Learning about makeup can be overwhelming. Learning about all the makeup brushes you can use to apply makeup can be just as daunting! Check out this ultimate makeup brush guide for beginners to learn about all different types of brushes, what they’re for, and what makeup to use with them!
Part 1 Video:
Types of Makeup Brushes
Makeup brushes are a bit more complex than you might imagine.
There is obviously a handle to a makeup brush, typically composed of wood or plastic. A piece, usually metal, that connects the bristles to the handle. And of course, the bristles themselves.
What the makeup brush handle is made from does not typically impact the performance of the brush, however a high quality handle can extend the brush’s overall lifetime.
The part that truly matters in a makeup brush, are the bristles!
Synthetic vs Natural Brushes
If you’ve looked at purchasing makeup brushes before, I’m sure you’ve seen the words natural and synthetic used to describe them.
Synthetic bristles are man-made, typically consisting of plastic and nylon materials. Instead of being labeled as “synthetic” some companies label them as “vegan” since they do not contain any material from an animal.
Natural bristles are shed or collected hairs from an animal. The animal that hair is collected from varies greatly, from squirrels to goats. While some companies collect shed hair in an ethical way, other companies have more of a gray area – if you want to ensure that your makeup brushes are cruelty-free, I suggest looking specifically for brushes that are synthetic and labeled as vegan.
Both synthetic and natural brushes perform well and have their own benefits. Synthetic brushes may last longer, because they are not natural fibers and will not break down as easily as animal hair will. Natural brushes are known to dust powder on more evenly than some synthetic brushes.
It is entirely up to you to decide which type of brushes to use, or if you’d like to use a mix of different brush types for different cosmetic products!
In my recommendations below, I do not distinguish between natural or synthetic brushes. Please check each listing carefully if you would like a particular type of brush!
Makeup Brush Guide for Beginners
Let’s walk through all the makeup brushes I have and talk about their different shapes, sizes, and uses!
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The classic foundation brush is a large, flat brush with a rounded top. The bristles are dense and long, making it easy to apply foundation to your skin without the brush soaking up a lot of the product.
Because of the shape of this brush, it can be very difficult to blend foundation into your skin.
You have to use the side of the brush to apply products, and dragging it across your face will often leave harsh bristle lines in your foundation.
Tip: Flat foundation brushes work great for applying face masks to your skin!
While applying foundation all over your face with this type of brush is easy, it’s better to blend your foundation (and not have brush strokes) if you use a fluffier, buffing foundation brush like this:
As you can see, this brush is rounder than the flat foundation brush. The bristles are still dense, so this brush will not pick up a ton of product.
Because the shape of this brush is rounder, you can use the tips of the bristles to blend in your foundation, opposed to the side of a flat foundation brush. This creates a much smoother finish! Plus, if it is a good buffing foundation brush you won’t have any brush strokes.
- elf Cosmetics Buffing Foundation brush
- Real Techniques Base Set
- Real Techniques Expert Face Brush
- IT Brushes For ULTA Airbrush Dual-Ended Flawless Complexion Brush #132
Stippling makeup brushes have two levels of bristles.
The longest bristles (all white in the example above, sorry it blends into the background!) are much less dense at the top of the brush. The shorter bristles (black and pink above) are much more dense, like the buffing brush example.
Together, the two lengths of bristles allows you to stipple (dot) product onto your skin and blend it in for a smooth finish. Sometimes I still have brush strokes in my makeup when I use a stippling brush – to fix this, I simply bounce a clean makeup sponge on top of the area a couple times to blend out the marks.
I love using stippling brushes like these to apply cream and liquid makeup products, such as blush and highlighter. You could also use stippling brushes to apply foundation, cream contour, bronzer, blush, or highlighter.
I don’t recommend using stippling brushes for applying any powder products.
The term paddle brush doesn’t just apply to a hair brush anymore.
Paddle brushes are oval shaped, and the brushes come out from the side of the brush instead of the top like traditional makeup brushes.
A couple years ago, paddle brushes were all the rage on social media. Because of their high density bristles, they work similar to a buffing foundation brush, just with a different shape! They’re great for all sorts of liquid and cream cosmetics.
- Real Techniques All Over Brush (Large)
- Real Techniques Contour (Medium)
- Real Techniques Crease (Small – would be great for contouring nose, or liquid eyeshadow)
These large powder brushes are round, fluffy, and perfect for sweeping a layer of powder over your entire face.
The size of large powder brushes allows you to quickly apply powder, pressed or loose, to your whole face in a flash.
To best use a large powder brush, get a little powder on your brush, tap off excess powder, and lightly tap your brush all over your face to set liquid or cream makeup products. After the “wet” products are set, you can swirl your brush around your face to blend in the powder and create a flawless look.
