It’s fun to draw on your face with makeup sticks and finger paint with your pigments now and then, but it’s hard to top the accurate application, beautifully blended finishes, and luxurious sweep that a high-quality makeup brush can deliver. Whether you’re applying a fresh batch of concealer, getting uncomfortably close to your temperamental waterline, or placing a strategic dot of highlighter near the tear duct to look more sentient the morning after, here are the 20 best makeup brushes for every product you’re putting on your face.
The Best Affordable Makeup Brush
As Ashley Weatherford, the Cut’s former senior beauty editor, once wrote: “Listen, all concealer brushes are virtually the same. They are typically small, equipped with synthetic hairs, and have a flat brush head.” This one meets all of those requirements, and it’s cheap.
The Sustainable One That Loves to Travel
Sometimes you need to powder, bronze, or blush yourself mid-commute or in the unflattering light of an airport bathroom on the way to baggage claim. This convenient brush retracts into itself without a fuss so you can toss it into your purse or fancy fanny pack without worrying about squishing it. In addition to a shine-free forehead, this EcoTools brush will give you peace of mind with its cruelty-free bristles and a sturdy case made of recycled aluminum.
The One That Makes Your Mascara Look Even Better
The hairs sprouting from your lash line deserve a quality brush too; especially if they’re used to holding up clumps of mascara. Unlike the wands that live inside tubes of product, the precise, tapered teeth on this lash comb effortlessly glide through multiple coats of mascara, leaving you with defined, lengthened, and clump-free lashes every time.
The One That Makes Your Eyes Look Brighter
Sometimes you don’t want a full-on, lid-spanning smoky eye. Sometimes you just want that subtle, lived-in looking, slightly smoked-out liner that makes you feel like Zoë Kravitz. Along with some eyeliner, this tapered pencil brush is basically all you need. It softens and buffs out liner applied to the top and bottom lash lines without much pressure or dragging on your part, and it’s also perfect for placing that highlight on the inner corner of eyes if you’re feeling especially adventurous.
The One That Does Everything
It’s not technically a brush. But if it works like a brush, doesn’t that qualify? This is the best-friend tool of makeup artists and amateurs, so popular that it’s inspired numerous dupes (with varying success). Use it wet and dry to blend concealer, foundation, blush, and just about anything else.
The Best Makeup Brush for a Smokey Eye
The key to a good smoky eye is a bunch of blending, and that becomes a million times easier with this fluffy, tapered brush. The soft bristles seamlessly sweep over the colors you’ve already applied, creating smooth transitions between whatever’s on your lid, in your crease, and under your brow bone.
The Best Makeup Brush for Brows
If you want fuller-looking brows, this can help. One end has a delicate, slanted brush that makes it easy to draw sharp, individual hairs. The other holds a fine pronged spoolie that you can brush through brows to blend pigment so that they look natural.
The One That Fixes All Your Mistakes
Think of this brush as a tiny, heavenly broom for your face. Its flat fan shape neatly sweeps away any excess product, like annoying eyeshadow fallout or a contouring session that got slightly out of control, with zero smudges or streaks. If you need more excuses to run this soothing fan of fluff all over your face (once you feel it, you will), it’s also great at applying a thin, even veil of setting powder and turning the application of creamier things like tinted moisturizers or your favorite face mask into a spiritual experience.
The Best Makeup Brush for Foundation
This dense brush is packed with extremely soft bristles that are shaped to set you up for success. Use one slanted side to apply your product and the other to smooth it into the skin for an airbrushed finish. And don’t forget to run the ridge across all those hard-to-reach places, like along the sides of your nose and under your lower lip.
The Best Makeup Brush for Lips
A sturdy lip brush with sharp angles will help you put lip color only where you want it. The bristles on this brush are firm enough that you get the right amount of control around tricky areas like the Cupid’s bow, but flexible enough to efficiently and evenly paint your lips.v
The Best Makeup Brush for Eye Shadow
This soft shadow brush will get you any eye-shadow look your heart desires. Sweep shadow for an even wash of color, press and pat shadow using the flat side to build more color, or use the rounded tip to target shadow along your lash line.
The Best Makeup Brush for Eyeliner
The tip of this brush is a straight line — all the better for ensuring that your eyeliner doesn’t end up crooked. Dip this into eye shadow or gel eyeliner to stamp on liner at your lash line. Or use it to softly blend your eyeliner deeper into the roots of your lashes, to make them look thicker and darker. Used either way, it will help fix and prevent wobbly liner.
The One for Anyone Who Has Small Eyelids or Loves Cut Creases
If you’re a real beauty lover, you know that Kumano, Japan, is the Napa of luxury makeup brushes. The town is known for its artisanal production of makeup brushes (there’s even an annual brush festival). Beautylish and Kumano–based brush maker Chikuhodo partnered to make an affordable brush line. This one is a particular standout, with reviewers loving how its soft squoval shape makes it easier to blend pigment. The smaller shape ensures that it won’t dwarf those with smaller eyelids and makes it easy to make your cut creases look particularly sharp.
The Best Makeup Brush for Highlighter
The name says it all: This asymmetrical brush literally hugs your cheeks, making it extremely easy to apply powder highlight regardless of your skill level. The chiseled shape (inspired by the shape of a shark tooth) is also great for highlighting other curved, protruding things on your face, like the bridge of your nose, brow bone, Cupid’s bow, and collar bone. Plus it’s pink.
The Best Makeup Brush for Blush
As one reviewer wrote, “If you’re on the fence about this product, jump over it.” IT Cosmetics makes great value brushes which are so soft that you will want to stroke them all over your face as a form of self-soothing. This blush brush gets rave reviews because it’s packed with fluffy bristles and cut at a soft angle to mold perfectly to your cheekbones. It’s perfect for blending and diffusing even the brightest of blushes. (You can also buy a full set for $50).
The One That Chisels Cheekbones
This brush looks like a real-life paint brush, and that’s a sign that it means business. The short, dense bristles pick up a generous amount of product, making this an excellent choice for anyone looking for medium-to-full coverage. When used with a contour shade, the straight edge will quickly give you the sharp cheeks and jawline you never knew you had.
The One That Comes in a Set
If you would rather not buy your makeup brushes individually, this set is stocked with six super-soft brushes that will rise to whatever occasion your face needs to be prepped for.
The One That Sculpts in Seconds
If you don’t like to fuss with multiple shadows, brushes, and blending techniques, this double-edged brush is perfect for creating an everyday eye look that still looks elevated, and in just a few sweeps. Use the flat side to brush a lighter shade of your choosing across the eyelid, then use the angled tip to apply a deeper shade into the crease and hollow of the eye and voila, a natural-looking eye that’s a step-up from mascara alone.
The Best Luxury Makeup Brush
Artis brushes are more expensive than most, but they’re worth it. The Oval 8 in particular is packed with very dense hairs that deliver the most even foundation application. The brush head is small enough to fit around the corners of the nose, but big enough to spread foundation all over the face in about in a minute.
The Rolls Royce of Makeup Brushes
Yes, this brush is incredibly pricey. But it might be the softest thing you’ve ever felt in your life. Its tapered edges make it perfect for picking up blush or setting powder and pressing it into the grooves around your eyelids and cheeks. (It’s also made in Kumano). It would be a good gift for Mariah Carey, longtime lover of fluffy things who once asked for 20 white kittens for a public performance.
This article was originally published May 21, 2018. It has been updated throughout. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.