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Best Makeup Brushes for Powder Eyeshadows

Best Makeup Brushes for Applying Eyeshadows

The right eyeshadow brush can go a long way for getting the coverage and finish desired in less time, and the key is identifying your own preferences, eye shape and size, and considering how varied (or not) the colors you reach for.  I can easily go through 100 brushes in a week, as I tend to switch to new, clean brushes as I change colors or finishes (as I’m testing products), but I don’t expect that to be quite as necessary for most readers.  I’ve found a lot of brushes I enjoy, so I’ve included the ones I reach for most often, even though there are a slew of additional brushes I keep within reach.

I would love to hear about the brushes you can’t live without for applying powder eyeshadow — share your picks in the comments! 🙂 Stay tuned for my brush picks for cream eyeshadow, brows, and detail work, and then later, my top brushes for cheeks/face!

Applying Eyeshadow to the Lid

I prefer small-ish, dome-shaped brushes that are flatter but still have some density and spring to them, as I find that helps grab powder well to retain pigmentation onto the lid but helps pack and pat the color onto the lid.  A fluffier, more dome-shaped edge can also double as a blending brush in a pinch and can also lay down color into the crease (using the edge to place the color).   Flatter, stiffer brushes are better for applying denser, firmer eyeshadow formulas while ultra-soft brushes are better for more buildable application.  It’s ideal to have a brush that’s soft enough not to feel pokey or sharp in the eye socket, but sometimes, “softest” doesn’t translate into “best” for a particular purpose.

Long-time readers will notice that a favorite of mine is absent–MAC’s 239–as it was discontinued and redone with synthetic bristles; I haven’t tried it and can’t say whether it’s better or worse, just that it’s definitely gone and I’ve tried to include only brushes that are permanently available.

Best Makeup Brushes for Applying Eyeshadows
Hakuhodo J242, Smith 253, Chikuhodo GSn-09, Zoeva 234, Hakuhodo J004, Smith 256, Hakuhodo S133

  • Hakuhodo J242 Eye Shadow Brush ($18.00) is a small, flat, lightly domed brush made with a mix of goat and synthetic fibers (this mix makes it particularly durable and useful for both powder and cream application) that I’ll reach for when I’m doing more complicated looks with more than three colors on my lid or for getting into the inner tearduct/corner.
  • Smith 253 Laydown Eyeshadow Brush Small ($22.00) is a small-to-medium sized brush with a tapered, pointed edge that makes applying color to the lid a cinch as the shape fits in well into the inner corner as well as the outer corner.  I keep multiples of this one on hand, and it strikes a good balance in soft and functional that it’s the go-to for me when I want really rich, opaque coverage out of an eyeshadow, particularly if the eyeshadow formula is firmer/denser or not as pigmented on its own.
  • Chikuhodo GSN-09 Eyeshadow Brush  ($25.00) is a small-to-medium, dome-shaped brush with a fluffy edge and is quite soft but still packs on color quite well.  It can sometimes be a little too soft, which is when I use some of the other brushes mentioned in this post, but I own and use multiples of this one every week.
  • Zoeva 234 Luxe Smoky Shader ($11.50) is a small-to-medium, dome-shaped brush with light-to-moderate fluffiness at the edge and is dense enough to pack on color beautifully but has enough spring to blend out product, too.  It is very similar to MAC’s 239 but less soft, and it is made out of a blend of natural and synthetic bristles. I tend to reach for these when I have a stiffer eyeshadow formula I’m working with.
  • Hakuhodo J004 Eye Shadow Brush ($20.00) is a lightly fluffed-up, dome-shaped brush with a flatter shape, but it has just enough spring and give to apply eyeshadow to the lid as well as to lightly blend edges or place color into the crease.  I find it to be a real workhorse of a brush, and it’s a definite go-to in lieu of MAC’s 239 (the 239 has a little more fluff to it).
  • Smith 256 Laydown Eyeshadow Brush Large ($24.00) is a larger version of the 253, and I reach for the 256 when I’m working on a larger area or wanting to do a one or two-shae look (not often!).  Between the two, I use the 253s more often for my application style.
  • Hakuhodo S133 Eye Shadow Brush ($35) has a subtle, dome-shaped edge with more tapered bristles as they go from the ferrule to the edge of the brush head.  It is made out of squirrel hair, which makes it a more delicate (and very soft) brush and more ideal for applying sheer washes of color, blending and applying color above the crease or on the brow bone.  Hakuhodo also has it available in horse hair ($20.00, which would have the same shape but more durable (and slightly rougher) bristles.

