Ask Elle: Best Basic Brushes for Face and Eyes

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If you're starting your brush collection and want just the basics, then you've come to the right place! Please note: I am sharing several brushes for each category to show variety--I am not indicating that you need every brush that is pictured, nor the brands. Remember, I'm showing you the different types of brushes for each category. Also, I generally prefer synthetic brushes to natural, and these are all synthetic. Check out my picks for the Best Basic Brushes for Face and Eyes!


If you're looking for coverage when it comes to foundation, you'll need a brush. They're much more hygienic than your fingers (sponges are great for sheering out foundation, but today we're covering brushes). Simply pump/pour foundation on top of the brush or dip the brush into foundation to use. I personally love a flat top brush to dot foundation on my face and then to blend outwards. Choose one brush from this category, but ideally two would be even better. One would be used to apply/blend product, and the clean brush could either be ready to go or to help with blending.

--Sigma F80 Flat Top Kabuki (free gift from Sigma when I became an affiliate)
--Real Techniques Buffing Brush or Expert Face Brush (Ulta or online)
--Foundation Brush (found at any store that sells makeup)


These brushes set and enhance your foundation. A powder brush is a necessity because it sets and mattifies your makeup. Due to my dry skin, I rarely wear powder, but on hot summer days, I will use one. Once you have powder on your brush, tap off the excess and press it into skin. Swirling the brush around just moves your foundation around and doesn't help it to set or absorb oil as well. Contouring the face allows you to hide/slim features--click here for a basic contouring how to. Use a matte bronzer or dark powder for this. Blush adds color to the face, and can be placed on the apples of cheeks or cheekbones, depending on desired look. Highlighting the face brings out features--click here for highlighting how to. A clean powder brush can be used to remove excess powder or shadow from the face. Choose a powder brush and blush brush, and skip if you wear neither.

--Coastal Scents Bronzer Brush (not my favorite, but decent quality for a cheap price and the idea here is to show you a style of brush. I use this to contour.)
--ELF Powder Brush (only $3 and can be used for contouring or foundation. It's very flexible and not tightly packed like the other flat top brushes shown)
--Real Techniques Blush Brush (can also be used for contouring and highlighting)


To apply color all over the lids, you'll need a flat shader brush. These come in a variety of sizes, as shown. To use, simply pat the shadowed brush all over the lid. Patting allows for a better color payoff and less chance on shadow fall-out. If you have big eyes, you might want a larger brush, and small eyes might want a smaller brush. I have both sizes, since the larger brush covers a larger area quickly and the smaller brush is great for placing color into a specific area, like the outer corner of the eye. BONUS USES: The tip of the brush can be used to highlight underneath the brows or inner corners. A shader brush can also be used to apply concealer. I personally like to use my ring finger or sponge for concealer, as it is much easier to blend. The tip can be used to sweep the crease color underneath the bottom lashes. Furthermore, this brush can be used to contour the nose. Choose one brush from this category, but two different sizes would be ideal.

--Coastal Scents Shader
--ELF All-Over Eyeshadow Brush


The crease brush is used to sweep and blend color in/above the crease. This is the hardest part of mastering an eye look, but I think the keys are blending well and finding a brush that fits your eye size. For example, I have hooded lids, so I have very little space to work with, and a smaller, tapered crease brush works best. I use the large fluffy brush for blending out the color. There are even brushes smaller than the ones pictured. The tip of the brush can deposit color onto the outer corner. A large brush can be used to contour the cheekbones and sides of the nose. It is also great to use as a highlighting brush--above apples of cheeks, down bridge of nose. Choose one, but ideally three brushes of different sizes would be great, as it's nice to have a clean brush to blend with. 

Real Techniques Deluxe Crease (some of these RT brushes I've mentioned come in kits, which is friendlier on the budget. This brush is too big for my crease, but great at depositing color.)


I like a brush like this as it is dual-purpose. Filling in brows really completes your look. A traditional liner brush is a small, pointed brush, but I can get the same results with this one. This brush is great for applying cream/gel liner to the eyes. Remember, the intended purpose of liner is to make lashes look longer. I use this brush dipped in a matching shadow to set the liner too. I use it with shadow to carefully line my waterline. Due to the slanted edge, it's great for making an outline for a cat-eye/winged liner. The tight, stiff bristles are key for this brush. Using shadow as a liner is the easiest way to line the eyes. I've used it to line underneath my lashes with the crease color as well. 

