Your Guide to 21 Types of Makeup Brushes and How to Use Them 2022

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If you just asked yourself if you actually need 21 makeup brushes, my answer is…maybe. Are you like me? A person who wants every single makeup brush in five different colors and sizes? Or are you someone who’s just fine applying your products with a few crusty ol’ tools (ahem, clean your brushes immediately) and your fingers!! Regardless, if you’re either type of person, I’ve compiled the best makeup brushes ever to either add to your collection or get you boarded on the makeup brush boat.

“Having the right makeup brushes in your collection offers much more versatility and the ability to create endless looks, as well as more precise placement of color,” says Dani Kimiko Vincent, founder of KIMIKO beauty and celebrity makeup and brow artist. Use this guide as a shopping list and Vincent’s advice to help you figure out what all these weird bristles are for, or use it for all the makeup application tips we’ve included with each brush.

If you want the short version, shop my desert-island recommendations right here, or keep scrolling for allll the details and goods.


✔️ P.S., This is new, up-to-date info, bb. We updated this article in December 2022 to add new makeup brushes the internet won’t stop talking about, consulted new experts, and deleted outdated oldies for the latest in makeup brushes, just for you.


The top types of makeup brushes to own in 2022:


preview for Can Avani Gregg Tell Cheap vs. Expensive Makeup?? | Expensive Taste Test | Cosmopolitan

Now for the rest of the most essential, helpful, and classic makeup brushes of all time—and, yes, we’ve included how to use them. Shop and learn about them all, ahead.


1. Mascara wand

A Mascara Wand

G2Plus Disposable Eyelash Mascara Brushes
G2Plus Disposable Eyelash Mascara Brushes

A Mascara Wand

G2Plus Disposable Eyelash Mascara Brushes

Disposable tester applicators don’t just belong on the makeup store’s display shelves. These mascara wands, aka spoolie brushes, belong in your makeup bag, too. The tips have 360-degree synthetic bristles (kinda like a pipe cleaner) and often have bendable heads, so you can shape them how you want. You might think you don’t need extra spoolie wands when your mascara comes with a built-in one, but once you realize how multipurpose these little guys are, you’ll understand why they’re first on this list.

How to use a mascara wand:

Let’s start with the obvious: Mascara. Use this type of makeup brush to apply mascara. “A mascara wand is handy for brushing brows into place, as well as combing through mascara that may have applied to lashes less evenly than you’d hoped. It’s even great for taming flyaways on your head,” says Vincent. My favorite use? You can gently rub the bristles to remove any mascara smudges without moving the makeup underneath. Even grab one to apply your eyelash serums or brow serums—basically, it’s the one tool that kinda does everything.


2. Angled eyeshadow brush

an Angled eyeshadow brush

The Crayon Case Angle Brush
The Crayon Case Angle Brush

an Angled eyeshadow brush

The Crayon Case Angle Brush

Some eyeshadow brushes are rounded, some are flat, some are tapered—but the brush we’re talking about right now is the angled one. These brushes might be fluffier than an angled eyeliner brush, which is very thin and flat, but they have a similar slanted silhouette with firm bristles that are shorter on one end and gradually grow longer and fuller toward the other end.

How to use an angled eyeshadow brush

Think of it as a contour brush for your eyes—the angled shape of the bristles hugs the contour of your brow bone when applying shadow in the crease of your eye. Because the bristles are both dense and fluffy, this type of makeup brush is also super-helpful for diffusing eyeshadow in an outer “V” shape for blended winged shadow.


3. Precision liner brush

a Lip liner brush

IL Makiage Eyeliner Brush #162
IL Makiage Eyeliner Brush #162

a Lip liner brush

IL Makiage Eyeliner Brush #162

Maybe you call it a precision liner brush, or maybe you call it a lip liner brush. Either way, you can instantly recognize this makeup brush when you see it because of its distinctly small, pointy shape. One would think the tip of this brush is thin enough that you could count the bristles, but it’s packed full of synthetic hairs to help maintain its shape so you can draw precise lines in even the tiniest places.

How to use a lip liner brush:

What tiny places are we talking about? Try this brush on the outline of your lips for lip liner or your lashline for tightlightening your eyes. You can also use it for drawing cool, graphic eyeliner à la Euphoria makeup if you don’t have any colorful eyeliner pencils. Pro tip: Hold it at a slight angle (rather than straight up and down) when you draw to make the line smoother and straighter and less shaky.


