The allure of fan brushes is quite obvious. It starts with the cute shape and continues with these brushes looking so interesting and professional standing in one's brush holder. Purchasing your first fan brush somehow feels like you've taken a step from being a brush newbie to a serious user. It feels good no matter if it's a cheap one from the drugstore or this pretty brush by Laura Mercier, or if you really know what to do with brush (or not).
Fan brushes are mostly used to perform three tasks: light application of cheek color (blush or bronzer one finds too heavy otherwise), light distribution of loose powder and/or cleaning fallout (usually from eye makeup). I'm not a big fan of the glorified broom approach. I find that it only works with some products and not with others, too often leaving me with dark smudges all over the place. I prefer a careful use of makeup remover wipe- a light touch with the corner of the sheet does the trick for me (besides, it's so much better to begin your makeup routine with the messy stuff, clean up and then do the rest of the face).
This leaves us with the first two options: loose powder and cheek color. Laura Mercier designed her fan brush specifically to be used with the Invisible Loose Setting Powder. Thus: supposedly a one product unitasker. Whatever. Laura Mercier's fan brush can do a lot more than that. This is a duo-fiber brush (long white synthetic hair mixed with shorter black natural ones). Just like other duo-fiber brushes work, swiping the brush carefully across the pan means it picks up less product while diffusing it throughout its width. So, yes, both a light application of pigment or setting powder can be achieved this way.
The Laura Mercier fan brush is thicker and denser than average- both the ones from Smashbox and Sephora Platinum are flimsy in comparison and feel less sturdy. The Sephora Platinum #43 is seriously inferior. It's scratchy and prone to splaying, despite a lot of effort (I dry and keep it in its original plastic cover, trying to make it retain the original shape). Smashbox #22 is better-made but still too flimsy to do a good job with pigmented products. My personal preference is actually the humongous Louise Young LY20 Super Fan Brush that really diffuses color and creates a natural look, but if you're not comfortable with something this big, the Laura Mercier is an excellent option, as it's also good with setting powder.
Bottom Line: if you're only going to get one fan brush, this is the one.
Laura Mercier Fan Brush ($30) is available at the counters, Sephora and lauramercier.com.
All photos are mine.