Applying & Blending Eyeshadow in the Crease

I love a good crease brush!  There are so many to choose from that I think one really has to consider how they apply color into their crease.  If you tend to go for a more defined crease, looking for a tapered crease brush that comes to a more noticeable point (rather than one that is wider, fluffier, or rounded) that is smaller rather than larger will be your best bet.  If you want a really diffused, blown out crease color, a fluffier, more rounded crease brush will get the job done.  I warn those new to crease brushes to carefully consider the size of their crease and the brush you have your eye on. Too small can result in very precise color application that requires a lot of blending but too large can mean color that nearly goes up to the brow bone too quickly!

Best Makeup Brushes for Applying Eyeshadows
Wayne Goss 19, Hakuhodo J146, Wayne Goss 17, Hakuhodo J142, Wayne Goss 16, Hakuhodo G5522

  • Wayne Goss Brush 19 ($23.00) is a smaller, tapered crease brush with a soft, rounded edge that works well for depositing more intense color into the deep crease for depth but applying it without being overly sharp/precise so that blending doesn’t take eons after!  (You can’t go wrong with picking Wayne Goss crease brushes, though; they have a good range of sizes.)
  • Hakuhodo J146 Eye Shadow Brush ($18.00) is a small-to-medium-sized crease brush with a tapered edge that comes to a bit more of a point than the J142.  I like it most for applying color into my deeper crease after a transition shade.
  • Wayne Goss Brush 17 ($28.00) is a medium, tapered crease brush wit a softly, rounded edge that’s slightly longer and holds its shape quite well.  I use this for applying color into the crease and blending it out afterward.
  • Hakuhodo J142 Eye Shadow Brush ($19.00) is a medium crease brush with a rounded, tapered edge that is a workhorse of a crease brush; it’s great for getting depth out of an eyeshadow look as it fits well into my crease, but it has a lovely, tapered edge that blends color out beautifully.
  • Wayne Goss Brush 16 ($30.00) is a large, tapered crease brush with a subtly rounded edge–a good balance of round and pointed–that works well for more diffused crease color application and for blending out eyeshadow in the socket and just above the crease.
  • Hakuhodo G5522 ($30.00) is a larger crease brush (one of the largest ones I use) for blending as well as for applying transition-type shades where precision isn’t necessary. (Apparently, I have two versions; it is also available in the J-series, for $20.)

Blending Eyeshadow

The typical blending brush was made famous by MAC’s 217 brush (which is now discontinued and has been redone as fully synthetic but the shape did change a bit).  I haven’t had any 217s in my go-tos for awhile, as other brands put out better-quality versions that are softer and diffuse color more reliably (like Wayne Goss and Hakuhodo, listed below).  Newer to the game is Smith’s 220, which I love using for blending crease color into above the crease/brow bone territory.  The goal for a blending brush is to be medium in size with less densely-packed bristles and a lot of fluffiness along the edges, which helps to spread and diffuse color without lifting it completely.  I use these often enough, but I regularly use crease brushes for the same purpose (even applying and blending out color on my brow bone).