4. Duo-fibre brush

a Duo-fibre brush

MAC 188S Small Duo Fibre Face Brush
MAC 188S Small Duo Fibre Face Brush

a Duo-fibre brush

MAC 188S Small Duo Fibre Face Brush

A duo-fibre brush is just a fancy way of saying the brush contains two different kinds of bristles with two different lengths. The two types of bristles make the brush more compact at the base and finer toward the top. You’ll commonly find duo-fibre brushes in larger sizes for applying liquid foundation, but as shown here, they’re also available in smaller sizes for blending cream blushes and liquid highlighters and even powders and loose pigments, too.

How to use a duo-fibre brush:

When using a duo-fibre brush, you want to think about gently blending the makeup, not bending the bristles. If you press too hard, the longer bristles will spread and leave streak marks, so use light pressure in a circular motion to buff the product into the skin.


5. Stippling brush

a Stippling brush

Sonia Kashuk Stippling Foundation Makeup Brush No. 124
Sonia Kashuk Stippling Foundation Makeup Brush No. 124

a Stippling brush

Sonia Kashuk Stippling Foundation Makeup Brush No. 124

Okay, fine…it’s easy to get a stippling brush confused with a duo-fibre brush. But here’s the key: when you want a softer foundation application or a more airbrushed effect, stick with the stippling brush. Because of their lighter finish, these brushes are also ideal for applying tinted moisturizer or sheering out liquids and creams without messing up the product underneath (you ever blended those on with your fingers, only to be left with patchiness? Exactly).

How to use a stippling brush:

Dip the bristles into the liquid makeup or swipe the bristles into a cream stick or powder, then lightly swirl them into your skin. Remember: Just the tips. If you have a heavy hand or the tendency to jab your brushes into your skin (why do we do this?!), hold the brush by the very end, giving you virtually no control over the brush.

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6. Kabuki brush

a Kabuki brush

Kimiko Beauty The Mini-Buki Brush To-Go
Kimiko Beauty The Mini-Buki Brush To-Go

a Kabuki brush

Kimiko Beauty The Mini-Buki Brush To-Go

In a lot of ways, the kabuki brush is the opposite of the stippling brush. Its name might not ring a bell, but if you’ve ever played around with makeup, this classic makeup brush definitely will. Made famous by Kabuki Japanese drama theater, the brushes were used to apply white rice powder over the entire face to accentuate expression and contrast the colorful Kumadori makeup worn by the actors, explains Vincent, adding that this style of brush is most commonly recognized by its short handles and dense hairs.

A synthetic kabuki brush can be used to apply liquid foundation or body makeup for a medium-to-full coverage, but the density of the brush makes it perfect for packing on superfine powders or mineral foundation for a fuller-coverage finish.

How to use a kabuki brush:

“A Kabuki brush is a great do-it-all brush for the face, as it can blend out foundation, buff in cheek color or bronzer, and also act as a finishing brush to ensure face makeup is well-blended,” says Vincent. Because these bristles are so dense and firm, you’ll probs find that a slight pressure is necessary for working the product into the skin. Use the tips of the bristles to pick up the product, then swirl and buff to diffuse it across your face.


7. Foundation brush

a Foundation brush

Mented Cosmetics Foundation Brush
Mented Cosmetics Foundation Brush

a Foundation brush

Mented Cosmetics Foundation Brush

While using a brush for your liquid makeup is optional (you can opt for a sponge or your clean fingers instead), you absolutely do need to use some sort of application brush for your mineral makeup or powder foundation. Enter: the foundation brush.

These types of brushes are typically dense and can be pinched flat (like a paintbrush), or are full, rounded, and dome-shaped. While some people prefer synthetic bristles (which are easier to clean) for their liquid formulas or natural bristles (which are more porous) for their powders, I’m all about synthetic bristles. Yes, really; the quality has improved vastly over the years and can easily be used for both.

How to use a foundation brush:

For a perfectly smooth foundation application, start in the middle of your face (cheeks and T-zone) and apply your foundation outward in smooth, even strokes to prevent harsh makeup lines around the edges of your jawline and hairline. If you’re using a mineral or powder foundation, swirl and buff the bristles to work the product into the skin.


8. Blending sponge

a Blending sponge

beautyblender Original
beautyblender Original

a Blending sponge

beautyblender Original

Remember how I said a brush for your liquid base makeup is optional? That’s because many makeup artists and YouTubers opt for sponges to get an airbrushed, streak-free finish. Thanks to their rounded, smooth shape, sponges won’t leave behind any weird lines or stray bristles, and their damp surfaces help sheer out your heavy full-coverage foundation, concealer, or cream blush for a natural finish.

