Even though I’ve been a beauty editor for years now, I’ve gotta admit a personal weakness: I have no idea how to use makeup brushes. To me, using a makeup brush is like using a paintbrush—sure, I know how to hold one, but I have no clue how to wield it the way that makeup artists do when I watch them on YouTube.
“Makeup brushes are meant to work as tools to enhance the product you’re using and make application easier,” says Chanel Temple, global makeup artist of Hourglass Cosmetics. “A great brush can make any product better and help you get the most out of it. As an artist, these tools are of vital importance.” Makeup artist and author of Lazy Perfection Jenny Patinkin agrees, noting that makeup brushes are “the same as art brushes—they give you control in how the product moves on the canvas, which in this instance is your face,” she tells me.
“A great brush can make any product better and help you get the most out of it.” —Chanel Temple
While your fingers are perfectly fine—I’ve survived doing my own makeup with my digits for decades—brushes can work in a different, more precise way. “There are some products I like to apply with my fingers, such as a primer or tinted moisturizer, but brushes are necessary for creating a beautifully blown-out smokey eye, or a perfectly blended contour,” says Temple. And what’s more, there might be some downsides to using your digits. “The chance of over-applying or getting a streaky finish is higher with fingers than with a brush since our fingers have one textural surface, whereas brushes have thousands in the form of bristles, and the bristles work together to blend the product over the skin,” says Patinkin.
Patinkin says that for the average makeup wearer, makeup brushes “can streamline the application process and deliver a smoother, more natural look,” she says. The good news? You don’t need to stock up on all of the zillions of brush types and sizes that exist in order to become adept with them. “A few strategically chosen, multi-purpose brushes can get the job done,” she says. Here’s what to know about the different brushes out there and how to use them.
The breakdown of makeup brushes
Foundation brush: Temple recommends sticking with one that’s dense. “I recommend buffing the product into the skin using circular motions,” she says.
Powder brush: This is the fun, large fluffy brush that’s used for all-over your face. “These are perfect for lightly dusting a setting or finishing powder all over your face,” says Temple. “You can also use this brush to create a diffused contour with bronzer.”
All-over shadow brush: This one’s mainly for your eye look. “This shadow brush will lay the base shadow down, and you’ll want to focus on sweeping this across your lid,” says Temple.
Blending eyeshadow brush: A small version of the shadow brush, this one’s for more complex eye looks. “This helps blend the edges of the shadow, or can also be used by adding a transition shade in your crease,” says Temple. “Using a windshield wiping motion, use this brush all along your crease to blow out the shadow.”
Blush/highlighting brush: According to Temple, this type of brush is great for adding color and dimension to your makeup look. “It’s a multi-functional brush that works with powder, cream, and liquid formulas,” she says. “I love using the tapered end for highlighting or to create a soft and diffused contour. The fluffy end of the brush is ideal for applying blush.” And voila.
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