Makeup Brushes 101: What? Why? and Where?

There’s nothing wrong with using your fingers for make-up. In some cases it works better than a brush, but you run the risk of contaminating your products even with clean hands. However, brushes are an investment and not everyone can afford them. Here are some tips to help you get the brushes you actually need and drown out the overenthusiastic beauty gurus who ooh and ahh over every new makeup brush out there.

Natural hair brushes are made from animal hairs such as squirrels and goats. I’m not sure who saw an animal and thought “That needs to touch my face” but alas. Traditionally they picked, dispersed and applied products the best. Thanks to technology, synthetic brushes now work just as good if not better. Their pros also outweigh their cons as they are cheaper, more ethical, easier to clean, work well with cream products and last waaaay longer. Many companies are also now opting to go synthetic as the difference between the two is almost nonexistent.

Density refers to the volume of bristles packed within a ferrule. When bristles are heavily packed, they can be stiff with limited movement, like me after dinner. When they are lightly packed, they are flimsy and move more freely. The denser a brush is, the more product it can pick up and deposit making it the best option for getting the most coverage and pigment out of a product whereas lightly packed brushes are great for light washes of colour and blending. 

When it comes to size, bigger is not always better. Depending on what you want, you will either use a large brush to cover large areas quicker. A smaller one to be more intentional about placement or if you have smaller features. Smaller makeup brushes have been getting popular as the kind of blending looks done now involve more intricate designs and multiple shadow blends. If you feel like you have a hard time keeping the blending in a specific area, try switching it out for a smaller brush and see how that works.

Bristle shapes for me are where it’s at (right after sizes). I’ll only highlight the most common ones that are the most versatile, for the face and eyes:

Domed powder brush for face

Domed bristles are rounded from every angle (like me after dinner). They are often lightly packed.  Great for powder products, light washes of color and blending. 

Domed brush for eye

Kabuki brushes typically have super soft bristles cut down to the same level creating a flat surface. These are typically dense due to their origins in Japanese theatre makeup where they were used for packing on powders and buffing in liquids.

Kabuki brush

Traditional foundation brushes are both thin and flat, very heroin chic. They work great to apply liquid products onto the face and blend them out. They have a tendency of indenting streaks onto the face but used properly (patting not swiping) this can be avoided.

Traditional foundation brush
Smaller version of the same brush

Paddle brushes have rounded tips and flat sides like actual paddles. This gives them a number of uses as turned to the side they can be precise but used flat they can cover large areas. These come in various densities and sizes.

Paddle brush for eye
Paddle brush for fac

Angled makeup brushes come with the bristles cut at a slant. These are great for contours of the face/eye as the brush doesn’t have to be pinched or manipulated to accommodate. The trick with angled brushes is that they should be used in one direction, you can’t just swish it around otherwise you’ll end up with patchy application.

Moving in one direction allows better blends
Angled eye brush

Fan brushes got their design from the Japanese “sensu”. It’s  typically used for powders and light washes of product but the smaller ones are used to apply mascara, and they’re very delicate and flimsy.

Different sized fan brushes
Differen sized pencil brushes







Pencil brushes are named for their shape where the brush comes to a point or a blunt tip. They are ideal for the lower lash line or precision work due to their small size. These also come in various densities.

There is so much more to brushes than many people think. You need the right tools to  allow the art to happen but honestly, if you’re a lip balm and mascara person you don’t need to invest a ton. Just remember that a couple of good brushes kept well can last you a while and don’t let anyone talk you into buying a gold-plated animal hair brush (unless you want to). Happy painting!