Bronzer Brush to Eyebrow Brush Spoolie: Makeup Brushes From A to Z

Do you know your highlighter brush from a bronzer brush? Is an eyebrow brush the same as a spoolie? Which makeup brushes should you carry in your makeup bag? There are lots of options out there catering to every budget from 'the price of a Big Mac' to 'mortgage your house' expensive. But is more expensive better? Do we need 15 lip brushes in all shapes and sizes? Since we were as confused as anyone, we've created the ultimate 'a to z' guide covering everything you need to know to choose the right brush for the right job.

Makeup Brush Basics

A makeup brush has three pieces: a handle, the ferrule, and the bristles.

  • Handles are made from varnished wood, resin or plastic, and will be offered in a variety of lengths, shapes, and thicknesses.

  • The ferrule is the cone that holds the bristles in place. Generally made of plastic or metal, the ferrule is glued to the handle.

  • The bristles are attached to the handle by the ferrule, either pinched or glued.

You need a good handle that you feels comfortable in your hand, and you need a solid ferrule to hold the bristles in place. But what matters most is the quality, shape, softness and amount of hairs since the bristles are what you will be applying your makeup with (and cleaning afterward!). When it comes to bristles, you have two options: natural and synthetic.

Natural hair is hair from an animal: goats, badgers, weasels (sable), and horses. Natural hair is what brushes have been made of for centuries before synthetics came along. Animal hair works well with powders, and the bristles will pick up a lot of product and distribute it well. Since it's natural hair, cream and oil-based products will tend to be absorbed by the hairs, and therefore you may pick up more product than you need, resulting in clogging and streaking.

The various animals will have longer and shorter hairs, and softness will vary. Goat and sable hair will be soft and used for precision and buffing brushes, while badger hair will be stiffer and used for filling and shaping brushes. However, in this day and age, there are obvious ethical concerns about how the hair is sourced. Natural hair will not be vegan or cruelty-free. These animals are not voluntarily offering their hair: they are farmed and hunted.

Synthetic hair is 100% manufactured from nylon and plastics. Synthetic hairs won't absorb products into the hairs and therefore work well with oil and cream based products.

There are synthetic hairs for powders too. Taklon is a brand name of a synthetic fiber which has been specifically created to mimic the softness of natural hairs such as sable. For a brush that requires a firmer bristle for shaping, such as a brow or mascara tips, a product called Natrafil does the trick. With today's technology, there isn't any type of makeup brush that synthetic materials can't replace.

So what makes one brush better than another? It all comes down to manufacturing.

  • Recommendation #1: Does the brush feel soft on your skin? Most bristles will be laser-cut to the exact shape and length for each brush.

  • Recommendation #2: Are the hairs dense? Are the hairs even distributed throughout the brush shape? Do you have stray hairs sticking out from the top or along the shape of the brush? Does the brush shed and lose bristles? Poor quality brushes will have this issue during use and washing/cleaning.

  • Recommendation #3: Is the ferrule firmly in place? Can you tug it loose? You want control in your handle, not a wobbly ferrule.

  • Recommendation #4: Does the handle feel solid in your hand? Are there any seams that could crack or allow water to soak through when cleaning or product when using?

Bristle Shape

Bristles are the end of the brush that picks up the makeup and is then applied to your face. Since you usually use a greater amount of foundation to a larger area of your face than you would eyeshadow to your eyes, you will need denser bristles in different shapes for each job. Let's break it down.

A flat brush is ideal when you want to build medium to full coverage. The flat bristles are perfect for applying liquids or cream products, such as foundation, concealer, and contour. The dense hairs will pick up as much product as you need, and the stiff bristles will give you the control you want.

Fan Shape
A fan-shaped brush is perfect when you want to sweep powder across a larger area gently. The flatness of the brush and the soft bristles will pick up just enough finishing powder, highlighter, or bronzer to give you soft, light coverage.

Angled Tip
An angled brush will have stiff and dense bristles, which will give you the best control for precise shading when contouring or applying bronzer.

Rounded Tip
For blending, choose a flat rounded tip. Densely packed bristles will pick up the right amount of product and distribute it evenly. And the smaller dome shape is perfect for blending.

Tapered Tips
A tapered tip is your choice for applying and blending foundation creams and liquids.

Domed Heads
A big, fluffy brush with a rounded shape, use a dome shape to sweep loose or pressed powders across your face.

Choosing The Best Tool For The Job

We always say your fingers are your best tool. But when you want some extra precision and detail, or a lighter, softer touch, having the right set of tools can give you the help you need to achieve that professional look. Still, there are dozens of types of brushes for specific jobs and plenty of multi-purpose brushes. To help with your hunt, we've decoded the names and uses for your face, eyes, and lips.

