You'll Never Look At Cheap Makeup Sponges The Same Way Again

Since as far back as we can remember, when we were nothing more than baby beauty editors, we've held one makeup-artist maxim to be self-evident: Thou shalt not use the sponge applicators that come with your products. It has been hammered into our heads over and over again that the only way to make your makeup look on-point is to use an array of pricey brushes to blend, buff, shape, and shade.

That's all well and good for makeup artists — and for those of us who have the time, patience, and money to give good face (no shade, we admire your dedication and cosmetics skills) — but for most of us, owning an arsenal of brushes is neither realistic nor budget-friendly. Not to mention confusing: Small Round Shader Brush? Mini Full Coverage Airbrush? Artistic Fan Brush? Raise your hand if you have any idea what those tools actually do. Exactly.

So what's an amateur makeup maven to do? The good news is you don't have to relegate yourself to patchy foundation. According to some well-respected pros, you need not look any farther than your eyeshadow palette for a versatile, quality tool. Yep, we're talking about the humble sponge applicator — it's experiencing a renaissance, thanks to beauty pros and brands.
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According to makeup artist and Surratt Beauty founder Troy Surratt, the main reason many makeup artists weren't originally fans of sponge applicators is the fact that they're small and hard to handle. They usually only come in one size, and they're not particularly good at distributing product. And while those issues remain true, makeup artists have found ways to use the applicators for tasks that are more suited to their shapes and materials.

"Sponge applicators are great for any type of makeup [for which] you need a really precise application," explains Surratt. "If you’re applying concealer, a bit of cream blush, or even eye cream, they’re great with measuring the exact amount you need. They also come in handy when you’re layering color on the eyes and want the effect to be really rich and dense, softening hard edges around the eyes, and if you’re softening the edges of a lipliner to create a more stained effect."

Sponge applicators work best with "viscous liquids and cream textures" but should be avoided "for something like foundation or powder blush, [for which] you want to get a really broad, blended application," says Surratt. In addition to the fact that they're versatile and long-lasting, Surratt says a plus is that you can rinse, clean, and reuse them easily.

This is why you're seeing so many brands wising up to their usefulness and creating specialty sponges that are sold separately. Brands like Make Up For Ever, MAC, and even Surratt have created or are in the process of expanding the concept of the applicator, making everything from bulk packs to traditional handle brushes that feature refillable sponge heads.
But the popularity of sponges is not solely due to makeup artists changing their tune — it also has a lot to do with how the applicators themselves are made. Says Sandy Linter, makeup artist and Lancôme Beauty at Every Age expert, "I think brands know we're throwing [the sponges] away and they're spending money for nothing, so why not just do a good product?" Linter is a fan of the brush included in Lancôme's Le Correcteur Pro, which features both pointed and fluffy sides. She uses the brush with everything from concealers to eyeshadow to eyeliner to lipstick, applying product with the pointed side and blending it out with the fluffy end.

Foundation has also gotten an update in the sponge department, for which we can largely thank the advent of the cushion compact. As cushions are meant to be applied by pressing the product into the skin and softly buffing, brands have invested money into making those sponges effective — rather than risk someone not liking the product because it doesn't apply well due to a subpar sponge. Linter says she always applies Lancôme's Miracle Cushion with the included sponge because it gets the job done, remarking that it "diffuses the product and blends it in perfectly to the skin."

Not to be left out, powder foundations — like Tom Ford Beauty's new Flawless Powder/Foundation are including multi-purpose applicators. The one that accompanies this product features a sponge side and a flocked side. "The flocked side is softer, so it deposits less product on the face — for light blotting or to set foundation," explains makeup artist Philippe Chansel. "The sponge side will pick up and deposit more product, so you get more coverage and can use it as a foundation."

Surratt is quick to clarify that the sponge isn't a replacement for a brush, and that one isn't better than the other. It's just another way of applying makeup, and it comes down to preference. Linter says, "A word of advice: Don't throw sponges away at all! Even if you decide you don't want to use them, what's the harm in keeping the sponge?" None that we can think of — which is why we're going to start hoarding ours, stat.
October 8
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