How to use a blending sponge:

The trick to using a sponge most effectively is to saturate it with running water, squeeze out the excess, then squeeze it a few more times in a clean towel or paper towel. This wetting process will not only prevent your sponge from soaking up all of your foundation (because it’s already damp with water), but will also help blend your makeup as smoothly as possible. Use the sponge’s broad sides to stamp and stipple your cream formulas across your face and the sponge’s tip to reach crevices around your nose and eyes.


9. Concealer brush

a Concealer brush

Real Techniques Expert Concealer Brush
Real Techniques Expert Concealer Brush

a Concealer brush

Real Techniques Expert Concealer Brush

Think of concealer brushes as small-scale foundation brushes. Whether you’re looking to pack on the product under your eyes or cover up a bright-red blemish, these synthetic brushes are ideal for targeting small, specific areas that you want to be concealed. “These brushes are typically made with nylon, which works well to smoothly place liquid or cream concealer formulas down,” says Vincent. Sure, you can use the spongey, doe-foot applicator straight from the concealer tube, but a brush like this one is not only more hygienic, but it also offers a more realistic, even finish.

How to use a concealer brush:

Dab the tip of the brush into a tiny amount of concealer, then gently tap or pat the brush on your zits, your under eyes, whatever. After the area has been covered, blend out the edges while being careful not to wipe away the rest of the concealer. Other great uses: sharpening and cleaning up messy eye makeup or feathered lipstick edges.


10. Powder brush

a Powder brush

IT Cosmetics Heavenly Luxe Wand Ball Powder Brush #8
IT Cosmetics Heavenly Luxe Wand Ball Powder Brush #8

a Powder brush

IT Cosmetics Heavenly Luxe Wand Ball Powder Brush #8

If shiny T-zones or under-eye creases are your main annoyance, allow me to introduce you to your new best friend: setting powder. And, along for the ride, powder brushes. Depending on the area you’re looking to cover, the size of this brush varies from small to large and typically has long, dense, fluffy bristles. It’s meant to ever-so-lightly “set” your liquid/cream foundations or buff and blend out powder foundations, depending on your needs.

How to use a powder brush:

Use the fluffy bristles to pick up a fine layer of loose powder (tap—don’t blow—off the excess first) and dust it over your T-zone and under your eyes. Load up the product to “bake” your makeup or use a light dusting to quickly set your foundation or concealer.


11. Bronzer brush or blush brush

a Bronzer brush or blush brush

Clinique Blush Brush
Clinique Blush Brush

a Bronzer brush or blush brush

Clinique Blush Brush

Bronzer, blush, and powder brushes are similar enough that one could do the job of many, yes, but who has the time to clean them between each step (and don’t you dare think about using just one brush and not cleaning it). Find a bronzer and/or blush brush with long, fluffy bristles and a dome shape to evenly diffuse your powder pigments. The fluffier it is, the less product it will pick up (which is ideal when you want just a wash of color).

How to use a bronzer/blush brush:

When it comes to bronzer and blush, the way you use the brush is almost more important than the brush itself. For bronzer, loosely sweep the brush in a “3” pattern, starting from your forehead, cutting across your cheekbones, then moving back out and down to your jawline. For blush, lightly swirl the product on the apples of your cheeks and blend it up into your cheekbones.


12. Contour brush

a Contour brush

Charlotte Tilbury Powder & Sculpt Brush
Charlotte Tilbury Powder & Sculpt Brush

a Contour brush

Charlotte Tilbury Powder & Sculpt Brush

The contour brush is a hard one to pick out of a crowd simply because it can appear in so many different ways. Not only that, but “the size, shape, and density of a contour brush will vary depending on the formula being used as well as the finish you desire,” says Vincent.

The bristles on some are cut sharp and straight across, while others may take on more of an “S” shape to hug the shape of your cheekbones. The slanted contour brush is the most versatile, and makes it easier to contour your face shape by blending your contour powder cleanly and precisely beneath your cheekbones, jawline, and forehead. Use a brush with blunt bristles and a sharp edge for a sharper sculpt, or use one with a softer slanted shape for a subtle shade.

How to use a contour brush:

Swirl the brush into your contour powder, tap off the excess (important) product, then gently glide the brush back and forth below your cheekbones to emphasize your natural contours. For an even more chiseled look, reload the brush and swirl it under your jawline and along your hairline as well. Vincent recommends a more pointed contour brush like this one if you’re looking for great control and detailed contour placement.


13. Highlighter brush

a Highlighter brush

Sigma Beauty F35 Tapered Highlighter Brush
Sigma Beauty F35 Tapered Highlighter Brush

a Highlighter brush

Sigma Beauty F35 Tapered Highlighter Brush

The shape of your highlighter brush totally depends on the level of glow you want. Use a long, tapered brush or a fan brush (more on that later) with very long bristles for a more diffused effect, or grab a brush with short, dense bristles to make even a cheap highlighter look super bright and opaque.

