The why, what and how of makeup brushes

A good set of brushes will make all the difference in your makeup routine. While I’m all for spreading on foundation with my hands when I’m in a rush (or a little lazy), applying it with a brush does give you a more even blend and smoother finish.

The same goes for powder brushes. Chuck out those little brushes you get in a compact, they’ll give you hard, streaky lines. A soft powder and blusher brush not only feels better on your skin but also spreads makeup more evenly for a natural look.

A good brush can last you years and years, so it’s worth investing in quality. However, with so many different options on the market, where do you start? How do you know if a brush is good quality? And how should you take care of your brushes?

Here are a few pointers.

If I’m just starting to build my collection, which basic makeup brushes do I buy?

The good news is you don’t need a whole set of brushes right from the start. Buy a few basics and then build up your collection over time.

I would recommend you start with a good foundation brush, a large powder brush and an eyeshadow blender brush. If you fill your brows, get a eyebrow brush as well – it looks like a mascara wand (and is sometimes called a lash brush) and works brilliantly to blend brow pencils for a more natural appearance.

Start with a good foundation brush, a large powder brush and an eyeshadow blender brush. If you fill your brows, get a eyebrow brush as well

For foundation, I love stippling or buffing brushes. They give a beautifully even, satin finish. A stippling brush has a flat end with which you stipple or dot foundation at the center points of your face before using light, circular motions to blend from the middle outwards.

A large powder brush can be used for blusher, bronzer and setting powder. It’s probably a good idea to have separate brushes for your colour and translucent powders to avoid spreading blusher when you only want to set your makeup.

My first eyeshadow brush was a firm blender brush and I still use it all the time. It has a small, firm, slightly rounded tip and can be used to apply shadow and smudge eyeliner.

I would also add a quality blender sponge to the mix. This can be used to apply foundation and concealer, and to remove any makeup mishaps as you go along.

How can I tell whether a brush is good quality?

One of the best ways to tell whether a brush is good quality is by checking the softness of the bristles. Rub the brush against your cheek – the bristles should feel soft, not coarse or scratchy.

A good brush will also have densely packed bristles which will help to catch makeup and transfer it from your compact to your face.

A quality makeup brush can last you for years (I bought my first ones over a decade ago and they are still perfect), so it’s worth investing.

Should I choose natural or synthetic bristles?

Natural bristle brushes are made using the hairs of animals, which include squirrels, mink, horses and badgers. People choose natural bristles because it is said that they are better at holding makeup. However, synthetic brushes have come such a long way. These days the bristles are created to be soft and absorbent, and good quality synthetic brushes are often indistinguishable from natural.

Synthetic is also easier to keep clean than natural brushes since the filaments don’t trap or absorb pigment in the way natural brushes do. I vote yay for the Cruelty Free option.

How often should I clean my makeup brushes?

You should clean your brushes at least once a week. Your makeup brushes can become a breeding ground for bacteria and using dirty brushes can cause breakouts and irritation.

Your makeup brushes can become a breeding ground for bacteria and using dirty brushes can cause breakouts and irritation

It is particularly important to frequently wash brushes that are used to apply liquid makeup since germs bread more easily in a wet environment. If you are using a sponge, you can wash it every day.

Clean brushes also work better. Grease and pigment that get trapped between bristles can cause makeup to look sloppy. So washing your brushes frequently will ensure better results.

Why shouldn’t I share brushes with others?

Sharing brushes can spread germs from one person to another. For this reason it is never a good idea to use a friend’s brushes or makeup – in this case, sharing is not caring. It is also why you should be wary of applying tester makeup in store. Always ask the consultant for disposable brushes and don’t allow anyone to apply makeup with brushes that haven’t been cleaned.

Sharing brushes can spread germs from one person to another

How do I clean my brushes? 

Quality brushes can last you a long time and you should clean them correctly to prevent any damage.

Squeeze a small amount of mild soap in your hand, wet the tip of your brush with water, and paint circular motions on your palm with the soap. Swirling the brush in this way helps to remove all the pigment stuck between the bristles. Continue doing this until it rinses clean.

I like using baby shampoo to clean my brushes. It’s not too hard but it does the trick at breaking up oils.

To dry your brushes, place them flat or facing downwards and let them dry out naturally. Don’t dry your brushes standing up. The water can seep into the handle and cause the bristles to loosen and the handle to break.

How should I store my brushes?

It’s important that you store your brushes with the bristles facing upward and that the brush tip isn’t leaning against anything, or the shape could get warped. I would also recommend keeping your brushes in a dry space away from direct sunlight. Other than that, they make a beautiful display.

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