Under-$20 Makeup Tools The Pros Actually Swear By

Most experts agree that the most important things in your makeup bag aren't your foundation or lipstick, but the tools you use to apply them. Sure, the formulas and colors you pick are vital to creating long-lasting, flattering looks, but in most cases, it's the application that truly counts.
Luckily, upgrading doesn't mean you have to spend your entire paycheck. Need proof? Just like with drugstore makeup and bargain hair products, there are plenty of options out there that marry quality and affordability — if you get the right recommendations. Fret not, because we tapped the pros to tell us about the best inexpensive tools they use on the regular.
Advertisement
Ahead, top celebrity and editorial makeup artists, and a few discerning R29 editors, share their bargain finds.
1 of 25
The Expert: Andre Sarmiento, celebrity makeup artist

"A must-have is my Tweezerman No Mess Mascara Guard. It’s $10 and it’s the best tool you could invest in if you love using a lot of mascara. Most people [apply] mascara last, so it’s the perfect thing to protect all that beautiful blending or concealing work. It really lets you go for it with the mascara — whether you like one coat or three coats."

(Ed. Note: To use the mascara guard, place the tool behind your top lashes or below your bottom lashes to isolate them, then apply generous coats of mascara. The guard will create a barrier against your skin so you won't end up with lashings of mascara on your eyelids.)

Tweezerman No Mess Mascara Guard, $9.99, available at Ulta Beauty.
2 of 25
The Expert: Jo Baker, celebrity makeup artist

"I'm obsessed with this spoolie brush right now!" Baker tells us. "I love the length of the brush — full brows are never going to go away, and we needed a fatter brow brush to handle the job! It gives you a solid, easy comb-through without missing a single hair. I like applying clear brow gel and then using this brush to remove and comb through the excess, leaving just the perfect amount to look natural while firmly keeping hairs in place."

Smith Cosmetics 214 Spoolie Brush, $16, available at Smith Cosmetics.
Advertisement
3 of 25
The Expert: Vanessa Scali, celebrity makeup artist

"I use E.L.F.'s Stipple Brush for cream and liquid formulations," Scali says. "The dual fibers buff the product onto the skin, creating a soft, airbrushed effect."

E.L.F. Small Stipple Brush, $3, available at Drugstore.com.
4 of 25
The Expert: Vlada Haggerty, editorial makeup artist

"Love this brush for liquid-lipstick application," Haggerty says, noting that it will actually cut down on the amount of product you need. "You can skip the lipliner since this brush gives you such a sharp edge!" (And if you know her work, you know her edge is very precise.)

Furless Must Have Pro Angled Liner Brush, $13.99, available at Furless Cosmetics.
5 of 25
The Expert: Andre Sarmiento, celebrity makeup artist

"My Shadow Shields are a big lifesaver in my kit! I love them for when I have to be speedy on a client because I can just go to town with eye makeup, then I pull the shield away and everything is perfectly shaped with no mess. They’re so good if you’re a beginner just learning how to shape your eyes or fine-tune your liner."

Shadow Shields Original, $9.99, available at Walmart.
6 of 25
The Expert: Kirin Bhatty, celebrity makeup artist

"This is a staple in my kit," Bhatty tells us, noting that you can use it to apply any brow product (gel, powder, etc.) and even eyeliner in a pinch. "The bristles are perfectly firm, dense, and help sculpt the perfect brow every time. It's the best brow brush on the market in my opinion. I own several!"

Smashbox Angle Brow Brush #12, $20, available at Smashbox Cosmetics.
7 of 25
The Expert: Jordan Bree Long, celebrity makeup artist and men's groomer

"Probably the most loved and most used brush in my kit," Long says about this concealer brush. "It allows me to perfectly blend small amounts of concealer and foundation on small areas of the face, such as around the nose and under the eyes."

IT Brushes for Ulta Airbrush Blurring Concealer Brush in #103, $16, available at Ulta Beauty.
Advertisement
8 of 25
The Expert: Cat Quinn, R29 beauty director

"I love the E.L.F. C Brush!" Quinn says. "It's the perfect stiffness and shape to create definition in the crease of the eye. I've had it for years and it has never lost a bristle."

E.L.F. Eyeshadow C Brush, $3, available at E.L.F.
9 of 25
The Expert: Quinn Murphy, celebrity makeup artist

"My favorite brushes on a budget are from Sonia Kashuk," Murphy says. "They are high-quality, well-designed, and affordable. Her blush brushes are soft, come in different shapes, and don’t shed."

Sonia Kashuk Kashuk Tools Domed Blusher Brush No. 29, $17.99, available at Target.
10 of 25
The Expert: Lexy Lebsack, R29 West Coast beauty editor

"This may technically be a lip brush, but I've discovered it's the perfect tool for covering things like dark spots, blemishes, and broken capillaries," Lebsack says. "The short bristles have just enough stiffness to make them incredibly precise, which helps you to use far less product, but they're also soft enough to blend the edges of your concealer. Win-win."

Smith Cosmetics 304 Detailed Lip Brush, $18, available at Smith Cosmetics.
11 of 25
The Expert: Min Min Ma, celebrity makeup artist

"One of my go-to eye brushes," Ma tells us, noting that it's a staple when creating a '60s-inspired cat-eye with cream liner. "It's very durable and doesn’t change shape after washing or cleaning. That’s the beauty of this brush: It’s as effective as any of the pricier brushes on the market."

