Make-up Brushes

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Often the applicators that come with blushes, shadows, and powders don't cut it. That's where make-up brushes come in. We examine a variety of brushes to find out which provide better results and help you put your best face forward.

The Basics

  • There are several different types of make-up brushes for different parts of the face.

    • Blush brushes come in two general shapes: a tapered cut with a flat, oval head for contouring, or a blunt cut with a round head for coloring the apples of the cheeks.

    • A powder and bronzer brush has a big, fluffy head that picks up a light dusting powder and distributes it evenly.

    • Liquid foundation brush has a flat or wide, firm brush head of synthetic bristles.

    • The concealer brush has a flat tip for large areas and a tapered tip for spot precision.

    • Applying lipstick with a brush gives it more staying power and a perfect line, every time. Wider, flatter heads make filling in colour easier.

    • For eyeliner brushes, the smaller, pointier and firmer the bristles, the finer the line. When using wet shadow or liquid liner, use a synthetic brush to draw thin, precise lines.

    • Eye crease brushes should be fluffy and tapered, and made from natural hair for a natural look. Wet, pointier synthetic brushes give a more dramatic look that adds depth and defines eyes.

    • Eye shadow brushes should be fluffy and natural-haired. Sizes vary, so find one that fits within the borders of your lids. Try to use different brushes for light and dark shades.

    • The eye contour brush’s dense, angled bristles blend and soften shadows or erase mistakes. It’s not meant for applying eye makeup, just blending or removing it. It is also perfect for highlighting brow bones.

    • The best type of eyebrow brush is stiff boar’s hair or synthetic, which puts eyebrow hairs in place. It can also be used with a brow gel to set hairs in place. Eyebrow brushes are often paired with a lash brush, used for separating mascara-covered eyelashes. A clean toothbrush is an alternative to the eyebrow brush.

  • While professionals may use dozens of different brushes in one application, your brush arsenal can usually be kept to 4-6 brushes.

  • Short handles and retractable heads are purse friendly. Look for one with a protective top, if not retractable to keep it clean.

  • For loose powders, denser bristles and a smaller head will pick up more product and deposit the color exactly where you want it. The fluffier the brush, the lighter the application. (That’s why powder brushes are so big.)

  • Steer clear of brushes with blunt edges (the only exception here being the wedge brush used for eyebrows and certain eye shadow applications). Look for softly rounded dome-shaped heads.

  • Natural-hair bristles are best for applying dry makeup products like powder blush, eye shadow and powder. Synthetic bristles work well with wet or creamy products like foundation and lipstick.

  • Brushes made from sable, goat or blue squirrel hair pick up the most pigment and seem to distribute color evenly. While these brushes are the most expensive kind, we think they’re a worthwhile investment.

Other Considerations

  • Ensure the metal band that affixes the bristles to the brush is tight fitting. Nickel tends to provide the snuggest fit.

  • When not in use, store your brushes in a roll case to keep the hairs from fraying.

Be Aware

  • Natural hair bristles fall out more easily than the synthetic kind. When shopping, gently tug on the head. If more than a few bristles come loose, go with a different brand.


We narrowed our tests down to the one essential make-up brush we can’t live without: a blush brush. Then we recruited some beauty school teachers to help us compare four blush brushes.

Our test products:
  • Annabelle (goat and pony mix): $6.99
  • Mac (pure goat): $33
  • Laura Mercier (blue squirrel): $69
  • Winton & Newton (goat paint brush) $11

(Note: prices listed above are approximate and in Canadian dollars)

Application Test

  • 75% of us preferred the Laura Mercier brush. It was soft, nicely shaped, and didn’t pick up too much make-up.

  • The other 25% liked the Mac best because it picked up more of the pigment and had a good feel to it.


Professionals typically won’t settle for anything less than the highest quality brushes. Finding the right brush depends on your technique and how heavily you like to apply your make up. The majority chose the Laura Mercier, but for half the price the MAC also does the trick.



top of page | | back to posts |
  • Subscribe to the A&K Newsletter