder–it’s really a go-to and completely made other powder brushes I’ve used in the past obsolete. The two other brushes mentioned here are nice-to-have brushes that I do use often, so for me, they’re must-haves, but I don’t think they’re necessarily as applicable for everyone.

  1. MAC 138 ($53.00) is a large, tapered brush. It’s fantastic for applying any powder all-over the face where you still want a lighter/more natural application. I often use this with Guerlain’s Meteorites.
  2. Make Up For Ever #128 ($52.00) is my new go-to for applying setting powder, because it has a nice “press” feeling due to the way the brush head is constructed (read my review, which is linked in the beginning, for a better explanation of this).
  3. Tom Ford Bronzer (05) Brush ($115.00) might be touted as a bronzer brush, but I like it for dusting on finishing powders or other translucent, sheer powders. It’s a massive brush, so it takes care of that task in no time.

I store my brushes in wide, cylinder vases/jars and have filled them with glass beads.  I only keep out the brushes that I use regularly (I go through a fair amount of brushes in a week span with how much I test), as you may have an issue with dust gathering on unused brushes if they’re left out and rarely used.  I find that I use mine frequently enough that I haven’t noticed this as an issue.  Brushes I don’t use or infrequently use, I store in plastic containers in my bathroom drawers.

See more photos!

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The Best Holiday Palettes for Holiday 2013

Too Faced Be Merry, Be Bright Kat Von D Spellbinding theBalm Balm Voyage Urban Decay Vice 2 Eyeshadow Palette Sugarpill Cold Chemistry LORAC Pro Palette Too Faced Pretty Rebel Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder Sleek MakeUP Vintage Romance

As promised, here are my top picks for palettes to snag during the holidays! 🙂  Also… as I review other palettes from the holidays (I don’t think I have too many more!) and find other great choices, I’ll be sure to add them here.

  1. Too Faced Be Merry, Be Bright Set ($45.00 for 1.28 oz.) consists of two “books” of makeup–each has six eyeshadows and two blush/cheek colors. The quality was good across the board, and there was a nice variety of colors and textures. You can read part one and part two of my reviews on it.
  2. Kat Von D Spellbinding Eyeshadow Palette ($55.00 for 1.20 oz.) contains twenty-four (24!!!) eyeshadows, and they’re even designed to be layered and used together, so you can have an endless amount of combinations and textures! You can read part one and part two.
  3. theBalm Balm Voyage ($42.50 for 1.21 oz.) has sixteen eyeshadows and three lip/cheek colors, but the eyeshadows are the stars. This is a great choice for someone who prefers more matte/satin finishes. Check out part one and part two for reviews on this palette.
  4. Urban Decay Vice 2 ($59.00 for 0.60 oz.) has twenty eyeshadows to choose from with a variety in texture and color to choose from. If you love pigmented, buttery, soft eyeshadows–this one’s for you. You can read part one and part two of my reviews.
  5. Sugarpill Cold Chemistry ($34.00 for 0.48 oz.) is a wintry mix of cool-toned gray, white, purple, and teal for someone who loves bold, rich colors and a lot of them. Not limited edition but a perfectly-timed release for the holiday season. Read my review here.
  6. LORAC Pro Palette ($42.00 for 0.55 oz.) is a cult-favorite palette for a reason–it combines mattes with high frosts. There are eight matte shades and then eight more frosted shades, and you can mix and match them for satin and pearl finishes, too! Permanent and available year-round, there’s no hurry to snag one, but with holiday deals and sales, now’s a great time to try it. Read my review here.
  7. Too Faced Pretty Rebel ($46.00 for 0.50 oz.) contains ten eyeshadows, which might not be as sexy as a mega palette, but these are ten fantastic eyeshadows. If you love jewel-tones, bold and bright shades, and your frost finishes, this is a palette worth considering. Read my review here.
  8. Hourglass Ambient Lighting Palette ($58.00 for 0.35 oz.) is for those who love a beautiful, glowing complexion and flawless canvas. Ambient Lighting Powders are amazing on their own but getting three for a little more than the price of one? Great opportunity to try more shades or add them to your routine. Read my review here.
  9. Sleek MakeUP Vintage Romance Eyeshadow Palette ($9.99 for 0.36 oz.) is my more budget-friendly pick for a fall/winter palette with great quality–nicely pigmented shades in hues of gold, berry, and purple. Read my review here.

