Makeup brushes are a hard terrain to navigate. Why are there so many? What are they all for? How did I get here? Things only get worse when tasked with actually buying them—and in a drugstore. The fact that they’re pre-packaged and sealed makes it difficult impossible to test. But we acquired them all so that a) you don't have to, and b) you can stop finger-painting your face if that's not your thing.
Before we dive in, let's get some unpleasantries out of the way. Regardless of how great a drugstore makeup brush is, you’re still going to sacrifice a couple of things: longevity, namely. You’ll lose relatively more bristles with every wash. The lower quality of a drugstore brush also means that they pick up less pigmentation per swipe, but that doesn't mean you can't do a quality application job. Just wanted to make you aware.
The One Brand To Rule Them All
The Boots No.7 brushes are an overall thrilling experience. They’re softer than their $8 (average) price suggests and loosely bristled enough that you’re truly achieving something if you manage to screw this up. (The loose bristles means they softly deposit product on your face.) They’re also a sort of cheat sheet because each brush has an actual label that quite literally spells out what it's for. But to pick one standout, it'd be the Eyeshadow Blend and Contour Brush. In that vein, let's review...
The Eye Brushes
If your eyes are the window to your soul then your eyelids are…the curtain to your soul? Either way, the Sonia Kashuk Small Eyeshadow Brush No. 07 is the brush. Mostly because it’s your run-of-the-mill, standard, easy-to-use eyeshadow brush. No pretensions or complications here. If you would like to experiment, then go in the direction of the Real Techniques Bold Metals Collection 201 Pointed Crease Brush. It’s good for contouring and creasing the eyelid which is the easiest way to trick yourself into thinking you know what you’re doing. The e.l.f. Studio Crease Brush is similarly good, the difference being its effect is more light handed.
For eyeliner, Real Techniques' Bold Metals Collection 202 Angled Liner Brush is quite possibly the best brush ever. It is extremely thin, which means it is precise but also sturdy enough that it doesn’t bend under the pressure of perfectly symmetrical eyeliner application. Goals.
The Foundation Brushes
Coarse foundation brushes are what nightmares are made of. Lucky for you, there are many great foundation brushes found in the same place where you get your toilet paper—maybe too many great foundation brushes. First there’s Sonia Kashuk, who has three versatile options. (The beauty of drugstore pricing is that you can buy all three without selling your kidney.) The Small Duo Fiber Multipurpose Brush No. 124 Brush is a stippling brush—in human terms, this means this is the brush that is going to give you the most seamless and streak-free finish whether you use a powder or a liquid foundation. The Synthetic Flat Top Multipurpose Brush No. 04 Brush is densely bristled (meaning full coverage) and most suitable for liquid foundation. If you’re a traditionalist, try the Synthetic Foundation Brush No. 05 Brush brush for buildable coverage to be used with anything from a BB cream to a full-coverage foundation.
e.l.f. has one of the best stippling brushes, the e.l.f. Studio Stipple Brush, for foundation application, and it's only $3 (about the price of a Vitamin Water and a Kit Kat). Similarly, their Studio Blending Brush works wonders as a streak-free, full-coverage foundation brush.
The Blush Brushes
Blush can be difficult because it’s very easy to end up looking like a Kewpie doll (a cute look for a baby, but not so cute for a grown woman). The Real Techniques Bold Metals Collection 300 Tapered Blush Brush is the brush to use if you know what you’re doing. It will give you a very concentrated coloring, so use with caution. The e.l.f. Studio Powder Brush, on the other hand, doesn’t have dense bristles, which means it’ll give a more diffused and subtle application.
The Loose Powder Brush
The loose powder brush is the most proletariat out of all the brush options. Most loose powders are at the very least good enough, and it’s also impossible to misuse one of these. Still the brush for this is Sonia Kashuk Large Powder Brush No. 1.
The Contouring Brushes
For when you want to blush and bronze and maybe highlight all in one go, the e.l.f. Studio Contouring Brush has short and dense bristles, which means the brush is going to give a very precise and defined result—you’ll need to blend. Sonia Kashuk's Medium Multipurpose Powder Brush No. 17 is a more loose and angled powder brush (i.e. the least intimidating option if you want to experiment with contouring).
Photographed by Tom Newton.
Let Melodie Monrose teach you how to apply foundation with a brush like a pro.