How to Use Different Types of Makeup Brushes

There's a brush for almost every application -- you just need to know when to use which.
There's a brush for almost every application -- you just need to know when to use which.
Hemera/Thinkstock

The way you apply your makeup is almost as important as the makeup you choose. That's the opinion of some beauty experts, anyway. The days when a little greasepaint would make you look dramatic and alluring are as outdated as silent movies. Today's woman strives for a look that's healthy and natural, but that doesn't mean a no-makeup lifestyle. The trick to a fresh face and flawless complexion may be a good night's sleep and a healthy diet, but plan B is often 21st-century artistry in the form of a little ingeniously applied makeup.

Enter the makeup brush. Most specialized tasks require specialized tools, and applying makeup is no exception. Think of your face as an artist's canvas. You're the artist, and the right brushes and cosmetics allow you to smooth out the rough spots, add careful shading and -- well, improve on the original in a way that's subtle enough to pass muster, even on a sunny day. That's what the right makeup brushes do. They refine your look. If you want to face the world with effective but understated makeup, forget your finger and grab a brush.

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Although there are lots of specialized makeup brushes on the market depending on the cosmetic products you're interested in using, you probably only need four or five to perform most makeup application tasks well. Let's get under the bristles of seven different makeup brushes to see what all the fuss is about. Stroke for stroke, these beauties are worth the price you'll pay to bring them home.

How to Use a Blusher Brush

Rosy cheeks help give your complexion contrast and make you look healthier. You can't blush on cue, but you can add a hint of color so expertly it'll look like the real thing.

The brush -- This may be your new secret weapon. It has the power to perform one of the most essential tasks in makeup application: blending effectively. Look for a chubby, dome-shaped brush tip that's a little smaller than a face powder applicator brush. The bristles should be soft and between 2 and 2.5 inches long. You'll want a relatively long handle, too. Professional beauty experts usually prefer natural to synthetic bristles, but even if you like an animal cruelty-free approach to most of your purchases, consider making an exception here. Natural bristles help distribute minute powder particles effectively. They deliver a feathered finish you'll have trouble getting any other way.

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The technique -- For the best results, apply powder to the tip of the brush and tap off any excess. Too little powder is better than too much, so use restraint. Sweep the brush over the apple of your cheeks. When you smile and hold it, the bump that forms over your cheekbone and directly under your eye is what's known as the "apple." Use a sweeping motion to blend blush powder upward toward your temple.

How to Use a Face Contour Brush

Use this brush to play up your angles.
Use this brush to play up your angles.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

You know how the top fashion models have great cheekbones that make their faces look both refined and a little fierce at the same time? They're relying on more than nature to get that chiseled look. They're likely using a tinted powder for shading, and a contour brush to distribute the color without leaving a telltale stripe behind. Somewhat like a blusher, a contouring brush helps add definition to the face, but this is more about suggesting an underlying structure than adding a healthy glow. If you have a fuller face that could use some planes and hollows, skillfully applied contouring will help give you the illusion of high, prominent cheekbones and a firm, well-defined jawline.

The brush -- With firmer bristles than a blusher brush, a contour brush usually also has an angled tip. There is some overlap between blusher and contour brushes, so experiment with a few to find a style that works for you. The angle on the head of the brush helps define the more precise lines used in contouring with a bronzer product. The firmer bristles then help blend the powder so the line disappears, but the slight shading remains.

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The technique -- Always tap excess powder off the brush before applying it below your cheekbones or jaw. Position the brush with the bottom bristles facing the direction in which your hand is moving, so you're working with the flow of the brush and not against it. A contour brush is also effective at creating a more chiseled nose by adding shading on either side of the nose just below the bridge. You can use a contour brush to apply blusher, too, but if you think your features need better definition, using a specialized brush for each task is a good idea.

How to Use an Eye Shadow Brush

Applying eyeshadow can be deceptively challenging. Your eyelid has dimension where it curves over your eye. It also has a crease that can be used to create depth. The right eye shadow brush will be able to take advantage of the unique topography of your lid area. It can do triple duty as an eyelid brush, eyebrow brush and eyeliner brush.

The brush -- A brush with a shorter handle and dense, tightly packed bristles will give you good control and offer better coverage for the products you choose. Soft, half-inch bristles aren't too short or bendy to do the job. Remember, they'll be applying and blending shadow and possibly other products on one of the most delicate areas of your body. Ideally, you want a brush that offers gentle control. Another option is to go with an angled brush for blending and a softer, fluffier brush to apply accent colors to your lash line and crease line. If you plan on blending multiple colors or rely on shadow to deal with hooded or shallow lids, then a two-brush approach may be for you.