Best Makeup Brushes for Applying Eyeshadows
Smith 220, Sonia G. Worker One, Hakuhodo J5523, Hakuhodo S5523, Wayne Goss 18

  • Smith 220 Eyeshadow Finishing Brush ($24.00) works well for diffusing and pulling color outward from an area with greater precision than traditional, fluffy blending brushes (which follow on this list).  It’s incredibly soft but has enough texture to blend out powders well.
  • Sonia G. Worker One Brush ($36.00) is a very dense, rounded brush that’s almost like an ultra, mini-sized buffing brush (think a buffing brush for face but for eyes).  This is very new to my favorites, but I’ve been reaching for it often enough since receiving it that I know it’ll be staying in my go-tos.  I use it primarily for diffusing crease colors into transition shades but also for the outer edge to get a really blown out gradient of color from my outer corner to just past my outer lash line.
  • Hakuhodo J5523 Eye Shadow Brush ($19.00) is a medium, fluffy brush with a rounded edge and light-to-moderate density so it has a fair amount of give and works well for blending and diffusing eyeshadow on the eye.  I also like using it to apply brow bone colors or dusting away product underneath my eyes.
  • Hakuhodo S5523 Eye Shadow Brush ($24.00)  is very similar in shape to the J5523, but it is a mix of goat and horse hair, which gives it more density and less fluffiness overall (and it appears smaller than the J-version over time as the J-version fluffs up a bit more).  I really like using this one for less blendable crease colors that need a little extra effort but I don’t want to use a rougher brush to do so.  This one also is usable with cream and liquid products.
  • Wayne Goss Brush 18 ($27.00) is a medium, fluffy brush with a domed edge that is in the vein of Hakuhodo’s -5523s and the previous, cult-fave MAC’s 217.  I use it interchangeably with the J5523:  for blending and diffusing eyeshadows, crease colors, and for applying color to my brow bone.

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67 Comments

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I love this post! My favorite brushes are blending brushes. Lid brushes I’m not picky. I do love the MAC 217. I’ll probably try the synthetic version. It’s just a good size for my eye. I can do a whole eye look with it.

My favorite big fluffy blender is the Morphe G17 Elite. Perfect to blow out the crease.

I also love the Real Techniques base shadow brush, the slightly tapered one. I can do a whole look with it and it’s good for adding depth to the outer v.

And then kind of a weird one but I love the Morphe M560. It’s called “detail crease” but it’s quite long and pointy. I like it for doing a soft cat eye with powder shadow, gets the job done super quick.

I like this exercise because I feel like I probably could chuck all my other brushes haha, why do I have so many??

My favorite flat shader brushes are the Urban Decay E206, and Cozzette D225. I use the Sigma E32 for my brow bone highlight usually. For blending brushes & crease work I love the Real Techniques B04 from their Powder Bleu line, Real Techniques #305, Furless Pro2E (so soft!), Sigma E35, E45, E25, E48, Makeup Geek Defined Crease Brush, Hourglass #4, Bdellium Tools 776.

Thank you so much for writing and sharing this, Christine! I love your informative posts about brushes. I also love Samantha’s videos about brushes…I think I learn about brushes more than I actually use them.

I have 2 MAC 239. They are the best brush of that style I’ve ever tried. I wish MAC would’ve let us know about the change in time to stock up. I would’ve bought at least two more.

Even the Mac employees don’t care for the newly replaced synthetic brushes. They told me so when I wen to buy the bits and pieces. Belks still have 217. Saks may have a few. No 239 anywhere. Beautylish has quality fur brushes and great service.

Hi Louise!

These are my personal favorites, which definitely skew higher, but I wanted the list to be an accurate listing of what I actually use over and over again! I find Zoeva to be a good brand that offers a lot of sets and usable brushes (one of which I mentioned here).

Google the US Zoeva site. Or your country’s, if you don’t live stateside. Make you wish list, and load up on Black Fri! They price point is considerably lower, and I find that often their brushes hold the powder with less kickup than most others. The descriptions of how to use, under details, can help you differentiate. Believe me, they have a metric ton of choices and many sets…even vegan, if you prefer. The Zoeva flat rate is 9 to the US…and think how much your tax would be, on a Wayne set from B’lish, for example. Not meaning to slight my WGs, though. And C is right…just the thing to start stiffer shadows or blush. Just counted, have 34 Zoeva brushes, though some are duped, far more than any other brand. But I like the m/u, too. Kind of a Z Ho, so consider the source when I rec.

I think I need to sort out my brushes into categories, because at the moment they are all living in one canister and I do find it tricky to get the brush I want.
This is a great post Christine because it shows us what brushes you could need for where….I have some great Real Techniques ones that look similar to the ones you’ve got in your post.