Tip: Don’t start swirling or dragging your powder brush on your face on top of “wet” cream products – you’ll leave brush strokes! Tapping some powder on the area before swirling around will help prevent this.
However, because these powder brushes are so large, it can be hard to target specific areas that you want to apply powder.
For example, I don’t like to set my entire face with powder, if at all! When I choose to use powder, I typically only set my concealer under my eyes.
Using a smaller powder brush like one of these is perfect for targeting specific areas of your face, such as under your eyes or around your nose.
Tap on some powder and lightly brush away the excess!
Tip: A large, clean powder brush is the perfect tool to brush off any eyeshadow “fallout” that drops onto your cheeks as you do your eyes!
- elf Cosmetics Total Face Brush
- elf Cosmetics Small Powder Brush
- Real Techniques Powder Brush
- Real Techniques Setting Brush
Contour and Bronzer Brushes
When you are using a powder contour or bronzer, you’ll want to use a brush that will fit nicely around your cheekbones and jawline!
I love to use small buffing brushes and angled brushes to apply bronzer.
The shape of these brushes fits perfectly in the hallows of your cheekbones, allowing you to contour and bronze your face with ease!
Since these brushes are still decently fluffy, they will allow you to blend out your product easily to prevent patchiness and harsh lines.
- elf Cosmetics Bronzer Brush
- Morphe M530 Contour Brush
- Real Techniques Custom Contour Brush – Adjustable! This would be great for travel, too.
- IT Brushes for ULTA Bronzer #114
Round and angled brushes are both popular to apply powder blushes!
The bigger, fluffy round brushes are perfect to hit the apples of your cheeks with a rosy flush of color.
I also love a slightly smaller angled brush to perfectly sweep across my cheeks and nose for more precise application of blush.
- Real Techniques Blush Brush
- IT Brushes for ULTA Blush Brush #113
- Real Techniques Instapop Cheek Brush
- Clinique Blush Brush
As you can see, these highlighter brushes vary greatly in size!
Here’s what they do have in common:
- long bristles relative to size
- tapers at the top
The shape of these brushes are all similar – the tapered top allows you to gently glide highlighter on the tops of your cheekbones without going overboard.
If you used a brush with a larger tip (such as a small powder brush) you would apply highlighter to too large of an area! The smaller tip allows you to be precise with your application, and the wider and shorter bristles will help blend out the product for a seamless glow.
I personally love using the smallest highlighter brush all over my face, because it’s perfect to highlight my brow bone, inner corner of my eyes, and my cupid’s bow! Highlighting small areas like these can be difficult with one of the larger brushes on the left.
Fan brushes can be used for a variety of products, but they are most often used for highlighting.
Using a fan brush to highlight is easy – you simply swirl the tips of the bristles in your highlighter, and then put the brush up against the top of your cheekbone, moving back and forth to highlight your face!
However, because of their shape, they can be difficult to add precise highlights.
The biggest brush in this image is several inches wide, and extremely fluffy – making it far too large for highlighting. I actually love to use this brush for applying bronzer! The fluffiness helps me blend out bronzer with ease, while the shape and size allows me to bronze my cheeks and jawline very quickly.
Brow brushes are thin, angled brushes that are very flat at the tip.
Because brow brushes are so flat, they allow you to create realistic hair-like strokes!
Many brow brushes are dual ended, with a spoolie on the other end of the brush. This is extremely helpful when you’re doing your eyebrows! Spoolies are used to brush your brow hairs into place and blend out brow products to make them look softer.
Small, thin, and rounded on the top. Lip brushes look like tiny flat foundation brushes!
The small size of these brushes allow you to easily apply a cream or liquid lipstick to your lips.
A benefit of using a lip brush over a lip wand or bullet lipstick is that a brush allows you to create a more structured and precise line around the perimeter of your lips!
Makeup artists also use lip liners when they create custom lipstick shades. Additionally, lip brushes are a way to keep products sanitary when cleaned in between uses and multiple clients.
- elf Cosmetics Lip Defining Brush
- elf Cosmetics Retractable Lip Brush – PERFECT to throw in your purse!
Don’t forget, makeup sponges are awesome for a wide variety of makeup applications, and so are your hands!
As long as you wash your hands before touching your face, your fingers can be a wonderful tool for applying products – I almost always use a finger to apply a shimmery or metallic eyeshadow.
The warmth and natural oils on your hands can be especially helpful with some products!
I hope this makeup brush guide for beginners was helpful for you!
Make sure you check out my video on this topic to see me talk about these brush types in action.
Part two involving eyeshadow brushes is coming soon! Stay tuned.