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The technique -- Put on small amounts of shadow over multiple applications to avoid dusting excess shadow on your cheeks and nose, which can be hard to get off later. Use a sweeping back and forth motion along the lid, working in the direction of the angled bristles. Use the tip of the brush to add contouring along your eyelid crease, at the lash line and along the brow line.

How to Use Makeup Fan Brushes

Fan brushes look like one of those frou-frou accessories that are all hype and no substance. Nothing could be further from the truth. Think of a fan brush as your secret weapon in the quest for natural-looking foundation and powder coverage. It helps distribute pigment evenly and thinly by stippling product instead of applying it in an even layer. You know how hair color contains multiple hues to help create a natural look? That's what a fan brush does for complex pigments. Don't sell this tool short until you try it. In fact, if you only try one new cosmetic product this year, make it a set of brushes that includes a fan brush.

The brush -- The head of a fan brush is shaped using long, soft but sturdy bristles. This can be a tall order. Choose a quality brush over a cheaper knockoff. Since a fan brush has fewer actual bristles than most of the brushes on this list, each one counts a lot. A quality product will be less likely to shed. Most experts prefer natural bristles for this brush style, but regardless of your stand on natural versus synthetic, inspect the brush you have in mind for a tight fitting ferrule (the metal band between the handle and the bristles) and a longish, good quality handle. This is a multi-purpose brush that you'll rely on quite a bit once you get the hang of it, so splurge.

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The technique -- A fan brush is effective at redistributing powder or foundation and providing subtle shading. Think of it as an airbrush for your face. Polish small areas with a tapping motion or a slight sweeping motion over an area that's a little longer than the width of the brush head. The brush can also help grasp and remove pesky excess powder, like those stray eye shadow particles that end up on your cheeks by accident.

How to Use an Eyeliner Brush

Eyeliner can give your eyes drama and dimension, but applying a thick, well-defined line can make you look like you just stepped out of a bad 1960s movie. One of the best ways to avoid a stark, fake look is to apply liner with a brush designed with your lash line in mind.

The brush -- This is one time when a synthetic brush may be the answer. Select a short, firm-bristled brush with a relatively short handle. Look for a head with a straight or angled edge and stiff margins. Because you want to define a precise, narrow band right at your lash line (the bottom of the lid), control is important. You can use this brush with a liquid, gel or dry liner product.

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The technique -- Employ an eyeliner brush to both apply and blend liner products. The idea here is to create a swipe of color that is artfully feathered. Learning to apply liner effectively takes practice, but using a brush instead of, say, a pencil, can give you a more professional look. If you're just learning the ins and outs of makeup application, try applying liner with a pencil and then going over the line again with like colored powder and an eyeliner brush. Your look will last longer without smudging and give your lids a dimensional appearance you'll have a harder time getting with pencil liner alone.

How to Use a Smudger Brush

If you want smoky looking lower lids or perfectly blended layering on your upper lid, a smudger is the tool for you.

The brush -- This brush isn't really a brush at all. It's a handle attached to a spongy or rubbery tip. The tip is effective at blunting eyeliner and shadow products so they go on diffusely. Smudge applicators are available in two sizes, a larger applicator for the upper eyelid and a slightly smaller applicator for the lower lid.

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The technique -- Use a smudger the way you would a pencil eraser, with a gentle, even smoothing or rubbing motion. You can either apply liner or shadow using a smudger or use it to redistribute eye makeup applied with another tool.

How to Use an Eyebrow Definer Brush

This one pulls double duty with a comb on one side and a brush on the other.
This one pulls double duty with a comb on one side and a brush on the other.
Pixland/Thinkstock

The eyebrows are often described as frames that showcase the eyes. Those thin strips of hair make a surprising and dramatic difference in the look of your eyes. When you start using eye makeup, it won't take long to discover that the emphasis you place on your lashes and lids needs to extend to your brows to create a good balance. That usually means shaping and the addition of some color.

The brush -- There are a number of eyebrow brush styles on the market. They can look like miniature hairbrushes, spiral (mascara style) applicators or even like angled eyeshadow brushes. The most flexible and useful eyebrow brushes have long handles and heads with short, stiff, angled bristles. This design makes the brush useful for shaping brow hairs as well as applying waxes, powders or creams. If your brows tend to be unruly, look for a combo, dual end, brush with a second, spiral style applicator on the handle end. You'll be able to tame and tint your eyebrows with one tool.

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The technique -- Very few eyebrows feature a perfect, full arch. An angled eyebrow brush is very good at filling in sparse spots (possibly from an overzealous plucking session) and defining a smooth even curve. Start by using short strokes to apply product to your brows, and then lengthen your strokes as you achieve even distribution. Employ the spiral to remove excess product.

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Sources

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