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The 9 Very Best Makeup Brushes and Makeup-Brush Sets

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist

While you can always use your fingers and sponges to apply makeup, the best makeup brushes and makeup-brush sets can be a game changer — especially if your goal is to create a seamless, blended finish. For that reason, I use makeup brushes almost exclusively, which is how I’ve come to try just about every complexion brush out there. What I’ve learned is that good makeup brushes are an investment — cheaper ones tend to shed, so it’s worth being discerning when you’re shopping. With that in mind, I reached out to top makeup artists to find out the brushes they swear by.

Best overall | Best less expensive | Best for complexion | Best less expensive for complexion | Best for eyes | Best for brows and eyeliner | Best blush brush | Best set with a spongeBest set for travel

What we’re looking for

Usage: “The shape and size of the head is what determines where the brush is meant to be used and what types of products it’s designed to be used with,” says makeup artist Robin Black, the founder of Beauty Is Boring. The handles can vary, too, but a good grip is important. Ulta Beauty Pro Team makeup artist Deney Adam prefers brushes with longer handles for applying eye makeup, for example, since they offer control and precision. “The same applies for powder-based products like blush, eye shadow, and setting power,” he says. “For creamy or liquid-based products, a short handle is the way to go.”

Bristle density: The nicer it feels on your skin, the better it works. The softness, density, and quality of the brush hairs is what determines how evenly a product will apply to the skin,” Black says. “It’s important that brushes feel soft and gentle, never prickly or irritating. You can test that quite easily by running the brush over the inside of your forearm in both directions.” The only real exception: Foundation brushes tend to be denser, but they should still feel smooth and comfortable.

Natural or synthetic bristles: Not all makeup-brush bristles are created equal. Natural bristles, made from animal furs or hairs, are known for being supersoft, which allows for better blending. Synthetic brushes are typically made from nylon or other vegan materials, and they’ve come a long way in terms of feel. As a result, it’s mostly a matter of personal preference. “I like using dual-fiber brushes for wet products, like liquid foundations and creams, and traditional ‘natural’ brushes for powder products like blushes and eye shadows,” says makeup artist Jaleesa Jaikaran.

Best overall makeup-brush set

Full face | Miscellaneous | Synthetic

This trio of brushes is all you need for a full face since each one is super-versatile. “They’re hardworking, multitasking, and luxurious-feeling synthetic brushes that make seamless makeup application easy,” says Black, who particularly likes using the Tulip Blending Brush to create a soft-focus lip look. “I find myself throwing them into my bag for touch-ups as well as using them in the studio.” Personally, I started using the Hybrid Face Brush with Monika Blunder’s creamy foundation — a winner if you’re looking for buildable coverage with a lightweight feel — but I’ve since tried it with all sorts of foundations, including liquid. It’s soft, so it takes a little longer than my dense foundation brushes, but I’ve found that it’s worth the extra time. The angled brush is designed for buffing, so it works for both cream foundations and bronzer alike. And the Tulip Blending Brush can be used for everything from blending eye shadow to concealing zits or, to Black’s point, applying lip color.

Best (less expensive) makeup-brush set

Full face | Miscellaneous | Synthetic

I’ve owned this set of EcoTools brushes for years and won’t ever toss them. (A 4.7-star rating and more than 400 reviews on don’t lie, either.) They’re cruelty free and vegan, they feel supersoft, and I love the little storage case that keeps them from getting lost in my drawers. The five brushes are versatile enough to cover a full face of makeup, and their long, generous handles are lightweight, making them easy to pack. Best of all, the bristle fallout is still minimal after what might be a decade of using them, which is impressive considering the price.

Best makeup brush for complexion

Complexion | Very dense | Synthetic

Although it’s a relative splurge, three of our experts rave about Tom Ford’s foundation brushes, largely because you get what you pay for. “I love that they’re well made,” says makeup artist Nick Barose, who notes that the weighty handles are designed for comfort and control. Makeup artist Tobi Henney appreciates their ability to blend beautifully so you’re not left with any obvious streaks. And their bristles are synthetic, Black says, “but you would never know given their ultraluxurious feel.” And though the bristles are white, Black says they’re surprisingly easy to keep clean “even after hot-pink lipstick, electric-blue eye shadow, orange blush, and other pigments I’ve used them with.”