Real Techniques Brow Brush (this came in a kit, so look for it)


Better-quality brushes perform better (although there are some of equal results). Some cheaper brushes are of lower quality and don't deliver when it comes to great results. 
--If you are on a budget with no plans of upgrading for several years, Coastal Scents has affordable brushes. They aren't soft, and shed a little, but will get the job done just fine. ELF has hit-or-miss brushes, but I like most of the face brushes--those $3 or more, but not most of the eye brushes.
--Brush kits can be a budget-friendly investment, with almost all of the brushes being usable. Click for a How to Use a Beginner Brush Kit.
--If you can spend $10-12 (avg) per brush, go ahead and buy the better-quality, instead of buying cheap brushes only to replace them a year or two later. I love Sigma brushes and have purchased several. They have several brushes similar to MAC, but at a cheaper price.
--Taking care of your brushes insures longevity, so check out my How to Clean Your Brushes post and another post here.
--I additionally recommend MAC, Sedona Lace, Crown, Mint, and Sephora brushes.
--If desired, I can post on additional brushes you might want to try.

What brushes do you love? 
If you have any questions, or need clarification, please comment below.

Have a great weekend! Be safe, behave, and be well. Love, Elle

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  1. Thanks Elle! Just what I wanted to know.

  2. Hi Elle, you've no idea how helpful this post has been to me! Thank you thank you!

  3. Very useful and helpful post - thank you! x

  4. I love car wash brushes.

  5. This is a great tutorial on brushes! I wish I had read this a few weeks ago when I had to buy brushes for my daughter's dance makeup.

    Sorry you're having problems with your hands! I hope the problem resolves soon.

  6. I'm always amazed how you know all this useful beauty info!

    always, koru kate

  7. Hi Elle!! Great post as always! I was amazed the first time I used a proper eyeshadow brush at how much easier it was to apply!! Lol :) I really need to update my foundation application technique thought so thank you for the suggestions! So helpful!!!!

  8. So good to know! I use mostly Bobbi Brown, Stila, and MAC brushes, but I need some replacement ones that won't destroy my bank account. Your posts are so informative :)

  9. omgoodness this is SO helpful!!! i never know what different brushes are for. thank you so much for sharing!

  10. What? There's a brush just for the creases? Great and thorough post. I am not big on makeup but unfortunately with aging I need to get with the program a little more :) Good job, this is helpful to someone like me for sure.

  11. I love crown brushes. Great pro quality brushes at a great price!

  12. I definitely need to get some of these brushes that I don't already have. And, yes, I totally agree that better-quality brushes perform better!

  13. Great post, and so interesting of your picks, and your preference: synthetic brushes vs natural. I just bought a set of new brushes recently the past couple months and love them.

  14. This is such a cute idea for a post!

    I am hosting a Beauty Bloggers blog hop every weekend if you would like to come along and link up!


  15. This is actually very helpful. I have to be honest - I don't normally wear makeup unless I'm hitting the town or something and all the brushes I have scare me. I never really knew what was used for what (except for the obvious).

  16. Sorry to hear you weren't well, feel better soon!

  17. I love, love, love my Bare Minerals brushes that I use with the make-up. I've used MAC brushes too just for eyes & brows and those are fab too. Love your blog. :)

  18. Thanks for adding in some budget brushes! I don't wear just a ton of make up so I'd rather not spend just a lot on the tools. This post was helpful! Thanks! :)

  19. i love my sonia kashuk brushes Xo Megan, www.TfDiaries.com

  20. Love this feature. This is so helpful! Thanks for sharing. xo, Julie

  21. Oh sweetie reall cute post! Interesting and really useful.



  22. A very helpful post! Thank you! :)
    I mostly use bareEscentuals brushes - they're so soft!

  23. Very informative as usual. I do love using brushes.

  24. I use pretty much the same brushes you do! Just I don't do contouring so...

  25. These are great tips for building a brush collection. I have the basics but I'm missing a few, like a crease brush. That's next on my list!

  26. Interesting post!
    Have a lovely week :)


  27. This post is so informative. I have to say that I most of the information in this post I had no idea about.

    Tracy @ Sunny Days and Starry Nights

  28. What great recommendations. I recently started using a foundation brush and it's made such a difference! :)

  29. very informative post!


  30. Hi Elle! Thanks for linking up at Fun Friday Blog hop. I'm a newest follower. Have a great week! :)

    Anne {The Pink Momma}

  31. I have tons of brushes but am in need of a foundation brush.

  32. ok, question for you. I'm going to just email you!


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