How to Decide What Makeup Brushes to Buy - Tips & Tricks

Makeup & Beauty Tips on How to Decide What Makeup Brushes to Buy

Share your best tips and tricks for deciding what makeup brushes to buy!  Feel free to share your first experiences, how you’ve grown, what you’ve learned, and what, ultimately, you found most helpful in learning how to decide what makeup brushes were worth buying.  (And if you haven’t conquered it, hopefully some of these tips will help you get there!)

Temptalia’s Tips

  1. Buy cheaper brushes in various sizes that seem like they might work.  They may, in fact, work quite nicely, but you may also discover that you like one shape over another or one texture better than the other.
  2. Buy brushes that are multi-taskers when possible, especially when you’re building your brush collection.  Multi-taskers will serve you better in the long run, and later on, you’ll figure out what you like it best for and what task you need another brush for instead.
  3. Try to think about the shape of your features, what kind of makeup application you do most, and whether you feel heavy or light-handed.  Longer handles are great for someone who is heavy-handed, because it encourages a lighter application.  On the other hand, if you need to get up close to the mirror to apply, shorter handles would be better for you.  If you have a lot of eye space, you might need larger brushes, while those with smaller eye space will find detail-oriented brushes better than standard brushes.  If you’re always scared over-applying your blush, opt for a fluffy, less densely-packed brush (like a stippling one).
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The first brush I ever bought was the MAC 217, and it is still the best brush I own 🙂 (Close runner up is the 168!) If I’m in a rush (or just feeling lazy), I can really do all eye makeup with it. It works as a shader, contour and blender… I’ve even used it to apply concealer under the eyes and on blemishes!

I love its firmer feel (vs the more fluffy 224). I really always prefer firmer brushes. I just feel they save time and product. Salespeople have always tried to get me to buy really fluffy, blend-y brushes… I just don’t like them! This may be related to my liking intensely pigmented, very long-lasting products (MUFE Aqua Creams, OCC lip tars, the brightest NARS blushes)… my makeup philosophy is sort of like, let’s get right to the point! That’s how I enjoy doing makeup, but that’s just me. So my advice is to keep your philosophy and what you enjoy in mind. If you like being very subtle and building up product on your face quite slowly, maybe you want very fluffy brushes… and don’t listen to the people who tell you some stiffer brush is a “must have.” Go with your gut… you don’t have to like a brush just because it’s popular.

I agree with you Christine!
A couple things that help me…
1. Touching the brush, if Its super soft, I am more likely to enjoy using it.
2. Have a SA demonstrate how to use a brush. Then you have a couple ideas on how others use it.
3. Invest in one favorite face and one fav eye brush. Then you’d be more likely to use it.
4. Learn the difference between the pros and cons of synthetic versus natural hair brushes. Decide which kinds suit you best based on the task.
5. Love your brushes!!! Clean them and be nice to them. You’ll probably have them for decades!

It’s also important to take into consideration your facial features and how big/small your features are. If you have a small, finely boned face, you will probably benefit from a small blush brush, instead of a large one. Don’t rule out art supply stores (like Michael’s) for cheap brushes. I have several Loew-Cornell brushes, including Maxine’s Mop in 3/8″ (a dupe for MAC 239) and a American Painter brush that is perfect for applying gel liner.

I have heard of the Loew-Cornell brushes for years now, but I cannot ever seem to find them at any of the Michael’s stores around my area…

Quite a few of my brushes come from Michaels, and they’re the ones I reach for most of the time. I love the fact that they absolutely DO NOT SHED. AT ALL!!!

SHOP SMART by Consumer Reports Magazine said you don’t need to buy high end brushes unless you are going to make a career out of it. I think you should buy mid range to expensive eye brushes and save on face brushes.

I have some inexpensive face brushes (I love the Ecotools bronzer brush as a powder brush), but I also love my expensive squirrel blush brush – I want a super soft natural hair blush brush to diffuse & blend pigment, and that just can’t be found cheaply!

