The industry-approved edit of the brushes you need to get your paws on, stat
Ask any good make-up artist and they’ll tell you that, for the perfect finish, you need the best make-up brushes you can get your hands on.
But it’s a bit of a minefield out there, kids, and you may be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of brush choices on the market. That’s where we, your handy make-up brush testers, step in with this shoppable guide to the best make-up brushes money can buy.
From the best vegan make-up brushes to the best make-up brush for powder, blush, eyes and more, we’ve handpicked this edit for all budgets, for all of your make-up needs. Keep reading for your induction to the very top tools out there.
Make-up brushes: the bare essentials
Whether you’re a contour connoisseur, or you take the naturally does it approach, there are some make-up brushes that everyone should have in their kit.
“Really you only need a few brushes,” says Zoë Taylor, CHANEL Make-up Artist. “I really couldn’t live without a fluffy brush for eyeshadow; a foundation brush (consider what your skin type is when you decide what the right brush is for you); a powder brush; and of course, a brow brush, unless you like to use gel.”
So what are the best eyeshadow, foundation, powder and brow brushes? Here’s everything you need to know.
Should I opt for natural or synthetic brushes?
It’s the great make-up brush debate: natural or synthetic, and what’s the difference?
Well, it’s all about the bristles. Natural brushes are typically made from various animal furs and hairs, while synthetic brushes are usually made from plastics like nylon.
“Natural brushes are best used with dry products and water-based products as it is easy to clean these formulas off the brushes without damaging the hairs,” explains Zoë. “Synthetic brushes are far more robust but they often lack the finesse and finish of a natural brush. You can use anything with synthetic brushes, they are far more versatile. It is worth investing in synthetic brushes as you really want the ones with the finest hairs, to get a truly flawless finish.”
Make-up brush sets: our favourite all in one kits
Of course, the best way to kit yourself out with new brushes is to save up and invest in a kit from one of the best make-up brush brands (because really, you can never have too many brushes in your arsenal).
Sisters Hannah and Sophie set up Spectrum Collections from their home in Wales a few years ago, and they’re already the go-to brushes for many a pro make-up artist. Their 10-piece kit is a great starter set of staples if you’re only just building a collection, while the bumper 30-piece set will set you up with all the essentials for face and eyes – both working out as less than £4 per brush. (Not bad, eh?) Not quite on board with the millennial pink theme? They also offer less colourful brushes in white, and the whole brush range is vegan and cruelty-free. Dreamy.
Another must to check out are RealTechniques, founded by make-up artist sisters and YouTubers Sam and Nic Chapman, aka ‘Pixiwoo’. The brushes have created a huge storm in the industry as they’re pro quality tools without sky-high prices. Their Flawless Base Set and Enhanced Eye Set are both £20 for four or five brushes and are great starters for both face and eyes.
Everything to know about eyeshadow brushes
It doesn’t matter how much time and effort you put into your eye looks, everyone needs at least one good, basic shadow brush. This should be dense enough to pick up pigment, but loose enough to blend shadow across the eye. Illmasqua’s Eyeshadow Brush is a pretty perfect example. An angled version is also useful for applying darker colour into the outer corner and crease of your lid.
Another absolute essential is a blending brush, a more feathery option that softens the edges of your look and blends different shades together seamlessly. Two best-selling examples that pros love are Morphe’s M441 Pro Firm Blending Crease Brush, and Zoeva’s Luxe Soft Crease Brush (and did I mention they’re both £10 or under?).
Or, get the best of both worlds by opting for a high-quality dual-ended brush. Zoë’s top pick is the CHANEL Retractable Dual-Ended Eyeshadow Brush N°200. “This dual ended beauty is soft and makes all eyeshadows look flawless. I also adore the CHANEL Retractable Dual-Ended Eye-Contouring Brush N°201 – this is small and far more precise, great for smudging, and again it’s dual ended. With lids, hygiene is everything to me.”
Of course the more advanced your shadow skills are, the more brushes it’s worth picking up for your toolkit. Having different sizes shadow brushes to play with gives you loads of options for what you can create, so it’s well worth checking out the full ranges of the brands mentioned here for more application and blending options. You can never have too many brushes, really…
Which make-up brush is best for foundation?
While some make-up artists actually prefer finger application for the best foundation, for the rest of us a brush is a must-have, whatever the chosen formula.
“I like to use different brushes on different skin types, not foundation formulas,” explains Zoë.
“For dry skin I like to use a flat brush. Probrush foundation brush by NYX is so neat and gives a great finish without disturbing any dry patches.”
If your skin is oiler, “I would use a brush I could I could press into the skin, to get the coverage I want,” she says. “CHANEL 2-in-1 Foundation Brush Fluid and Powder N°101 is the best I have tried – the finish is always like velvet. I like to use this with a full coverage base.”
If you’re somewhere in between with combination skin, Zoë recommends investing in a great all-rounder, like the Artis Elite Mirror Palm Brush Mini.
