Real Techniques Expert Face Brush ($8.99) is designed for applying and blending cream or liquid foundation. The brush head is 25mm in length, 30mm in width, and 20mm in thickness. The brush had a total length of 6 inches/15.5 centimeters. The brush is soft, dense, firm (with some give but not fluffy or springy). The edge is slightly rounded, but the most noticeable characteristic about the brush is just how dense it is. It is even denser than the Buffing Brush. I bought this brush after a few readers asked how it compared to Tom Ford’s Cream Foundation Brush, and I don’t think they’re similar in terms of shape, density, and so forth, but the end results achieved with both brushes are more comparable. I do get better and more effortless results with Tom Ford’s, as it doesn’t streak at all for me, but this brush does so occasionally. The rounded, slightly tapered edge makes it easy to buff and blend out any streaks, though, and the synthetic bristles of this brush means it works better with cream and liquid products and is easier to clean. In a blind softness test, I ran both brushes across my husband’s forearm (and I had him do the same for me) three times for each (and at random), Tom Ford always came out on top as softer, but Real Techniques is still very, very soft. I would not complain; I would not even notice, if I didn’t have Tom Ford to compare it to–the way I used this often reminded me of how I used to use MAC’s 109, and this is softer than that brush.
Real Techniques Core Collection ($17.99 for set of four brushes) includes a Buffing Brush, Contour Brush, Pointed Foundation Brush, and Detailer Brush, plus a case to carry them in. For the price, you’re getting a nice amount of brushes, but as with kits, they’re not all as equally useful and ultimately whether you love and use all four regularly will depend entirely on your personal routine and brush preferences. The Buffing and Contour Brushes are both shapes that I think many would use and appreciate, while the Pointed Foundation and Detailer Brushes will be less applicable for all. I really wish you could purchase these brushes individually as well, because I could easily see getting a second Buffing Brush, or if you loved the Detailer Brush, having two or three might be nice for anyone who needs the precision.
Buffing Brush is a medium-sized, wide circular brush that widens at the end and has an ever-so-slightly domed edge. The brush head is 30mm in length, 35mm in width (at its widest point), and 30mm in thickness. In total, the brush has a length of 6 inches/15.5 centimeters. It’s a really nice, multi-tasking brush that can be used to apply foundation (though it says powder, I’ve used it with both powder, cream, and liquid, and it worked fine across all three), blend out blushes and bronzers, or to apply setting powder. It’s densely-packed with soft bristles that feel nice against the skin.
Contour Brush is a small, domed-shaped brush that’s soft, lightly fluffy, and not too dense. The brush head is 30mm in length, 18mm in width, and 18mm in thickness. The brush has a total length of 6.25 inches/15.7 centimeters. It has a good amount of spring so it blends, but it isn’t floppy, so it still retains its shape. It fits nicely into the hollow of the cheeks, so it definitely works exceptionally well for contouring (especially with cream products), but I also quite liked it for applying highlighters on the cheek bones and down the nose as well as for applying cream blushes for a more feathery application. Of the brushes in the set, this was my favorite.
Pointed Foundation Brush was surprisingly small for a flat foundation brush. The brush head is 27mm in length, 15mm in width, and 5mm in thickness. The total length of the brush is 6 inches/15.5 centimeters. It would work better for applying a liquid or cream product to the face, but then using another brush to actually blend and work it into the skin. I often use a concealer brush to dab my liquid foundation in spots on my face before blending the foundation all-over with something larger and denser, so that seemed to be a better use for this than applying foundation all-over. It was very prone to creating lines when I used it for all-over foundation application, so I still needed to go back with something else to buff out all the visible lines. I also tried using it to dab cream highlighters on the cheeks and it was decent, but it doesn’t blend or diffuse the product well enough, so again, a second brush becomes necessary–and I could have just used the second brush for both initial application and subsequent blending.
Detailer Brush is a teeny, tiny firm, flat brush with a tapered edge. The brush head is 9mm in length, 6mm in width, and 3mm in thickness. The whole brush is just under 5.5 inches/14 centimeters. If you have small eyes or deeper crevices around your nose, it might be more useful than your traditional concealer or lip brush as it is much shorter and thinner. This brush was scratchy/rough; when I would pat it underneath the eye for concealer, I could feel a few bristles “stabbing” the skin.
Every brush seemed well-balanced; they weren’t top-heavy or bottom-heavy, so I had good control and they felt good in my hands and as I used them during application. I’ve been using these brushes for several weeks (with the exception of the Expert Face Brush, which I’ve only been using for almost two weeks). I had few splayed bristles on the Buffing Brush when it arrived and haven’t quite been able to get them to re-shape perfectly, so I might trim those stray ones out. I’ve only had a few bristles shed during the first few uses with the Buffing and Expert Face Brushes (which is normal!). I haven’t had any issues cleaning or re-shaping them, and they haven’t bled dye during washes or smelled funny after drying.