Once you start to build your collection, don’t get caught up in the promised function of a brush….my favorite brushes have earned their spots because they perform outside of what they are “built for.” I’ve also ended up loving brushes I’d previously sworn off because I used them in a different way. True artistry is about thinking outside of the box!

I agree with the statement before about art supply brushes as well…especially when it comes to lip and liner brushes. The standard 263 from MAC (angled liner/brow brush) is $20 but an even better brush at any craft supply store exists for less than $5! I also find they hold up to cleaning much better since they’re originally meant for oils and acrylic paints (important for any working MUA).

Also, as a general rule of thumb, the more expensive the brush the better quality. This can mean they perform better overall, higher quality hairs, or better construction (which means you shouldn’t have to repurchase). HOWEVER, there are a few frontrunners that put out industry-level quality products…the trick is to touch the brush…if it’s soft and dense, it’s probably worth looking into.

My biggest tip: CLEAN YOUR BRUSHES. They’ll last so much longer and perform so much better if you maintain proper care. A brush belt will oftentimes be the most expensive part of a makeup collection…LOOK AFTER IT! My fave cleanser is Parian Spirit!

Great tips Christine! A long time ago, when I first started buying brushes, I made a lot of bad purchasing decisions. It’s awful to think of all the money I wasted. I also think it’s important for first time brush buyers not to get hung up on a brand name. Don’t get me wrong, some brands have a good reputation for a good reason, they make quality brushes, but I am just saying there may be a less well known option that’s more affordable and works just as well. However, if you have a brand that you know and love and is tried and true for you then obviously stick with it.

To me how sturdy a brush is really matters, so I’ll always try to look for online reviews about that before I purchase. I’d rather pay a little more and have a brush last a long time, thans have it break 1 month after use.

Before buying any brushes, I always really think about what function I need it to do. For example, if I need an angled brush and I am using it for brows and/or eyeliner, how thin or thick the bristle head is makes a big difference to me.

For larger brushes like a powder brush or bronzer brush, I also like to look at the cut of the bristles and density of the bristles. Will I be using it in a buffing motion, or more for just applying or sweeping away product?

Also, If a brush doesn’t work for what you bought it for, try to get creative and see if you can use it for something else.

Totally agree with #1 – I always tell people to pick up some inexpensive brushes just to test out new shapes. You never know what you might like until you start using it – afterwards you can start looking for a more high-end brush with the same shape – Unless the inexpensive one is working! some of my favorite brushes were CHEAP!

The tip that I tell people over and over is: Consider how you work. Are you heavy-handed or light-handed? Do you just LIKE smaller brushes or larger ones? Chances are you won’t know these answers until you start trying tools out (see #1 lol) but they are helpful in choosing brushes. Example: I HATE the MAC 224 as an eye brush. It’s horrible. FOR ME! I’m very light handed and I make a mess with a soft, fluffy blending brush. I prefer the MAC 219, 242 and 239 for blending eye looks but I’m light-handed – a heavy-handed person would just poke their eyes out with those brushes, they would rely on the 224 more.

I’d love to share this too – It’s a challenge that I always try to get people to do and it helps you get the most out of your brushes: Pick a brush, any brush. Now do your WHOLE face with that one brush. Serious. It might not look good but you’ll end up finding new ways to use a brush that you hadn’t thought of before. For example: the 224 that I loathe for eyes is perfect for concealer and highlighting work, the 219 is a great brow brush for full eyebrows and makes a handy lip brush as well, etc.

Thems be my tips! 🙂 xo

I think we’re all on the same page with this. So many good tips were given. I’m a brush collector and have more brushes than I could use in a lifetime, but the one thing they all have in common is that they are well weighted, soft on the skin, suit my particular features, and are suitable to the type of makeup being worn. Once you really get into brushes, you quickly discover that not all brushes will perform well with all types of products. You might need a soft sweep brush on one blush, a fan brush on another, a stiffer brush on another, a stippling brush on another, etc. Not that you need all those brushes, but once you get a good basic brush that performs well with what you usually wear, you might want to branch out a bit especially if your basic brush isn’t giving you the desired effect. Sometimes that means using a brush for other than what it was originally intended. For example, I use Tom Ford’s bronzer brush to apply finishing powder, I have an old MAC eye shader brush that actually works better as a lip brush, etc.

