By Erin Williams
Tools. The word conjures images of my dad’s old toolbox in the garage that got used every now and then. Wrenches, hammers, screwdrivers – you name it, it was in there. It didn’t hold too much allure for me so who knew that years later I would have my own toolbox—and I consider mine just as essential to keeping a peaceful household. Makeup brushes are my tools of choice and sometimes it’s hard to know which ones to get and what will work the best for you. There are literally hundreds to choose from so I’ve narrowed down some of my favorites, trying to veer away from the old standbys. These are brushes from tried and true lines and from lines that you may not be too familiar with. However, they all have one thing in common they’re all quality and worth their cost.
And before we get into specifics, cost is a big thing with brushes. They can be expensive. However, if you are spending money in a department store on cosmetics, to get their full potential, you need some quality brushes—because q-tips are not going to cut it. Realistically, this is an investment and you don’t have to do it all at once (and it’s holiday time so make a list and give it to someone who loves you). Good brushes should last you years if you take care of them properly. And just what does that entail?
To be the best mother hen to your brushes you should give them a bath regularly, once a week is ideal. You can use your shampoo or face wash because your skin is already accustomed to them and they won’t irritate you. In my opinion, you don’t need to buy a brush cleaner unless you’re a makeup artist needing to clean brushes quickly at a shoot. When you wash them, if you really want to baby them, you can even condition the natural fibered brushes. It sounds silly, but it will keep them soft and extend their life. After you’re done, lay them out on a towel over night. If you stand them up straight in a cup then water can seep under the casing over time and cause it to come undone. Not good if you’ve dropped a lot of money.
So okay, now you’re a pro in the care department, and you just need to know what you should look at. We’ll start with your face.
If you’ve never used a brush with your liquid foundation it might sound like a gimmick but it actually gives you flawless coverage and keeps your fingers clean. Paula Dorf’s Foundation Brush, www.pauladorf.com, is made of a synthetic fiber you’ll be hearing about a lot called taklon. Taklon is ideal for liquid agents because the bristles don’t absorb the color but deposit it directly onto your face, thereby wasting less product. Paula’s brush is excellent because it’s a good size, has a nicely tapered head, and feels gentle on the skin.
I also really like taklon brushes in dealing with concealors. La Bella Donna, www.labelladonna.com, makes a great one that basically looks like a really big eyeshadow brush. It does an incredible job of smoothing out concealor to be very sheer or can allow for more coverage depending on how much blending you do. You don’t have to work a lot with this brush to look bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, which is preferable because you’re generally in the undereye area where you don’t want to do a lot of pulling.
For blemishes, broken capillaries, and other very specific areas I like to use a tiny brush that allows me to be precise. Kevyn Aucoin’s Concealor Brush, www.kevynaucoin.com, is made of pony hair and has a tapered head that you can use to dot the problem area.
That line also makes an incredible powder brush that is my new favorite. The Large Blush and Powder Brush is made of goat hair and does an amazing job. You can get a very sheer application or very heavy depending on your preference with this brush. It isn’t too soft or hard, has a nice weight, and feels silky smooth on your face. The Lucite handle is a deep burgundy color and will look beautiful on your vanity.
Shu Uemura, www.beauty.com, is famous all over the world for their brushes and if you bought any one of them it would be a worthy investment. One of my favorites is the 14H Large Angeled Pony Hair Halbert Brush. It is a quality blush brush that’s on the thinner side and allows for specificity. All of Shu Uemura’s brushes are hand tied and cut and will last you for years.
If you like a little bit fluffier of a blush brush, Becca, www.beccacosmetics.com, has a wonderful line of raccoon brushes. They take the softest hair from the tail, no animals are harmed, and the wood used for the brush handles are renewable-resource plantation grown wood. Their #14 Contour Brush is perfect for creating a youthful glow or for contouring cheekbones.
For bronzing you want a brush with a wide head in order to avoid the orangey streaks. Nars’s Bronzing Brush, www.sephora.com, is useful because it has a good bristle length and count which allow for even coverage of bronzer. No one will know you didn’t really get down to Miami over the weekend.