Make Up For Ever #402 Artistic Fan Brush ($20.00) is described as a “pre-cut, fan brush with 8 sections used to create multi-line effects.” It’s part of the 400 series, which is the artistry/professional range. It is, quite possibly, the most unique brush I’ve come across. This is definitely not a brush that most people will be rushing out to grab, because it is specific and more of an artistry tool than anything else. Make Up For Ever says it can be used to create artistic patterns on the face and smaller areas of the bodies, and it is appropriate to use with creams and liquids. It’s 23mm wide, 15mm tall, and less than a 1mm thick. The ferrule clasps the bristles in the middle of the base, and then the brush fans out with eight distinct tips. The brush head is heavier than the handle, which is very long and skinny (total brush length is 6.5 inches/17 centimeters, and comes to a slanted point at the end. The bristles were soft when dragged across the skin and had a good amount of give and spring.
Dubbed “the rake” by my husband, you can dip it into a cream or liquid product and than drag it across the skin’s surface. I think it would work better with a liquid or very thin cream/gel, because it needs to be fairly saturated and have a product with a lot of slip, so it can create even, opaque lines. I tried with NARS new Eye Paint in Solomon Islands, and though I felt like I loaded up the brush, the color ran out quickly. I’m thinking body paint would be a far better product to be used with this (which I do not have). I hope the brand will put out a few videos of artists in action, particularly one where they’re using this brush! The brush was easy to clean, and I didn’t experience any dye washing out, shedding, or unusual smells post-wash.
I have a few other brushes from the new Make Up For Ever brush range that I’ll be putting through the paces, but I thought I’d share this early look at an unusual brush (as I will not be testing this one extensively).
Inglot 18SS Eye Brush ($21.00) is made out of “squirrel substitute” (I honestly have no idea what that means, but it is listed as a natural brush) and can be used for “eye modeling” and “smoky eye[s].” It’s a dense, dome-shaped brush that’s stiff. The brush head is 9mm tall, 8mm wide, and 8mm in depth. The brush head is like a like a cynlinder with a domed edge, and it’s not too small, not too big, but it is wider and larger than your typical pencil brush. I find that that’s the way I use it most–as a stiffer crease brush to deposit more color. I actually liked it a lot with cream eyeshadows, as it applied them well with good opacity, while still fitting in the crease. Most of the time, it is soft while used, but if I’m doing short, but firm, taps, then there’s a few bristles that feel slightly sharp.
27P Eye Brush ($21.00) is a paddle-shaped brush with a slightly domed and tapered edge. The brush head is 16mm across, 17mm tall, and 6mm thick. The bristles are made out of pony hair, and Inglot simply describes the brush as “multi-functional.” It’s a very large eye brush, so it will lend itself best for things like laying down a wash of color, lightly patting on a primer or base, or as a more precise face brush. I found it most useful to pat on pressed powder underneath the eyes or to really apply highlighter precisely (but blend with something else). The brush felt soft, and it retained its shape after several washes.
32T Eye Brush ($14.00) is made out of Taklon (synthetic) bristles, and it is designed to be used with gel eyeliner or for precise lining. It is a very small brush at a mere 6mm tall, 4mm wide, and 2mm thick. It’s a flat, firm brush that comes to a tapered point. If you have smaller eyes and need something to apply cream or gel products, this might be useful. I don’t have Duraline, but I could see how this would be useful, as Duraline is a liquid product that “transforms any powder into an intense, easy to apply liquid,” so this would work well for mixing.
All three brushes are particular, and whether any of them are useful is going to be down to personal preference. The only one that I might continue reaching for is 32T to apply cream products on the very inner lid, and then possibly the 27P for setting concealer (but I often use a fluffier, more feathery brush for that).
Inglot 16BJF Face Brush ($36.00) is made out of goat hair and is recommended for bronzing powder (or “applying large amounts of intense color, ideal for contouring.” The brush measures approximately 7.5 inches (19 centimeters) long in total, with the handle length at 4.5 inches (11 centimeters), ferrule length at 2 inches (5.25 centimeters), and the brush head at 1 inch (2.5 centimeters). The brush head is 1.75 inches at its widest part (the top) and just under 1 inch at its base. It tapers upwards and flares out with a flat top. The brush is soft and dense, and it reminded me a bit of a buffer brush, just with a flatter top and a much longer handle. I like it for buffing and blending out other powder products, but I also liked it for applying loose setting powder. I’ve washed it half a dozen times, and I haven’t had any issues with dye bleeding, funny smells, or shedding. It does widen and spread out after the first wash, so it is not as narrow as it appears when you first get it.