I personally love all of the Smith Brushes I’ve ever tried. I find that their 203 Micro Angled Liner Brush is the best Brush for applying ABH Dipbrow or Benefit KaBrow! and getting precise hair like strokes especially in the front of the brow for the feathery look. The brush was recommended in a favorite brushes by Samantha Ravndahl. Berfore that I had been trying out other brow brushes and couldn’t find a good one. I bought several of the Smith Brushes during the sale they had last year on Black Friday. I also love some of the Urban Decay brushes I have for the eyes. I purchased the whole brush vault when they released their brushes. My favorites are UD Pro Tapered Blending,Smoky Crease,Moondust,Smoky Smudger,Flat Eyeshadow,Medium Eyeshadow,and Detailed Smudger. I also have a tiny Sonia Kashuk brush from their Pleated Pink Brush set that was on clearance and a tiny Morphe 507 Pointed Mini Blender Brush for deepening the crease. During the VIB Rouge sale last year I got all 3 Sephora Pro Drawing Detail Brush 40, Drawing Shadow 41, and Drawing Blending 42 and I really like them all and they are marketed for help to achieve cut crease looks. I want to get all the ones you recommend soon. I have also been want to try the Hakuhodo, Wayne Goss Brushes and the Sonia G. Brushes. The fact that you made this guide is making my life so much easier and enabling me to spend significantly less money. I will probably be purchasing every brush on this list. Thank You, Christine!!

Hey Kitty,

For the PMG palette, I still used the brushes listed under “Applying Eyeshadow to the Lid,” as I didn’t feel the formula was too dense or anything to require something firmer than those (basically, I didn’t have any issues using the brushes I normally would!). If you’re having any difficulty, you might try dampening your brush a bit, patting rather than sweeping color on, or if you have a flatter brush, that might work for you.

All my brushes are those that can be purchased “in store” and I’m hoping Wayne Goss’s brushes eventually become available at bricks and mortar stores in Canada. Nevertheless, some of my faves are my recently purchased Sigma E55 (purchased at Marshall’s for a song) as well as my old faves from MAC – 217, 239 and 213; IT Cosmetics dual ended No Tug Eyedshadow Brush (the flatter end is perfect for putting shadow under my lower lashes), Sonia Kashuk’s #28 (I have 4 of them and they’re sort of a hybrid of MAC’s 239 and 217 in a way) and Stila’s #15 Detailer Brush (I think that one is discontinued, sadly) and a cheap little #70 smudger brush (also d/c, I think) from Sephora. I have some Real Techniques brushes as well and like them well enough but the ones I like best only come in a set, I think, and that’s annoying.

I have a really lovely Sephora concealer brush for years ago that has no name, I bought in-store so I have no receipt to tell me, and it’s discontinued! Sometimes it’s impressive what lingers in our stashes long after they’ve been discontinued.

I have the same problem with RT – almost every rec I have from RT in my forthcoming posts comes in a set 🙁

I don’t have many eyeshadow brushes, because I have extremely sensitive skin around my eyes. Since I’ve realized this, I am careful and put in a lot of research before I will purchase eyeshadow brushes. Crease brushes made of squirrel hair are my go-to brushes. Wayne Goss brushes are workhorses. I use at least 1 Wayne Goss brush whenever I apply eye makeup. His old #19 (goat) crease brush is soft enough. I own 3! I use it to apply my transition color. It just does what I want, no fuss, no muss!

I recently found that I like to use rougher or lower-quality goat brushes for applying cream eye shadows. So far, I have only tried this with the crease brush that came included with the red Beautylish/Chikuhodo Sakura set. It fits my small eye area and applies cream shadow perfectly and lightly. If I want, I can continue to layer the product to deepen the color. Using my fingers is a no, as I can’t get any precision. And I’ve never found a synthetic brush that I like for shadow. They emphasize the creases on my lids when used with creams, and I can’t explain why I don’t like them for powder. I just feel like I get better results with natural hair. I also prefer goat over squirrel for those gelée type powders, like MAC Extra Dimension.

