When it comes to applying an impeccable face of makeup, your brushes are crucial. Think of yourself as a painter and of your face as a pristine canvas: The tools you're using are bound to impact the thickness, saturation, and depth of the colors you apply. That's why, when investing in a makeup brush set, you should pay attention to details like brush types and bristle quality to ensure that you have the best products possible to achieve your ideal look.
But with all the types and brands of makeup brushes on the market, you can easily feel overwhelmed while trying to find the best makeup brush set for you. Thus, I've asked celebrity makeup artist Elaina Badro for her top tips on how to select, use, and care for your makeup brushes. Plus, we've combed the internet to bring you makeup brush sets that are well worth your investment.
Caring for Your Makeup Brushes
Badro reminds us that makeup brushes don't last forever, but you can get more bang (and years) for your buck by investing in premium products.
"Cheap quality makeup brushes barely last due to poor quality bristles and handles," she explains. "They tend to break and shed much more. Quality makeup brushes can last anywhere from two to five years. Some individuals take such good care of their brushes, or barely use them, that I've heard of them lasting for even seven years, although I would opt for new ones by then!"
No matter the quality of your brushes, though, she says that you should learn how to take care of them, especially if you want them to last. "Keeping makeup brushes clean allows for the longevity of the bristles," she says, "especially because it will prevent mold growth as well."
And caring for makeup brushes doesn't just extend their shelf life—it also keeps your skin clean and clear.
"It’s essential to wash makeup your brushes!" stresses Badro. "Opting out from washing your makeup brushes can cause blemishes, allergic reactions, and can even result in an infection." In that vein, she also advises, "To help avoid skin infections, do not share your makeup brushes!"
Cleaning Your Makeup Brushes
When it's high time to clean your brushes, you're going to need to do more than a simple rinse. We asked Badro about the best strategy for thoroughly cleansing makeup brushes, and she delivered.
"Wash your hands first," she begins, and advises that you then "pour mild shampoo into the palm of your hand or into a bowl, then run bristles under lukewarm water." One the brush is soaked, she says to "dip bristles into the shampoo and swirl in a circular motion. Lather repeatedly to ensure that all makeup residue comes off." Be sure to repeat until your water starts running clear!
Once you no longer see pigment coming off of the brush, Badro says, "Rinse the bristles under lukewarm water. Steer clear of immersing the entire brush, as this can cause the adhesive/glue to break down, resulting in the ferrule to disassemble from the bristles and/or handle."
Once you're sure that the brush is clean and that the water is running clear, Badro says, "Squeeze the water out of the bristles. You can also use a paper towel to squeeze out excess water."
Finally, it's time to let dry! "Shape and smooth the bristles with your fingers to make sure they are not bent and/or warped," says Badro. "Lay each brush flat to dry horizontally on a paper towel or towel, ensuring that they are not touching each other. Refrain from placing wet brushes in a vertical container. This can also cause the adhesive/glue to dissolve resulting in the ferrule to disassemble from the bristles and/or handle."
What to Look for In a Makeup Brush Set
When shopping for a makeup brush set, it's important to consider a number of factors. First, shoppers should realistically assess how many makeup brushes they need in their sets. For instance, someone who doesn't wear much makeup or who likes a pared-down routine might not opt for a set with over 10 brushes in it. On the other hand, if you like to blend, contour, and experiment, it may be best to look for a set with more brushes in it so you can achieve the exact look you're going for.
One should also know what kinds of brushes they need. Makeup brushes can be used for the face, eyes, or brows, and you can find collections that focus on one particular part of the face as well as ones intended to meet every need.
Brushes for the Face
If you're in need of brushes for face makeup like foundation, blush, bronzer, and highlighter, there are a few options that Badro says you should start with.
"The best types of makeup brushes to cater to your blush, bronzer, and highlight should be an angled multi-purpose brush," she says. "The angled brush allows you to sculpt and define the facial features." Foundation brushes, meanwhile, are wider, focused less on precision and more on distributing product for an airbushed look.
Brushes for the Eyes
"Eye brushes that are smaller allow for precision, which are ideal for smaller eyes," says Badro—but that doesn't mean that eye makeup brushes are one-size fits-all. There are several types of eye makeup brushes on the market, each of which has a particular use.