20T Synthetic Face Brush ($24.00) is made out of Taklon (synthetic bristles) and is recommended as a cream foundation brush (or “perfect for contour and highlight”). The brush measures approximately 7.25 inches (18 centimeters) long in total, with the handle length at 4.25 inches (11 centimeters), ferrule length at 1.75 inches (4.5 centimeters), and the brush head at 1 inch (2.75 centimeters). The brush is 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) across and 5mm thick. The edge of the bristles is white, while the majority of the bristles are a black-brown color, so though it looks almost like it has a jagged edge in the photos (because the edge gets lost against the white background), it has an angled edge that goes straight (just at an angle). It’s a flatter, firmer brush with a little give but no floppiness or fluffiness. The synthetic bristles make this ideal for cream products, as the product won’t get absorbed by natural hairs. It is soft against the skin and glides nicely. I didn’t experience any shedding, dye bleeding, or funny smells after washing the brush several times. It does work well for laying down more precise contour lines, and then you can lightly feather it away to blend out the contouring color.
Tom Ford Cream Foundation Brush (02) ($72.00) was created to be used with Tom Ford’s Traceless Foundation Stick, but it can easily be used with liquids as well as true creams. The brush is about 6″ long, while the brush head is about 1″ in height and width and is about a 1/2″ thick. It’s made with natural hair, though I haven’t been able to confirm exactly the type of natural hair (likely goat and potentially something else). The brush is made in Japan, and it’s rumored that Hakuhodo manufactures these, but I haven’t seen it confirmed or mentioned in a press release (only that Tom Ford engaged the world’s leading brush maker in Japan to make them to his exact specifications). The handle is well-balanced, and the brush head is densely-packed and very, very soft. It’s not a small face brush, but it’s not a large one, so it can still maneuver underneath the eye and around the nose without issue.
This brush excels at both cream and liquid foundation application, as it does not take any more product than is necessary to achieve a natural, even finish. It doesn’t soak up the product, which can sometimes result in a heavier application than you really need. Because it’s so densely-packed, it’s not a fluffy brush, but it is soft and holds its shape well and never leaves streaks or brush lines. It’s really as if all you do is apply the foundation, because there’s no need to blend it afterward–it’s already done. It can also be used with cream blush (even powder), but it stands out most for liquid and cream foundations because of the streak-free finish it leaves behind.
I’ve been using this brush for a year and a half, having received in late 2011. Oh, I’m sure you’re wondering why so long, and that’s really because it’s at such a luxury price point that I’ve wanted to not just put it through the paces but incorporate it into my regular routine. I really wanted to see how it held up to consistent, prolonged use. One of the things I was most surprised about was how clean and pristine the brush looks after over a hundred washes (I wash my brushes after each use)–still as white as the day it arrived. I haven’t experienced any shedding or funny smells after washes. It’s retained its shape well over time, and it really shows no signs of wear. The ferrule is perfectly in place, bristles aren’t splayed at the edges, and it still looks new and shiny.
The majority of my brushes are MAC, though I do have other brands in there, and my often-used brush for foundation is Hourglass No. 2 Foundation/Blush Brush (which is a nice alternative if you prefer Taklon bristles, rather than natural hair). Tom Ford’s brush is easier to clean and requires even less attention to get a flawless, even finish in comparison, so between the two, yes, Tom Ford gets my personal vote, though the two are both great brushes. Tom Ford does, however, easily beat my previous go-to MAC 109 for liquid foundation application.
This brush excels at both cream and liquid foundation application, as it does not take any more product than is necessary to achieve a natural, even finish. It doesn't soak up the product, which can sometimes result in a heavier application than you really need. Because it's so densely-packed, it's not a fluffy brush, but it is soft and holds its shape well and never leaves streaks or brush lines.
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MAC Illustrated Brush Kits ($49.50) are available in two selections, one for just face, one for face and eyes. Both kits come with a brush roll, which holds five brushes with a clear plastic flap that protects the brush heads. The brush roll itself is made out of a vinyl-like material. If you recently purchased any of the Illustrated bags, it’s made out of the same material as that. Smooth, slick plastic that’s not quite as shiny as vinyl. The brush roll has a 3/4″ wide black strap that ties the roll together. Each brush has a shiny black handle with a matte black ferrule.
All Over Brush Kit features the 168SE, 287SE, 224SE, 219SE, and 266SE. The 168SE is not as dense or as soft as the full-sized version, but it wasn’t scratchy. I actually felt like the 219SE was softer here than the one I have in full-size, but the 266SE is very scratchy and would work better for brows than on the lid. The 224SE seemed a bit floppy, but it wasn’t scratchy. The 287SE wasn’t scratchy and was soft when I patted and brushed it across my eyelid.
Face Brush Kit features the 129SE, 188SE, 190SE, and 195SE. The 129SE is a big longer and floppier compared to the full size version, which felt slightly denser, too, but it was as soft as my full-size (which isn’t my favorite brush, as it is somewhat scratchy at times). The 188SE is less dense and a bit floppy–seemed narrower at the base. The 190SE and 195SE seemed comparable to my full-size brushes.
Both kits are available exclusively at Nordstrom, as part of their Anniversary sale.