Best (less expensive) makeup brush for complexion

Complexion | Dense | Synthetic

Whether you’re short on storage space or just don’t want to deal with swapping out multiple brushes every morning, this dual-ended tool comes in handy. “The big, wide side is perfect for blending and buffing foundation all over,” Barose says. “The smaller side is perfect for more detailed work like under the eyes and small spots.” It’s ideal if you find yourself using both foundation and concealer on a regular basis, and the ergonomic handle makes it comfortable to hold no matter how you’re wielding it.

Best makeup brush for eyes

Eyes | Less dense | Synthetic

It’s not makeup artist Bobbi Brown’s first rodeo — she sold her eponymous line to Estée Lauder before starting Jones Road Beauty — so it’s no surprise that her new line would feature great brushes. This one has enough density to blend eye shadow and eliminate any lines, but it’s still gentle and fluffy. “Because of its synthetic fibers, I can use both cream formulas and powder eye shadows with this brush,” says makeup artist Daniel Martin. Bonus: You can also use it for buffing out concealer around the eyes because it’s that soft, Martin says. (Just remember to clean it in between.)

As a more affordable alternative, we named the EcoTools Eye Enhancing Duo Set one of the best-rated brush sets at Ulta in a previous version of this story. One reviewer calls the beginner-friendly duo “definitely the softest brushes I own,” while another says the double-sided brushes are “all you need to … blend, pack, smear shimmers, and put on some liner.”

Best makeup brush for brows and eyeliner

Eyes | Very dense | Hybrid

Anytime you need to create fine, precise lines — for filling in brow hairs or achieving an ultrathin swoop of eyeliner — consider a painting brush. This small one isn’t a dedicated makeup brush, but Martin swears by it. “This has been my favorite angle brush for brows and eyeliner for almost 20 years, and you get it at the art store,” he says. “It’s the best!” Clocking in at $6, it’s also the most affordable option on our list.

Best makeup brush for blush

Complexion | Less dense | Natural

A good blush brush has to be able to shift between blush and bronzer with ease. It also shouldn’t leave streaks, which is a telltale sign your “natural flush” actually came from a cheek palette. That’s where this brush is especially helpful. “I love the slightly pointed oval shape that allows you to create seamless application on the cheeks without blotchiness,” Barose says. I use it to dust blush just below my eyes at the center of my cheeks, which (per a makeup artist) looks more realistic because that’s where the sun hits. Then I tap off excess product and dip it into bronzer, which I brush in a “3” shape around my forehead, down the side of my face and beneath my cheekbones, and just under my jawline.

Best makeup-brush set with sponge

Full face | Miscellaneous | Synthetic

Jaikaran points to this set as being high quality with a relatively budget-friendly price. While it features a more basic lineup of brushes — a short-bristled foundation brush, a small crease brush for eye makeup, a fluffy powder brush, and a smaller setting brush — this configuration offers a ton of versatility. On top of that, “what’s great about this set is that you also get a beauty sponge, which also comes in handy for makeup application,” Jaikaran says. In fact, this very sponge was deemed “so much better than the original beauty blender” by Strategist beauty writer Rio Viera-Newton. Not surprisingly, it has nearly 1,000 five-star reviews at Ulta with customers calling out both the value and softness.

In a previous version of this story, a different set from the brand emerged as a reader favorite for applying foundation, bronzer, highlighter, and concealer. The Real Techniques Flawless Base Set, which features four brushes and a matching holder, also offers seamless application and versatility for the price.

Best makeup-brush travel set

Full face | Miscellaneous | Synthetic

Morphe is known for its makeup brush sets, which offer a ton of value. “They are the best quality brush for their price point,” Adam says. Low-quality brushes tend to shed or break easily, but here the synthetic bristles are firmly anchored into the ferrule, the metal sleeve that joins the bristles and handle together. The shorter handles (and included carrying case) make them a good option for travel. And with six different uses ranging from complexion to eye, this set guarantees you’ll be covered wherever your trip may take you.

Some more makeup brushes and sets we’ve written about

Our experts

Deney Adam, makeup artist and Ulta Beauty Pro Team member
Nick Barose, makeup artist
Robin Black, makeup artist and founder of Beauty Is Boring
Tobi Henney, makeup artist
Jaleesa Jaikaran, makeup artist
Daniel Martin, makeup artist
Rio Viera-Newton, Strategist beauty writer

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The 9 Very Best Makeup Brushes and Makeup-Brush Sets