"Shader brushes help to pat shadow onto the lid and/or brow bone," Badro explains. Meanwhile, flat tip brushes are made for precision.
"If you have hooded eyes, use flat tip brushes that will allow you to create a 'cut-crease,'" she says. "Typically, the tighter the bristles on the brush, the higher the coverage."
And when it comes to eye makeup, Badro stresses, "It's very important to blend, blend, blend!" Therefore, she says, "Blending brushes are great for the crease of the eye"—this way, your makeup looks soft and smoky rather than jarring.
Best Makeup Brush Sets
Best Makeup Brush Set for Foundation
"The best type of brush for applying foundation depends on what you want the finished look to appear like," says Badro. "For instance, smaller foundation brushes while stippling can help to create more coverage. Duo Fiber Brushes are great to thoroughly blend foundation without leaving harsh lines." She adds that, to create an "airbrushed" look, users can apply their cream or powder foundation in a circular motion using these brushes.
Pros: expert-approved; soft bristles; good for blending; different sizes allow for application to different parts of the face (i.e., the smaller brush is great for the under-eye area)
Cons: small set
Best Luxury Makeup Brush Set
If you love luxury and are in the market for a new set of brushes, Badro recommends checking out Tom Ford’s collection. The brushes are sold separately rather than in pre-curated sets, but that just makes it easier for you to customize your purchase by choosing from their line of 10 premium, synthetic hair options. In particular, Badro recommends including this bronzer brush in your repertoire. "The Tom Ford #05 Bronzer Brush is a bit pricey, but it truly is great for all over bronzy-look," she says. “This is because the bristles are synthetic and allow for a sheer coverage. Less is more when it comes to luxury makeup brushes.”
Pros: expert-approved; luxurious; long-lasting; customizable set; ergonomic handle
Best Makeup Brush Set for Concealing
When it comes to concealing and highlighting in particular, Badro recommends this set of brushes from beloved makeup brand Pat McGrath. “Pat McGrath's ‘Sublime Perfection Brush Duo’ is great for concealer,” says Badro of the set of thin, precision- oriented brushes. “These brushes are wonderful for layering and building makeup.” With their angled design, they’re also made to cater to the unique contours of the face, so you don’t need to worry about getting makeup in places where you hadn't intended.
Pros: expert-approved; precise; great for layering
Cons: some users say the bristles aren't soft
Customer Review: "Bristles are a little prickly but otherwise very well functioning brush. Both brushes are great for concealer and my liquid highlighter." -Pat McGrath
Best Vegan Makeup Brush Set
For a complete brush set that includes options for both your face and eyes, consider this vegan, PETA-approved set from Hourglass. It includes a number of their bestsellers, including Badro’s favorite, the Veil Powder Brush. “The ‘Veil Powder Brush’ by Hourglass is a great brush!” she gushes. “Who doesn't love a double sided brush?! Although I suggest throwing it in your bag, as it doesn't stand up on i's own for obvious reasons. The smaller side is great for setting the under-eye area, while the larger side can really be used all-over.”
Pros: includes options for both face and eyes; expert-approved; comes in a carrying case; vegan; cruelty-free
Cons: expensive; large
Customer Review: "The brushes themselves are nice and there is a good variety of them. However, I am not sure why this is marketed as travel size. The bushes are all their usual sizes and the case is nice but certainly not compact in any way." -Sephora
Best Makeup Brush Set for Blending
This brush set from Badro’s eponymous brand is a great value, filled with brushes for both the face and eyes, including a number of bestsellers. Highlights include a foundation brush, contour brush, and four unique eye brushes, one of which is the blending eye brush, which Badro calls a top seller. She explains, “The design of the brush was created with functionality in mind—it allows for a seamless blend.” Plus, she adds that the ferrules on these brushes are “made of copper, so overall you have better blending and less shedding!”
