Brush 101: The Basics on Makeup Brushes

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Plus Three Must-Have Brushes

Things considered an “investment” are usually some not-so-exciting necessity that we don’t get too jazzed to purchase. It can be hard to invest part of your savings in a boring item, it almost seems counter-intuitive. But they are well worth it in the long run.

A neutral colored pant suit and a 401K are some that had me grudgingly forking over my cash, but we are talking about makeup here, and that’s always exciting. So bring on the makeup brushes!

Everyone that truly loves cosmetics and desires good results should invest in a quality makeup brush collection. A diverse set that works for you with a mix of natural and synthetic bristle is all you need.

When I worked as a makeup artist for many years, I would try to convey the importance of a quality brush set to my makeup mavens. But the cost can quickly stop a girl in her Choos!

Most makeup companies offer a brush set that has the basics, or you can build your own for a true custom set that works best for you. I have picked three of my favorite brushes as a basic foundation for any set. Though first, let me give you a few tips I have learned about brushes.

Makeup Brushes 101: The Basics

    1. As a general rule, the shorter the bristle, the more color it will deposit (as in a stubby liner brush.) And conversely, the longer the bristle, the more you will get a ‘wash’ of color (like a powder brush or blender brush).

    2. Natural hair bristles come in a variety of hairs (brushes from certain cruelty free companies are usually made of the animal shedding so no animals are harmed for your brushes) and are best suited for powder products, such as face powder, bronzer, eye shadow. In general, synthetic bristles work best with cream products such as concealer, foundation, cream shadow etc.

    3. Take care of your brushes and they will take care of you, ladies. Brushes are not cheap and if you take proper care of them properly (store away from dust and light, handle bristles delicately, etc) you will have them for a lifetime – seriously.

    4. Caring for your makeup brushes means you must regularly wash your brushes. It helps maintain the brushes and reduces breakouts and infections. Cleaning is pretty simple: a thorough rinse, a squirt of gentle brush safe cleanser or baby shampoo, another rinse – then reshape each brush and lay flat on a towel. Voila!

Tip for the Lazy: Keep brushes clean in-between washes by using makeup removing wipes to carefully swipe away makeup residue on brushes.

Now let’s talk specifics. It was very hard, but after careful consideration, I managed to narrow down to my picks, in no particular order, of must-have makeup brushes. Happy blending!

My Top Three Makeup Brushes


MAC 217 Blending Brush ($24)

The MAC 217 brush is a blender brush, so it is best used to put color in the crease of the eye, or to blend a few shadow colors into a seamless wash. The bristles are stiff enough to deposit a good amount of color in the crease. But used clean, can also blend a killer smokey eye!


Stila Retractable Powder Brush ($26)

I have had the Stila retractable powder brush for ages. (See, proper care of your brushes will benefit you!) I am an oily gal so I often need to reapply powder throughout the day – which means having a brush handy. I like being able to protect the bristles in my makeup bag, so this retractable brush works perfectly for me. It’s a little tricky to wash because of the sheath, but just make sure to dry it very well.


Laura Mercier Flat Eye Liner Brush ($25)

It was hard to only pick three favorite brushes, but no other brush can do what the Laura Mercier Flat liner brush does, so it had to make the cut. This brush is stiff enough to create the thinnest and straightest tight line, but also flexible enough to not blind you.

Tip: This brush must be as flat as possible so proper care is essential and reshaping after a wash or use is crucial.

we heartsters – Have additional makeup brush tips to share? And tell us about your favorite makeup brushes and why they make your list!


  • glamazon56

    Stephanie was born in France and travels there every year. Makeup is her passion (she worked as a makeup artist for Laura Mercier). She also loves to cook and do artsy stuff and garden.

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  1. My favorite brushes are Ecotools. They are so affordable,easy to find, and a pretty decent quality. I always wash with baby shampoo
    and air dry with my brushes standing up. My major problem is that
    I am lazy and don’t wash my brushes enough!

    1. I really like Ecotools, too–they are always so fluffy.

  2. This was super informative; I confess I haven’t thought a lot about the difference between synthetic and natural bristles in terms of performance–the more you know! I have several Sonia Kashuk brushes that I really like–they are good quality for the price and she has some really pretty prints/colors as well.

  3. Great tips! Although I love MAC brushes, I don’t think I have the 217– so it goes right on my shopping list! Thanks for the inspiration, @glamazon56 !

  4. It’s an investment, but my Royal & Langnickel brushes are TO DIE FOR. Especially the bronzer, eyeliner, and face brushes. I also love my ELF eyeshadow brush, ecotools angled eyeliner brush, ELF studio contour (eye) brush, and it Cosmetics brushes (ALL OF THEM). :)

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