When first getting into makeup, brushes are usually the hardest thing to shop for. There are an endless number of options to choose from; different brands, prices, shapes, bristles and colors. Where is a person to start? Once you have a basic collection of brushes and know what to use them for, you can bring your makeup look to a whole other level. I am going to narrow it down to three brands of brushes to simplify things: MAC Cosmetics which is affordable but the priciest of the three, Sigma is at mid-level pricing and Morphe Brushes are the most affordable but work amazingly too. All these companies carry the basics as well as advanced brushes for expanding your tools down the road. All three companies ship to the US and Canada although Sigma and Morphe do not have Canadian websites. I will list prices in American dollars to simplify the comparison. If you would like an introduction to makeup brush types and uses, this is the list for you.
The ideal foundation brush buffs out your product to an even streak-free finish. I prefer using round brushes with a domed top or flat top. Flat paddle-shaped brushes may be helpful to dab the product on your face before blending. However, this is an unnecessary brush and step because it tends to leave serious streaks if you try blending. Since you will need another tool anyway just dab the product on your face with your fingers before buffing it.
For MAC, their 182 Buffer Brush is the best option. It is a densely packed dome-shaped brush and even though they advertise it for use with powders, it is fantastic for liquid foundations. It is $53.
Sigma has the famous F80 brush or Flat Kabuki. As suggested by the name, it has a flat head and is also soft and dense and is $25.
Morphe’s M439 Deluxe Buffer is domed and dense and is only $13.99. I have to say, the first few times I used the M439 I absolutely hated it. But then loved it thereafter. If you pick this one up give it a chance to get broken in and you will be forever loyal. For another tool that works great for liquid and some cream foundations check out number 15.
After you put on your foundation and concealer, and any other cream products you desire, it is helpful to set your face and under eyes with a powder to make the creams stay put longer and get them ready for other powders. The following are some great options. The MAC 150 Large Powder Brush is $42 and the style of brush you would want to set or powder your face. Sigma has the F30 Large Powder Brush for $30 and Morphe has the E1 Deluxe Powder for $22.99, M180 Tapered Powder at $5.99 or the Y3 for $12.99 if you’d like a pointed tip to get into face crevices. (It’s my personal favorite at the moment; plus it has a lovely gold metal finish.)
After applying foundation and setting it with powder you can add bronzer to warm up your skin and start adding some definition back, now that it is all evened out. MAC has the 135 Large Flat Powder Brush which is $42 which is made of natural hairs so your bronzer will apply a light veil of product (but if you can build it up if you want). The $34 Sigma F20 Large Powder Brush is featured for controlled bronzer application and Morphe’s M527 Deluxe Pointed Powder is $15.99 and my current fave for bronzer. It is also a natural haired brush so it gives a very smooth even application of bronzer wherever you want to apply it.
Contouring is a technique that allows you to temporarily slim down the appearance of different parts of your face. For example: more defined cheekbones, a chiseled jaw line, smaller forehead or nose. MAC has the 109 Small Contour Brush and 168 Large Angled Contour Brush, both priced at $35,which are great for the larger parts of your face such as the jaw line and forehead and just below the cheekbones. The 2nd brush can also be used for a soft wash of blush. Sigma features their F05 Small Contour Brush and F40 Large Angled Contour Brush; they are $22 and $23 respectively. My favorite brush for contouring is a Morphe brush, the M523 Tapered Powder gets in the areas I like to contour and I can even get away with slimming down my nose with the same brush.
The contouring brush’s best friend is the highlighting brush. They work together to bring extra dimensions and exaggerated dimensions to the face. While darker contour shading helps slim or shadow parts of the face, highlighting does the opposite and accentuates them. When starting out you may just want to place a nice sheen highlight at the very highest points of your cheekbones and then later on you can experiment on other parts like your cupids bow and nose. Here are some brushes that will help you get that cheekbone shine. MAC has the 137 Long Blending Brush for $42, if will give you a soft application of highlight, perfect for beginners and pros alike. Sigma’s F35 Tapered Highlighter Brush is $25 and will give you the same effect. Morphe has the affordable version at $7.99 and is the M501 Pro Pointed Blender, I have no complaints. Down the road, if you’d like to experiment with other highlighting brushes, then you can look into fan brushes; when you are a newbie they may be a bit intimidating.
There really shouldn’t be a need to describe what a blush brush is for, but just in case, it allows you to add a natural flush back into your cheeks. MAC has two $35 brushes that work for blush: the 116 Blush Brush and 129 Powder/Blush Brush. They are very similar and either one will get the job done. Sigma’s F10 Powder/Blush Brush is $25 and almost identical to the MAC brushes. Morphe’s M105 Tapered Blush is only $4.99 and another MAC doppelgänger. I also like using their Y4 Deluxe Angle Blush, the angle helps give me a lifted look but really any of these brushes work wonderfully.