What palettes would you recommend to others for the holidays?

The Best of Holiday 2013 Beauty Sets to Give & Get

Urban Decay Ocho Loco 2 Eyeliner Set

Some of these are gifts that I’ve specifically reviewed, others are formulas I’ve tried but perhaps not the full set or that exact set. I’m excluding palettes from this post, as I want to do a round-up of my favorite palettes separately. I’ve also included a list of additional holiday gift suggestions that tick a lot of the boxes on what I’m looking for in a good gift set but I may not have tried before. In general, when I want to maximize my money and get the most out of a set, here’s what I look for:

  1. Variety — One of the best aspects about buying a palette or a set or kit is getting to try a bunch of products or shades, some that you might not be willing to buy individually. Depending on what you already own, you may also have to consider how much overlap there is with what you already have compared to what’s included in the set (and if you want doubles!).
  2. Value — How often have you actually finished a full-sized product? Even when I only used MAC and wasn’t blogging and buying full collections, the only shade I ever finished was the shade I used for my brows–and that still took years of daily use. I remember the blush that I used every single day for at least a year, if not longer, was about half-gone. Most of us just aren’t going to finish the majority of products we own, which means, we don’t actually need the full-sized. Value is both what you get (quantity) and what you’ll actually use from it (so a palette with 20 colors that you’d use only one from isn’t valuable to you!). At the same time, a set that saves you a couple bucks isn’t that exciting.
  3. Price — $500 for 300 items is still $500. I find a lot of the best sets come in around $50 or less. If you are a huge, huge fan of a particular brand and have the money to splurge, some brands over super-over-the-top-mega-sets at $200+ that can be well worth it, though. (Make Up For Ever’s Aqua Liner set from previous years comes to mind.)
  4. Packaging — minis can be tricky, so sometimes a mini can be so small that it’s not very functional. An eyeliner that’s an inch tall is annoying to use, or a nail polish where the brush is half the size can also be problematic. There’s not deal-breakers, but it’s something I’ve learned to pay attention to.

Under $60

Under $100

Some additional sets to consider…

Note, I haven’t tried these products extensively or at all, so I can’t vouch for the quality, but these are good opportunities to try something new OR if you have tried the formula already and liked it, I think they’re worth considering!

  • Sephora Formula X The Twenty Two ($55.00) includes 22 miniature-sized bottles of the new formula. There is also a 10-piece set of Sephora’s regular polish with full-sized bottles for $36.
  • Sephora Favorites are kits that feature top-selling products across brands from Sephora, and there are 12 different sets available ranging from lips, mascara, eyeliners, fragrances, rollerballs, and more. It’s a great way to try out cult favorites in a one-stop shop. I think the fragrance/rollerball sets are pretty nice, since even trial sizes of fragrances can be all you need of a fragrance you like but don’t love.
  • Bite Beauty 15 Shades of Sephora ($48.00) includes 15 shades of glosses, eacch at 0.06 oz., giving you plenty of options to choose from.
  • Kat Von D Spellbinding Lipstick Set ($39.00) includes 10 miniature-sized lipsticks (0.042 oz. each); great variety and a healthy mini size that you can get many uses out of.

Stock Up on Skincare

Whatever your favorite regimen, the holiday season is a great time to pick up value-packed starter kits, travel-sized versions (great for actually traveling!), or mega-sized versions. So, keep an eye out for those!

What are your favorite holiday gift sets/kits this year?

Top 5 Shades of Black for Halloween

I shared my favorite oranges yesterday for Halloween, so of course, the other side of the coin is rich, inky blacks! Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Illamasqua Creator — a deep, dark black with silver flecks and sparkle with a glossy, high-shine finish
  2. Chanel Mirifique — a sparkling, creamy, deep dark black
  3. Urban Decay Perversion — a cult favorite; deep, dark, inky matte black for the lash line
  4. Milani Pitch Black — a deep, dark black eyeshadow with a matte finish for under $10
  5. Sugarpill Stella — a deep, dark black loose eyeshadow with teal, violet, pink, and emerald green micro-shimmer

What are your favorite black-hued beauty products?

