Most makeup compacts come with applicators, but if you’re savvy, you save those mini-sized tools for emergencies only, and apply your powders and potions with full sized makeup brushes. No matter what the cost, applying cosmetics with good tools just makes sense.
According to an interesting article (from 2013) on the financial website Mint.com, the average woman will spend about $15,000 total during her lifetime on beauty products, with $3,770 of that going towards mascara purchases alone. Eye shadows and lipsticks come in second and third, and we spend $2,750 spent on shadow and $1,780 on lipstick in a lifetime. And while some of us hold onto a lipstick bullet for a decade (not recommended), most women replenish their makeup bags about five times a year. If all of this is true, it also makes sense to invest money on makeup tools that help you get the best performance out of the products you buy. With good brushes, you can make even inexpensive cosmetics smooth on with smoother color, layer it better, and add more or less color with more precision.
You may think that only professional makeup artists need to buy good brushes, but, actually, if you are all thumbs at applying makeup, good brushes can actually help you do a better job. If you use those little applicators that come in the makeup compacts or you use a cheap brush you’ve bought for a dollar, you can’t apply color smoothly or easily.
A brush that sells for next to nothing will probably be made on the cheap. The bristles are likely to be rough, thin, and usually improperly shaped. They’ll fall out (I have found them sticking to my foundation) and at best, your makeup might look streak-y. Poorly made brushes or those cheap applicators you get with the compact tend to clump the color. Alas, they also tend to gather dust and unhealthy bacteria. When you try to wash them, they will quickly disintegrate.
What Kind of Brush?
A good set of brushes (they don’t have to cost a fortune, they just have to be well made), will help you apply products as intended. If they are well crafted of good materials that won’t shed or break apart when cleaned, they can last for years.
While many experts prefer natural hair brushes of goat, sable, squirrel, pony, or a combination for appeal and durability, there have been a proliferation of vegan brushes as some people are allergic to natural hair, or object to them for other reasons. There are also some excellent synthetic brushes on the market that look and feel like natural hair and many of these also have anti-bacterial properties.Synthetic bristles also tend to pick up less color, so you’ll get a lighter application.
Nylon bristles are always the best choice for applying concealer or cream products, because natural bristles absorb creams and may clump. Synthetic brushes can easily be cleaned with a makeup remover or face wipe. The Tweezerman IQ brushes we are featuring in this article have Natrafil® filaments that can be easily and frequently cleaned without altering softness or performance. Air dry flat.
Synthetic or natural, you can tell a good brush because the shade is precisely formed, specialized as to their function. They may shed a few hairs now and then, but they will not thin out and lose their shape. Inexpensive brushes may feel sticky and awkward in your hand.
What Makes a Good Brush?
Good brushes have smooth, easy to hold handles in lacquer, matte, silver, wood, lucite or crystal (and sometimes, plastic or resin) that give you control over the brush, and the results.
You may gravitate towards brushes with ergonomic handles, luxurious lacquer handles inlaid with mother of pearl, or brushes with unique shapes and sizes, but no matter what the handle looks like, the thing to look for first is the head of bristles…and for loose bristles. Natural or synthetic bristles should feel luxurious, soft, smooth, silky and light. \
Rub the brush across the inside of your wrist. If the bristles feel stiff, coarse, prickly, or rough, you can bet that’s how they’ll also feel on your face (and they’ll streak the color). Flip the bristles back and forth in your hand. Lightly “tug” the bristles. Some new brushes will shed a few hairs, but if you get more than a few in your hand, it’s probably not very well made.
Examine the handle. It should feel feel comfortable and substantial, not oddly-shaped or fragile. Super long handles look elegant, but one that is longer than 10″ will be hard to use, especially if you are a beginning and if you are nearsighted and have to get your face close to the mirror!
The most popular handle sizes are 5-6″ and 10-11″. Next, look at the place where the handle joins the top of the brush (the ferule). If it is loose or poorly made, your brush could shed bristles, loosen from the handle, or fall off entirely. If the ferule is loose and the head of bristles wobbles, you can do smooth on your makeup easily.