9. Eyeshadow Base
Before applying your eyeshadow, you really should apply a base first to cover any veins or uneven skin color on your eye area; this will make the eye shadow pop. My all-time favorite eyeshadow base (and I can’t ever see myself parting with it) is the MAC Paint Pot in Soft Ochre or Painterly. To apply it you can use MAC’s 252 Large Shader Brush which is $32. I have been using it for years and only recently started using others like Sigma’s P82. It is $20 and is their Precision Round Brush. Although, I have not personally used a Morphe brush to apply my Paint Pot, most of their concealer brushes will get the job done. The $5.99 E10 Tapered Concealer is a good option.
After your base is set, you’ll want to apply your first eyeshadow color; usually, your lightest color will serve as a transition shade above your crease to help blend the next colors that you will apply closer to your eye crease. For the transition or crease shades here some of the brushes you can use. MAC has the well-known 224 Tapered Blending Brush it is $32 but the Sigma is a more affordable and softer option. Regular price for the E40 Tapered Blending Brush is $17 although sometimes there are some on sale with a different color handle. Morphe has the E27 Pro Round Blender and is $6.99. For an Even lighter application, the Morphe M441 Pro Firm Blending Crease is also fantastic and only $5.99.
7. Crease/Outer V
The next brush you will want to use should be a bit smaller than the previous, and used to apply shadow just below the previous color, either in the crease of your eye or the outer V area to intensify or darken the eye look you are creating. MAC has another popular brush for this use, it is their 217 Blending Brush. The Sigma alternative to this one is their $16 E25 Blending Brush. The M433 Pro Firm Blending Fluff, $5.99, is also almost identical and, as always, a lower price.
6. Eye Lid
An eye shader brush is what you will likely want to use for applying an eyeshadow all over your eyelid if you don’t want to use your fingers. Still today, even with my hundreds of brushes, sometimes I use my fingers when applying shadow to my lid because of the great color payoff with some trickier shadows. My absolute holy-grail irreplaceable brush for lid application is the MAC 242: it is their $25 Shader Brush. It really gives a perfectly dense color application right where I want it. If you don’t want to get the MAC one, there are other options. The E56 Shader Lid Brush is $14 and works similarly to the MAC one. Morphe’s M421 is technically a Mini Concealer brush but it works well for the same purpose, it is also only $3.49.
5. Flat Definer/Lower Lash Line
If you’re comfortable with it, you can place eyeshadow along the lower lash line once you have finished with your under eye concealer and powder. For the most precise application and thinnest line here, you would use a flat definer brush. Most brush lines include this type of brush which are basically all the same except for their prices really. The MAC 212 is $25, the Sigma E15 is $15 and the Morphe M432 is $3.99.
A pencil brush has several uses: to blend out the lower lash line, to apply color more precisely to the outer V of your eye, and to apply a brow bone or inner corner eye highlight to brighten your eyes and make them pop. Here are three pencil brushes you can use for these purposes. MAC 219 $25, Sigma E30 $15, Morphe M574 $4.99. All of them will work pretty much identically.
A lot of beginners just aren’t comfortable applying liquid or gel eyeliner because it can be tricky; if you mess up even a little, your whole eye can turn into a disaster very quickly and can be nearly impossible to fix. An alternative to intensify your lash line with fewer casualties is to use a pencil eye liner and apply as close to your lashes as possible. The great thing is that the line doesn’t need to be perfect because you will then use one of the following brushes to buff, blend or smudge that liner. It will give a nice effect with much less struggle. The $25 MAC brush is the 214 Short Shader Brush. Sigma has the E20 Short Shader Brush that is $15 and Morphe has a $3.99 M508 Smudger.
MAC short shader brush
A small angled brush is another one that has more than one use. You can use it to fill in or shape your eye brows with powder or cream products, you can use it with gel eyeliner if you’re comfortable with this or to clean up a winged eyeliner with concealer to make it look even better and more precise since they are so hard to achieve. The MAC 208 Angled Brow Brush is $20 and a long-time favourite of mine when I was using powder to fill in my brows, I still use it for many purposes and am planning on purchasing others to have on hand. Sigma has the E65 Small Angle Brush for $15, it works well for all of these purposes. The E11 Angled Brow from Morphe is once again a similar product for a lower price at $4.99 and it gets the job done.
The final item on this list is technically not a brush but it can be used to fulfill some of the jobs brushes otherwise would. The Beautyblender is a tear shaped makeup sponge that expands when you wet it. After squeezing out the water you can you to apply almost any product onto your face from lotions to foundation, or concealer to blush if you so desire. There really aren’t any limits to what you can use this amazing sponge for. It isn’t available from the previous brush brands although Morphe does carry their own version of it. My favorite is the original Beautyblender which is $20 and well worth the money in my opinion. Just make sure you wash it gently and take care of it properly. This sponge gives a seamless airbrushed finish to your makeup and truly is the best thing for blending under eye concealer and some foundations. I personally always use it for my under eye concealer and liquid foundation. It is also available in different colors. I just happen to like the black one.
I used to think that I had to buy all of my makeup brushes from one company to have the perfect collection. However, as I learned more I realized that the price of a brush does not always reflect the quality of it. I no longer shy away from owning a huge variety of brushes and brands in my collection. Since this awakening my makeup skills have flourished even more.