The Makeup Brush Guide

Blush Brushes

It took me a long time to pick the brushes and write this part because there are many excellent blush brushes of different shapes and materials just as there is a wonderful variety of blushes. The blush's texture and intensity determines what brush would be ideal for a smooth application and even blending. Of course, the best brushes are the ones you can use with most blushes.

One small note: as a beauty blogger I test (and own) many blushes. Pressed and loose powder blushes, cream and liquid. Most makeup users don't keep that wide of a range and don't need as many brushes. So, when I say that these are my favorites, it definitely doesn't mean you should buy everything. Choose the ones that suit your needs.

Yachio brushes, the traditional Japanese tools, are probably my favorite blush brushes because they are practically fool-proof. They suit very pigmented blushes as well as average ones, and as long as you don't use one that's too big for your face (beware of the NARS Yachio and the large Hakuhodo if you have very small features). Yachio brushes are also great at blending and diffusing, and if you get the smallest ones you'll find they can multitask for blending just about everything. Hakuhodo Yachio brushes come in three sizes and two shapes. What you see here are the pointed ones which are my favorites.

Going back to the more traditional shape, most brands have something to offer. My favorites are the very fluffy Louise Young LY06, the thin and precise Sue Devitt and Trish McEvoy Sheer 2B (this one has a shorter and more portable handle), and the workhorse Shu Uemura 20. The Shu is very soft, very sturdy and could probably be considered best in class.

Along similar lines but just a bit smaller and more luxurious are the super-soft blush brushes from Rouge Bunny Rouge (#002), RMK Cheek S and Le Metier de Beaute blush brushes. Each one of them has a slightly different shape: RBR 002 is the fullest, LMdB is flatter and can work be used for precise application s well as blending when you turn it, and the RMK brush is the smallest and most directional.

Speaking of luxury, Hakuhodo S103 is my precious. The pointed shape is efficient and easy to use while the extraordinary quality of Hakuhodo's S100 series makes the S103 into perhaps my most beloved. The company offers the same brush in the Basic and 200 series, priced a bit lower.

The next three brushes are multitaskers: The angled shape of Shu Uemura 20H and Hakuhodo B512BkSl makes them just as good for contouring and highlighting (Hakuhodo B512BkSl is actually labeled as a highlighter blush). Hakuhodo 210 has a small, round and dense head. It blends and buffs like a dream and I use it for just about every face color task, powder and cream, including foundation.

Our last group of blush brushes is dedicated to the application of cream and liquid cheek color. You can see that these brushes are very different from each other, so it's a matter of your preferred technique and how they feel in your hand. Hakuhodo Mizubake is the most unique: a cross between a Yachio and a flat-top Kabuki brush, the Mizubake, a goat hair brush, blends even the most saturated cream blushes. A reader also suggested using it to stipple foundation, so that makes this brush a great multitasker. Julie Hewett's Cheekie is a classic synthetic brush that buffs cream blushes into natural sheerness. It's easy to use and the small circumference allows it to fit into odd-shaped pans. Last, we have Hakuhodo's duo fiber G544. It's extremely useful with dark and very pigmented blushes when you only want a hint of color. Of course, many of your favorite flat-top duo-fiber brushes (the MAC 187 and 188 type) can be used for blush- cream or powder. Just as when using them with foundation, in my opinion Sephora Platinum #44 leaves all the others far behind.

Concealer Brushes

Concealer brushes can and should do the following: apply tiny amounts of products to conceal minute blemishes, cover and even out larger spots and discolored areas (including dark under-eye circles) and finally, buff concealer into the questionably looking area for a flawless look. Why, then, the most common concealer brushes are these very small flat and paddle shaped brushes made of stiff synthetic fibers that don't move well, don't buff and generally tend to get caked up and useless before one finishes the task?

Still, there are some extraordinary concealer brushes that perform well. Here are my six ones:

Kevyn Aucoin- this brush has the smallest head and does the most precise and detailed work. Depending on your concealer, you might need to follow up with a buffing brush to even out things.

Hakuhodo G538- another small brush for detailed work. Flexible and versatile.

Le Metier de Beaute- probably the best concealer brush you can find.

Hakuhodo G542- the closest thing to the LMdB perfection.

Trish McEvoy The Point- the little brush that could. Buffs and blend concealer and foundation of any formula and consistency, reaches small crevices and gives the best finish.

Dermablend- small, pointy and helpful with thick formulas.

Bobbi Brown Touch-Up- a serious multitasker, soft and dense that applies and buffs concealer as well as cream eye shadow and does minor foundation corrections.

An honorable mention goes to MAC 217, a classic eye blending brush that buffs well, as long as your specimen  isn't too scratchy, and to Laura Mercier Eye Finishing brush that's even softer and kinder under the eyes.

Foundation Brushes

Choosing a foundation brush is a matter of preference, method of application and the formula or texture of your foundation. Some people rather use their fingers, others like a heavier coverage and go for a damp sponge. While I'm a firm believer in "anything goes", I highly recommend watching this YouTube video.

Foundation brushes can be roughly divided into three categories: classic paddle shape, duo-fiber stippling ("skunk") brushes and buffing brushes. The latter group can be further divided into flat tops, round tops and "others". I have favorites in each category, but generally speaking prefer the last one since I tend to use sheer liquid formulas.