Should you Get a Set?
There are so many makeup brush sets on the market, there is probably one that will suit your budget, but not every set is suited to the kind of makeup you wear and therefore, not always the best investment. If, for example, you never wear liquid eye liner or don’t intend to use a brush to apply foundation, those brushes, commonly found in makeup brush sets, will sit idle and you will be paying for them. It might make more sense to purchase the makeup brushes you need a la carte if you don’t think you are going to be using too many different ones. But having a full set of makeup brushes encourages experimentation, which is a great thing.
If cost is a factor, choose quality over quantity and buy the best brushes you can afford, one at a time, adding to your collection as you can. You might ask for new brushes for gifts. Also consider travel sets. There’s no reason you can’t get great makeup results even if you’re away from home and don’t want to carry your big brush kit with you. Nearly every cosmetics companies offers travel kits and brushes created especially for use “on the road.”
TIP: Choose your first brushes based on the makeup products you apply most often. You might even opt to get more than one of the same brush , if you don’t wear a lot of makeup products but use a lot of different colors of one type.
How Many Brushes Do I Need?
Makeup brushes come in many different sizes and shapes, but in three basic cuts: straight, chisel and tapered. When you need to make a straight line, a straight-cut brush, where all the hairs line up evenly in a straight line, is best. Most straight-cut brushes are used for eye lining and eyebrows.
Chisel cut brushes are cut slightly layered into the end of the brush. They have a rounded look, used for blending, contouring, and any place where you want a soft touch, such as any brush for applying shadow to eyelids, or blush brushes.
Tapered brushes have their ends rounded out almost to a point and draw good curved lines. Lip brushes and concealed are the classics in this shape.
Tip: if you can’t find the brush you really want, take a tip from the pros and substitute an actual paint brush from an art supply store.
Q: WHICH BRUSHES SHOULD I GET FIRST?
As I said above, it really depends upon what kind of makeup you wear. If you don’t wear foundation, then foundation brushes aren’t going to be the most important purchase for you, but if you are an eye shadow fanatic, you may want eye shadow brushes of every type.
For the purposes of showing you what basic brushes look like, I’ve enlisted the brushes of Tweezerman IQ. They have a dozen basic brushes that if you purchased all of them, would run you $282.00. but individually, less than a few drinks or dinner. These are affordable brushes, made with DuPont™ Natrafil® filaments, but they actually perform as well as natural hair cosmetic hair fibers.
The handles are shiny black plastic, lightweight and easy to hold. The name of the brush is on the side of each, so you never have to guess which one you are holding (this is a real plus for neophytes(I have chosen them not just for cost, but because to provide an example for everyone including those who required vegan products.
Your interests will dictate which brushes you want to buy first if you’re not purchasing a set, but for most people, for general use, the first two brushes I’d suggest purchasing are eye shadow brushes, because most people wear eye shadow. Tip: There are many sizes of eye shadow brushes on the market. Most are medium-sized. Make sure the one you purchase fits the size of your eyelid so you can sweep a smooth swath of color on your lids.
