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Favorite Makeup Tools for Face, Cheeks and Eyes

December 22, 2014

I’ve compiled several detailed brush guides this year but several of my readers have asked for a more consolidated list of recommendations. Like most of my beauty routine, when it comes to makeup tools, I rarely stick to just one brand. I think different lines have certain strengths in particular areas.  Some have a better shape while others are made of better materials. There is a lot to sort through in terms of brush shape, size, material and price point. For me, it’s really important that I am able to test a brush in person before purchasing it so I tend to stick to main stream brands. Today I’ve compiled a list of my most reached-for tools for face, cheeks and eyes.

My top picks for brush brands include MAC, Chanel and Tom Ford. In my experience, the overall best brand for quality and price is MAC. I own many MAC brushes that have lasted me over a decade. I like that the brushes have a simple and sleek design and the quality is consistent among all the tools regardless of material or type.

Chanel is also another great brand that I use a lot for brushes and tools. They recently redesigned all their brushes (I think in the last year or so) for a more modern look. The tools work really well with all brands of makeup. There are many similarities in shapes between MAC and Chanel although the material is very different in most of the tools. 

If price is no object, Tom Ford hands down makes the best brushes I’ve ever tested. All the brushes are super soft and plush and perform the best out of all the tools I’ve tried. The cream foundation brush is the only brush that gives me a streak-free application for foundation or tinted moisturizer. Tom Ford’s brushes are among the few brands I ordered sight unseen. I splurged on a brush set a few years ago and although it made a serious dent in my wallet but I have no regrets and it makes applying makeup a truly luxurious experience each day.

1 / Beautyblender ($19.95) is the best sponge I’ve used. I just discovered it this year and don’t know how I ever got along without it. There are multiple colors and types of beautyblenders but the pink one performs the best. Use it damp and it expands and applies foundation flawlessly.

2 / MAC Duo Fibre Face Brush #187 ($42) everyone needs a good skunk brush. These are fluffy brushes with two types of material mixed in. The uses for this are endless. I like to use mine to apply powder bronzer or highlighters to the face. You can also use these with cream products or to buff out powder foundation or to blend items. MAC also makes the Duo Fiber brushes in a number of other formats like the Short Handled #187 and a tapered Blush #159 version. I like the classic version the best.

3 / MAC Large Angled Contour #168 ($35) is super soft and fluffy angled contour brush. I use this for bronzer or blush (primarily powders). It’s also a good blending tool. The angled edge helps control application.

4 / Tom Ford Cream Foundation Brush #02 ($72) is the best foundation brush I’ve used. It’s one of the most expensive tools I own but worth every penny. When I use this to apply liquid or cream foundations, application is flawless and completely streak free. I normally prefer to use sponges for foundation but often times they soak up so much product. This is the closest thing I have to getting a sponge-finish look with foundation but in brush format.

5 / Chanel Foundation Brush #6 ($45) is my most reached-for foundation brush. It’s not quite as perfect as the Tom Ford, but for me it’s the next best thing. I like this for cream blushes too.

6 / Chanel Blush Brush #4 ($54) is my favorite blush brush because of the shape and material. It’s medium-sized and compact but has just the right amount of density to pick up color and dispense it perfectly on the cheeks. MAC makes a lot of good blush brushes too which are very good quality, but I find myself reaching for the Chanel the most.

7 / Chanel Powder Brush #1 ($65) is my favorite dense but soft powder brush. I use this for loose powder, pressed powder and powder foundation. It comes out of the box tapered but once you wash it it fluffs up quite a bit while still retaining a round shape. I like that it’s sturdy with a substantial handle but still easy to hold and maneuver.

1 / MAC Blending Brush #217 ($24) is the best white fluffy brush you can find for $24. This is key for me in terms of blending shadows for a subtle gradient. I also like to use this as a regular eyeshadow brush when I want an all over lid color.

2 / MAC Eye Shading Brush #239 ($25) is in my top 2 picks along with MAC Brush #217. This is my all time favorite eyeshadow brush. It picks up color really well and blends powders together nicely. I like that it’s dense but super soft.

3 / Tom Ford Eyeshadow Contour Brush #12 ($56) is another favorite. This is my do-it-all kind of brush. It applies shadow on the lids, it will contour or smoke out darker colors and the tip is dense for a smokey eye.

4 / MAC Shader Brush #242 ($25) is what I like for cream shadows (or concealer too). This one has lasted me the longest, I think it was one of the first MAC brushes I bought for myself. It has a really nice round tip making application easy and smooth on the eye (so it doesn’t poke the skin).

5 / Chanel Large Eyeshadow Brush #25 ($38) is a medium to large eyeshadow brush that isn’t too big or fluffy. I do like a good fluffy brush, but these days I find myself reaching for this one because it isn’t as thick or dense making it easier for me to control color and application. If you want something fluffy, soft and more dense, the Bobbi Brown Eye Sweep Brush is one of my favorites.

