You may have heard the saying before: your makeup is only as good as your tools. It’s true: what you use to apply your makeup can make a big difference for your finished look. And yet, the sheer amount of makeup brush options can be super overwhelming.
Looking at my own brush collection— which is unnecessarily massive, I’ll admit— there are really only 10 types of brushes (and one sponge) I use regularly to create all of my looks.
Keep reading for my makeup brush guide, including the brushes you need and what each type can be used for. Plus, these are all affordable makeup brushes that work well, so you don’t need to break the bank to build your collection! At the end, I’ll share some links to brush set options that include most if not all the essentials.
Fluffy Powder Brush
When it comes to applying setting powder at the end of your foundation routine, a fluffy brush will help dust the product evenly on the skin. My absolute favorite is the e.l.f. Beautifully Precise Powder Brush ($12). It’s great for light, diffused application. Feel free to use it with blush or bronzers well, though I believe the size is best for all-over face products.
For adding definition to the face, a dense angled brush is a go-to for contouring. What makes the Real Techniques Sculpting Brush ($5.48) can a great choice is that it can be used with both powder and cream. Not only can you get precise as the angled shape fits perfectly under the cheekbones, but the soft bristles help blend out for a seamless look.
Now, here’s the thing: you can actually use the same brush to add contour and blush, but you probably want to have separate ones so you don’t mix product. Also— just as a personal preference— I prefer a blush brush with more flexible bristles for a lighter application, so that i can build up to the color intensity I desire that day. The Real Techniques Blush Brush ($8.89) is great for a soft application.
As far as highlighting goes, you honestly don’t need a specific type of brush— even an eyeshadow brush can place highlight down exactly where you want it! However, the type of brush you pick will impact the strength of your highlight. My favorite middle-of-the-road highlight brush is the Ulta Tapered Highlight Brush ($7.99). It has a tapered shape so you can use it on various areas of your face with precision, and has sturdy yet soft bristles so that you can pick up and apply good amount of product at once while still blending it out nicely. Looser brushes, like fan brushes, are also popular when it comes to highlighting but will give you a much softer appearance and you may need to go over the same spot several times for intensity.
Flat Eyeshadow Brush
This is what you probably think of first when I say the term “eyeshadow brush.” it’s a flat, rounded brush that will work best to put product on the lid and brow-bone. The truth is, it would be helpful to have more than one of these handy so that you can dip into different shades without mixing up the colors. At least two, I’d say! It’s hard to go wrong with this standard eyeshadow brush, just look for one with soft synthetic bristles for the best performance like the Morphe M124 Firm Shadow Brush ($6).
ALSO READ: The Best Budget Makeup Brush Brands
Fluffy Eyeshadow Blending Brush
For beautiful, softly blended eyeshadow, you need a fluffy blending brush! Your shadow game will never be the same . Look for a brush that has bristles in a dome shape that are flexible but not flimsy. The e.l.f. Fluffy Eye Blender Brush ($4) is fluffy and does a great job buffing color in your crease and diffusing edges.
Tapered Crease Brush
To apply product in the narrow eye crease area, you’ll want a smaller type of blending brush with a tapered point (I know this looks similar to the blending brush above, but I promise it’s smaller and more narrow and pointed!). The e.l.f. Crease Brush ($4) is the perfect size and shape for this purpose!
Angled Brush/Brow Brush
Sometimes you’ll come across two brushes that look exactly the same, but may be labeled for different purposes. A small angled brush is often referred to as both a liner brush or a brow brush depending on if there is a spoolie on the opposite end. You can choose to buy individual ones for each purpose if you use brow powder regularly so as not to mix product. I do prefer to have a brush/spoolie duo like this one from Wet n Wild ($1.50) for the versatility.
It’s not technically a brush, but it can do the job of several at once! A blending sponge is my favorite tool for even foundation application, and can also help apply setting powder and cream products like concealer, liquid blush or contour. My all time favorite is the Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge ($5.99). The flat edge is perfect for all over application and getting into every corner. Remember to always dampen your sponge before using it, so that it blends softly and doesn’t absorb your product.
Is buying a makeup brush set a good idea?
You can find affordable makeup brush sets that give you everything you need to complete your face. Especially as a beginner, these can be a convenient and budget-friendly way to start your collection. Below you can find a roundup of some of my favorite all-encompassing brush sets, as well as face-only and eye-only sets so you can mix and match to your preference while still saving money.