If an artist is as only as good as their tools, then no beauty buff should be without the required brushes to create a makeup masterpiece every day. Makeup brushes are an essential part of any routine, but the abundance of types and fibers can be confusing for novices to grasp.
"I remember those days of people using sponge-tipped applicators and Q-tips, because brushes were just unattainable years ago," says celebrity makeup artist Sonia Kashuk. "Now, they're everywhere, and they're almost in the driver's seat after being considered an add-on."
To take the guesswork out of the makeup brush aisle, we enlisted the expertise of Kashuk and celebrity makeup artist Jenny Patinkin, founder of Lazy Perfection brushes, to break down exactly which tools you need in your bag, the differences between fibers, and yes, exactly how to clean them so your tools stay in pristine shape. Keep reading to get all the details!
Though a brush kit might be the most-obvious choice, Patinkin recommends picking up a few tools that can multi-task. A foundation brush like the Jenny Patinkin All Over Face Brush ($52; jennypatinkin.com) can be used to blend on foundation, as well as your highlight and contour, and we love the pro's Flat/Fluffy Cheek Brush ($72; jennypatinkin.com) for blushes and loose powders. A dome-tipped brush like Kevyn Aucoin's The Blender/Concealer Brush ($35; nordstrom.com) is great for targeted concealer application, but moonlights as a eye blending tool after a few swipes on a towel.
"A liner brush like Chantecaille's Eye Perfector ($26; nordstrom.com) works in a lot of different ways to smudge out pencils, apply long-wear gels, tight-line, or give some definition with a wet or dry powder," Patinkin says. Be sure to have an all-purpose shadow tool on hand like the Flat/Fluffy Eye Definer Brush ($34; jennypatinkin.com) which can be used to smooth shadow over the lid, blend out harsh lines, or any additional detailing.
Want to expand your kit? If you want to hone in on our eye makeup skills, Kashuk recommends having at least three to four shadow brushes on hand for doing just that. "I know it seems like a lot, but I always talk about the size of the brush for the area you're working with---your eyes need those smaller, more delicate, focused brushes for a more precise finish," she says. Pick up an all-over eye brush like the Sonia Kashuk #106 ($5; target.com) for general shadow application, as well as a crease brush to build up intensity.
"I love the angled crease brush ($7; target.com) because they help give you that nice V-shape at the end," Kashuk says. "You'll also need a small smudger for emphasis on the lash line." We love Sigma's E30 Pencil Brush ($14; sigmabeauty.com). Kashuk also recommends having a clean blending brush on hand for cleanup duty, and a spoolie like Anastasia's ($18; sephora.com) for taming your brows. "With the focus on brows today, a spoolie is super-important for grooming them," she says.
As for the face, a foundation brush is optional, though a buffing brush like NARS's Botan Kabuki ($70; nordstrom.com) is a must for giving your skin a super-real HD appearance, and you'll need a large powder brush like Make Up For Ever's 130 ($55; sephora.com) for your blush and bronzer. "Getting into contouring is kind of a second-tier step, so that brush has to have a bit more body and stiffness to it," says Kashuk, who recommends the Contour Brush #30 ($16; target.com) for the job. "It has to hold the contour powder, then blend it out to make it look natural. You need one that is a little more linear to get in there and work under your cheekbone and jawline."
If you're stuck on whether to pick up a synthetic brush or go for the real deal, first consider the formula you'll be working with before picking up a tool. "Your varied textures of makeup need different types of brushes, because they work differently, and there is a different application for each texture," Kashuk explains.
Synthetic fibers, like the ones used in MAC's #195 brush ($24; maccosmetics.com) work best with liquids or creams, while natural brushes like Tom Ford's Bronzer Brush ($115; nordstrom.com) are ideal for powders. "For powder brushes, I prefer soft, natural hair brushes with tapered, uncut tips that have plenty of flexibility," Patinkin says. "They don't grab quite as much product as a rough brush, and they distribute and blend everything much more seamlessly."
Ideally, you should wash your brushes once a week, but you can often go a little longer if you take proper care of the tools between applications. "If you gently swipe your brushes back and forth on an old towel between uses, you'll remove enough surface oils and pigments so that you can go two to four weeks between washes," says Patinkin. "However, if you have acne, other skin irritations, or are using oil-based or intensely pigmented products, you should wash your brushes once a week to prevent the spread of bacteria or mixing too many colors together."
Try using spray cleansers like Kashuk's ($7; target.com) or Patinkin's ($7; jennypatinkin.com) for daily upkeep, or a milky cleanser like London Brush Company's ($18; londonbrushcompany.com) for a wet wash. Even Woolite works when diluted with warm water, but if you're really in a pinch, Kashuk says even basic soap will do. "Nothing too harsh, obviously, but I'd rather you go after the convenience factor to make sure your brushes are clean, versus not being able to use them," she says. "Once you're washing your brushes, lay them flat to dry so they don't get all frayed or lose their shape. Then, once they're completely dry, they can go into a brush cup."