Best Eyeshadow Brushes for Eye Makeup

Best Eyeshadow Brushes

Everything You Wanted to Know About Eyeshadow Brushes

You don’t need twenty brushes to get flawless eyeshadow application, but a few good, multitasking brushes can really change the way your eyeshadow looks.    I’m going to walk you through some of the different types of eyeshadow brushes there are available, but more importantly, I’m going to recommend you the essential brushes you should keep your eye out for.

Why fingers and sponge-tip applicators are less than the best… Fingers can be unsanitary, to be honest, but you have natural oils in your skin (including those fingers!), and every time you touch your eyeshadow with your finger, some of that oil can be left behind.  This is often why tester eyeshadows at makeup counters are hardened or otherwise look disgusting.  I won’t knock ya if you just use your fingers to blend out, do some touch-ups, and the like, but when it comes to applying from pan to skin–brushes are more hygienic and will keep your eyeshadows in better shape in the long-run!  Both fingers and sponge-tip applicators tend to waste product, as well, because they absorb a lot of the product without depositing the majority of it.  Sponge-tip applicators can have their place (often for very sheer, powdery, or glittery shades), but brushes–at least, in my experience–go the distance.

Application brushes are often flatter, denser, and firmer overall. These brushes go from pan to lid, but they don’t necessarily work for blending colors together, but they’re designed to transfer the color from the pan onto the lid without losing the product in-between.  These include brushes like Laura Mercier All Over Colour Brush, MAC 239, NARS Eye Shader, and Sephora #12.

Brow brushes are typically thin with a defined and/or angled edge. Often, brow brushes are used to apply a brow product to the brow to give brows a fuller look aka filling in your brows.  You can also have brow brushes that are more to groom the brow into place (often a spoolie brush or what looks like a mascara wand).  These include brushes like Bare Escentuals Angled Brush, MAC 266, NARS Brow Shader, and Smashbox #12.

Blending brushes are often fluffier and slightly tapered or domed. These brushes are used mostly to blend colors already applied to the lid.  They help to make colors blend seamlessly with each other and help fade harsh lines of demarcation.  These include brushes like MAC 217, NARS Large Domed Eye, Sephora #10, and Stila #9.

Check out suggestions for crease, eyelining, and brow brushes… as well as some general brush buying advice!

Crease brushes are often longer, slightly fluffy, and come to a tapered tip. These brushes can be used for both defining the crease as well as for blending out the crease color once it’s been applied.  The longer the brush is, the less control you will have over it.  If you want a very defined crease, use a smaller, more pencil-tipped crease brush instead of a wider, fluffier one.  These include Bare Escentuals Crease Defining, MAC 219/224, NARS Large Domed Eye/Small Domed Eye, and Sephora #10.

Eyelining brushes are small with either a thin, fine point or thin, angled edge. These brushes can be used to line the upper and/or lower lash line using cream, gel, liquid, or powder eyeliner.  Larger angled edges can also be used to create a very defined crease as well.  These include MAC 208, NARS Angled Eye Shader, and Sephora #23.

Lash brushes can be made out of bristles, metal, or plastic. Most lash brushes are “combs” to help keep those lashes from looking clumpy or spidery, and these are typically made out of metal or plastic (FYI, metal is seriously more effective than plastic).  Some lash brushes are designed to apply mascara to the lashes, so those tend to be made out of more traditional brush bristles.  These include brushes like Sephora #21.

If you can only afford one brush, I would suggest a lightly fluffed, denser, dome-shaped brush.  This is, in my eyes, a very general purpose, multi-tasking brush that can both apply eyeshadow without sheering it out, but it has enough fluff to allow you to blend colors together.  I can assure you it is quite possible to use only one brush to get good results, because I only used MAC’s 239 for over a year to do my eye makeup.  Just that brush!  If you only have one eyeshadow brush, the best way to maximize its effectiveness is to always apply from light to dark.  If you have an extra five minutes, wipe your brush against a wet wipe (like Wet Ones), wait thirty seconds to a minute to dry, and then your brush will be a little bit cleaner for the next shade.  Additionally, wash your brush after each look, so you don’t end up with a muddied brush the next time.

If you’re looking for three multi-tasking brushes, I would suggest your basic application brush, a blending brush, and a crease brush.  This takes care of the basic application technique of eyeshadow on the lid, eyeshadow in the crease, and then blending everything together for that smooth, even look.