EO5 Eye Liner Brush, $14, available at Sigma Beauty.
12 of 25
The Expert: Andre Sarmiento, celebrity makeup artist

"I love my Bdellium Tools Pink Bambu Series brushes. Almost 75% of the massive brush collection is under $15 and it’s also eco-friendly and vegan. I'm obsessing over the new super soft BDHD #788 Blending/Concealing brush. It’s $14, feels like natural hair, and you can use it for creams, powders, or liquids."

Bdellium
Tools Pink Bambu #788 Blending/Concealing Brush, $14, availabble at Bdellium.
Advertisement
13 of 25
The Expert: Mi-Anne Chan, R29 beauty editorial assistant

"I could go on and on about the wonders of this makeup brush, but I won't, because I basically already have here and here," Chan says. "In a nutshell, this brush is the ideal tool for basically any liquid, gel, or cream base. Plus, it's the perfect shape to be used all over the face for foundation, or turned on its side to buff hard-to-reach areas like around the nose and eyes."

Real Techniques Expert Face Brush, $8.99, available at Ulta Beauty.
14 of 25
The Expert: Deanna Melluso, celebrity makeup artist

"I love the Vert fine liner brush," Melluso tells us. "It's perfect to use with gel eyeliner, making it super-easy to achieve a gorgeous cat-eye."

Vert Beauty Angle Brush, $18, available at Vert Beauty.
15 of 25
The Expert: Fabiola, celebrity makeup artist

"My favorite makeup brushes under $20 are Sonia Kashuk at Target!" Fabiola says. "I've used them for 17 years and still have her original set in my kit! They stand up to more professional and expensive brushes — I love the quality." Her top pick? "I like the size of the core foundation brush; the bristles are perfect for applying foundation," she says.

Sonia Kashuk Core Tools Synthetic Pointed Foundation Brush, $12.99, available at Target.
16 of 25
The Expert: Nina Park

"This is my favorite tapered contour brush for buffing in cream or liquid bronzers," Park says.

Real Techniques Sculpting Brush, 7.99, available at Drugstore.com.
17 of 25
The Expert: Jordan Bree Long, celebrity makeup artist and men's groomer

"I use one end of this brush when I am applying cream or liquid liner, then dampen the other end to clean up and make the winged line super-sharp," Long tells us. "I also use this brush for concealing tiny blemishes and broken capillaries!"

Tarte Etch & Sketch Double Ended Bamboo Liner Brush, $15, available at Sephora.
Advertisement
18 of 25
The Expert: Vanessa Scali, celebrity makeup artist

"This brush has a slanted head with firm, yet soft, bristles that make it easy to apply your eyeliner with smooth, precise application," Scali tells us.

Real Techniques 202 Angled Liner, $13, available at Real Techniques.
19 of 25
The Expert: Min Min Ma, celebrity makeup artist

"I use this brush for undereye coverage — and it does the job beautifully," Ma says. "This is my favorite undereye concealing brush, and I love that it’s made from sustainably harvested bamboo."

Tarte Undercover Lover Bamboo Concealer Brush, $20, available at Tarte.
20 of 25
The Expert: Lexy Lebsack, R29 West Coast beauty editor

"Applying cream blush was a bit of a mystery to me until I discovered this brush," Lebsack says. "All you do is dip the longer white bristles into cream, gel, or liquid blush, and lightly blend onto your cheeks. It gives the perfect application every time, which I could never quite master with my fingers. Also, I've had it for years and it's still going strong."

Sonia Kashuk Core Tools Large Duo Fibre Multipurpose Brush No. 115, $12.99, available at Target.
21 of 25
The Expert: Vlada Haggerty, editorial makeup artist

"I love this one as an undereye concealer brush," Haggerty tells us. "It's long and flexible — and also good as a lip brush for larger lips!"

Furless Must Have Pro Extended Concealer Brush, $13.99, available at Furless Cosmetics.
22 of 25
The Expert: Vanessa Scali, celebrity makeup artist

"This brush feels plush and luxurious on the skin, and is fantastic for applying finishing powder!" Scali says. Bonus? "It features synthetic bristles that are cruelty-free."

EcoTools Bamboo Powder Brush, $9.99, available at Ulta Beauty.
Advertisement
23 of 25
The Expert: Mi-Anne Chan, R29 beauty editorial assistant

"I started using this brush last month, and it has quickly become my favorite tool to use for powder contouring," Chan says. "The tapered hairs make it easy to subtly carve out my cheekbones, and sculpt around my jawline and forehead. Since the bristles aren't too densely packed, it makes it pretty hard to go overboard on color. The best part? It's a multitasker — it works wonders on setting powder, blush, and highlighter, too."

Japonesque Kumadori Contour & Highlighting Brush, $19, available at Ulta Beauty.
24 of 25
The Expert: Jordan Bree Long, celebrity makeup artist and men's groomer

"This double-ended brush allows me to fill in a natural-looking brow, then brush and blend...very quickly," Long says. "You can use powder, cream, or put mascara or brow gel on the spoolie end."

Anastasia Beverly Hills Brush #12, $18, available at Sephora.
25 of 25
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of beauty tips, tutorials, and news on the Refinery29 Beauty Facebook page. Like us on Facebook — we'll see you there!
Advertisement