6 / Laura Mercier Smudge Brush ($24) is a good dense detail brush. It’s stiff but not too stiff so it’s easy on sensitive skin or eyes. I like this one to smudge eyeshadow or eyeliner. I use this instead of a regular liner brush because I like a more smudged softer line to define the eyes. It offers precise application but if you are looking for something super precise, I’d recommend the Bobbi Brown Eye Liner Brush or the Angled Eye Definer Brush.

7 / Trish McEvoy Laydown #40 ($42) is one of my favorite multi-purpose brushes. I like this for powder eyeshadow, cream eyeshadow and concealer. I owned this back when Trish McEvoy had gold handles for the brushes (they are now lucite). It’s the perfect shape, size and density for creams to get a good smooth and even application.

8 / Charlotte Tilbury Eyelash Curler ($20) is one of the newest eyelash curlers I’ve tried. When I first tried it I wasn’t super impressed because it’s called the “Life Changing Lashes” eyelash curler and well, it simply didn’t change my life. I found it just as good as my Trish McEvoy and Chanel eyelash curlers but not anything super special. I’ve since tried a few others from other brands like Shiseido and Shu Uemura and have really come to appreciate the design and shape of the Charlotte Tilbury. It has just the right amount of curve to fit my eye shape. Many others are too flat or not curved enough. The wrong shape will either pinch my eyes around the corners or miss lashes making the curl uneven. I give the Charlotte Tilbury a huge thumbs up for the way it performs. 

9 / Trish McEvoy Eyelash Curler ($20) is a classic go-to for me. I have several of these right now and  it’s been my most-replaced tool (some recommend you change or the pads these every 90 days, I tend to use these longer replacing once every 6 months). It just works the way an eyelash curler is supposed to. It grabs all the lashes and curls them evenly and in a round flared up shape. 

I have some additional thoughts on brushes focusing on double duty or recycling. Based on the above guides, you might be wondering what I recommend for eyeliner, concealer, crease, bronzer, brows or lips.

I think a lot of tools can be used multiple ways which means you can stretch out the uses. Having multiple brushes can be extremely useful so you don’t have to worry about mixing colors or washing brushes frequently if you change from a light to a dark color for a certain tool. I do like brushes that will do multiple things though. For bronzer, I will sometimes use my blush or powder brushes. For the eye crease or contour I find the MAC #217 works just perfectly. For concealer I like blending with the fingers or a sponge.

For brow a lot of brow pencils come with a brush on the end to smooth out the color. I’ve bought a few brow combs before but find they don’t last me very long so I like to recycle my mascara wands after they are used up. Rinse the end with soap and warm water and you’ve got a lash comb and brow comb in one that you can toss whenever without worrying about throwing money away.

Lip pencils often come with a lip brush at one end so I don’t find the need to purchase a separate lip brush for gloss or lipstick. Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana have lip brushes which I find handy.

Last but not least, long time readers know I’m a fan of recycling candle jars. I use them to store brushes, pencils, lip gloss and office supplies. Diptyque and Jo Malone are my favorite to recycle. I just clean them out with warm-to-hot soapy water and a dish sponge. My candles don’t always have a clean burn so often times there are remnants of wax stuck on the sides. Some recommend freezing or using boiling water. I find that using anything too drastic with temperature changes can crack the glass or melt off the sticker (which I like to keep in tact).

If you’re just starting to build up your collection of makeup tools I hope you found this guide helpful. It can be overwhelming to sort through all the options so I have found the best way to start is to focus on one area at a time (i.e. start with eyeshadow brushes or blush brushes) and do your research. If you’re an in-store kind of shopper, I highly recommend bringing a small list of options you’ve found interesting or with high ratings. Having a list can be helpful in case you want to see different brands in one store. Some brushes go by number so writing the numbers down is handy unless you have a super good memory, I often have to look at the numbers on my MAC brushes when someone asks me “which brush is that?”

Building a good brush collection will take some time but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Brushes can be pricey especially when you add them up so I do recommend taking your time to research in advance to make sure you find ones that work best for your specific needs or wants.

I hope you found this guide on my favorites helpful to start!

This post was sponsored by Nordstrom. All opinions my own. All tools my own. For more information you can refer to my Disclosures.

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  • I think we have similar faves among the brushes.
    Tom Ford is among my wishlist to try, I have a weakness for white brushes for some reason, hehe.
    Alos, there is nothing like the Mac 217, it's the best brush I've ever came across to!
    Thanks for sharing your collection, it really inspired me!

  • Great pics. I just bought the tarte liquid foundation brush (meant to be paired with the amazonian liquid foundation) and it is a BEAST. I don't know how I got along without it all these years!

  • My everyday faves are hands down my Tom Ford brushes but I share the love with my numerous Hakuhodos and Suqqus. As you can tell, I gravitate towards ΓΌber soft brushes and love the feel of uncut blue squirrel on my face. Yes, Tom Ford is goat, but I swear those goats were hanging out with the squirrels because TF (manufactured by Hakuhodo) has the softest goat hair brushes around. I also have a few Trish McEvoy, Chanel, and MAC brushes. And, of course, there are the one of this, one of that brushes in my collection. I have duplicates of my most frequently used brushes because I like a clean brush for each color. At the end of the week, all the used brushes get a gentle cleansing.