Oval Paddle Brush
A paddle brush has a flat tapered head and is used for applying full-coverage foundation. Normally available as part of an oval makeup brush set, the bristles are densely packed. They are not great for blending, so you'll need a buffing brush as well.

Flat Foundation Brush
A foundation brush works well with both cream or wet foundations. A tapered brush is great for liquid or cream formulas for an even, streak-free application.

Angle Brush
A flat angled brush is an excellent tool for touch-ups. This foundation brush allows a large area of precise coverage in one application.

Buffing Brush
A buffing brush is good at blending foundation. This buffing foundation brush is a game changer when it comes to the application of both liquid and mineral foundation. This powder foundation brush buffs the foundation into the skin flawlessly while still maintaining good levels of coverage.

Stipple Brush
A stippling brush has two sets of bristles and a blunt edge. Seamlessly blend liquid, cream, and powder products with a stippling brush can produce an "airbrushed" finish but can be more time-consuming to use. Dual-fiber bristles evenly distribute product for a natural finish. Stippling is also ideal for people with imperfections, including acne scarring as it provides a smooth finish. Firstly, the white synthetic fibers pick up the product and apply it to your skin, while the black (typically) natural fibers at the base are denser and help push the product into the skin.

Powder Brush
Powder brushes should be big and soft - the fluffier, the better. Use this extra large brush to apply pressed and loose powder. Perfect for blending bronzer, highlighter, and blush, or sweeping a nice, even coverage of powder.

Kabuki Brush
A luxurious, dome-shaped brush that is ideal for smooth and even powder coverage. A real beauty multi-tasker, kabuki brush uses include blending, highlighting, contouring, and stippling. Consider this as your basic bronzer brush too.

Concealer Brush
A concealer blending brush is a stiff, flat brush ideal for spot concealing blemishes and imperfections. Available in angled, rounded and more precision shapes, the brush could double as a flat eyeliner brush. Short bristles help to precisely apply the product to areas such as under your eyes, nose and over a blemish. Use this brush to create buildable coverage from light to heavy for a customizable look that is smooth and flawless.

Blush Brush
A blush brush is available with an angled, rounded and tapered tip. An angled blush brush is used for contouring, while a rounded brush is used to blend blush across your face. A tapered tip gives greater control and a more precise application. If you use a cream blush, you could use this brush or opt for a stippling brush. A sponge will also work well to blend out a cream blush. Take note of the density of the bristles; a dense brush will produce a heavier layer while a fluffier brush will produce a lighter layer.

Fan Brush
A fan makeup brush is ideal for use with loose powders and highlighters. The fanned-out bristles allow for precise application along the cheekbones. Use this brush to lightly dust on powder or to contour. The unique fan shape blends for a flawless finish. You could also create soft color over the cheeks or apply a touch of loose powder to cover shine. If you use highlighter, a fan brush is great for applying a very light application, and can also be used to brush excess powder and eyeshadow fallout off your face.

Highlighter Brush
Like concealer brushes, a highlight brush is available in domed, angled, fan, buffing and precision versions for use with both powder and cream highlighting products. A fluffy brush is perfect for achieving an illuminating glow. Or use a small pointed brush or an angled brush to sculpt and contour the face. If you use contour products, a flat brush makes contouring very easy. A slim, tapered brush works well for precision highlighting on the cheekbones and brow bones to achieve a strobing effect.

Contour Brush
Generally angled, a contouring brush has soft yet dense bristles that allow the application of a concentrated amount of product without any fallout. The densely packed hair and structured shape achieve flawless dimension along the cheekbones, forehead, and jawline for targeted contouring. Perfect for using with pressed or loose bronzer powder, liquids, and creams to create beautiful sculpting all over the face.

Makeup Sponge
A blending sponge is the perfect tool for creating a full coverage base, contouring, or layering cream blushes. Sponges are durable, washable and reusable, and perfect for use with all makeup formulations. Available in multiple shapes and materials, a beauty sponge with a rounded bottom and flat edge is perfect for blending and contouring for a smooth, flawless finish. The precision point is perfect for concealing imperfections. Unlike a foam sponge, a silicone makeup sponge won't absorb any product which can make your makeup go further.

Flat Eyeshadow Brush
A flat shadow brush absorbs the perfect amount of eye shadow. This brush will have soft, tapered bristles, enables better control for a precise application of eye shadow. This brush is ideal for cream products and can perform double duty for applying concealers, eyeshadow bases, and liquid highlighters.

