Best Eyeshadow Brushes

Updated August 2021
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

30 Models Considered
10 Hours Researched
3 Experts Interviewed
60 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best eyeshadow brushes

Whether you’re aiming for a simple, natural daytime look, a smoky and smoldering evening style, or a chic cat’s-eye design, the right eyeshadow brush can help you achieve the eye look you desire.

But with a wide range of eyeshadow brushes available, it can be tough to choose the ones best suited to your goals. There are different types of bristles, different brush shapes, different sizes, and different handles, and each has its own particular pros and cons. And while you can simply choose a pre-packaged eyeshadow brush set, it still helps to know the best use for each brush included in that set.

That’s why we’ve put together this handy buying guide to choosing and using eyeshadow brushes so you can find the right brush or brushes for your particular needs. If you already have a good idea of what you want, take a look at our recommended products.

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A good selection of eyeshadow brushes lets you create a variety of eye makeup looks.

Key considerations

There are certain common features that separate a quality eyeshadow brush from one that’s merely adequate. Here’s what you should know about bristles, ferrules, and handles when shopping for eyeshadow brushes.

Bristles

When it comes to the bristles on eyeshadow brushes, there are two basic options: natural and synthetic.

Natural bristles can be horse, goat, sable, or squirrel and are far more expensive than synthetic options. Natural bristles have excellent “grab” when used with powder makeup, including eyeshadow, and lay down a thick, even coat of color. They also have a soft and luxurious feel on the skin. Many makeup artists refuse to use anything other than natural-bristle brushes, but because of concerns about animal cruelty, most eyeshadow brushes now have synthetic bristles.

Synthetic bristles have come a long way. Once considered inferior to natural bristles because synthetic bristles didn’t hold makeup as well or apply a coat of color as smoothly, now manufacturers have replicated the cuticle of natural hair, resulting in synthetic nylon or polyester bristles that have all of the good qualities of natural bristles without the concerns for animal cruelty. Even better, synthetic bristles are easier to clean and they hold up well to regular use.

Blended brushes, while not very common outside of high-end brands, combine natural and synthetic bristles for the best of both worlds.

Shape: Whether natural or synthetic, the bristles of an eyeshadow brush are gathered together, tied at the base, and shaped into the desired form, which can be slanted, flat, domed, pointed, curved, or fanned. This process is performed by hand for high-quality brushes, while less expensive brushes have bristles that are gathered and tied by machine and cut into the desired shape.

Ferrule

The ferrule is the part of the brush, usually metal, that connects the bristles to the handle. A good brush has a rust-resistant ferrule that’s firmly glued to the handle with no wiggle or swivel. The ferrule’s edges should be smooth so the brush doesn’t scratch your skin, and it shouldn’t bend when squeezed.

Handle

You’ll find eyeshadow brush handles made of wood, plastic, and metal, although painted wood is the most common. The choice of handle is mostly a matter of preference, but the handle should be thick enough to hold comfortably, long enough to wield easily (most eyeshadow brushes have handles that measure between 4 and 5 inches from ferrule to end) and sturdy enough to be used regularly, washed, and packed in a toiletry bag or purse without damage.

The very best eyeshadow brushes have bristles of blue squirrel hair.

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Features

Brush types

There are many different types of brushes for applying eye makeup, and they come in a wide range of sizes. If you wear very little eyeshadow, you might find that you only need a couple of different brushes to create your natural look, but if you enjoy dabbling in different makeup styles, you’ll find it useful to own several different types of brushes. Here are some of the most common brushes for applying eye makeup.

Flat: This is the basic eyeshadow brush used to apply color across the lids or brow bone. You can find medium and large flat eyeshadow brushes, but all have bristles arranged in a fairly flat shape across the width of the brush head with a slight curve to the edge of the bristles.

Contour: These brushes have fairly flat bristles with an angled edge. Use this brush to contour the eyelid crease or add a touch of highlighter to the brow bone.

Blender: The bristles of these somewhat fluffy brushes are gathered into a round shape. The tip might be domed or slightly pointed. Blender brushes are ideal for blending any obvious demarcation between colors on the lids, leaving a beautifully smooth finish.

Pencil: Pencil brushes have short bristles gathered into a rounded shape. While not essential, these brushes are very useful for applying highlighter to the inner edges of the lids or adding a small pop of color to the center or outer edge of the eyelid. You can also use a pencil brush for lining, smudging, or softening eye makeup.

Smudge: Another useful, but not essential, brush, the smudge brush has stubby bristles gathered into a flattened shape. These small brushes are perfect for creating a smoky look, smudging the edges of eyeshadow, or applying color to a small section of the lid.

