A Guide to Buying Makeup Brushes

A guide to buying makeup brushes

There are tons of makeup brushes: big ones, small ones, weird shaped ones, expensive ones, cheap ones, long ones, short ones, ones made from animal hair and ones made from synthetics. Here’s our guide to what to think about when buying makeup brushes.

What to Consider When Buying Makeup Brushes

There are four main things to consider when buying brushes: quality; what purpose you want them to fulfill; the size, shape and weight of the brush; and personal ethics.


  • Quality brushes are an essential part of creating a quality makeup (good makeup products, ability and technique being the other factors). For personal use, you’re better off with four or five good quality brushes that can multi-purpose, than having a mass of cheap nasty ones. And professionals need quality – it isn’t nice to leave a hair trail on your client’s face or nasty streaks that need extra work. Go for quality!
  • Quality doesn’t necessarily mean expensive. Really cheap brushes are bound to be nasty, but a hefty price tag doesn’t make something awesome either! Price can be a general indicator of quality, but it is not exclusive. Premium makeup brands sometimes charge a premium price for their brushes, but it doesn’t mean the brushes are the best quality, or right for you. Sure, if you like to own brand names and are happy to pay for “the name”, that’s your choice – just make sure it isn’t style over substance.
  • Check the build of the brush. Feel the bristles – they shouldn’t feel frayed or ragged, and they shouldn’t lose a mass of hair or break either. The bristles should be held in place by a seamless metal base (the “ferrule”) that doesn’t wobble or come detached, and the bristles should have a good shape. Badly made makeup brushes will randomly shed hairs, fall apart after a few washes and won’t do a good job. Go for quality!
    Cheap art brushes

    Cheap art brushes are great for “dirty makeup” jobs like glue, but not for creating a flawless face!

  • For “dirty makeup” chores like using latex or glue, we use old brushes or brushes from inexpensive multi-packs from the supermarket. We do not use our nice brushes – they will never quite be the same again after a round with some glue!
  • The little brushes that come with makeup are usually not that great. They are OK as a quick fix “top up” when out and about, but not for your main application and certainly not for professional use.

Purpose and Use

Makeup brushes

Makeup brushes for different jobs: precision application like eye line or spot concealing; applying, blending and smudging eye shadow; and applying powder makeups and contouring

  • Consider what you want to do with the brush and go for a design that suits that purpose. Do you want to blend powders, create a precise line, cover a large or small area, contour and so on? For example, a wide thick foundation brush is no good for a precision job like applying concealer or eye liner!
  • Brushes can be multi-purpose. While some brushes are actually designed to be multi-purpose, most brushes are made (or marketed) to do a specific job. This doesn’t mean it can’t be used for other jobs e.g. just because it says “lip brush” on the handle doesn’t mean it cannot be used as an eyeliner or concealer brush. If it does the job and suits your application method and budget, then why not.

Size, Shape and Weight

Foundation brushes

Showing the variety in foundation brushes, from handle shapes to bristle sizes: The Body Shop, MAC with both standard and angled brushes, Bobbi Brown, and EcoTools with bamboo handle made from sustainable sources. All the bristles are synthetic, as they generally are in foundation brushes.

  • Brushes come in a variety of shapes, sizes and weights. Evenwithin brushes designed for the same purpose, they will all look and feel a bit different.
  • Try out different brands to see what works for you, your application methods and hand size. Try your mates’ brushes or go into the department stores and see how brushes made by different brands suit you. All have a different feel.

Personal Ethics

  • We talk about brush construction and bristles here. Just to say, nowadays you can get brushes to suit all personal tastes like non-animal hair, cruelty-free and vegan brushes, to recycled and environmentally-friendly brushes. If these things are important to you, then don’t compromise your beliefs, there are plenty of great options for you.
  • Consider client wishes if you are a professional makeup artist and cater for this. We do come across people who don’t like animal hair brushes for a variety of reasons e.g. allergies, they are vegetarian/vegan or they just don’t want animal hair on them!

Makeup Brush Sets or Individual Brushes?

Brush sets can be a good way to get started. Sets vary in size, but even a small brush set should provide the commonly used brushes for less than buying them all individually. You often get a case or brush wrap with sets too. Just make sure that all the brushes in the set are well made.

Travel brush sets can be quite handy for holidays and for keeping in a handbag.

If you go to makeup school, you usually get a set of brushes as part of the course fees – the quality will vary from school to school of course! You can build on this initially with a set, but ultimately you’ll want to pick individual brushes.

Buying individually means you can tailor-pick the brushes that work best for you for each type of makeup or application. You are not confined to the same brand. You could splash out on a really good brush that you’ll use a lot, and budget for the other brushes that you want but use less often.

So, nutshell – it’s personal choice and circumstances, just keep in mind… quality!

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