How to use a highlighter brush:

Swirl your brush over a powder face highlighter, tap off the excess, then lightly sweep and blend the brush over the tops of your cheekbones, brow bones, Cupid’s bow, and anywhere else the light naturally hits your face. Want an even brighter glow? Spritz your brush first with a setting spray to enhance the pigment payoff.


14. Fan brush

a Fan brush

Sonia Kashuk Essential Highlighting Fan Brush No. 176
Sonia Kashuk Essential Highlighting Fan Brush No. 176

a Fan brush

Sonia Kashuk Essential Highlighting Fan Brush No. 176

Finally! A brush with a name that actually makes sense based on the shape! The bristles on this brush are fanned out and flat to give it a distinct silhouette. Imagine if you were to take a powder brush and pinch the bristles at the base to flatten them—that’s a fan brush. These can come in smaller sizes (like an inch across) with sparse bristles, or they can expand up to a couple of inches at their widest point and be packed with dense brush hairs.

How to use a fan brush:

With a side-to-side motion (like a windshield wiper), use the bristles of a large or medium fan brush to sweep away fallout or excess setting powder under your eyes or apply highlighter along your cheekbones. And if you’re using a smaller brush, you can even use it to apply mascara for a clump-free finish. Rub the fan brush against the wand of your go-to mascara, then press the pigment against the roots to load up the base and run it through the length of your lashes.


15. Flat eyeshadow brush

a Flat eyeshadow brush

Makeup By Mario E 4 Makeup Brush
Makeup By Mario E 4 Makeup Brush

a Flat eyeshadow brush

Makeup By Mario E 4 Makeup Brush

Okay, despite the extra-sounding name, an eyeshadow shading brush is actually key for getting an opaque, even layer of color on your lids, and Vincent says that they’re also easy to maneuver for makeup brush beginners. These brushes are typically flat, rounded at the tip, and dense so they can pick up a bunch of powder or cream for a concentrated color payoff.

How to use an eyeshadow shader brush:

After rubbing the brush over the product, pat or press the eyeshadow onto your eyelids, gently swirling the brush around the edges to blend them out. You can also mist your brush with a setting spray first to deepen the opacity of a powder pigment or to better pick up glittery eyeshadow. Keep this on hand to get really sharp cut-crease eyes.


16. Eyeshadow crease brush

an Eyeshadow crease brush

Sephora Collection Pro Crease Brush #19
Sephora Collection Pro Crease Brush #19

an Eyeshadow crease brush

Sephora Collection Pro Crease Brush #19

Unlike a shader brush, which essentially packs on the pigments to get your lids a ton of color, an eyeshadow blending brush blends out the powders for a really sheer, diffused finish—basically the smoke behind a smokey eye or the trick to a natural-looking shadow. These brushes are known for their tapered shape and soft, fluffy bristles to help you really blend, blend, and blend without scratching the hell out of your lids.

How to use an eyeshadow blending brush:

Swipe the fluffy bristles into the crease of your lids with a windshield-wiper motion to apply your eyeshadow for a diffused look, and swirl it around the edges of your eyes when transitioning between colors or blending multiple shades on top of one another.


17. Pencil brush

a Pencil brush

MAC 219S Synthetic Pencil Brush
MAC 219S Synthetic Pencil Brush

a Pencil brush

MAC 219S Synthetic Pencil Brush

A pencil brush kind of does it all: smudges out your eyeliner, pushes eyeshadow straight into your lash line, helps you precisely blend beneath your lashes, etc. When the other brushes are too big or too fluffy, grab this stiff, dense, tapered brush—especially if you plan to do a smokey eye or any hazy, blended-out shadow.

How to use a pencil brush:

After you’ve applied your eyeliner, use the pointed tip of the brush to gently smudge it out. Or skip eyeliner and use the tip to smoke out your eyeshadow underneath your bottom lashes. You can also pinpoint smaller areas around the eye, such as the inner and outer corners, when applying intense pigment.


18. Smudge brush

a Smudge brush

Hourglass No. 11 Smudge Brush
Hourglass No. 11 Smudge Brush

a Smudge brush

Hourglass No. 11 Smudge Brush

The short, super-dense, packed bristles make this brush ideal for packing on the pigment exactly where you want it, then smudging it out. Because the bristles are wider and flatter than the precision pencil brush, this smudging brush is better for using along the upper and lower lash lines.