How to choose blusher brushes
When it comes to blusher, you’re probably not looking for a brush that packs on the colour straight away. Bobbi Brown makes a great one for powder; its spherical brush head is perfect for swirling a pop of colour onto the apples of your cheeks, and is loose enough to distribute colour evenly for just a hint of colour. (It’s always best to go in lightly, and build up to your desired colour gradually.)
For cream blush fanatics, there are some great wet/dry brush options out there for seamlessly stippling your blush on. Give the NARS #23 Wet/Dry Blush Brush a go – it’s great for adding a healthy flash of colour, without overdoing it.
Best way to clean make-up brushes
You’ve spent all your money on these beautiful tools, now you want them to last. And one of the best ways to prolong their life is by ensuring you clean them – properly and regularly. If you use your brushes on the daily, washing at least once a week is a must. Wondering how to clean make-up brushes properly? Swot up with our handy guide to make sure you’re doing it right.
Cinema Secrets Professional Make Up Brush Cleaner – £16.99 | Look Fantastic
Cinema Secrets’s make-up brush cleaner went viral on Tik Tok for transforming a manky make-up brush into a sparkly white like-new one in just a few seconds. Naturally, it’s flying off the shelves as a result – and it’s fast becoming one of our make-up bag essentials.
Ready to take the plunge? Scroll down for our pick of the best make-up brushes to transform your kit. Enjoy!
Best make-up brushes to fill your beauty tool kit
CHANEL Make-up Artist Zoë Taylor's top foundation brush pick for dry skin, NYX's soft, full brush gives an airbrush finish while going easy on sensitive skin types.
If your skin is oiler and you're struggling to get your make-up to stay put, try using a brush that allows you to press your foundation in so you can get even coverage that lasts all day. Zoe reckons this one is the best she's tried – and we trust the woman who's made up everyone from Rihanna to Bella Hadid.
Looking for the perfect all-rounder? Look no further. This flat top vegan foundation brush is great for quick and easy application thanks to its high bristle density.
This base brush regularly pops up in conversation as a beloved foundation tool, and for several good reasons. Dense brush head, sturdy handle, lovely finish. What more could you ask for, really?
Next up? Concealer brushes. "For concealer I prefer to use a flat brush to apply the product onto the skin, but then I like to blend in using a fluffy brush, so the CHANEL Retractable Dual-Ended Concealer Brush is perfect as it does both jobs and it has lids, which keep the brushes hygienic when not in use," says Zoe.
This short, dense buffer brush is perfect for getting a flawless finish in precision areas – think around the eyes and nose.
Ideal for even distribution and blending, this classic MAC flat concealer brush is a great all-rounder to add to your arsenal.
No matter how much (or little) you like to labour over your eyeshadow, having one good, basic brush is a must. We love Illamasqua's large eyeshadow brush because it can be used with both cream and powder shadows, is hyper-allergenic (so suitable for all skin types), and 100% cruelty free.
Another eyeshadow essential is a feathery crease brush for flawless blending. We love this one from MORPHE because it's full and firm while still allowing for seamless product distribution. A make-up bag must-have.
Our Digital Beauty Editor Katie wouldn't be without this brush in her kit and won't apply eyeshadow with anything else. Its fluffy head also makes it great at blending different shadow shades into one seamless eye look.
This double-ended brush has soft and silky bristles for a perfect blend every time. We love that it has lids, too, so is perfect for keeping your brushes clean when not in use. If you're looking for an excellent multitasker, we couldn't recommend this one highly enough.
Finding the perfect blush brush is no mean feat – you want one that distributes product evenly, while allowing you to build your colour gradually (no clown cheeks, please). This one from Bobbi Brown is shaped to pickup just the right amount of product – and frankly, we're obsessed.
Get you a blush brush that can do both. Designed with versatility in mind, this NARS blush brush is a great blending brush for both cream and powder formulas.
No make-up kit would be complete without a great powder brush. Lightly does it when it comes to finishing powder, and we reckon this one from Charlotte Tilbury is the perfect size for getting it just right.
"I always use a small brush and apply only around the nose and any other areas which I don’t want shine. But I love shine, so it’s never a lot!," says Zoë Taylor, CHANEL Make-up Artist. "Often I like to use a medium size artist brush."
Fast becoming an industry favourite, Spectrum Collection's 10-piece collection is the perfect kit for overhauling your brush collection and starting afresh. All bases are covered (literally) – from a flat top buffer brush for foundation, to a small angled blender brush for precise contouring.
All great makeup looks begin with a flawless base. Melding high-quality with affordability, Real Techniques's A-Z base kit is the perfect starting point. Containing a square foundation brush, a fluffy buffing brush (perfect for getting a flawless powder finish), a contour brush and a detailer brush perfect for spot concealing. Consider your kit (almost) complete.
Having a good selection of eyeshadow brushes at hand gives you so many more options. Containing everything from a shader brush to a liner brush and lash separator to get rid of pesky mascara clumps, this kit has it all.