If you’re looking for a nice set of five eyeshadow brushes to get you through most bumps and bruises of eyeshadow application, I suggest your basic application brush, blending brush, crease brush, angled eyeliner brush, and either a secondary eyeshadow application brush or angled eyeliner brush (depending on what you use more often).  If you’re a brow fiend, then I’d suggest an angled brow brush for filling in brows as your fifth brush instead.  The beauty or purchasing your own “set” is you can choose the brushes you need and will use most often.

What are your favorite eyeshadow brushes to use?

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I’m so glad you posted this Christine! As a long-time makeup lover I’m a little embarassed to say that I have never ventured into eyeshadows yet. I do have the random pots of various ones here and there but I never feel confident to use them. I was just thinking about brushes I really needed to start out with and this post really helps!

My favorite multi purpose brush is the MAC 275. The 272 is as well to a lesser extent. I have very defined large eyes so I’m not a fan of the 217. I prefer the Sephora Platinum Crease brush. It has the same density but with a more precise tapered tip.

I also love the 219, 224, the Loew-Cornell brushes and 226(!). My favorite liner brush is this super thin angled one by Paula Dorf.

I agree with the 275. It’s an escellent brush that can do everything in a pinch – apply on the lid, apply in the crease with the pointy end, and it’s fluffly enough to blend. I’ve been using my 272 (it’s an angled 239) more lately because it packs on colour better, but the 275 is definitely a winner 🙂

Checking out your list, I think I made a good choice then with the brush I was using a year ago now 🙂 I was a cheapo and just used the Avon ergonomic eyeshadow brush I checked out the MAC 239 and they look super similar and up to awhile ago I really did think this shape was all I needed. Now when I go on holidays I just bring this one. (But toss in the eyebrow liner as well, can’t have scuuuury brows now lol)

I’ve wanted the 226 forever, and haven’t gotten a hold of it yet, but in the meantime the Studio Tools crease brush is apparently a good dupe. It’s amazingly soft and does a great job. I’ve heard the 226 is actually more scratchy.

louise young has a great crease brush, you should look at the pixiwoo youtube videos (the latest ones show one of the sisters using it). You can order that online. Also, try contacting your local CCOs and see if they have any.

i love my Loew Cornell 3/8 one that dupes for the 239. works great! i also use my 226 on a regular basis and skipped out on the 224 since this one does the job. the 217 i tend to like as a multi-tasker but sometimes might be too large to do crease work for my eyes.

I don’t think my world would spin without the 224! My four MOST used eye brushes are the 224, 217, 219, and the beautiful 266 — which I not only use for my brows, but four fluidlines too! By the way… those fluidlines, they own my heart. Using fluidlines is how I learned to use liquid liner!

I use the MAC 227 to slap on a base shadow from lashes to browbone (seriously, it’s ginormous), plus a crease/blending brush from Japonesque and the Sonia Kashuk bent eyeliner brush for gel liners. Those would be my personal top 3. : )

Great post. I actually checked here first before I bought new brushes, so my three staples for shadow are the 217, 239, and the 226. From experience, I can say that you are right when it comes to brushes. My “wet” brush is the 252 as I find it a little softer than the 249. For lining with gels, I use the 231. Its especially good for subtle definition on the lower lash line. I also use a metal lash comb by Japaneseque (sp?) that I get from Ulta ($9).

The three brushes i use the most are the Loew-Cornell 3/4 in. brush from Michaels, my MAC 217, and MAC 224. I rarely use my 239 because i have big eyes and its too much of a hassle to use it. i actually also use the 224 for my Studio Sculpt concealer…but thats another story. 🙂

i used to be just a 217 and 224 brush but you have totally turned me into a convert and now i love love love my 239 and even picked up a 2nd one to add to my collection 🙂 for my eyeliner, i love my 208 for applying fluidline.

i still love how the 217 is a multipurpose brush…i use it for my undereye concealer and blending out my eyeshadow.

that was excellent post … i have 239 , 217 , 249 and yeahhh 226 and u know christine half or may be more then that … my makeup stuff is purchsed by ur recco. …. u know we all love u but there is somebody who somewhere deep down the heart doesnt like u hmmmm my hubby’s pocket hahahahaha but u know my hubby is ur fan and i mean it.. he is ur THE FAN …. so it doesnt matter if his pocket thinks so …
love u n temptalia ….

This would have to be one post that I would have to disagree with. Finger and sponge application works with eye makeup. Brushes can be far from hygienic, due to the lack of washing and/or sitting out to collect air born germs. I’m disappointed to see that far to many people are relying on products to be hygienic, when it all comes down to personal hygiene.

