Makeup brushes: What makeup brushes do what?

Makeup brushes 101: How to use different types of makeup brushes

21st February 2020 | Author: Nina Nagel

Makeup brushes come in various shapes, sizes and prices. Some are versatile and can be used for multiple tasks, while others have very specific uses. Even within a single makeup brush category, there can be a number of different types – foundation brushes, we’re looking at you – and the whole thing can get a little overwhelming. 

To help you understand what to look for when shopping for makeup brushes, which brushes are best suited to which tasks and how many makeup brushes you really need, we’ve explained the main types below and linked out to an example below each entry.

Makeup brushes 101

This makeup brushes list is far from exhaustive, and we’ll be adding to this guide over the coming weeks and months, but as a starting point, we hope you’ll find this guide useful. You can also read more in our best makeup brushes list and learn how to clean makeup brushes on our How To page.

Classic Foundation Brush

Best used for: Foundations, BB creams, primers and other liquid-based products with a creamy consistency 

Classic Foundation BrushNYX Professional

As its name suggests, this brush is used to apply foundation. It’s flat and resembles a paintbrush. The beauty community is split on which is the best foundation brush for applying your base; some love this classic design, whereas others prefer brushes with shorter bristles or a flatter surface (continue reading this guide for more on this).

Some experts – including our resident makeup artist Victoria Howe – aren’t fans of foundation brushes generally and believe you get a much better base using damp sponges and beauty blenders. You can even use your fingers. 

READ NEXT: How to apply foundation like a pro

The reason foundation brushes are sometimes seen as a little controversial is that, depending on the quality and shape, they can leave streak marks. Especially if they’re also not used with the right type of foundation. The classic foundation brush works best with creamier formulas than thin, liquid ones.

We own a classic foundation brush but actually use its flat edge to apply translucent powder below our contour lines and to pat the powder onto our forehead. 

♥ Mamabella recommends: NYX Makeup Pro Flat foundation brush


Stippling Brush

Best used for: Foundation, or any other liquid product and to blend contour lines

Stippling BrushReal Techniques

The stippling brush is another type of foundation brush and is easier to use than the classic version because its flat surface can be used to really buff and blend products into your skin without leaving marks. It’s great for light coverage, but you can also build up the layers if you want fuller coverage.

READ NEXT: Best foundation brush

The stippling brush is much more versatile than the classic foundation brush and it can be used for applying and blending all matter of liquid, powder and cream products. 

♥ Mamabella recommends: Real Techniques Stippling Brush


Kabuki brush

Best used for: Powder, controlling oil, and blending 

Fenty Beauty

The Kabuki brush is a popular all-rounder. Some people use it for liquid foundation, while others prefer to use it for powder products only. On face value, many of these types of brushes look similar to stippling brushes but Kabuki brushes tend to be softer and denser. They can also come with flat tops, angled brushes or rounded bristles.

We think they’re amazing for applying full coverage powders as their large, dense surfaces give them a similar texture to a sponge. We have oily skin and our Kabuki brush is great for getting mattifying powders into the skin, and the creases around our eyes and nose, but we also use it for blending contour lines and softening the effect of blusher.

Whereas you can take or leave some of the other brushes in this list, the Kabuki is one brush we highly recommend you add to your collection.  They come in several different sizes, which makes them super versatile and they can really be used for anything your make-up heart desires. 

♥ Mamabella recommends: Brushworks HD Complexion and makeup kit


Angled brush 

Best used for: Powder, controlling oil, and blending 

Angled Kabuki BrushSigma Beauty

There are typically two types of angled brushes – although they come in various shapes and sizes with the bristles fitted in different angles. Firstly, there’s the angled blush brush, which is a fluffy brush that’s perfect for applying and blending blusher and applying highlighter.

♥ Mamabella recommends: Beauty Bay Rose Gold Glam Bake Off Angled Brush

Then there are the firmer, denser angled brushes, Kabuki or similar, that are used for getting dark contour shades into the hollows of your cheeks, for example, and which add more precision to your application. 

Technically, both will do the job of the other but if we had to choose one to add to our collection, we’d opt for the firmer of the two due to the higher level of precision. There are more recommendations for Kabuki and angled brushes in our best makeup brushes list.

♥ Mamabella recommends: Sigma Flat Angled Kabuki Brush


Big Powder Brush

Best used for: Loose powders and bronzer

Big Powder BrushReal Techniques

Large, round, fluffy powder brushes are the most basic brushes you need in your collection. They’re not as dense as the Kabuki brush and are therefore perfect for loose powders. Powder granules cling to the soft bristles and their size means they can cover large areas of your face; giving it a gentle dusting.  We tend to use this brush to complete our look by applying mattifying powder in one sweep. We especially love it for generously applying bronzer giving us a natural glow rather than an orange fake-tan finish.

♥ Mamabella recommends: Real Techniques Powder Brush


Blush/Highlighter brush

Best used for: Highlighter and subtle blusher

Blush_Highlighter BrushBeauty Bay

The Blush/Highlighter brush is effectively a smaller, thinner version of the powder brush while being softer than the angled blush brush mentioned above. Its reduced size gives you more precision to apply highlighter but still applies a soft, dusting of shimmer and powder to give you a natural glow. This soft application is also great for soft, subtle blush, common in natural makeup looks to lift your complexion. 

