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Understanding Make Up Brushes

Image of a variety of common make up brushes

If you’re fairly new to wearing make up (or even if you’re not), the chances are that you have found yourself stood in the make up aisle, at some point, and stared for a prolonged period of time, at the assortment of make up brushes, getting more and more confused about what they are, what they do, and even if you really need them in your make up collection.

The truth is, that unless you are a make up artist, you probably won’t need every single brush currently on the market and the ones that you will need depend on what areas of your face you tend to work with the most, and in what detail. Understanding make up brushes really can help save you money, and of course precious time.

Examining the Face:

The easiest way to start breaking this down, is by determining which areas of the face generally require the use of brushes, and deciding how much effort you wish to put into applying beauty products to these areas. This map of my own face helps to depict the main areas:

An image showing the different areas for brushes

1. The Face: Covering your forehead, cheeks, nose and chin, this is the area that acts as the base for everything else. Imagine it like painting a blank canvas white in order to create an ideal surface to work with.  You might apply concealer, highlighter and foundation to all of these areas.

2. The Eyes: Some people believe that the eyes are the doorway to the soul, and make up can certainly help draw attention to this incredible part of the face. Here you are likely to wear eye shadow, highlighter, eye liner, concealer and mascara.

3. The Cheeks: The area that many of us blush, this is also an area that many people choose not to bother with. You would use blusher and bronzer here.

4. The Lips: The area with the power of seduction, the chances are that if you don’t draw a lot of attention with the eyes, in terms of make up, then you will probably be drawing it in with your lips. Here you will use lipstick, lipliner and lipgloss.

5 and 6. The Chin and Between the Brows: Two other areas that are very often forgotten about, the chin and the area between the brows are often excellent points for adding highlighter.

Examining the Brushes:

The next step is to determine what each brush is called, and which areas they might be used for:

A collection of common make up brushes

1. Fluffy Flat-Top Kabuki Brush

2. Fluffy Rounded Foundation Brush

3. Flat Rounded-Top Foundation Brush

All three of these brushes are face brushes. However, they all serves completely different purposes, as they help to apply completely different types of face products.

Image of fluffy flat-top kabuki brush

Fluffy Flat-Top Kabuki Brushes are ideal for applying liquid foundation, and are excellent for blending, making this an ideal brush for blending out foundations that need a little extra blending, perhaps because the shade doesn’t entirely suit your skin for example. The amount and density of the bristles make this ideal for when good coverage is needed over a large area of the face.

Image of a large fluffy face brush

Fluffy Rounded Brushes are excellent for applying powder foundations, especially for when you need a lighter coverage. The size of the brush allows for a large area to be covered in a short about of time. This brush is also ideal for applying a light blush to the cheeks.

I find that these brushes are a nightmare for going out of shape. This specific brush also tends to dry out incredibly easily from being cleaned, which is a bit annoying.

Image of a big face brush

Flat Rounded-Top Brushes are also ideal for applying liquid foundation, however the bristles are much closer together than the kabuki brush making this an ideal brush to use when extra coverage is needed in a more defined area, rather than the entire face. This could perhaps be under the eyes, or around the nose or mouth.

Due to the density and shape of these brushes, they are ideal for applying concealer as well as foundation.

A selection of various make up brushes

1. Flat-Top Eyeliner Brush

2. Long Eye Brush

3. Smudger Sponge

4. Fluffy Eye Brush

5. Eye Defining Brush

6. Eye Brush

These six brushes cover the main spectrum of brushes for the eyes, however, because there are so many techniques that you could do around the eyes, this is only a sample of the brushes that are on offer. This is probably the area that confused me the most when I first started taking make up more seriously, because there really are a lot of brushes that tend to look similar, and I wasn’t sure if they all served the same purpose, or whether I really needed them all.

Image of a small rounded brush for eye shadow or concealer

Eye Shadow Brushes are definitely the number brush that you will need in your collection, no matter how much effort you intend to put into your eye make up. The flatness of eye shadow brushes also colour to be added to a wider area. They tend to come in a variety of sizes: Larger ones for all over the eye looks, whilst smaller ones are ideal for adding a little colour around the brow, for highlighting or dabbing at the edges. The smaller brushes are also good for blending shadows out. If there is any brush that you have multiples of, it is most likely to be this one. Due to the size, shape and density of these brushes they can also be ideal for adding concealer to smaller areas of the face.

One of the main reasons to buy several of these brushes is because many colours (especially dark or vivid) shades tend to remain on the brush following use, which means that you can only use it again with a similar colour until the brush is washed again. Owning several helps when creating looks with several colours.

Image of small angular brush

Similar to the Flat-Top Eyeliner brush, this Angled Brush is of course for applying eyeliner. They are ideal for applying gel eyeliners, as well of for applying eye shadow to the bottom lid, or even as an eyeliner to the top lid. Personally, I prefer the angled brush as it reaches into the corner of the eye more easily, however I’ve found that the flat-topped ones are better for creating winged looks. You could also use one of these brushes to help to define your eye brows, using powder products.