Good brushes go beyond the utilitarian and transform the makeup process from a ho-hum routine into an enjoyable ritual. When you reach that level, you’re ready for the high end Japanese brushes like Hakuhodo, Suqqu, Tom Ford (made by Hakuhodo) and others. They use the finest hair and other materials and never cut the brushes into shape. The naturally tapered tips are arranged by hand and then cut at the end that will be covered by the ferrule (the metal part that holds the hairs together) Only the softest part of the hair comes in contact with the skin. Purrrrrrr. . . 🙂

Pay attention to the type of hair used in the brush. Don’t use a high-quality squirrel hair brush to apply a liquid foundation, for example.

These are all great tips and, as someone who is finally starting to collect a few more expensive brushes after years of using cheapies (the same ones, for about 8 years), I really appreciate it.

One thing I would recommend is always finding out what a brush is meant for, but also trying it with other things. I’ve had great luck applying Armani’s ETK shadows with a lip brush. It’s a great way to discover which brushes can really multitask.

Do you mind me asking which Crown brushes you got? I know there are different ranges of them, I’ve been thinking about getting the synthetic ones from them for a while now.

There are exceptions, of course, but I’ve found that often it’s a good idea to “splurge” on makeup brushes.
My first good ones were MAC, and it seemed like they almost applied my makeup *for* me.
I do have a few “cheapies” that I love, but my absolute favorites are from MAC, Paula Dorf, and Urban Decay.

I tell all my nieces and girl cousins just getting into makeup to TOUCH the bristles of the brush they want to try. Touch it with your fingers and then your face. If the brush doesn’t feel nice on your face then there’s no point in getting it.

I agree with using cheaper brushes to start out. You need to figure out which shape and bristle density works best for your face. If you lose it or don’t like it, your finances won’t feel the big pinch.

Got a brush set with a duplicate of a brush style you already have? I say keep it anyway. I found I have repurposed a lot of brushes for different makeup finishes and looks. I have taken duplicates traveling so I don’t have to haul my entire brush kit in my luggage. I even have an eyeliner brush I have assigned to a highly specialized purpose: Manicure cleanups.

Finally, and most importantly: Regular spot cleaning and weekly deep cleansing. I can’t stand unsanitary tools. Would you go for months not washing your own hair? Because that is exactly what some ladies do with their poor makeup brushes. Get a spray brush cleaner for when I use the brushes during the week. Once a week the brushes get bathed in baby shampoo for deep cleaning.

The tips are great! As someone who rarely applies eyeshadow, I was really interested in purchasing the eye brush set from Sigma. I’m really intimidated by eyeshadow because it can sometimes look unflattering when it’s not blended out. So, my thinking was “Get the tools you need to create well blended eye looks.” But how do I know which brushes are really necessary? How do I actually use them? So, here I sit, with new,but unused, long ago purchased UD Naked palette that I don’t know how to use or where to start. But, I’ve read some great tips here that will help me get started on this unwritten NY resolution to wear my eyeshadow -lol.

Some things that I learned early on would be….

-If you find an eyeshadow brush that you LOVE, buy a second one! You will constantly be reaching for this brush and if it’s dirty, you’ll be glad you have an extra.
-Learn the proper way to clean your brushes~ there are a LOT of youtube tutorials on this now.
-You don’t NEED all the different “face” brushes that are out there. Even if the brush says blush, bronzer, powder, contour, etc. it doesn’t mean that you need one in every category to put on your makeup.
-PLEASE clean your brushes!!!
-Never underestimate the power of a good blending brush.