If you’re wanting a little shimmer on your cheeks for a night on the town, it’s fun to use a fan-shaped brush, and Benefit, www.benefitcosmetics.com, makes a good one. Their Sheer Powder Brush is perfect for getting just a hint of shimmer on your skin as opposed to looking like afive-year-old who played in mommy’s makeup drawer.
Whew! You’d think that that would be enough wouldn’t you? No, no, you’ve got other features that we need to accentuate. You really can’t go wrong with most eyeshadow brushes as long as they’re not too rough on your skin.
For a general wash of color I really like Kevyn Aucoin’s Medium Eye Shadow Brush. It has soft bristles that give a nice distribution of color and blends very well into the crease.
www.maccosmetics.com, 275 Medium Angled Shading Brush is made with natural fibers and is a great pick. Soft and rounded, this makes for easy contouring in the crease. I also always grab for my Urban Decay, www.urbandecay.com, taklon Blending Brush repeatedly. It moves the color and doesn’t absorb all the pigment like some brushes can. AND, they’re currently on sale on Urban Decay’s website so go take a look.
For very specific “hits” of color or for diffusing smokiness, Bobbi Brown’s, www.bobbibrown.com, Blending Brush is wonderful. It can be used to throw a little spice in the center of the lid, which opens up the eye with some shimmer or color, and can smooth out deep colors for a pretty smokey eye.
When you’re dealing with crème eyeshadows, aside from fingerpainting, I find it best to work with all or partially synthetic brushes for the same reason we discussed taklon being effective with liquids. It won’t absorb your color or gunk up and MAC’s 242 Shader Brush is a terrific option since it is a firm blend of natural and synthetic fibers.
When it comes to lining your eyes there are a few schools of thought, angled, flat, and “smudger” brushes..I myself feel most comfortable with angled brushes, but to each his own. Paula Dorf’s Angle Liner Brush is made of taklon so it’s soft and isn’t too thick so you can draw different widths of lines.Trish McEvoy, www.trishmcevoy.com, has incredible brushes and everyone copied her #11 Eye Definer/Shadow Liner Brush. The flat top allows for very precise lines and varying degrees of thickness. Smudger brushes can be used to get clean lines but they’re also really effective at softening pencils and eyeliners in general. Becca’s #07 Fine Eye Liner Brush is made from extremely high quality sable and allows for contouring and blending.
If you get the clumpies in your mascara you might want to invest in a mascara comb. The plastic ones don’t do a thing to cut through waxy mascara, what you need is a metal lash comb. Tarte, www.tartecosmetics.com, makes a good one and has a handy lash wand ‘which is great from taming brows as well’ on the other side. Obviously since you’re putting tiny metal prongs near your eyes caution is a must, but it separates lashes like nothing else and you can pile on the mascara to have lashes for days.
When it comes to lip brushes, I want something I can carry in my bag that won’t get gloss all over everything, isn’t too hard or soft and floppy. Lip brushes are honestly quite a delicate balance. Prescriptives, www.gloss.com, Lip Brush fits those requirements perfectly. It’s retractable, sturdy, and allows even the deepest colors to be painted easily.
Since makeup should be fun and girlie, Tarte’s French Tickler (keep it clean here people) is a must. Made with pink feathers and a purple handle this is the ultimate in femininity and is perfect for body shimmers. The feathers diffuse the shimmer better than anything else I’ve found and you can still wash them like you would a normal brush—chickens get rained on too, and they dry just fine.
If all of this is just too much, Paula Dorf, Trish McEvoy, Stila, and MAC, among others, all make wonderful 4-6 piece brush sets that are generally under $100 (especially at the holidays). If you’re needing something for far less than that, check out Sonia Kashuk’s line at Target. Both sets of “tools” are necessary and screwdriver in one hand and powder brush in the other, you can go out and conquer the world. Or at least fix the sink and powder your nose at the same time. Happy hunting!