The best make-up brushes for all budgets to fill your beauty tool kit

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  • 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 & synthetic brushes - best makeup brushes

    “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

    best make-up brushes for eyes

    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.

    NYX On the Spot Brush Cleanser Spray – £9 | Boots
    A great way to give your brushes a quick refresh is a brush cleansing spray. Just spray it on a damp paper towel or cloth, and swipe through your brush heads to get rid of any dirt.

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    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.

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    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

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