Paddle Brushes:
There's no competition here, really. Most paddle brushes are more or less the same and only differ in the hair- natural vs. synthetic. The best one I've ever had the pleasure to use is the Hakuhodo G520.
If you're looking for an excellent synthetic brush, I'd recommend Le Metier de Beaute angled foundation brush. It can be used in a similar way to regular flat brushes, but its extreme flexibility and the way it maneuvers on the hard-to-reach areas makes it a brilliant tool. An honorable mention in this category goes to Giorgio Armani Blender brush. It's small, made of natural hair and has a great softness/density balance to give great coverage and an even application.

Stippling Brushes:
While I own several stippling brushes from the classic MAC ones (187, 188, 130) as well as an elegant Guerlain foundation brush, it's the modest Sephora Platinum Professionnel #44 that is the best in class. This brush doesn't clump and curdle like the MAC ones and gives me a far better application.

Buffing Brushes:

  • flat tops- Stila #21 is not technically a foundation brush but I use it as such and have a couple of backups because it's that good (newer ones ten to shed a lot more, though). The Rolls Royce of flat tops, though, is the  Hakuhodo G543 Powder DR Round. Nothing buffs and gives a perfect even finish as well as this brush. It doesn't get any smoother, but you need to really love the method and the feel of a dense flat brush in order to justify the price.

  • others: Cover FX  #160 and Shu Uemura #18 are probably more of a hybrid- a flattish brush that's made of goat hair and can both swipe and buff. The Cover FX is bigger and fluffier, the Shu is softer, I alternate between the two.

Everything Else:
I like having at least one very directional and precise foundation brush for touch ups and concealing redness around the nose. Cover FX #170 and Trish McEvoy The Point are both great and they double as concealer brushes.

Lip Brushes

This is the first installment of what is eventually going to be The Non Blonde's Epic Guide To Makeup Brushes. It will have a separate page on the blog and will also include a favorite brushes section. Today we're starting with lip brushes, mostly because a) it's important, and b) I didn't think that reviewing these brushes individually was worth the trouble.

Makeup brushes are often neglected. After all, it's so easy to apply a lipstick directly from the tube. Unless one is dealing with lip color in a pan, pot or a palette, it's possible to ignore this little instrument. Still, anyone who ever tried to apply a full coverage red or purple lipstick has probably discovered that having a lip brush on hand could have saved the day (and face).

A lip brush makes for an even and precise application. This is true for intense colors but also for your favorite natural "my lips but better" lipstick. An even thin layer of lipstick always looks better and more sophisticated than one applied with the bullet. It's the little details and crisp edges that make the look of a full coverage lipstick (sheer and glossy formulas are often meant to look a bit messy and modern, but even they can benefit from better application). Also, by applying lipstick in a couple of thin layers you improve its hold and staying power. Then there's mixing several shades and/or formulas- you absolutely have to use a brush when doing that.

Now, just about every brand under the sun offers lip brushes. However, depending on your particular need (coverage, defining), you can also employ just about any small brush including ones intended for eye liner, concealer, cream shadow and even small angled brushes. Don't be afraid to use natural hair brushes- just clean them well afterwards (I often use She Uemura face cleansing oil for stubborn stains and even a tiny drop of super gentle dish detergent like the ones by Caldrea or Mrs. Meyers).

Since I use several lip brushes every week I also make a good use of the built-in brushes that come with many lip pencils.  I keep using the brushes long after a particular lip liner falls from grace, simply because they work and I need them. They're often wider at the base and more precise at the tip than many a drugstore lip brush. Not that it's a bad idea to have several of those on hand, because once you make a habit of applying your lipstick with a brush you'll see you need more of them than you might have thought. Also, the only big disadvantage of many cheap lip brushes is their sturdiness, but that also happens to overpriced brand names (yes, Armani, I'm looking at you). On the other hand, one of the brushes in the top photo dates back to early 1996. It's French-made and I bought it at a professional studio all those years ago. The brush looks and performs as new.

Lip brushes come in several forms: regular, like the classic Paula Dorf one (silver handle), retractable (my favorite, because they are travel and makeup bag safe and there's no cap to lose), and ones with a cap that either fits into place at the opposite end of the brush, thus giving you more handle length (and stays put), or don't and then these caps tend to be picked by assorted house pets and disappear under hard to move appliances and furniture. It's up to you to choose ones that are comfortable and practical for your needs. Here are some of my favorites:

Paula Dorf- regular and retractable. Other than the handle, Paula Dorf's lip brushes are synthetic, almsot identical and good for reaching corners. They're great when you need crisp lines and definition.

Bobbi Brown- an excellent short head, long handle (the cap clicks into place at the "bottom" of the brush) and wide soft head that feels great and gives beautiful, even coverage.

Laura Mercier- another one with a cooperative cap, helps reach corners, fills my lip scar and covers it and gives crisp definition.

Hakuhodo Kokutan (E0194)- this is a beautiful natural  weasel hair brush with a flat head and a straight edge that gives both good coverage and precise lining.

Most brand names brushes cost around $20-$25. The Kokutan is more expensive because of its ebony handle, but please note that Hakuhodo actually has lip brushes in its other ranges, many for half the price.

All the brushes mentioned in this post were purchased by me, except the Laura Mercier that was a GWP a couple of years ago.

All the photos and contend are by Gaia Fishler, The Non-Blonde. If you see them anywhere else on the web other than this blog ( or or in its legitimate feed, it means my copyrights were violated by someone who really really sucks. Feel free to tell them so.