Blender Brush – this brush is for all pressed powder shadows. The blender brush has rounded, tapered head of bristles that lets you blend shadow easily. The head is large enough to cover the entire lid area, so it’s good for adding one color of shadow to the entire lid area, or for creating a seamless smoky eye, and for delicate smudging, blending through the crease smoothly, building and melding overlapping layers. It builds powders for intensity and to blend different shades together. Apply shadow in soft, sweeping motions to build and blend the intensity of the pigment. Price: $19 Shader Brush – the shader brush is one of my favorite brushes. The head of bristles is rounded, and much smaller than the blender brush. Use can use it to apply shadow to lids, but in smaller sections. It is also a brush that lets you soften edges and I use it to add color into the crease of the eyes. To use it, use small sweeps starting in the inner corner of the eye, moving out or use it to apply base shadows to lids in one sweep. In a pinch, I’ve even used the tip of this brush to apply powder liner as an accent. Price: $16 Line Glider™ Brush – If you wear gel, cake or cream liner you need a specific brush to apply it. This brush has a special blend of fibers and it is shaped like the contours of the eye so you can apply these products, precisely. Price: $14 Pointed Concealer Brush – While it might not be the first brush I’d purchase, it is one of my favorites because it is such a great multi-tasker. The elongated rounded head of bristles is perfect for smudging concealer and color at the lash line and just under the brow line. It can get concealer into those difficult areas around the nose and mouth, and dot concealer on pimples or uneven areas. But it is also a great brush to add eye shadow in the crease of the eye. If this is going to be your concealer brush, use if by dabbing the tip of brush with product so as to prevent clumps, then softly smooth on to problem areas until coverage is seamless. You can’t use the same brush for shadow that you use for concealer, so get two and save one for eye shadow use. Price: $16 Blush Brush – Applying powder blush is trickier than you might think. The wrong brush can leave your skin looking blotchy, and uneven. If your brush picks up too much color at once, you will not be able to control the amount on your skin, and if you want to layer color properly, the color must be controlled and applied smoothly. A blush brush that performs well, is essential to a natural looking flush. Invert the bristles of this Blush Brush and they fan out in a nearly perfect circle (the mark of a nicely designed head). The head is neither too small nor so large that you end up slopping blush all over the place. The shape is rounded, but slightly elongated so you can apply color in a natural curve, not a clown-like circle. While I wouldn’t personally use it as a bronzer brush, it’s large enough to use in a pinch. It’s a lovely brush at a very decent price and since it works with both wet and dry formulas, you don’t need more than one. To use it, apply powder or cream based formulas to the entire surface of the brush head and blend using sweeping motions. Sweep blush and/or bronzer from apple of cheekbones upward towards the ear. Price: $26 Tip: To see whether or not a blush brush is appropriate for you, smile, and place the brush against the apple of your cheek. If it matches, you’ve got the right one. Too big? You’ll get blush everywhere you don’t want it. Too small? You’ll end up spotting or streaking your blush. Powder Brush – I didn’t personally wear test the Tweezerman IQ powder brush, but everyone should have a powder brush in their makeup “toolkit.” A power brush lets you dust on all sorts of loose and pressed powder, and it adds a natural looking finish to whatever you put on your face, neck and décolleté. This one looks to have a large and well shaped head of bristles, good for dusting on everything from loose minerals to shimmer and glittery powders, and bronzers. The short handle keeps things under control. At $49.00 this powder brush is more of an investment, but save up, because a good powder brush is really a must-have. Price: $49 Tip: use a very large powder brush to diffuse bronzer if you don’t want a lot of “fake bake” but want just a natural “dusting” Tweezerman has a couple of other brushes that you may want to consider (see all the brushes with prices in the chart, above). If you wear foundation, you will want a foundation brush if you want use your fingertips or a sponge appolicator. I was sent a Basic Foundation Brush and the Pointed Foundation Brush to include in this review. In all honestly, the one that I think is most important for a basic brush collection is simply the foundation brush. Foundation Brush – A staple for any makeup artist’s tool kit, this flat, paddle shaped Foundation Brush is designed for creams and liquids. It lets you apply sheer looking coverage all over your skin. To use it, start in the center of the face, working out towards the hairline. Also use to blend and soften complexion products on the neck and décolleté. Price: $21 Pointed Foundation Brush – This is a big brush, but it has a large, rounded tip that lets you cover large areas and fit into places that required a tapered head, such as hard to reach areas around eyes, nose, mouth—and tricky spots like the hairline. You can also use it to blend and soften foundation on the neck and décolleté. While I don’t see this brush as absolutely essential, it’s a nice brush to add to your collection when you’re ready! Price: $28 Brow Brush – The final “must-have” basic brush is a brow brush. Not everyone needs or wants to groom brows, but if you do, you need the stiff, flat, fine angled tip of a Brow Brush to feather powder or cream color into brows to fill sparse areas as well as add definition. Price: $14