Eyeshadow Blending Brush
Use a blending eye brush after your shadow and liner to create a natural finish to any eye look. This loose, dome-shaped brush is perfect for blending multiple shades of eyeshadow while softening dramatic edges and fine lines on the lid and crease. These eyeshadow brushes can also multitask – blend both powdery and creamy eye shadow products.

Eyeshadow Crease Brush
Use an eyeshadow crease brush to apply eyeshadow precisely into the crease of the eyelid for an expertly blended look. This brush works great with loose or pressed eyeshadow, either wet or dry. A tapered, pointed tip of this small, skinny blending brush makes applying color to the crease and under the eyes effortless. It's great for getting very precise, intricate, and detailed eye looks. A round-domed brush is great for smudging shadow into the lash line for a smoky effect.

Smudge Brush
A smudge brush is used to apply shadow seamlessly along the lower lashline and to smudge out eyeliner. A smudger brush is ideal for use with cream and powder based products, and to smudge out gel liners and eyeshadow. Perfect for blending in eyeliner and shadow to create a perfect sexy smokey eye or, even to fill in brows. These brushes are small, short, and dense, with a rounded shape - and can be found with soft hairs and a sponge tip to smudge and blend eyeliner and eyeshadow expertly.

Eyeliner Brush
An eyeliner brush is a detail brush/pencil brush for precise application of eyeliner, defining the inner and outer lash line or for ultra thin and smooth smudging/blending of eyeshadow in small areas like the lashline. These brushes are small, soft, and dense, with a pointed or domed shape. The thin pointed brush helps to apply color around the eyes precisely and can be used with a wet or dry product. Can also perform double duty to apply lip liner, or for any job that requires exact placement of makeup to correct the smallest imperfections.

Angled Eyeliner Brush
If you use powder or cream/gel to fill in your eyebrows, you'll need an angled brush. This brush great for filling brows in short strokes mimicking the hairs, fill sparse areas, shape and elongate for a perfect eyebrow.

Eyelash & Eyebrow Comb
Create the perfect brows and keep lashes full. A brow brush is used to define and fill brows for a beautifully symmetrical appearance. This tool is great for tidy up brows and, when used as an eyelash comb, will remove clumps after applying your mascara. Works when applying many different brow products, including pomades, powders, and waxes.

Spiral Brush aka a Spoolie
Ideal for taming unruly hairs, a spoolie brush is a must for blending and shaping your brows and lashes. These brushes look like a mascara wand. And just like your favorite volume or lengthening mascara, spoolies come in different shapes and thicknesses.

Eyelash Curler
No mascara will give you the curly lashes you oh so envy. So always start by curling your lashes before applying lashes of mascara. A lash curler gives you an eye-opening lift while your lashes will appear longer, more voluminous all day (and night!) Long. Look for a curler with a rubber pad, which will give you an extra bit of shape.

Lip Defining Brush
This soft tapered lip brush is ideal for applying lip gloss or color, and for softening lip pencil lines. The tapered point allows for precise definition, when you are blending your lip liner and lipstick, or when you are using several shades to create an ombre effect. This lipstick brush is the perfect tool when you have a product that multi-tasks as an eyelid gloss or a lip topper.

Precision Pointed Lip Brush
A pointed lip brush is perfect for getting a flawless lip color application. Some brands offer a retractable lip brush with a fine tip marker. This brush can give you far more control to outline and fill your lips. This thin, pointed brush is handy for applying and building color vs. applying color directly from a lipstick tube.

Other Essentials

A beauty essential, eyebrow tweezers will easily remove unwanted hairs. Look for an angled tip or pointed tweezers for more control and precision plucking.

Blotting Paper
These makeup artist faves remove excess shine, instantly absorb oil, minimize pores, and transform shiny skin into gorgeous matte perfection. Oil blotting paper sheets are produced using pulp paper infused with a variety of skin care benefits including salicylic acid to remove excess shine, translucent powder to help mattify skin and absorb oil and a green tea extract to absorb shine, re-texturize skin and mask facial imperfections, leaving your skin looking fresh and matte. Keep blotting papers in your makeup bag and gently blot any other oily areas of the face to remove shine leaving your makeup in place.

Brush Cleaner
Don't forget your makeup brush cleaner! Keep your brushes soft, protected, and squeaky clean with a brush cleaner. Available as a liquid shampoo, a spray, and even wipes, a brush cleaner removes dirt, excess makeup and oils while stopping bacteria from growing. We recommend cleaning brushes at least once a week.

Makeup Brush Cleaning Mat
Wondering what to use to clean makeup brushes? A convenient silicone brush cleaner mat has multiple textures to clean both large and small brushes. Look for a mat with larger textures for deep cleaning larger brushes, a wavy texture to straighten longer hairs and a narrow texture for your precision and smaller tipped brushes.

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