Professionals use everything and anything to obtain the look that they are going for. And Yes it is easier to suggest name brand items to readers so they can easily purchase that item, however this post seems to be more of a product push then true advice. Close ups of the brushes brittles and a detailed description of why those types of brittles and cuts work the best, would have been more helpful.

Hi Carey,

I have done a completely review of every single brush by MAC in the past — so it would be redundant to do so yet again. You can search the reviews under “Tools” for brush reviews 🙂 This is supposed to be a basic post explaining brushes and offering examples that could work–it is not a review post at all.

My biggest issue with fingers is that you are adding oil to your products, even if they are clean. I personally wash my brushes after every use. I do feel that brushes are the best method – they’re hygienic, more eco-friendly than sponge applicators, and less wasteful than either fingers/sponges for product. Again, the oil that gets into the product because of repeated finger use is something that would bother me as the texture and surface of the eyeshadow changes.

This post is also not about makeup artists – it is for makeup consumers. Just like anything, sometimes using a brush or a sponge tip or a finger or whatever other tool may work better in a certain instance. If you prefer one method over another, that’s fine – this is just my opinion. 🙂

I think this blog is the most helpful place on the internet, I rather have products that actually exist on the market suggested to me rather than just saying a fluffy brush thingy one that looks like this lol. Kudos Christine!

I think brushes are great, especially for the eyes! MAC brushes are widely accepted, used, and embraced in the makeup community — by professionals and consumers alike. I don’t think this was meant to be intended as a product push; this was probably intended for those who are new to makeup, MAC, and brushes or simply those who are looking to try something different. I bet this question was probably requested a lot, too.

is there a brush you suggest for cream shadows? I’ve been using my fingers to apply the benefit cream eyeshadows but wondering if you have brush/application suggestions for that?

Thanks, Christine! I’ll admit – I was a bit overwhelmed when you had those numerous MAC brush reviews, so this is a nice introduction.

The MAC brush line up is pretty ridiculous, LOL! It can be really overwhelming if you don’t even know where to start!

I just purchased the MAC Eye Brush set from the Digi-Pops collection at Nordstrom. It has the 212SE, 219SE, 227SE, 266SE and 275SE brushes. I am hoping that these work out well. I already have the MAC 239 and 224 brushes. I just started really getting into makeup 3 months and thought this set would be great so that I don’t have to buy eye brushed for a long time.

For me, the 217 is my end all beat all brush. I have 5 of them and want/need more. I have tried the 239 and have it in my stash, but I always go back to 217, I do cream shandows and primers, concealer and powder shadows. If I had to, I could do my entire face with just the 217. LOVE IT!

I’d say the best brush for multitasking (the best bang for the buck), would be the mac 217. You can pack on color & blend the colors with ease. A friend of mines who was not that much into makeup, loves how easy it is to apply makeup with this brush, and now she’s really into makeup!

This is timely – I just used my MAC217 for the 1st time and its BRILLIANT. For the first time I am able to apply shadow to my crease without it going above or below the crease. I cant believe how well my makeup looks with this brush 🙂

Hi Christine,

Just wondering if you’ve tried the ecotools eyeshadow brush? I’d love to buy the MAC 239, but it’s way out of my budget at the moment(especially living in Australia, I think it’s around $50 + $10 postage), and while I love most of my Manicare Artiste brushes, I’ve found after every wash the eyeshadow brush loses more and more ability to pick up product. I haven’t been able to find a good review online for the ecotools eye brush. Thanks.

My go-to eye brushes are the MAC 239 and 272! Hah I feel sad that no one seems to like it (except Jessica’s first comment)! No one ever mentions it on YouTube tutorials or the beauty blogs that I follow but I feel like the 272 is the best/easiest way for me to put color and blend it out into my crease (I’m Japanese). I definitely have gotten used to using the 224 and definitely like it a lot, but for some reason to “pack on” enough color in the crease I always go back to the 272. I learned how to do make up from my Mom and for some reason she always used an angled crease brush so I guess that’s where I got the habit from ;).

I like MAC 214 219 226 and 228 I find I have the most control in my eye space with these. For others I use the 239 and 217. I also like the 224 and 227 for concealer.

I don’t use any natural-hair brushes. For anyone else who would like good quality synthetic brushes, I recommend the “teddy bear hair” brushes from Too Faced. I love Urban Decay brushes, too, but the Too Faced ones are my go-to eye brushes. They have an angled shadow brush, a narrow flat crease brush, and a round brush for the inner corner and highlighting; I use these three brushes for eyeshadow every day, along with Urban Decay’s blender brush. They are fluffy, dense, and much softer on the skin than any natural brush. They make it easy to put on light or intense color, and the application is always smooth.

The 217 brush is my favorite brush and would pick this one to have if I could only pick one. You can use the point to blend out in the crease (with light color) and use the flat side of it like you would a 239. For me, it packs on as much color as a 239-type brush would. Plus, a 239 type brush is more common and much more dupe-able than the 217.

Very informative! I wish I could have read this article years ago when I started replacing sponge tip applicators with makeup brushes. At the time I was so overwhelmed with the different types of eye makeup brushes out there I had a hard time deciding which brushes to buy. Now with years of trials and errors I know better but this article really does provide a nice summary. Great post!
Oh btw, in your opinion Christine what is the best way to clean makeup brushes? I’ve been cleaning mine using soap & warm water and some conditioner. I know there are spray brush cleansers available but to me I feel I need to mechanically remove makeup particles, oil, and bacterial from the brush in order for them to be thoroughly cleaned. However, washing with water can change the shape of the brush a little 🙁

Hey Pearl,

For quick washing (but still thorough) that doesn’t take forever to dry, I like MAC’s Brush Cleanser. (Admittedly, I haven’t exactly tried 100 cleansers, though.) It gets all the gunk out, dries quick, and it’s good to go.

I do normally just use baby shampoo and water, though, and I wash my brushes 4-5x a week (every time I use them).

Hi Chrisine,

This post is great!! Quick question regarding cleansing: I wish I washed my brushes more, but my problem is that after a wash, they never seem to be dry enough for use the next day. Do you have this problem? Or with your baby shampoo method are they generally usable 24 hours later? Do you rub them with a towel, or would that damage the brush?

Thanks so much!

I do squeeze out the brush, so they aren’t sopping wet. I lay them on a towel to dry, and if you can, hang them slightly over the edge of a counter. Oh, and if not, you can try to remember to flip the brushes.

My brushes are usually ready to go again in 6-8 hours. For sure by 24!

Dare I say it, but I am not a fan of the 239, I have a 239SE and I dont know if its just me but I dont think its made that well. I am more partial to the Lowe Cornell 3/8 mop brush, its excellent and only 3 bucks!! I also like the Sigma SS239. For blending brushes I love the essence of beauty crease brushes that can be purchased at cvs. Also the 222 and the 224. Sad I missed out on the 226

I find the SE brushes are usually much, much inferior to the full-size versions though!

The 3/8 is so scratchy! I stopped using it after I got the real 239, just because the 3/8 feels like sandpaper now!

I’m still somewhat amateur to brushes and one question I don’t think I’ve really been able to find a solid answer on is what are some of the differences or pros/con between natural and synthetic brushes? Are those typically only on face brushes? Forgive me if you have a post about this already and I just haven’t seen it yet.

Hey Jehnay,

From what I know, natural hair tend to be more absorbent/better at picking up color than synthetic brushes. I have heard that synthetic brushes, however, are preferred for cream/liquid application (like foundations) and natural brushes for powder-based products. Some say natural brushes feel softer while others argue synthetic brushes are less durable.

Natural brushes come in all shapes/sizes — face and eyes — just depends what you’re looking for!

Hi Christine:

what would you recommend for Mac Paint Pots. I find myself using my fingers when i apply it and i hate it because sometimes i apply it unevenly.

thanks! Ohh and great post!! <3 xoxo

Thanks Christine!!

I have another question, how do you recommend cleaning the brushes. I have the Mac brush cleanser. Thanks again in advance!!

I love MAC’s brush cleanser or baby shampoo. I just take a little brush cleanser and put it into a cup, then I swirl my brushes in it and rinse with water. If you want them to dry faster, you can brush them against a paper towel.

Hi Christine,

I just bought a Sleek mineralized eyeshadow palette. Which MAC brush would you recommend for it?

I’m a beginner, and have rather small eyes…

Sure, I like them, though I don’t personally use them any more. I think the beauty market has put out several affordable alternatives for brushes that I wouldn’t recommend Loew-Cornell any more for makeup, though.

Oh I totally disagree. These are some of the worst brushes I’ve ever used. I can’t wait to get some MAC brushes, and maybe bobbie brown. The too faced brushes are waaaay too soft to pick up any color. If you prefer soft brushes, and don’t care about the final look of your makeup, then maybe you would like those. 

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