The 4 Beauty Brushes Every Woman Needs (& How To Use Them)

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
There are a million kinds of makeup brushes out there: It can be overwhelming and a little intimidating. How do you know which one to use for which product? Do you really need a brush for applying your foundation or BB cream? Do you need to invest in expensive brushes or can you find decent ones at the drugstore? How many do you really need? 

We posit that the casual makeup enthusiast only needs four basic beauty brushes in her collection. That's right: four. That's it. That may not seem like a lot, especially if you wear makeup regularly, but think about it. You really don't need half a dozen brushes to do a smoky eye, you're probably doing just fine putting on your BB cream with your fingers, and most brushes can serve at least two different purposes, if not more. Besides, if you have fewer of them, you'll be forced to clean them more often. (That's a good thing, we promise.)  

If you're still not inspired to pare down your stash, consider this: It’ll let you spend a little more on them. Quality should be the goal here: A good brush will make $5 drugstore makeup look a million times better.      

What makes a good makeup brush, anyway? Sonia Kashuk, makeup artist and founder of Sonia Kashuk Beauty (you may have seen her gorgeous brushes at your local Target) would know: “It’s in the type of hair used, the way the brushes are made, how the hair is cut, the amount of hair used, the softness, the denseness, and the durability. If properly cared for, a great brush can last years. I have brushes in my case from when I first started my line over a decade ago!” The takeaway? Clean them regularly, try to buy them in person so you can see how they feel, and always strive for quality over quantity.

If you're on a tight budget, don't worry: We have high-end and budget recommendations waiting for you, ahead. Click through to see the four truly essential makeup brushes that made the cut, as well as where to buy them and how to use them.       
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Kabuki Brush
The kabuki has origins in Japan, where it's used to apply thick powder makeup in Kabuki theater. It's now one of the most popular and versatile brushes, thanks to its efficiency at applying blush, foundation, finishing powder, and pretty much any kind of powder or cream makeup. Its large, fluffy, and rounded top makes it ideal for applying product evenly to large areas of the face.

Use it to apply a light to medium coverage of foundation or BB cream by dotting the makeup on your face first, and then lightly buffing it in with the brush. For blush and bronzer, dip the brush in the powder, shake off excess, and then apply just above or under the cheeks with a light hand. Kabuki brushes can be large, so be careful not to over-apply color when focusing on one part of your face. You could also get more exact placement by using liquid blush or bronzer, dotting it on your face where you want it to go, and then blending with the brush. Finally, you can use the kabuki to lightly buff finishing powder over your makeup to reduce shine and to set your look for the rest of the day.
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This E.L.F. Studio Kabuki Face Brush is made of soft, synthetic hair and looks surprisingly stylish for the price tag. It also holds up for a long time without losing its fluffiness or depositing bristles on your face.
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The adorable Too Faced Kabuki Brush has a lot going for it. Its soft, synthetic bristles mean it’s cruelty-free. Plus, the bristles are retractable and can be covered with a cap for travel. When it’s not being carried around in your bag, it’ll look pretty sitting out on your vanity. You can even adjust the density of the bristles so that they’re packed tight for full foundation coverage and loose for powder makeup.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Foundation Brush
Sometimes, you just need your foundation to be flawless. On days when your skin is being difficult, whether it's dry and red or breaking out, you can solve the dilemma of needing more makeup without it looking caked on with a good foundation brush. It helps to evenly smooth liquid foundation on skin, and provides much more coverage than a kabuki.

"A flat top or pointed shape will effortlessly build color and coverage for flawless skin," says Kashuk. "You can even do double-duty with any cream product, like blush, bronzer, and highlighter." So, if you find that your kabuki brush isn't giving you enough coverage or its size is spreading your blush all over your face, it might be time to pick up a foundation brush.
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The Sonia Kashuk Dual Foundation Powder Brush is an incredibly useful addition to any collection, because you get two tools in one: a flat foundation brush and a fluffy powder brush (similar to the kabuki). Use the flat side for liquid foundation and the rounded side for powders or lighter foundation coverage. The included caps are a bonus, because they’ll keep your brushes clean and ready for travel.
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Every Make Up For Ever brush goes through 25 production stages by 30 brush craftsmen, and is checked 50 times for quality — pretty much guaranteeing the best product you can buy. It will quickly and evenly blend cream or liquid foundation on your skin for flawless, full coverage.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Eyeshadow Brush
This is an obvious one, made slightly more complicated by the sheer number of different eyeshadow brushes available. If you wear eyeshadow every day and love to play with different looks, then by all means, get a ton of blending brushes in different shapes and sizes. For the rest of us, one or two is enough.

A small, fluffy brush is perfect for blending shadows flawlessly, while a flat one (like a mini foundation brush) is better for picking up colors and applying them to your lids with minimal fallout. If you can get a dual-ended brush with both of these brush heads attached, then you will be set for all of your shadow needs.

Many eyeshadow palettes come with blending brushes, and some are surprisingly high-quality — so, don't forget to consider those as an option. Also, keep in mind that you can use a fluffy eyeshadow brush for other purposes, too. "I love using this brush for a targeted application of powder," says Kashuk. "It's great for applying and setting powder to specific areas of the face."
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The Eco Tools Bamboo Eye Shading Brush is made of cruelty-free synthetic bristles and recycled materials. Use it for sweeping eyeshadow over your entire lid, blending colors together, or defining your crease.
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This Urban Decay Naked brush is dual-ended, so you can use the larger side for blending shadows and the smaller, stiffer side for smudging shadow or liner. You get two brushes for the price of one, and you’ll probably also save money on eyeshadow because this guy picks up a lot of color, allowing you to use less pigment every time.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Small, Stiff Smudging Brush
A small brush with a stiff, slightly pointed or tapered head is super-useful and versatile. Use it to fill in and define eyebrows with gel or powder. Dip it in dark eyeshadow or gel liner, and smudge it along the lashline for defined, but sexily mussed, eyes that only look better the morning after. It’s also good for tightlining, because it’s small enough to get in-between your lashes. You could even use it to create a smoky cat-eye.

When applying concealer to blemishes, you can dot it directly on the spot and the area just around it, wait a few seconds for it to set, and then gently tap on it with the brush to blend. You'll get much better results with this technique than by smearing concealer around with your fingers.

This brush is also ideal for covering undereye circles, because its small size allows it to get into all the nooks and crannies around your eyes and nose. Speaking of the nose, if you get a lot of winter redness around the sides of your nostrils, you can use this to blend some creamy concealer around that area (mixing it with moisturizer is always a good idea).

Finally, you can also use it as a lip brush. If you have a dark, unforgiving lipstick that requires precise application, it'll help you paint it on perfectly.

Phew! Told you it was versatile.
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E.L.F. Studio Small Smudge Brush is so cheap that you can buy several — so you’ll always have plenty on hand, for pretty much every part of your face. It doesn't hurt that the quality is great for the price.
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The Hourglass Smudge Brush is truly gorgeous — and, if you’re going to use it for practically everything, you might as well spring for the best. The soft and synthetic bristles will smoothly blend everything from eyeshadow to brow gel.
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