    I really like your advice, Sabrina, about testing a brush in person. A brush really is one of those personal choices that will be influenced by the size and shape of a person's features, the condition of the skin, the types of products the person uses, and the looks the person prefers.

  • Hi Sabrina,

    My brush collection was built mostly upon Bobbi Brown brushes. They work well, and have a lovely aesthetic. That said, I've been trying to commit to more cruelty-free synthetic fibers over the past few years (you'd be surprised how hard they are to find!), so I have a mix of synthetic fiber MAC, MUFE, and EcoTools that I like in my makeup bag as well.

    • Deb

      Hi Dovey. I stopped buying ANY natural hair brushes a long time ago. There is a lot of conflicting information about whether or not cruelty free really means cruelty free. At least for quite a few of the more popular brands. I did keep all of my original brushes; I had them so long before I became aware of the cruelty vs cruelty free debate I decided it was a pointless protest to just throw them away. A couple of years ago I bought some brushes from Coastal Scents, focusing only on synthetic. I mainly bought them for travel thinking if something happened it would be no big deal because they're not expensive. Turns out they're quite nice. I also got a set from Bdellium Tools and they are also very nice. All of these have performed very well and held up nicely through many cleanings. They might be worth your time to look into. I've gradually put away all of my original brushes and only use synthetic now. I've not found any difference in performance. I do purchase and enjoy high end makeup but I've found that I don't need the "luxury" of animal hair on my skin to enjoy the experience. Happy hunting!

    • michelle

      These days the synthetics are so incredible there almost isn't any point to the real thing. More and more manufacturers are heading this way which is fantastic. I am also very impressed with the softness & technique of MUFE, TARTE, MARC JACOBS, even Eco Tools and Real Techniques have some outstanding brushes. I have heard good things about Bdellium as well. Oh and I have Sonia Kashuk and even a couple of ELF brushes that have been surprisingly good! There are plenty out there and it is an important issue to consider:)

    • Deb

      Couldn't agree more Michelle! Makeup brushes are a very personal item but certainly not necessary to life as we know it ?. The synthetic brushes are so nice now that I personally love knowing I'm not contributing to some poor furry creature getting shaved, clipped, or worse. All in the name of vanity.

  • One day I might cave and get a couple of Tom Ford brushes. I've heard so many good things on them. That or Bobbi Brown which I hear is also worth every penny.

  • Hi! Love this post! Especially the makeup brushes for the eyes πŸ™‚

    Nikoleta, xoxo

    http://nljuljduraj.blogspot.com

  • I agree that that Chanel makes some great brushes. Really under-rated in my opinion. I especially love their duo fiber brush.

  • Great post indeed! Now i can get to know what the best brushes to get according to use. Love the idea of using used candle bottles to put all those brushes.

  • Louisa

    What a fantastic post! I'm currently reaching for my brushes by Wayne Goss. I purchased the eye set and have been very impressed. Two other brushes I love are the eye and face brushes by Edward Bess. They are fantastic for blending.

  • Love the brushes, it's gorgeous

    Candice | Beauty Candy Loves
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  • The MAC 217 is my ultimate favourite blending brush and I never noticed that Chanel lipliners have a brush on the end! That's so handy! x

    FARFROMPERFECTIONXO

  • I own brushes from various brands, but my latest acquisitions and loves are the Wayne Goss The Collection and Laura Mercier 2014 Holiday Travel brushes.

    That said, my most loved blush brush is one by Sensai by Kanebo. It drives me nuts because I can't find much info on it online (type of hair, manufacturer…)

    • I read on Sweet Makeup Temptations forum that the Kanebo Sensai Cheek Brush is a combination of goat and squirrel.

  • michelle

    I can see why this took so long-fantastic!
    I am a brush lover! I have a couple of very old-school Bobbi Brown & old Trish, MAC 217 & 239 and enjoy a lot of Real Techniques and even a few Eco Tools synthetic but also have a new found fondness for Marc Jacobs contour brush & MUFE highlight. My next brush purchase will be Hakuhodo as I would like to get back-ups for the above-mentioned MAC and I want to get a couple of the face brushes.

    • michelle

      Correction. Marc Jacobs' concealer brush-awesome!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you so much for this excellent review and post. I agree that the Chanel Blush brush is excellent. It totally changed my application of and feeling towards blush. After Christmas, I will look at some of the MAC eye shadow brushes you recommend. I like a stiffer eye shadow brush that picks up color nicely.
    Best,
    Tanja

  • We have a few faves in common. I don't know how I ever lived without my Beauty Blender lol. It's amazing at applying foundation and concealer. I reach for it more than my brushes. I'm also a big fan of the MAC 168 and Chanel Blush Brush. They're really great quality

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  • Adore this. I'm saving it to buy a whole new stock of brushes.
    Lots of love, xx

    http://www.marysreturn.com
    http://www.marysreturn.com

  • This makeup is beautiful,I want to become beautiful point, so recently wanted to buy some cosmetics to dress themselves, do not know mac makeup good or not, many of my friends are using.

  • The MAC 217 brush is my all time favourite eye brush. I have two and I can get my entire eye look done with that brush

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