We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Thanks to platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube, makeup trends and tutorials run rampant online. Gurus from all over the world show off their newest colorful creations that turn heads and garner thousands of views. One of the staples behind every makeup look — whether it’s a subtle everyday glow or wedding/prom glamour — is the makeup brush. Say goodbye to those little sponge applicators that have come with your eyeshadow palettes for years, and say hello to brushes of every size, shape, and color under the sun. But with so many options, where on earth do you start?
At BestReviews, we create informative shopping guides and unbiased reviews based on products we have thoroughly researched. We dive deep into the market, consulting real owners to fully understand a product’s pros and cons. In some cases, we even test the products in our own labs. We purchase these products ourselves directly off of store shelves, never accepting “free” samples from manufacturers. The results of our research on makeup brushes are broken down into the easy-to-read matrix above, where you can find our five top choices. Our picks are selected based on their quality, durability, usability, and price.
If you want to know more about what to look for in a great makeup brush set, please continue reading this guide.
When shopping for a makeup brush set, try to learn as much as you can about the quality of the brushes themselves. Quality brushes with lush, soft bristles will hold and distribute makeup better, helping you avoid that “streaky” look. A scratchy brush signals poor manufacturing and could cause skin irritation. Low-quality brushes are also more likely to shed, losing their shape and eventually becoming unusable.
We advise potential buyers to search for a set that includes a variety of both face and eye brushes. Otherwise, you may find yourself making multiple separate purchases to get what you need. A well-rounded set typically includes all of the following:
Foundation/all-over face brush
Eye blender brush (sometimes called an eye contour brush)
Basic eyeshadow brush
An eye blending brush/eye contour brush will most often be dome-shaped and very fluffy. These brushes are ideal for blending colors in the eye crease.
Some of our favorite makeup brush sets go beyond the basics to include non-essential brushes that, though not a requirement, are really nice to have in your collection. These may include the following:
Angled eye brushes
Small precision eye brushes
Liner smudging brush
Eyebrow-combing brush (aka spoolie)
A fine-tip eye brush is perfect for applying winged eyeliner.
Makeup brush bristles come in two types: natural hair and synthetic.
Natural hair bristles are sourced from animals — commonly goats and horses. We encourage consumers to look for companies that are environmentally friendly and obtain the hairs in a cruelty-free manner.
The perks of natural hair brushes include the following:
They’re softer on the skin.
They absorb oil from the skin.
They contain a cuticle that’s perfect for picking up powder products.
They distribute pigment evenly across the face.
If you are prone to allergies, you may wish to buy brushes that are hypoallergenic and treated with an antibacterial solution.
Synthetic bristles are made of microfiber materials like nylon and polyester.
The bristles hold tightly together to help create a sharp, clean, streak-free line in one swipe.
Their lack of a cuticle means they don’t soak up and waste liquid and cream products.
They are perfect for basic eyeshadow brushes.
A standard eyeshadow brush is flat and thin for easy application to the lids.
When shopping for makeup brushes, you may come across the term “kabuki brush.” This simply means that the bristles in these brushes are very densely packed together. They may contain natural or synthetic bristles.
Traditional kabuki brushes were dome-shaped. Today, however, there are a wide variety of shapes available.
For the precise application of lipstick, consider using a lip brush. Just run the bristles along the lipstick applicator, then use the brush to apply the product.
The longevity of makeup brushes depends on two things: the quality of the manufacturing and user upkeep. With proper care, any half-decent brush should last you at least a few years, while a high-quality brush could last up to a decade.
It’s not the end of the world if you lose a few bristles here and there, but bristle loss can cut back on a brush’s longevity. It’s also a bit annoying to have to pluck bristles out of your makeup.
Handmade brushes are crafted more carefully than machine-manufactured brushes, and they’re far less likely to shed. But they also tend to cost more.
A fan brush comes in handy when you want to quickly sweep on highlighter or create a contour.
The cost of a makeup brush set depends on several factors, including the manufacturing method (handmade or not), the number of brushes in the set, and whether the set includes a carrying case. A collection from a trusted brand name may also cost a bit more.
If you find a set of makeup brushes for under $10, in most cases you’re going to discover they are of low-quality. Makeup brushes in this price range tend to shed a lot. They may also scratch and irritate your skin.
If you’re shopping online for makeup brushes, always read through the reviews to get a good idea of the brand’s quality before making your purchase.
For this type of money, you’ll find a plethora of machine-made makeup brush sets, many of which cost about $30. You may come across some makeup brushes with handmade handles.
Sets in this price range tend to be hit or miss. You might find a set on the lower end of the range ($15 or $20) that works well, and you might find a set in the $45 to $50 range that disappoints you with its subpar quality.
Most makeup brush sets in this range cost under $200, and they almost always come with a very nice carrying case. These are the types of brushes that a makeup artist may view as a career investment.
That said, you can find high-end makeup brush sets for as high as $500. These brushes are usually handmade and produced by a luxury brand.
A small, angled brush is great for applying gel liner or shadow to the lash line.
To use an eye blending brush, move in short circular motions at the outer corner of the eye and in windshield wiper motions within the crease. These techniques help distribute color evenly and blend colors together.
A basic eyeshadow brush with synthetic bristles is great for packing shadow onto the lid and creating a cut-crease. If you aren’t getting the pigment payout you want, especially with shimmer or metallic shades, try adding a little bit of water to the brush first.
A gentle hand is essential when cleaning makeup brushes, and you should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning your brushes properly.
To clean a makeup brush, first rinse it with lukewarm water until the loose makeup is gone.
Mix a gentle cleanser (like a baby shampoo) with water in a shallow bowl and swirl the brush in a circle. You can swirl the brush in your hand, too, if you want a better lather, but try to shield the base of the bristles (where they connect to the handle) from direct contact with the water and soap as much as possible to protect the integrity of the glue.
Rinse the brush under the faucet once again.
Repeat this process until you get a satisfying clean.
Q. Is it better to buy makeup brushes with natural or synthetic bristles?
A. Each bristle type offers distinct advantages and functions. Therefore, the best makeup brush sets contain a mixture of both types of bristles. Ideally, the foundation and concealer brushes should contain synthetic bristles and the blending brushes should contain natural hair.
Q. Are handmade brushes always the better buy?
A. Handmade brushes are often higher in quality, and they tend to shed less than their machine-made counterparts. But they also typically cost a lot. Handmade is nice, but it isn’t essential for a good experience. There are many machine-made brush sets that not only get the job done well, but also feel good on the skin and last a long time.
Q. How many makeup brushes should I have?
A. That is entirely up to you. Some basic essentials are a foundation/all-over face brush, concealer brush, powder brush, blush brush, eye blender brush, basic eyeshadow brush, eyebrow brush, and a small angled brush. However, many brushes can have multiple uses. For instance, you could use a blush brush to apply bronzer.
If you are a makeup artist or enthusiast, you may wish to own a large collection of makeup brushes, each of which is tailored to a specific use. But if you just want a set of makeup brushes for everyday use, a well-balanced kit of ten to twelve brushes would likely suit your needs just fine.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.