This might be a strange tip but coming from someone who used to do a lot of oil & acrylic painting, do not underestimate painting brushes! Some of the synthetic brushes I have for painting I swear I could use as a push liner brush, an eyeshadow brush etc

I’ve been meaning to check out what’s around nowadays but I just thought I’d put it out there!

Yes indeed! I already do this as an art student I have more of this kind of brush and many are fine sable, to me this is a much higher quality brush, lasts for years if taken care of and sizes are of every variation. Nice to see I am not the only one who knows about this little gem of information 🙂

I like the buy cheap brushes to figure out shapes tip, but I think it only works with really cheap brushes (like ELF’s $3 Studio line, which I love). After that, I think the best thing to do is to spend whatever it takes to get great quality brushes that will last 10+ years – I personally love Hakuhodo brushes for natural hair (with a couple of MAC & Shu Uemura) and Real Techniques & ELF Studio for synthetics.

I find that trying to save money by buying sub-par brushes backfires on me – I end up spending more in the long run replacing bad quality brushes, brushes that wear old, trying to find good deals, being unhappy, and end up with the nice ones anyway.

Plus, makeup for me is about fun and something nice to do for myself, and I enjoy application more with pretty, high quality brushes!

On the lower price range, I love Sonia Kashuk and Paula’s Choice brushes. I also have MAC eyeshadow and foundation brushes. Love them, too.

This was a really good post. Very helpful. I didn’t realise that the handle lengh of a brush could make so much difference in application and finish. Thanks 🙂

I have well over 100 brushes, and not one is HE, unless you count the ones that have come with palettes, GWPs, PWPs, etc.; I also couldn’t tell you what most of them are made of. Also, some of my most loved & used (regularly) are around 20 years old. I don’t believe expensive=quality, and this comes from experience.

Posh & Sonia Kashuk make some amazing brushes, as do e.l.f. & Essence of Beauty. I’ve never experienced any shedding or bleeding from any of these. Maintenance-regular cleaning & conditioning-are essential to longevity, as well.

I simply buy brushes when I come across something unique, not because it’s a “popular” brush. Although I have picked up brushes that didn’t quite work for what I initially wanted it for, it had nothing to do with quality, but more because of how I apply makeup & the formulas I tried it for (not every brush works with every product); however, I always find a use for every brush. I also save all the little brushes that come with palettes/compacts, as I’ve found they always come in handy for something (for example, the little applicators that came with the KvD palettes are useless for shadow, but I’ve used them as lip brushes, cleaning up the edges of my eye makeup, & for liner; those flat little face brushes that come with some bronzers work well for laying down contour products); they also do in a pinch when I need a clean brush quickly, or when I’m swatching color combos I want to try.

I don’t believe spending alot of money on tools is going to have any influence on how the final look comes out. That comes with practice & experience.

My biggest brush come to jesus moment came from bobbi brown’s blush brush. while this brush is on the pricier side. I notice a tremendous difference not only on durability, and quality but on actual application. Up until recently I have never been a blush girl. I have always been somewhat intimidated with blush by seeing people look like complete clowns and never actually knowing the proper way to apply. So when I bought my first Illamasqua blush in Naked Rose(MOST AMAZING PRODUCT EVER) I fell in love and set out to find the most simple application product to use. I tried a couple different brands but nothing comes even close to the Bobbi Brown blush brush. This brush is soft as a baby’s skin, glides effortlessly wherever you need it and deposits the perfect amount of blush onto your cheeks. This brush has now led me to have a blush obsession. Also from the bobbi brown brush line is her face blender brush, this brush can be used fro anything from blush, highlighter, bronzer, foundation, etc. I actually received a mini one as a free gift with a bobbi brown bronzer. I would be lost without this product, obvi I clean it all the time since it is multi use but I like to throw the mini face blender brush into my purse and use it throughout the day to apply MAC’s blot powder (i REFUSE to use sponges or puffs).
This is not to say that I only like Bobbi brown though her brushes are and have all been impressive and display quality workmanship. Sephora’s newest brushes are another force to be reckoned with. My fav their flawless airbrush concealer brush. this brush has changed how i look at concealer and i change my look to go about my day. I’ve always been so used to seeing the flat paddle shaped ones I would always use my fingers but this brush hands down is prob top 3 in my brushes. I think with everyone its different and its a trial and error process with finding what you prefer and what works for your specific skin type/issues. Personally since i have combo/acne prone skin I can not justify buying down when I am going to have to buy up to fix the damage that has already been done. luckily sephora has a great return/exchange policy so if you decide it’s not for you then you can always find something new.
Also if anyone has read or they should read Bobbi Brown’s makeup manual which has a whole chapter and in depth analysis what brushes are more sensible and what they are usually more better geared to.

