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Close up of Kristen Stewart having a makeup brush stroked along her cheek while someone else fixes her ponytail hairstyle
All the brushes you’ll ever need, and how to wield them like a pro | INSTAGRAM / @JILLIANDEMPSEY

APPLYING MAKEUP generally isn’t one of those things you’re instantly good at — undeniably, most of us would look back at our early attempts and cringe in horror at the lack of finesse. But as with so many things in life, practice makes perfect is the mantra to live by.

And in addition to practice, the tools you’re using to apply also affect your end result. Using the wrong brushes in the wrong way can result in even the most expensive, high quality products looking cakey and unflattering on your face. Conversely, using the right brushes for the right products, and wielding them in the best way will result in a seamless makeup application that looks like real skin.

“Brushes are the absolute tool of trade when it comes to mastering your makeup like a pro. A good brush will do the work for you and achieve different results for every makeup desire,” adds Ocea McKenzie, the ANZ Education Manager for M.A.C Cosmetics.

Related: Best makeup brands for everyone to love

What are the best makeup brushes?

When it comes to building up an arsenal of makeup brushes, start with the essentials: a large fluffy brush for face powders, a smaller fluffy brush for blush and bronzer, a dense brush for blending and buffing liquid and cream products, an eyeshadow blender brush, and a concealer brush. These are multi-purpose and well suited to a range of makeup applications, so they’re great for starting your collection. You’d also be wise to grab a beauty sponge — like the cult favourite Beauty Blender — for blending ease.

When it comes to adding to your collection, consider the density of the brush to work out which products and application it’s best suited for. “A rule of thumb is the firmer the brush fibre and the more tightly packed the fibres, the more product it will pick up and also deposit — and the fluffier [the brush], the softer the application,” explains McKenzie.

Related: Beautiful makeup bags worthy of carrying your beloved products

What are the different types of makeup brushes?

There are a wide variety of makeup brushes out there suitable to different makeup products and different areas of your face. Some of the most popular and useful types of makeup brushes are the foundation brush, concealer brush, stippling brush, powder brush, kabuki brush, blush and bronzer brush, contour brush, fan brush, flat eyeshadow brush, angled eyeshadow brush, eyeshadow blender or crease brush, smudge brush, pencil brush eyeliner brush, brow brush, and lip brush. Below, we delve into each type and the best options to buy.

1

M.A.C COSMETICS 170 Synthetic Rounded Slant Brush

Black handled makeup brush with white, black and nude bristles

1

FOUNDATION BRUSH

M.A.C COSMETICS 170 Synthetic Rounded Slant Brush

M.A.C Cosmetics

$80

Ideal for applying, buffing and blending cream and liquid products — particularly foundation — McKenzie recommends this as your go-to complexion brush. “This brush is dense and firm and can be used in the same way you would use a beauty blender to press and blend complexion products into the skin,” she says. “A great brush for foundation application, or to smooth over foundation to achieve a flawless finish. It’s also great for a cream blush.”

2

ZOEVA 125 Stippling Brush

Black handled makeup brush with black and white bristles

2

STIPPLING BRUSH

ZOEVA 125 Stippling Brush

Beauty Bay

$33.25

Stippling brushes usually feature this dual-fibre finish, making it fluffier at the top and denser towards the handle. The tiny dots of the longer bristles allow you to create a gorgeous sheer coverage of foundation on your complexion, and are also ideal for seamlessly blending cream or liquid blushes and bronzers over top. This one from ZOEVA is top-rated with vegan bristles.

3

REAL TECHNIQUES Expert Concealer Brush

Orange handled brush with black and white bristles

3

CONCEALER BRUSH

REAL TECHNIQUES Expert Concealer Brush

THE ICONIC

$17.99

Offering expert quality at an affordable price point, Real Techniques brushes are a long time favourite of mine — and the beauty community at large. Their Expert Concealer Brush is a perfect example of a concealer brush: it’s small enough to offer concentrated coverage precisely where it’s needed, and dense enough to buff out your product to avoid harsh lines.

4

LANCÔME Lush Full Face No. 5 Powder Brush

Black handled makeup brush with black and white bristles

4

POWDER BRUSH

LANCÔME Lush Full Face No. 5 Powder Brush

Myer

$90

A powder brush should be large and fluffy: perfect for evenly distributing a fine layer of powder across your entire face with ease. This one from Lancôme is exactly that. Crafted from synthetic vegan fibres with a recycled aluminium handle, reviewers say it feels as soft as a cloud against your skin.

