A version of this story originally appeared on the Strategist US.
Across countless blogs, beauty forums, and group chats, I’ve heard people make the case for fingers over brushes. Fingers don’t cost anything, they argue, plus they come with you all the time, and blend makeup more naturally. I’m no scientist myself, but there seems to be something about the warmth of my fingertips that helps certain cream products like concealer, blush, and highlighters blend seamlessly into my skin.
But there are some things your fingers just can’t do: sculpt a flawless contour, evenly distribute powder eye shadow, or get rid of T-zone oiliness. I recently tried to apply baby-blue eye shadow with my finger, and when I looked in the mirror, I realized it came out spotty and strange, like my eyelids were decorated in blue cow print. Brushes are simply more precise than fingers, and — when cleaned properly — more hygienic.
My feeling is that there’s a time and a place for both finger and brush application. But since brushes allow my shaky, nonprofessional hands to achieve great makeup results (I don’t think I ever would have figured out contouring without the E.L.F. Contour Brush), I’ve gathered my all-time favourite makeup brushes here, plus what I use them for.
Best foundation brush
Though this brush claims to work best with “powder foundations,” I’ve found that it works significantly better at blending in liquid foundation. The brush distributes the foundation evenly, and makes my face look more natural than it does when I apply the same foundation with my hands. Here’s how I use it: First, I spread a thin layer of my Giorgio Armani or NARS sheer glow (both medium coverage) foundations onto my face and my hands so that the product goes on warm. Then, I take this kabuki brush and buff away at the skin to lose excess product. This method makes for the loveliest, softest, most even coverage. If I have any blemishes that I want to correct, I then apply a concealer. But this finger-and-brush combination is the best way to get your foundation to look as natural as possible.
Best eye-shadow brush
I’ve never really been passionate about eye-shadow brushes until I met this one. I’m not quite sure what it is about the bristles, but this brush picks up the perfect amount of product, and in one to two sweeps will cleanly distribute the eye shadow on your lid. I’ve also used this for full glam, crazy-coloured eye-makeup looks when I really want to pack on pigment. I also use this daily to apply a touch of brown on my eyelids to make me look more awake.
Best blush brush
While this is technically a highlighter blush, Rihanna used it in her Vogue Beauty video to apply blush, so I decided to give it a try. It’s perfect for getting the powder blush to sit just at the top your cheeks, making you look perfectly flushed and rosy. Since I’m generally a cream-blush person, I had no idea what to do with the Estée Lauder blush I bought during my Ulta haul, and this brush was perfect for it, as it turned out.
Best contouring brush
For anyone new to contouring, or trying to achieve a contour that looks relatively natural, this brush is the one for you. I’ve tried a lot of contouring brushes (as I’m not amazing at it, but I love looking bronzed and accentuating my cheekbones), and this one is the best at really getting into your cheeks and shaping them out, while also not creating too harsh of a line.
Best baking brush
I’m not much for a full baking process, but I do like to dust some setting powder underneath my eyes and T-zone to ensure that I don’t look greasy, and that everything stays put all day. This setting-powder brush picks up the perfect amount of product, and keeps everything still without creating a dry, cakey mess whenever you sweep.
Best concealing brush
When you have a big, horrible zit that needs meticulous concealing, this brush will save you. The bristles on this brush are layered, super soft, and delicate, making it really easy to delicately apply concealer while also feathering the product out so that you don’t have to pack on concealer.
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