Pros: expert-approved; includes both face and eye brushes; big value
Cons: not as many face brushes as eye brushes
Best Makeup Brush Set for Experimenting
This set from Morphe is an incredible value, with 12 premium brushes coming in at under $100. It contains both face and eye brushes, including options for foundation, blush, setting, concealer, bronzing, and more. Some of the brushes are best for powder products while others are intended for cream products, so this is perfect for the makeup aficionado or for anyone who loves experimenting and mixing their routine up. The set even includes a soft blending sponge.
Pros: includes eye brushes, face brushes, and a blending sponge; long-lasting
Cons: some users find the bristles brittle
Customer Review: "The brushes are the perfect density and softness where my makeup always comes out looking airbrushed on my face! I have had them for a year and they still are in perfect condition." -Ulta
Best Makeup Brush Set for Eye Makeup
If you love going hard on your eye makeup, this is the set for you. It includes shading, creasing, and defining brushes that work on both powder and liquid eyeshadows, so you can create smoky eyes, contoured lids, or dramatic works of makeup art. Plus, the set includes a fine liner brush for liquid or gel eyeliner, a smudge brush for creating grunge-y and effortless looks, and even a lash separator for banishing pesky mascara clumps.
Pros: affordable; clean; cruelty-free; vegan; sustainable packaging
Cons: some users say the brushes shed easily
Customer Review: “These brushes are a must. The bristles are so soft creating the perfect match for blending. Not to mention the grip they have to be able to motion them back and forth with ease.” -Ulta
Best Makeup Brush Set and Case
This makeup brush set is simple, small, and minimalist, making it perfect for travel, for keeping in your desk at the office, or for stowing away in your purse for emergency touch ups on the go. It includes a foundation brush, powder brush, and eyeshadow brush, all of which are made from soft bristles that are easy to use and to blend with. Plus, the set comes in an adorable makeup bag that you can use to store all your other makeup essentials.
Pros: small enough for travel; vegan; comes with a carrying case
Cons: doesn't contain as many brushes as other, fuller sets
Customer Review: "I love it, they are a perfect size to keep in your bag, their bristles are soft." -Sephora
Best Makeup Brush Set for Travel
This is another great makeup brush set for the makeup enthusiast on the go. It comes in a handy case made from luxurious velvet, and includes four brushes—two for the eyes and two for the face. One brush is designed for applying powder formulas to the face, such as setting powder, and another has a more precise design that’s ideal for applying highlighter, bronzer, or blush. Meanwhile, the eye brushes, one of twitch is for smudging while the other is for blending, are great for creating a myriad of soft, smoky, or monochromatic looks.
Pros: includes both face and eye brushes; comes in a carrying case
Cons: carrying case isn't big enough to fit other brushes; brushes are limited
Customer Review: "I did think this was expensive but I just had to have it and I am not disappointed because I LOVE it. The colour of the pouch is gorgeous, the set looks very classy and the brushes are great. Perfect for people like me who like to travel." -Bloomingdale's
Best Dual-Ended Makeup Brush Set
Although I own a lot of beauty products, from skincare to tools to makeup, I do like to keep things as pared down as possible. That means opting for products that have more than one use and therefore save some much-needed space, and a great example is the dual-ended makeup brush. These brushes, unfortunately, can’t be stood up, but they’re great for travel, for consolidating makeup products, and for streamlining one’s makeup routine. This set from Jenny Patinkin includes option for the face, for applying eyeshadow, and even for applying eyeliner and brow products. Plus, they come in a compact, travel-ready case.
Pros: brushes are dual-ended; saves space; large number of bristles on each brush
Cons: brushes can't be stood up
Meet the Expert
Elaina Badro is a makeup artist from Southern California who has worked with celebrities, fashion brands, and magazines. She founded her eponymous beauty brand to include high-quality tools and skincare, including makeup brushes, and is committed to providing beauty enthusiasts with makeup tips that bring results. She is currently based in California.
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Gabrielle Ulubay is a Beauty Writer at Marie Claire. She has also written about sexual wellness, fashion, culture, and politics both at Marie Claire and for publications like The New York Times, Bustle, and HuffPost Personal. She has worked extensively in the e-commerce and sales spaces since 2020, including two years at Drizly, where she developed an expertise in finding the best, highest quality goods and experiences money can buy. As a film school graduate, she loves all things media and can be found making art when she's not busy writing.
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