5

HOURGLASS Retractable Kabuki Brush

A retractable kabuki makeup brush sitting beside its lid

5

KABUKI BRUSH

HOURGLASS Retractable Kabuki Brush

NET-A-PORTER

$89.68

Kabuki brushes are often recognisable for their short handles and dense, fluffy bristles. They’re good all-rounder complexion brushes: equally good for buffing foundation and applying powders. This one from Hourglass is super luxurious and with its compact, retractable design, perfect for throwing in your handbag.

6

MAKEUP BY MARIO F2 Face Brush

Double ended makeup brush with a larger head on top and smaller on bottom

6

BLUSH BRUSH

MAKEUP BY MARIO F2 Face Brush

Sephora

$43

Opt for a denser brush (like the previously mentioned stippling or foundation brushes) if you enjoy cream formulations, but if you’re partial to powder blush, look for long and soft bristles with a domed shape for even diffusion. This one is double ended and useful for gradually building up any type of cheek powder (blush, bronzer, contour, even a dash of highlight) thanks to the fluffy hairs.

7

TOM FORD Bronzer Brush

Brown and gold handled white makeup brush

7

BRONZER BRUSH

TOM FORD Bronzer Brush

Myer

$182

Like blush brushes, bronzer brushes should be fluffy enough to evenly disperse powder so you don’t appear patchy. This luxurious option from Tom Ford is designed to pick up the optimal amount of product and easily blend it into the skin, and reviewers say its worth the extra dollars.

8

M.A.C COSMETICS 168 Large Angled Contour Brush

Black and silver handled contoured makeup brush with white bristles

8

CONTOUR BRUSH

M.A.C COSMETICS 168 Large Angled Contour Brush

M.A.C Cosmetics

$66

A contour brush should be angled to fit in the contours of your face for a defined yet natural look. This one from M.A.C is a “Jack of all trades,” according to McKenzie: “This brush is cut on the angle and hugs all the right places to create a soft sculpted glam. It is also so soft and fluffy to buff in foundation, cream and powder blush for a flawless finish.”

9

MORPHE E60 Fan Highlighter Brush

Fan shaped brush with brown bristles and silver and black handle

9

FAN BRUSH

MORPHE E60 Fan Highlighter Brush

Morphe

$14

Fan brushes really had a moment in the mid-2010s as the brush to turn to for that beaming highlight effect. While they’re maybe not quite so popular as they were in the peak of the trend, they’re still great for creating a diffused effect on your browbones and tops of your cheekbones. This one is fantastic, and super affordable — and pro tip, Morphe is generally an incredible brush brand to turn to for quality on a budget, I love every brush I have from them.

10

M.A.C COSMETICS 239S Eye Shader

Small eyeshadow brush with white bristles and black handle

10

FLAT EYESHADOW BRUSH

M.A.C COSMETICS 239S Eye Shader

M.A.C Cosmetics

$51

A flat eyeshadow brush is the one you turn to to pack on some colour onto the lids — or in other words, “the ‘don’t mess around and get it on’ eye shadow brush,” according to McKenzie. “This paddle shaped tightly packed brush will really pick up and deposit colour. Perfect for adding colour, density or also textured products that can leave fall out. It’s a great brush for depositing glitter,” she says of the M.A.C 239S.

11

BOBBI BROWN Angle Eyeshadow Brush

Wooden handled angled shadow brush with brown bristles

11

ANGLED EYESHADOW BRUSH

BOBBI BROWN Angle Eyeshadow Brush

Adore Beauty

$57

An angled shadow brush can help you create further dimension in your eyeshadow look. This one from makeup master Bobbi Brown is handy for contouring and smudging thanks to its small and condensed brush hairs.

12

SIGMA BEAUTY E40 Tapered Blending Brush

Black handled makeup brush with black bristles

12

CREASE BRUSH

SIGMA BEAUTY E40 Tapered Blending Brush

Sephora

$29

Crease brushes are my holy grail when it comes to eyeshadow application — they’re what you absolutely need to avoid harsh lines and maximise optimal blending. This one from Sigma is one of my favourites, and genuinely a must-have — its soft and fluffy bristles make blending effortless. I like to follow it with the E35 for slightly more precise blending.

13

ZOEVA Rose Golden 226 Smudger

A wood and rose gold small eyeshadow brush

13

SMUDGE BRUSH

ZOEVA Rose Golden 226 Smudger

Sephora

$21

A smudge brush — as the name implies — is great for smudging eyeshadow and pencil liner along your lash lines for a smoky effect. This one from Zoeva features vegan taklon hair in a dense arrangement for easy creation of seductive cat eyes.

14

INIKA ORGANIC Detail Brush

Black makeup brush

14

PENCIL BRUSH

INIKA ORGANIC Detail Brush

THE ICONIC

$29

A pencil brush offers precision application ideal for detailed looks. I love them for applying highlight or pigment to the inner corner of my eyes for an awakened look. This one features vegan bristles and is from an Australian brand.