Due to its similarity to the firmer, angled blush brush, you can get away with only buying one of these two brush types and using it for all your subtle makeup needs. 

♥ Mamabella recommends: Beauty Bay Rose Gold Glam Glow Up highlighter brush


Fan Brush

Best used for: Sweeping away excess powders and eyeshadows and applying highlighter

Fan BrushMorphe

Before we explain what it does, how cool does the fan brush look? It’s not a must-have brush but it does have a number of uses and since we’ve added one to our collection, we’ve used it for more than we thought we would. In particular, it’s absolutely ideal for sweeping away excess eyeshadow that falls onto our cheek but it can also be used to apply highlighter. Due to it being very loose, you won’t pack as much product on your face as you would with other, more denser brushes so it’s perfect for enhancing daytime or minimal makeup looks. 

♥ Mamabella recommends: Makeup Fan Brush from Superdrug


Eyeshadow brush

Best used for: Applying eyeshadow across your lid and in the crease of your eye

Large Shadow BrushWet N Wild

As you would have likely seen, even if you’ve done a quick Google search for make brushes, there are so many different sizes and shapes of shadow brushes but, like the angled brushes listed above, there are really only two types: Large and precision.

Large shadow brushes are fluffy and super versatile but are mainly used for applying shadow all over your eyelid. They’re also great for applying highlighter in those areas where your highlighter brush is too big for, such as the tip of your nose or your cupid’s bow.

♥ Mamabella recommends: Wet N Wild Large Eyeshadow Brush

Precision shadow brushes are denser and therefore great to really pack those pigments onto your eye. Whenever you want the colour to pop even more, dip it into water before application. If you’re a beginner or on a budget, and can only choose one, we definitely recommend getting a precision shadow brush as you can use it in the same way as the large shadow brush. 

♥ Mamabella recommends: Morphe Pro Oval Shadow Brush (M167)


Blending Shadow Brush

Best used for: Blending and softening eyeshadow colours

Blending Shadow BrushMorphe

We’ve separated out the blending shadow brush because, while it technically falls in the category above, it’s a must-have for anyone looking to experiment with any more intricate eyeshadow looks.

As its name suggests, this brush is designed to blend different colours together and soften the lines between them.  It’s not really used for applying product – and it probably sits somewhere between the large and precision shadow brushes in terms of size and shape – so isn’t a necessity for every collection but it has its uses as you get more adventurous. 

♥ Mamabella recommends: MAC 224S Tapered Blending Brush


Angled liner Brush 

Best used for: Applying eyeliner and scultping eyebrows

Angled Liner BrushSigma Beauty

The angled liner brush is great for two techniques: applying eyeliner (particularly eyeliners that don’t come with an applicator such as gel or cream eyeliners) and filling in your eyebrows. If you’ve got thinning eyebrows, or you’re just interested to know how to get thicker eyebrows generally, you need an angled liner brush for adding brow pomade.

It also helps you achieve that perfect arched look. If you can get an angled liner brush with a spoolie on the end, it’s more versatile for completing your eye looks, or for even greater precision, opt for a brush where the handle is angled as opposed to the bristles – such as the NYX Professional Pro Brush 11.

May we also recommend you pair whichever angled liner brush you choose with the Anastasia Beverly Hills Dipbrow Pomade which will make those eyebrows look on fleek.

♥ Mamabella recommends: Wet N Wild Angled Liner Brush


Lip brush 

Best used for: Softening lip liner and applying lipstick 

Lip BrushZoeva

The lip brush is probably the least necessary brush in this list as most lipsticks and lipglosses can be applied without one. The exception is those lipsticks found in palettes.

However, the best lip brush is great for when you’re using really strong and/or dark lip colours where precision is key. If you’re doing a classic red lip for example, a lip brush will make your life so much easier and will lower the chances of you needing to go back and correct the outline with concealer.

What’s more, if you’ve ever found your lip liner lasts longer than your lipstick – and you end up having a 90s-style pout – you can use a lip liner to soften and blend the liner into your lips to help your look last for hours. 

♥ Mamabella recommends: Zoeva Precision Lip Brush


How many makeup brushes do I need?

As we’ve explained a couple of times throughout this piece, not every makeup brush in this list is necessary. If you’re just starting out or want to be a bit more adventurous we recommend the following as staples you should have:

  • A foundation brush: These brushes can also be used for contouring and applying concealer
  • A powder brush: These brushes can be used to apply all forms of powdered makeup, from setting powder to blusher and highlighter
  • A precision shadow brush: One eyeshadow brush is enough to complete a basic eyeshadow look – just make sure to clean it in between uses. You can read more about how to clean makeup brushes here. 

Makeup brush sets are also a great way to kickstart your collection but they are, ultimately, a luxury. If you want to go down this route, the Sigma Beauty Travel Kit features most of the brushes listed above. 

If you prefer using your fingers, then that’s absolutely fine too. Just make sure they’re clean! And if you’ve got a makeup brush that you just can’t live without, let us know in the comments. 


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