I so agree with you. The first time I got makeup brushes I had just gotten some extra money and walked into a MAC counter and asked for the 5 or 6 makeup brushes that will help me do a basic look. This was 5 years ago while I use the 217, 219,224 and 239 almost everyday, I have yet to use the flat foundation brush I was assured I was goint to use daily. This proved to me, after further education with blogs and such, that there isnt a “startup set” that fits all. It depends on how much makeup one wears, how, when and so on.

I ended up understanding that not all brushes were created alike three years ago, when I got my Bobbi Brown blush brush. It was a revelation. A soft but firm brush that made application almost failproff. I loved it from go. And my love affair with BB was born. I have other brushes that I love, from her, from MAC, from UD and some other brands, but I do believe that you should try a brush for yourself, not rely solely on recomendations from your store clerk. And quality does matter, so If you can, try to invest in the ones you will use more frequently.

My main criteria is that brush better not shed like crazy…
I find that the cheaper brushes are not consistent. Some Sonia Kushik brushes/ style are better quality than others whereas with the permanent MAC, Tom Ford and Shu Uemura, all their brushes are consistently good quality. I am not referring to those limited MAC brushes which sheds and are not soft. Back then before I detest Sephora the way I do now, I bought Sephora brushes and I loved them all given that they were made in France. I dont think Chanel brushes are all that to be.

Temptalia should host a special award for make up brushes, letting the viewers vote for their favorite brushes – and Temptalia’s favorites – off course.

Oh I think that is a great idea! While building my brush stash I relied heavily on Christine’s brush videos/reviews and comments from readers.
I love the “best brush brand”…but it doesn’t help me figure out the best brush for a specific use. I know it would be more trouble (sorry) and I don’t mean every single possible type of brush use…but it would be so helpful to have major categories like best highlighting, best blush, best eye blending, etc. to get both Christine & reader’s views.

This is an extremely helpful post. I recently started using brushes and now am exploring the best ways to clean and maintain them. Could you or someone go a little more indepth on the best ways to do this and give some tips? Thank you!

I store my brushed with the fiber/hair end pointing up. I spot clean them with MACs Brush Cleaner, in which I transferred the cleaner into a 2oz spray bottle. I spray the hairs and wipe it off on a dedicated washcloth. For in-depth cleanings, I use baby shampoo. I put a little bit of shampoo in my hand and turn the water to lukewarm. I swirl the brush head into the shampoo and water and wait for the water to run clear. Then, I squeeze out the excess water. When I have finished washing all my brushes, I grab the dedicated, stored near my brushes, toilet paper and pull off a couple squares. Then I wrap it around the handle and slide it over the brush head, which helps maintain the shape of the brush. I then invert my brushes, so fiber/hair side down into a glass, and with enough excess toilet paper at the tip so the brush heads are not touching the bottom of the glass. I do this so the water does not drip down into the ferule and slowly loosen the glue and hairs. By the end of the day they are cleaned and nicely shaped. For my large kabuki brush, I wrap extra toilet paper around it and then put it into the toilet paper cardboard tube. Again, to help keep its shape and so the hairs are not in contact with a surface while drying (only the tube is touching the counter).

Hope that gives you some ideas.

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