15

SIGMA E06 Winged Liner Brush

Black handled angled eyeliner brush with brown bristles

15

EYELINER BRUSH

SIGMA E06 Winged Liner Brush

Beauty Bay

$20.50

There are a few different styles of liner brushes out there, and which one you choose depends on the way you like your eyeliner to end up looking. Personally, I find this one from Sigma to be the most versatile for a variety of styles: it’s fine enough for a precise line, and the angle makes it equally easy to create a wing or a simple fine or thick border over your lash line.

16

CHANEL Pinceau Duo Sourcils Nº207 Dual-Ended Brow Brush

Double ended black Chanel brow brush with spoolie at other end

16

BROW BRUSH

CHANEL Pinceau Duo Sourcils Nº207 Dual-Ended Brow Brush

Myer

$56

A brow brush should be short, angled and dense for precise brow product application. Bonus points if it comes with a spoolie on the other end for blending out the product, like this Chanel one. Pair with brow powder or pomade for a fluffy to sculpted effect.

17

CHARLOTTE TILBURY Lip Brush

Brown and gold handled makeup brush

17

LIP BRUSH

CHARLOTTE TILBURY Lip Brush

Charlotte Tilbury

$38

A lip brush can help you with a more precise application of lipsticks when bullets or applicators can’t quite create that flawless cupids bow effect. This one from Charlotte Tilbury has a sustainable wooden brush handle with a specially-designed squared end that allows for perfectly defined lips.

Related: Best serums for fuller, longer lashes

Best makeup brush sets

18

REAL TECHNIQUES Everyday Essential Set

box containing four makeup brushes and a makeup sponge in shades of pink and orange

18

AFFORDABLE

REAL TECHNIQUES Everyday Essential Set

THE ICONIC

$49.50

Including the beloved RT 400 Blush, Miracle Complexion Sponge, RT 300 Deluxe Crease, RT 402 Setting and RT 200 Expert Face brushes, this kit has everything you need for your whole face on a daily basis — it covers all the straightforward must-haves. Real Techniques brushes are super affordable but great quality and will last you plenty of time.

19

DIOR Backstage Pouch Brush Set

Black zip up pouch open to reveal five makeup brushes

19

LUXE

DIOR Backstage Pouch Brush Set

Sephora

$265

Get the backstage model look with this luxe set from Dior. It includes a fluffy powder brush, light coverage fluid foundation brush, eyeshadow shader brush, eyeliner brush, and retractable lip brush — all of which have faced the ultimate test by 50 professional Dior makeup artists, including those who work on the runway shows.

20

NAPOLEON PERDIS On The Tools 8-Piece Brush Set

Gold bag unzipped and folded down to reveal eight makeup brushes with golden handles with a silicone bumpy scrubber

20

GREAT VALUE

NAPOLEON PERDIS On The Tools 8-Piece Brush Set

THE ICONIC

$129

Valued at over $310, this set is a great pick for saving your dollars. Its eight face and eye brushes have synthetic bristles and bamboo handles, and it comes with a silicone cleaning mat and a bag to store it all in. Bargain.

21

ZOEVA Vegan Prime Set of 10

Black makeup bag behind 10 makeup brushes ordered from largest to smallest

21

VEGAN

ZOEVA Vegan Prime Set of 10

Sephora

$175

Everything you could ever need for both face and eyes is included in this kit, offering you the flexibility to create a natural no-makeup daytime look or a sultry smoky nighttime beat. The brushes are made from synthetic Taklon fibres which feel silky soft on the skin to deliver flawless coverage and smooth blending.

Related: Best face cleansers for squeaky clean skin

How do you clean makeup brushes?

There’s nothing worse than picking up your brushes to pop on your everyday natural makeup look, only to realise it’s still covered in the remnants of last night’s smoky eye. It’s important to keep your brushes clean — not only so you don’t get the wrong colour all over your face, but also for general hygiene.

Check the instructions from the manufacturer, but generally the cleaning process is as follows: wet the bristles with lukewarm water, focusing on the tips of the bristles and avoiding getting too close to the handle, which can cause glue to deteriorate and your bush to shed. Use a mild bar soap, or a brush cleanser like those from Bobbi Brown or Clinique, and gently swirl the brush on the palm of your hand to work up a lather. Rinse until soap is gone, then make sure to let the bristles fully dry before putting away or using again.

Makeup brush cleansing tools can also be purchased to make the cleanup process a little easier, like this Real Techniques Brush Cleansing Palette — a flexible pad featuring differently-sized nodules designed to help you work every bit of product out of your brushes without damaging them in the process.





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