Eyeliner: The bristles of eyeliner brushes are tightly gathered into a small rounded shape with a pointed tip. Some have the bristles offset at an angle to the brush handle. This is your basic tool for lining the upper or lower lash line. Angled liner brushes have a small head of flat bristles with an angled edge. They are useful for creating winged or cat’s-eye looks or adding highlighter or color to the inner lid, brow bone, or outer edge of the lid.

Spoolie: These are brushes that apply mascara and separate the lashes. You can use a clean spoolie to remove clumps or excess mascara.

Concealer: Smaller than the concealer brushes that are intended to cover up imperfections on the face, eye concealer brushes have flat bristles with a slightly curved edge, making them perfect for applying concealer below or around the eyes.

Eyebrow: Densely packed, stubby bristles with an angled edge let you apply powder to brows for a natural finish.

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DID YOU KNOW?
It’s worth owning more than one of each basic type of eyeshadow brush so you have a fresh brush for different colors of shadow.
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Eyeshadow brush prices

Inexpensive: The least expensive drugstore eyeshadow brushes typically cost between $4 and $8 each. For this price, you get synthetic bristles that are machine gathered, glued, and cut. You might find that the bristles shed easily or the ferrule isn’t tightly glued in place. Expect plain, utilitarian handles.

Mid-range: Between $8 and $20 is the sweet spot for most beauty buyers. In this range, you can find a vast assortment of all types of eyeshadow brushes. Expect quality synthetic bristles that may be gathered and glued by hand. The handles can be quite decorative, not just plain painted wood or plastic. These brushes are durable enough to last for years if cared for properly.

Expensive: You’ll spend over $20 each for brushes with natural bristles along with synthetic bristles that are gathered, tied, and arranged by hand. Expect luxuriously soft bristles, beautiful handles, and excellent durability. There should be no shedding of bristles, nor should the bristles lose their shape.

Today’s synthetic bristles closely replicate the texture of natural bristles.

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Tips

You need to care for your eyeshadow and other makeup brushes to keep them in good condition and prevent possible eye irritation or infection. That means washing the brushes at least once a week to remove makeup, skin oils, and bacteria.

  • Lay a clean, dry towel near your sink.
  • Wet the bristles of the brush with lukewarm water. Hot water can affect the glue that holds the ferrule, causing the ferrule to loosen or come off.
  • Put a few drops of makeup brush shampoo in your palm. You can also use makeup brush cleaner, gentle dishwashing soap, or baby shampoo.
  • Work the soap gently into the bristles. Lightly scrub and circle the brush so all the bristles are completely cleaned.
  • Rinse the bristles. Use lukewarm running water and lightly rub the bristles against your fingers to help remove the soap.
  • Squeeze excess moisture from the bristles with the towel. Use your fingers to carefully reshape the brush.
  • Hang the brush with the bristles down to air-dry. Drying the brush with the bristles up can allow moisture to seep into the ferrule. If you’re washing several brushes, take care not to crowd them. You want air to circulate around the bristles.
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You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good set of eyeshadow brushes.

FAQ

Q. Should I buy eyeshadow brushes separately or in a set?

A. There are pros and cons to both, but ultimately the decision is up to you. Buying your brushes in a set can save you money and is undeniably convenient. A set looks nice because the brushes match, and you can usually get a good assortment of the most common types of brushes by buying a set.

But a set can include one or two brushes that you’ll never use. By purchasing your brushes individually, you’re assured of getting only the brushes you need and use regularly. Also, most sets don’t include brushes of unusual sizes or shapes, so if you want a specialty eyeshadow brush, you’ll need to buy it individually.

Q. Are eyeshadow brushes from high-end brands worth the extra money?

A. There are excellent makeup brushes from drugstore and other inexpensive brands. There are also excellent makeup brushes from premium brands. If you’re devoted to a particular premium brand, go ahead and buy their eyeshadow brushes if it’s in your budget. You’ll be rewarded with soft bristles, quality construction, and often a brush that looks as beautiful as it feels. But if expensive eyeshadow brushes aren’t in your price range, don’t worry. You can achieve the same eyeshadow looks with less expensive brushes.

Q. What’s the best way to carry eyeshadow brushes in a makeup bag or luggage?

A. When it’s time to travel, keep your eyeshadow brushes clean and free from damage by packing them in a brush bag or case that has small loops to hold the brushes in place, enough space so the bristles won’t be crushed or pushed out of place, and a zipper, tie, or button to keep the case closed so the brushes are protected.

 

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