I have a confession to make: While I'm more than happy to press expensive moisturisers or luxurious eye shadow palettes into the hands of friends and family, when it comes to makeup brushes, I'm something of a hoarder. Yes, despite being basically unskilled in the art of makeup application, I just cannot resist the allure of a new, fluffy makeup brush to add to my collection. Do I have any idea how to use all of the ultra-fine eyeliner brushes and densely packed kabuki brushes collecting dust on my dressing table? Not at all. But I love that they're waiting for a moment when inspiration might strike and I'll require a flat foundation brush to create a full-coverage skin look or a fluffy blending brush to experiment with some colourful eye shadow. That is until now. While pre-pandemic, I was used to working in an office with a huge beauty cupboard, working from home means that I effectively live in that aforementioned beauty cupboard now. And it isn't all that pretty.
So the first thing that I'm culling from my collection is my unused makeup brushes. And although it hurt me deeply to do so (beauty-editor pals will understand the pain of parting with beautiful products), it means that I know have a carefully curated edit of the very best makeup brushes that will actually get to fulfill their purpose—to apply makeup to my face on a regular basis.
Ahead, keep scrolling for the 10 best makeup brushes that I think even the most minimal of makeup wearers will get good use from.
1. Real Techniques Expert Face Brush
In my opinion, Real Techniques provides the best affordable makeup brushes on the high street. Since the brand launched a decade ago (to much hype in the beauty vlogosphere), I have always had at least a few of its brushes in regular rotation, but it's the Expert Face Brush that I always come back to. A firm, densely packed, synthetic-bristle brush, it is one of my favourite things to apply my base products with. Whether it's a sheer skin tint or a full-coverage foundation, it somehow makes whatever skin product I apply look better than it otherwise would.
2. It Cosmetics Love Is the Foundation Brush
This kitsch foundation brush is one that was in my "too pretty to use" category until a few months back when I needed a clean makeup brush pronto. Admittedly, I'd written off the heart-shaped brush as something of a gimmick, but actually, the tapered shape means that this is brilliant for working foundation into trickier areas, like around your nose and beneath your eyes. It's soft and imparts an even, streak-free finish. It's love.
3. Shiseido Hanatsubaki Hake Polishing Face Brush
How many foundation brushes are too many foundation brushes, I hear you ask? Well, this one is seriously special, so it had to stay. Made in Japan, the distinctive shape is inspired by the camellia flower and gives skin the most polished, glowy finish. It's pleasingly tactile, and the stubby height means that you can really work your foundation into your skin for a glowy, natural-skin look. Admittedly, though, it is expensive, so if you're new to makeup brushes, then maybe opt for one of my previous two favourites first.
4. Spectrum Collections C03 Tulip Powder Brush
There is only one makeup brush that I reach for to apply highlighter, and it's this one. The tapered tip means that it's a breeze to precisely apply glow-boosting products to the tops of your cheekbones—ideal if you're prone to being a little heavy-handed like I am. Plus, if you like to contour, then it's just the right shape to apply your bronzer beneath cheekbones too.
5. Bobbi Brown Blush Brush
I have often spotted Bobbi Brown makeup brushes in the kits of makeup artists over the years, and that's because they're seriously good brushes that have been designed by experts. This one has beautifully soft bristles and a dome-shaped head, which somehow always picks up just the right amount of blusher and bronzer and deposits it seamlessly onto skin with hardly any blending required. It's one of my most-used makeup brushes of all time.
6. MAC 217S Blending Brush
Another makeup brush that has stuck with me over the years is this fluffy eye shadow blending brush from MAC. I don't wear eye shadow often, and when I do, I often reach for creams that can be applied with fingertips, but this can be swished over eyelids to blend out harsh edges and soften intense pigments. If you only have one eye shadow brush in your collection, I'd make it this one.
7. Zoeva 145 Concealer Blender
If I'm not applying my concealer with my fingers, then I'm using this affordable concealer brush. And I've found that since I've been wearing skin tints more regularly, it's really come into its own for buffing in creamy concealers (like Glossier Stretch) where I want a little extra coverage. I use small, circular motions to work the product into my skin for a really natural-looking finish.
8. Anastasia Beverly Hills Brush 12 Dual Ended Firm Angled Brush
While tinted brow gels are my daily eyebrow product of choice, there are still days when I want to create a particularly groomed brow look, and on those days, I reach for this angled brow brush to use with my brow pomade. Plus, the spoolie end gets a look-in daily, as I always brush through my brows as the first step in my makeup routine.
9. Morphe Elite Angled Contour Brush (E4)
I'm rubbish at applying bronzer, but somehow with this makeup brush, it always goes on nicely. It's called a contour brush, but I'm clueless about contouring—instead, I swirl it into my bronzer of choice and liberally dust over my cheekbones, temples, nose and chin (basically everywhere). I don't know if it's the angled tip, the soft synthetic bristles or the long handle, but the finished look is always naturally sun-kissed, and I wouldn't be apart from it.
10. Sigma L04 Detail Lip Brush
Makeup artists always have a lip brush in their makeup kits, and you'll often spot them using it to trace the lip line with lipstick before filling it in with colour. Although I wouldn't use this every day for special occasions or days that I want my lip colour to last all day, then it's a step that can really make a difference. I love this one from Sigma, as it has a teeny-tiny tip that means you can delicately line the edges of your lips without overdrawing them.
Totally new to makeup brushes? These starter sets are worth investing in:
Featuring my favourite Expert Face Brush alongside a blush, eye shadow and powder brush—plus the brand's cult blending sponge—this is a brilliant complexion kit and a steal at the current sale price. In fact, I know I was meant to be clearing out my makeup brushes but this seems too good to resist.
Another purse-friendly option, this makeup brush set contains seven easy-to-use brushes and two complexion sponges for an easy introduction to makeup tools. Even better, they're all vegan and come in plastic-free packaging.