How to use a smudge brush:

Dip the brush straight into the eyeshadow and run it along your lash line for a thick, smokey line, or use it to diffuse and set your eyeliner. Here’s what I mean: Apply your kohl or pencil liner, then use the brush to blend the edge of the eyeliner outward. Then, use the same brush to go back over the eyeliner with a similar eyeshadow shade. This will not only set the color underneath but also layer textures to create depth so your smokey eye doesn’t look one-dimensional. “A smaller smudge brush is also great for applying color to the lower lash line and can add a highlight to the inner corners for a doe-eyed effect,” says Vincent.


19. Eyeliner brush

an Eyeliner brush

Coloured Raine Signature Angled Liner Brush
Coloured Raine Signature Angled Liner Brush

an Eyeliner brush

Coloured Raine Signature Angled Liner Brush

An eyeliner brush is another one of those tools that can look a million different ways, but no matter the shape of the handle or the bristles, it’s always going to be one of your smallest (if not your smallest) brushes. Some have tapered and pointed tips, some have flattened and straight or slanted bristles (like the one shown here), and on some eyeliner brushes, the stem is bent at a 45-degree angle to make it a little easier to get into tight spaces.

How to use an eyeliner brush

Whether you use gel eyeliner or prefer a more diffused outline with your powder eyeshadow, you’ll find an eyeliner brush v helpful for getting the product flush against your lashes. Dip the bristles into the product, then use it to apply your eyeliner like you would a regular pencil or liquid eyeliner.


20. Eyebrow brush

an Eyebrow brush

Anastasia Beverly Hills Brush 12 Dual-Ended Firm Angled Brush
Anastasia Beverly Hills Brush 12 Dual-Ended Firm Angled Brush

an Eyebrow brush

Anastasia Beverly Hills Brush 12 Dual-Ended Firm Angled Brush

You’ve definitely seen—and probably even brushed—your brows with a spoolie or comb before, but a dual-ended eyebrow brush like this one also has flat, blunt, and angled bristles to help you draw individual brow hairs using brow gel or powder.

How to use an eyebrow brush:

Use the spoolie side first to shape your brows, then flip it over to the firm, slanted bristles on this small eyebrow brush to fill in sparse brows with eyebrow powder. If you’ve filled them in with too much product, you can also use the spoolie brush to comb through your brows afterward and remove some of the makeup to soften them. Alternate use: combing, taming, and de-clumping your lashes—just make sure the spoolie is clean first.


21. Lip brush

a Lip brush

Kimiko Beauty The Precision Retractable Lip Brush To-Go
Kimiko Beauty The Precision Retractable Lip Brush To-Go

a Lip brush

Kimiko Beauty The Precision Retractable Lip Brush To-Go

Easily confused for a concealer brush, a lip brush has the same flattened, curved shape but is usually smaller so that it can fit in the cupid’s bow and define the lips. “A lip brush will apply color with precision in thin, even layers for longer wear than when applied right from the bullet,” says Vincent, adding that some lip brushes also have caps so you can load it with lipstick and keep it in your bag for quick touch-ups. You might think lip brushes are only for professional makeup artists, but if you line your lips, you’ll find a lip brush to be really helpful for diffusing harsh lines from your lip liner and blending it into your lipstick.

How to use a lip brush:

Trace your lips with lip liner, then run the bristles of the lip brush along the inside edge of the line to soften. If you’re using your own products, you can swipe the brush right on the lipstick to pick up the product for a more precise application. And if you want to create your own custom lip shade, mix together multiple lip colors with your brush, then use it to apply the product.


The takeaway:

“You don’t need a ton of brushes to create your everyday looks, but you do need the right brushes,” says Vincent. Her tip? If you’re just starting to build up your makeup brush arsenal, invest in an essential brush collection that’ll give you a curation of everyday brushes. You can always add brushes as you go, so choose the essential ones first, then add on as you master their use and want to try out more complex looks, Vincent says.


Meet the expert:


Why trust Cosmopolitan?

Siena Gagliano is a contributing beauty editor at Cosmopolitan and has three years of experience writing about beauty, fashion, and lifestyle news. She’s an expert at researching and writing beauty stories, like the best tubing mascaras and the greatest cream blushes on the market. She regularly tests and analyzes makeup brushes on herself for efficacy, while working with the industry’s top makeup artists and cosmetic chemists to assess new formulas and brands.

Brooke Shunatona was the senior beauty editor at Cosmopolitan for nearly five years and has eight years of experience writing about beauty and lifestyle across print and digital, including how to create siren eyes and how to defrizz your hair. Her makeup brush picks were based on expert insight, personal testing, and reviews.





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