The main problem that I have found with eyeliner brushes is how difficult they can be to really clean, due to the consistency of the liner.

Image of small sponge-type "brush"

A Smudger Sponge is one of my favourite additions to my eye shadow brush collection. These are absolutely perfectly for creating definition and adding the small details to eye looks. They are especially useful for smudging the corners of the eyes, or assisting the shadow to have an even consistency. Smudger sponges are also handy for using to smudge pencil eyeliners, creating smokey looks.

My only gripe with these are the fact that they of course sponges, and I wonder to what extent it is really possible to clean them. Unlike brushes with which you can get in between the bristles with your fingers and/or nails, with sponges the only thing that you can really do is squeeze them.

Image of a small fluffy brush

Eye Crease Brushes are another of my favourite brushes. Whilst most eye shadow brushes are flat, this brush is rounded and the bristles tend to be quite soft and fluffy. Whilst eye shadow brushes are used for applying to a wider area, the eye crease brush is designed for more specific areas, including around the crease of the eye (the area below the brow, but generally above the eye socket, although the colour will usually be blended into the shadow on the eye socket). The fluffiness also allows for excellent blending of several colours to create amazing smokey and dramatic looks, that are perfect for nights out. However, whilst they are great for adding drama, they are also perfect for blending colour out in order to tone it done a little.

Small lip brush with long bristles

Lip Brushes are quite self-explanatory: they are used to apply lip stick to the lips. There are generally two advantages to using lip brushes; the first is that they allow you to apply a smaller amount of product to the lip, prolonging how long your favourite lippie lasts, but also means that you don’t apply too much to your lips, which can sometimes look ridiculous. Another advantage is that many people find it easier to create definition to the lips using lip brushes that are a little more pointed at the end than mine. Definition is ideal for those of us with fine lips, or when we want a more dramatic lip look.

It’s quite likely that you won’t need all of these brushes, but remember these points when looking for brushes to buy:

1. What areas of the face do you intend to apply make up to the most? Learn about each area singularly, and then move on as you wish.

2. What are you looking to achieve when applying make up to that specific area? Consider brushes that are designed to suit or complement that intention.

Pricing it up:

In terms of price, brushes tend to vary dependent on brand. If money isn’t really an issue, as long as the brushes are of a high quality then you should try either Mac or Sigma. Whilst if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, you could out E.L.F. No matter which brand you choose eye brushes tend to be cheaper, as they are generally smaller in size, whilst face brushes tend to be the most pricey because they’re quite large.

Mac prices range from $13 for a Lash Brush, which is basically the same as a Mascara Wind, right up to $52 for the Large Powder Brush (ideal for powder foundations and blushes) and the Tapered Face Brush (great for contouring, especially around the cheek bones).

Sigma are a more middle-range brand, with prices ranging from $9 to $11 for eye-related brushes, up to $22. As with Mac, Sigma’s most expensive brushes are also the Large Powder Brush, as well as the Tapered Face Brush. However, Sigma do also offer brush sets that are suitable for the eye area, the face area and sets that cover all areas. For beauty beginners, sets could be an ideal way of piecing together every brush needed, however, you do stand the chance of buying brushes that you never use, which raises the question of how cost-effective sets really are.

Eyes Lips Face (E.L.F.) are an amazingly cheap alternative, offering brushes for just $1 in their Essentials Range, which includes brushes for all of the main areas including eyes and face. Their Mineral Range costs $5 for each brush, which includes a smaller range of the main brushes that you might need. Finally is their Studio Ranges with brushes ranges from $3 to $8. Generally, the more expensive ranges tend to be a higher quality, however their $1 range is also very highly commended by their legions of loyal fans.

E.L.F. also offers a variety of brush sets. However, unlike Sigma, E.L.F don’t offer sets that are dedicated to specific areas of the face. Instead they tend to offer a few brushes for each of the main areas.

Note: Of course not every brush in existence is mentioned in this post, and there is no right or wrong product to use with any of these brushes. This is just meant as a general guide to brushes, using some of my personal favourites. Everyone is different, and it’s more than likely going to be a long case of trial and error for most of us.

Kat Musselwhite

Kat Musselwhite

Kat is a freelance writer, who believes that everyone is beautiful, and make up just helps to enhance that natural beauty. She loves playing with make up, watching films, travelling and writing.

Kat Musselwhite

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1 Comment

  1. Suzy
    March 31, 2014, 2:47 am

    Thank you for taking the time to explain this, so simply too!!! I found all over the internet why I should clean brushes lol but didn’t even know where to start on knowing which ones to get nor for what purpuse exactly besides my own guessing nor what the difference in price range made. I appreciate it! Take care 🙂

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