Glad you have found something that doesn’t irritate your eyes, Beau! 🙂

I prefer synthetics for cream eye shadows, since they can take more of a beating (more vigorous washings, harsher cleansers) but find I prefer the effect of natural hair for most powder products. Have you tried any synthetics for cream products? You might look at IT Velvet Luxe line (Ulta exclusive), Make Up For Ever (very soft/smooth), Urban Decay (very long handles, though), or Sephora.

I’d like to suggest Bobbi Brown’s Cream Eyeshadow Brush, $34 at Nordstrom. It’s a synthetic brush that I rely on for cream eyeshadows. There’s nothing I find scratchy or irritating about it. It’s both dense and soft but very structured for precision work. Just a great brush!

Ooohh I’m taking notes, thank you!

Personally I mostly use EcoTools’ Eye Enhancing Duo brushes since they are a bit smaller than ET’s typical eyeshadow brushes, and therefore more workable for my eye shape and size. They are nice, very soft and fully synthetic and a great value for money, but I am looking for higher-end options so this is a very welcome and useful thread – thank you!

Thanks for the insight on the Eye Enhancing Duo brushes being smaller than their regular ones! Considering your eye size is such a big factor – I think I have “average” eyes overall, since a lot of typical brushes work fine for me, but there are tons of brushes that I’m like, “this is sooo big!” and rare to find brushes that are “sooo small.”

I was always a die hard MAC brush fan, until they changed to synthetic brushes. I bought the 217S and I hate it. It is stiff, scratchy and feel cheap. This was a blessing in disguise because I discovered Wayne Goss brushes, which blow the original MAC brush line out of the water. I ordered them from Beautylish and they are amazing. I also feel the need to let you all know that the Beautylish website is just as amazing. I ordered in the am and I received my brushes the next day.

Oh no! I haven’t had much chance to dive into the new MAC brushes (well, the ones that went from natural to synthetic I’m most curious about) yet since the release has been staggered. I’m very curious to try the new 239S, and I think the 217S is one that MAC sent over that I just photographed and put in my “to test” tray. I’m surprised that the 217S was stiff/scratchy, since you can get really soft/smooth synthetics these days (they’ve improved leaps and bounds in the last five years).

But yes, I also found that a lot of other brush makers make far superior brushes than MAC, sometimes even at cheaper price points! Wayne Goss is a great go-to rec since the shapes are more accessible/traditional (IMO), Beautylish has a nice return policy, etc.

Hakuhodo is often the same or less than WG for a very similar brush, but it can be more overwhelming to buy from their catalog, and they have a flat $9 shipping rate with a very strict return policy, so I tend to encourage people to start with Beautylish so they don’t get stuck with $100 in brushes they don’t like.

Hi Leah,

I really couldn’t say – I test probably 200-300 brushes a year but review a fraction of those as I’m usually behind on getting color cosmetic reviews up that I just don’t end up with the time I need to write-up reviews on brushes as often as I’d like.

I like the 174 from MUFE to apply eyeshadows as well as blend a little into the crease, I find the flex and shape work well for my eyeshape, as I rarely do a 2 colors makeup look (more often than not it’s at least 3 on the mobile lid :p )

But I am in love with the 226 since you made a review out of it ! As I got very little space between my crease and my browbone, it’s the perfect brush to blend eyeshadows in my crease without covering whatever space is left !

I also have the MUFE 212 for precise application in the crease and the MUFE 216 for blending along the lower lashline

Smith’s 256 is larger, so you can cover more territory for all-over but the angled edge will make it easier to get into the outer V/inner corner, too. I’d say that’d be a good all-around brush that’s larger but still not huge so you can use it for multiple techniques. For something larger, maybe Hakuhodo J532? I don’t have that one, but the majority of what I’ve tried from the J-series has been great – it’s 14mm in length (I like the J004, but it is 11.5mm, so this would be a bigger version of it).