5 Amazing Oranges for Halloween

It might be cliche to opt for a top five of orange-colored products with Halloween a few weeks away, but hey! it’s just an excuse to pay homage to some of my favorite oranges. 🙂

  1. Buxom Rogue — a luminous, rich orange-red with intense color payoff and a wonderfully comfortable formula
  2. Zoya Amy — a rich, molten orange with hints of deep gold and metallic shimmer
  3. Sugarpill Flamepoint — a true orange with a matte finish that’s incredibly pigmented
  4. Maybelline Electric Orange — a lush orange with a glossy sheen for under $10!
  5. Sleek Sunset #4 — it may be part of a palette (which I try to avoid, but the price point on this palette is so low, plus the palette is amazing from start to finish, I couldn’t resist!), but it’s such a bright and rich shade of tangerine with so much color payoff!

What’s your must-have orange-hued beauty product?

The Tempting 10 — October 2013 Edition

Illamasqua Apocalips Lipstick Sleek Sunset Eyeshadow Palette Inglot #434 Marc Jacobs Th(ink) Giorgio Armani #701 Giorgio Armani #701 NARS Taj Mahal Cult Nails You're My Dandy Lion Fyrinnae Parental Advisory OCC Jubilee Illamasqua Stranger

October is a time that reminds me to be brave; to not be afraid of bold, unusual colors. Halloween is an often excuse to play with color in ways we’ve never felt comfortable doing so the rest of the year, but it also serves as a great reminder to: experiment more. play more. go outside of our comfort zone. embrace the unknown. thirst for something different. These are a few of my favorite more unique and unusual shades that I’ve come across, and I hope you’ll share your own unusual finds with me!

  1. Illamasqua Apocalips is a vivid, medium-dark blue-teal with a matte finish. I love the unusual color, but what I love even more is that it still applies and wears fairly well. It’s definitely a show-stopping color!
  2. Sleek Sunset Palette is a budget-friendly palette that’s top-to-bottom fantastic. No duds in the bunch; not only is this a feat for an eyeshadow palette in general, but to do so at under $15? It’s quite unusual!
  3. Inglot #434 is a cool-toned, purplish taupe–a glorious mix of purple, gray, and brown for something infinitely complex, bold but neutral.
  4. Marc Jacobs Beauty Th(ink) is a bold, cool-toned violet purple with a pearly shimmer that really opens up the eye–and it is a shade that had many, many readers asking, “What are you wearing?” Purple eyeliners that can be applied with opaque, rich color are hard to come by, but Th(ink) makes a strong case for one that does.
  5. Giorgio Armani #701 is a cool-toned, sheer bluish-purple gloss filled with blue and violet shimmer. It’s very intriguing on its own, but it can be layered over lipstick for a different look.
  6. NARS Taj Mahal is bold, bright, but not totally over-the-top, and it’s more of a tangerine than a full-on orange with red tones, so it has more golden, yellowy undertones.
  7. Cult Nails You’re My Dandy Lion is a warm, buttery yellow with a cream finish–and lo and behold, it applies beautifully. It’s practically a unicorn among polish!
  8. Fyrinnae Parental Advisory is a bold, bright, royal purple like I haven’t seen before. It’s so vibrant and pigmented–if you are a fiend for purple eyeshadow, it is a must-have.
  9. OCC Jubilee is a pale, aqua-green with a blue-purple duochrome. It’s metallic, shimmering, and reflective. I love the way the color shifts as you move, as it is layered over other products, and will lean one way or another depending on what is paired with.
  10. Illamasqua Stranger is a green-ish gold gloss with a high-shine finish, lots of metallic shimmer, and it is a shade that changes as you move.

I hope you’ll consider sharing your must-haves for October in the comments! Here’s a quickie list to get you started…

Must-Have Eye Products:
Must-Have Cheek/Face Products:
Must-Have Lip Products:
Must-Have Hair/Skin Products: