When you first discover makeup, perhaps through playing with it as a kid, you likely smear it on with your fingers. If you’re really feeling ambitious, maybe you use a small applicator sponge to swipe on some eyeshadow. But the more you experiment and try new products and techniques, the more you recognize the importance of makeup brushes. After all, there has to be a reason makeup artists have brush rolls packed with every type of brush imaginable. The reason for having so many is there are dozens of different types of makeup brushes, each of which serves a unique purpose. Having a full set of brushes (and knowing how to use them) can allow you to embrace your inner makeup artist and bring your dream makeup looks to life.
As for which brushes are essential, it depends on who you ask—but we have a few that we’d deem must-haves for any beauty buff. Here, we’ll introduce you to 14 different makeup brushes that we think deserve a spot in your collection. You’ll learn what they do and how to use them properly for a gorgeous finish to your makeup look. Whether you’re just graduating from applying blush and bronzer with your fingers or have already started to build a brush collection of your own, read on for our ultimate makeup brush guide.
Liquid Foundation Brush
Liquid foundation can be applied in many ways (brush, sponge, fingers), but if a full-coverage, airbrushed look is what you’re after, a brush is your best bet. Look for one that’s full and dense, like our Can’t Stop Won’t Stop Foundation Brush. Designed to be used with pigment-rich liquid foundations, like Can’t Stop Won’t Stop Full Coverage Foundation, this foundation brush allows you to pick up, place, and blend the ideal amount of product for an even application. Plus, the slightly-angled edge of the brush moves with the contours of your face and allows for a smooth-looking finish.
If you’re looking for something that you can use with a buildable-coverage foundation, try Total Control Drop Foundation Brush. The brush, which has a unique inward-curved surface and flexible bristles, easily fits around the natural curves of the face, allowing you to access harder-to-reach areas. Pair it with our Total Control Pro Drop Foundation for a gorgeous, your-skin-but-better finish—no matter how much coverage you opt for.
We’ll start with a classic that everyone should have in their beauty kit: The powder brush. Typically designed for applying loose and pressed powders (like setting powders), the best versions of these brushes are fluffy and soft, which helps the product distribute evenly across the face.
To apply powder makeup, start by dipping a powder brush, like our Pro Powder Makeup Brush, into the loose or pressed powder you plan to use. Tap the handle to get rid of excess product, and lightly sweep the soft bristles over your face until you achieve your desired coverage.
Tapered Face Brush
Tapered face brushes are similar to powder brushes in that they can be used to apply powder, but, as the name suggests, they have a tapered shape. This allows them to cover smaller spots and more angular areas (like the corners of your nose and under the eyes). You can use a tapered face brush, like our Tapered Powder Brush, to dust off excess loose powder from beneath your eyes, apply powder to specific areas of your face (like the T-zone), or lightly dust powder highlighter along your cheekbones for a diffused, glowy finish.
If you’re looking to sculpt or define your features, a contour brush is a must. These brushes allow you to apply product in a precise area, making them ideal for sculpting and shaping the face. For the most natural-looking results, we recommend seeking out a brush that has a bit of a curve, like our Face & Body Brush. Part fan brush, part powder brush, this fluffy dual-fiber brush hugs the curves of your face, allowing you to apply powder contour and bronzer with ease. Plus, it boasts an ergonomic handle that’s super easy on the wrist, so you don’t have to sacrifice comfort for your makeup. Our Pro Multi-Purpose Buffing Brush is another great contour brush option. The multitasking brush is perfect for buffing, layering, and blending cream and powder contours.
The best makeup brush for highlighter depends on the formula you’re using: Cream and liquid highlighters can often be applied with a makeup sponge (more on that later) or even your fingers. As for powder highlighters, like our Born To Glow Icy Highlighter Duos, we recommend reaching for a flatter brush, such as a fan brush. The widely-spread bristles pick up product and disperse it over a specific area, allowing you to create a targeted, precise highlight on your cheekbones, nose, or cupid’s bow. Our aforementioned Face & Body Brush is great for diffusing illuminators over your skin.
There’s nothing like blush for livening up your face, but it’s important to use the right brush to get an even (and well-blended) application. Whether you’re using a cream or powder blush, you can blend it out with a medium-density face brush, like our Pro Multi-Purpose Buffing Brush. The soft, synthetic-fiber brush is easy to use and can be paired with any of our cream or powder blush formulas (plus, as we mentioned earlier, it works for contour, too).
Pro Tip: If you’re not sure how to apply your blush (you’re not alone!), check out our article How To Apply Blush and Flatter Your Face Shape for tips and tricks for achieving a gorgeous sunkissed glow.
Tapered Eyeshadow Brush
Now that we’ve covered face makeup brushes, we can move on to another essential: eye makeup brushes. Admittedly, it’s a huge category, and there are a ton of different eye makeup brushes that can have a spot in your routine. A tapered eyeshadow brush, however, is one of our favorites. These are your classic eyeshadow brushes—small but not tiny, tapered at the end, and packed with soft bristles that blend out pigment cleanly and evenly. We love our classic Tapered All Over Shadow Brush for sweeping and layering color onto your lids (bonus: it has an ergonomic handle).
For a blended, gradient, or smoked-out eye makeup look, a blending brush is essential. This type of brush diffuses harsh lines and can quickly take you from a beginner to a pro-level look. Try our Pro Blending Brush, which features a small, rounded head and flexible bristles that help blend color together to give your eye makeup a soft-focus effect.
Pro Tip: If you’re blending on a smaller area—like your inner corners or under your eyes—use our Micro Blending Brush, which has a smaller head for more delicate blending work.
Flat Eyeshadow Brush
Flat shadow brushes are another must-have for many eye makeup looks. The densely packed bristles allow you to really pack on product and give your eyeshadow gorgeous depth. Try our Pro Flat Detail Brush, which makes applying loose pigments, glitters, and eyeshadows (in both wet and dry formulas) easy and leaves your lids with loads of dimension.
Eye makeup brushes aren’t just for shadow: You can apply eyeliner with a brush, too. Eyeliner brushes, like our Pro Angled Makeup Brush, typically feature a tapered, sharply-angled edge that allows you to get right up into your lashline (they’re also ideal for creating a precise cat eye).
Sometimes, you don’t want precise eyeliner—you want it messy and lived-in. Instead of actually sleeping in your makeup for that lived-in look, achieve a smudged, rock-and-roll effect with our Micro Smudging Brush. It features a small, flat smudging head that’s perfect for blurring out eyeliner and shadow.
Eyebrow brushes can look quite similar to angled eyeliner brushes. They often have the same sharp edge, which is perfect for defining the arch of your brow. However, what takes an eyebrow brush to the next level, if you ask us, is having a spoolie on the other end. This way, you can define your brows before brushing through them for the most flattering finish. Our Pro Dual Brow Brush is the perfect example. One side features an angled cut brush for precise application of cream and powder brow makeup; the other has a spoolie for blending and shaping.
Get up close to a silicone applicator, and while the shape isn’t too different from a flat shadow brush, you’ll be met with a lack of bristles. This may disqualify it from being defined as a brush in some people’s eyes, but it’s still one of our most-reached-for brush-like tools. A silicone applicator is a favorite for applying loose pigments and glitters, which can sometimes be harder to pick up with loose bristles. Our Dual Silicone Applicator has two soft silicone tips that pick up and hang on to your colors with ease, helping to minimize messy fallout.
While not technically a type of makeup brush, we felt this list wouldn’t be complete without an honorable mention of makeup sponges—they’re one of the most versatile tools you can add to your makeup bag. They’re usually made of soft foam and provide a controlled, airbrushed finish, especially if you’re using liquid products (though they can work with powder makeup, too).
At NYX Professional Makeup, we have several different makeup sponges to choose from. The Complete Control Blending Sponge, which features two beveled edges to allow you to access small and hard-to-reach areas, is a must-have for makeup newbies and pros alike. For face makeup with a soft, smooth finish, apply your primer and foundation with The Marshmellow Blender. It features a unique cylindrical shape with rounded edges and provides a gorgeous, streak-free application with liquid and powder products. If liquid products are your favorite, consider trying a silicone blender, like our Plump Right Back Silicone Applicator. It’s super easy to clean and helps you evenly apply liquid formulas, like our Plump Right Back Primer + Serum.