Alternatively, if you like a more diffused, wash off all-over shadow, you might like using the “Blending Eyeshadow” brushes like the Sonia G. Worker One or Wayne Goss 18 – and it can do double duty for blending out crease/brow color, too. Wayne Goss 19 would work for outer V and more precise crease work but otherwise the Wayne Goss 16 would be better for a more blown out crease/outer V area.

LoVe you post on brushes! I was at the MAC store over the weekend and I was able to grab another old 239 ….grab them fast! The MAC employee said she likes the new synthetic face brushes but is not happy with the eye brushes!

Sephora’s Pro brushes are some of the best on the market IMO. I’ll take them over my Wayne Goss brushes any day. I like my Wayne Goss brushes, but the few that I have are a tiny bit too soft for me. Esum has really awesome brushes. I have two that I got for purchasing my Viseart palettes. Sigma has some pretty good brushes too. Colourpop and Real Techniques have some pretty decent brushes. I own one Morphe blending brush and I really like it.

I really like the 15*, 27, 19*, 38*, 31, 14,* 42*, 40. The ones with * are my favorites. Number 42 is probably one of my absolute favorite brushes. It gets into the crease so well b/c it’s on the smaller side. I use the 33 as an inner corner highlight brush, although it’s marketed as a lip brush.

Their non-Pro brushes aren’t terrible. They get the job done, but I would only buy those when they’re on sale. They’re the ones that come in 5 piece sets. I grabbed two of the sets for like $11 or $15 a piece and it was worth that small amount of money. The $40 they want for it regularly is too expensive.

Thank you so much for this post. I think my eyelids are small because I get the best application on my mobile lid with what’s called a smudging brush. It seems to be of normal width but is very short.

As a person who used when I was a teenager to a 30 something the sponge applicator that came with eyeshadows switched to brushes once the sponges fell apart.

I use mostly Lancôme brushes, affordable, easy to keep clean, soft for my skin. I use mostly brush #18 for my eyes. A tissue removes the excess shadow from the brush before I go to the next color. When traveling I have 2 of brush #12 — one for light shades, one for darker shades.

Thanks for an informative post.

This is helpful. Funny, I just bought some new brushes last week for the first time in forever. Inspired by Tarababyz on YT and so I got a Goss and Chikuhodo GS you have listed. I like them. So soft. I still have all my old school MAC brushes but I love that they went synthetic and cruelty-free. So I assume you can’t get squirrel cruelty free and none of those listed above are? I want cruelty-free. And so I’ve bought synthetic. I like IT cosmetics brushes for the face because they are synthetic, but also love the ones I feel guilty for- Tom Ford brush and bronzer brushes and the other two new ones listed above for the eyes. If I’m wrong about them being cruelty-free, please let me know.

Tarababyz is great for recs! I love watching her 🙂

Most brands will give a statement that says something to the effect that the hair was obtained as a by-product (in the vein of leather) and some will also claim their brushes are cruelty-free when making this statement and others will not.

I love these posts!! And just bought 5 new brushes from Hakuhodo because of it hahaha!!

My favorite eye brushes are Sigma E45 brush, Mac 217 brush, Chikuhodo GSN-09 brush, Chikuhodo Z-10 brush, Coastal Scents blending fluff brush (I have like 8), Makeup Geek Outer V Brush and Sigma E40. I do have a bunch of Zoeva, Hakuhodo and It Cosmetics brushes I haven’t tried yet though… so many brushes… so little time…

LOVE this blog post and thank you! I am trying to up my brush game and recently ordered the Tom Ford blending brush and now seeing this post wondering if that is a good brush or if I should return and replace with one of these?
Thanks!

I think you will be happy with your Tom Ford brush, Karen! I’ve enjoyed the Tom Ford brush range, but it is overpriced relative to quality/cost of Hakuhodo/Wayne Goss/Chikuhodo (though not their upper echelon series like the Z-series, which would be pricier than TF on average).

There seems to be a whole world beyond MUFE. Who knew! Since they didn’t show up in the list can you give me a quick comparison so I know what I’m missing or not missing. I was trying not to be one of those girls with 100 brushes. Or can you give me a comparison tool similar to palette vs. palette? MUFE vs. Zoeva -type thing? I love this site. You are so helpful.

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