Makeup Brushes: Like Hair Brushes But Smaller, Softer And Way More Confusing

Have you ever found yourself staring at your makeup brushes, unsure of which one to use and why you even bought some of them? Let's fix that.
Publish date:
March 18, 2013
makeup brushes

If you believe Tim Allen, men are obsessed with tools. (Super-dated reference alert! Writing is hard, you guys.) If you believe us, some men are tools. And while the two of us aren't particularly inclined to pick up a hammer, we have our own tools. They may not build houses or hang clocks, but if you’re not familiar with them, they can be as intimidating as a chainsaw.

One of the most important parts of creating the look you’re going for is choosing the right tools. The right set of makeup brushes can be the difference between a sexy smoky eye and being asked by everyone at your office if you need an attorney and a place to stay.

We’ve experienced plenty of brush-related faux pas ourselves. Most recently, we mixed up each other’s lip and eyeliner brushes. One of us ended up with jet-black lips, the other with a red-streaked lid.

We know you guys are already way ahead in the beauty game, but that doesn’t mean you, like us, don’t occasionally zone out or get confused about beauty tools. So, to prevent any additional mishaps, here’s a brush breakdown that you can print out and tape to your mirror. (We know you won’t, but we’d be honored if you did.)


This brush is usually on the flat side, a tad bit firm, and slightly tapered to provide precise application where you need it. It’s perfect for targeting uneven or dark spots and hard-to-reach areas like the inner corners of your eye. Because it’s slightly firm, you won’t need to press too hard to deposit concealer and a little bit will go a long way.

Runa’s favorite: Benefit Concealer Brush

Pia's favorite: Honestly, I prefer to use my fingers and lightly tap concealer on. DID I JUST RUIN THE ARTICLE?


This one’s close in shape to your concealer brush, but bigger. It will have a tapered end to get into hard-to-reach corners, and a and wide, flat shape to cover more surface area with liquid or cream foundations.

We’ve also seen people use foundation brushes to apply gel and cream blushes instead of their fingers because the results are less muddy.

Our favorite: Bobbi Brown Foundation Brush


Our favorite kind of brush because it’s so fluffy and soft! This brush is usually huge compared to your other ones. It enables you to distribute powder lightly and evenly all over your face so it doesn’t build up and look chalky.

Tip: Brush powder lightly in a “T” formation across your forehead and down your face, then in light circles across your cheeks for even coverage.

Runa’s favorite: bareMinerals Flawless Application Face Brush (the shorter handle allows for more controlled movements)

Pia's favorite: Sephora Collection Classic Rounded Powder Brush (good for quick, giant sweeps)


Blush brushes can come in lots of different shapes, sizes and thicknesses, and some are firmer than others. (Whoa, that last sentence totally sounds like we’re talking about something else.) While we prefer a softer and rounder brush, a firmer, angled one can work just as well. It really depends on the type of blush you use and the contour of your cheekbones. A firmer, angled brush will offer more precise control.

We find that a softer brush is great if you’re using a bolder shade of blush, because you can easily dust off just as much as you need and lightly sweep for a subtle wash of color.

Our favorite: Sonia Kashuk Blusher Brush


These also come in many shapes and sizes, the most common having a squared-off head. It’s perfect for picking up both cream and powder shades and evenly distributing over your lids. However, for more precise shaping and blending, you’ll want to use respectively appropriate brushes; for example, a rounded-off, somewhat tubular-shaped eyeshadow brush is ideal for the crease.

Our favorite: Bobbi Brown Eye Shadow Brush


Also made for the eye, this brush will erase harsh lines and make your eyeshadow colors look seamless. Instead of dipping it into color, it’s made to blend and pull the color already on your lid wherever you want it, making it a must for smoky eyes.

Our favorite: Sephora Pro Blending Brush


A very thin brush (not to be confused with a lip brush--*cough*--Runa), this is your number-one tool for perfectly applying liquid or gel eyeliners. It makes applying liner as easy as using a pencil. If you’re a fan of the cat eye, this is your BFFUIPTPOBSCSYHTTIO (best friend forever until it’s past the point of being sufficiently cleaned so you have to throw it out).

Runa’s favorite: Sephora Pro Flat Eyeliner Brush (excellent for sleek, simple lines)

Pia's favorite: The double-ended brush that comes with Tarte EmphasEYES Waterproof Clay Shadow/Liner (a must for smoky eyes)


This kind of brush is used to not only fill in sparse areas of the brow with powder or wax, but also to create the kind of brow shape and angles you want to achieve. Many brow kits come with one, but you can buy them separately if you already have a color that works with your brow hair and skin tone.

Pia's favorite: Benefit Hard Angle Definer

Runa's favorite: She doesn't have one because she has super-full brows. So much for being identical.


It’s tempting to apply lipstick straight from the tube, especially when you want a bold lip, but the bolder the lip, the more precise it should be. Use a lip brush to carefully follow the unique shape of your lips, and fill in for color that stays inside the lines and off your teeth (and off your eyelids--*cough*--Pia).

Our favorite: Illamasqua Lip Brush

There are many other obscure and hyper-specific types of brushes available, but the ones listed above are the staples that non-makeup-artists can rely on for virtually every look imaginable and achievable.

In addition to filling in the blanks in your tool kit, you may also want to consider labeling your brushes, so as to avoid mix-ups. Or not--maybe you look awesome with glossy red eyelids and streaky black lips.