If you are over 35 and started wearing makeup in your 20s, you'll remember that makeup brushes were not as readily available and plentiful then as they are today—certainly not good ones. Unless you were a makeup artist, or you lived in a major city with access to multiple brands, you probably made do with the tiny brushes and foam applicators that came in blush and eyeshadow compacts, as well as the thin puffs in powder compacts.
I bought my first brush set in 1992 from Chanel, but I rarely used those brushes, preferring the convenience of the "tools" that came packaged in my makeup compacts. In fact, I used to regularly request extra foam eyeshadow applicators at the Prescriptives counter because I knew I'd eventually wear out the ones that came with my Pick-2 eyeshadow compact.
As I continued to read fashion and style magazines, I took note of the makeup brushes that magazine editors and beauty gurus liked and stored that information in the back of my mind. At Henri Bendel in 1996, I bought a MAC #143 angle eyeshadow brush (squirrel) and a #135 blush brush (goat). I never used the blush brush, but the 143 was used nearly every day.
A year or so later, at Bloomingdale's, I had the temerity to wander around the ground floor without much purpose. A Bobbi Brown sales associate pounced on me and gave me a makeover. I loathed the brown-based/warm makeup she used, but I bought three brushes, an eye shader, blender, and eyeliner. All three were stamped with Essentials on the handle, a handle much longer than BB brushes sold today. I occasionally used the shader brush, but I never cared for the other two. At the time, I continued using a combination of foam applicators for the entire lid and the MAC 143 in the crease. Being naturally rosy, I almost never wore blush.
Shortly before Y2K, I bought my first sable good brush: the Shu Uemura #10 Natural eyeshadow brush made of Kolinsky sable.
I loved its silky springiness. In fact, I liked it so much I bought an additional two #10s in the travel size, and I used those, along with the MAC 143 exclusively. As hard as it might be to believe, I wore a grand total of two eyeshadows back then, so the MAC and Shu brushes served my needs.
But time passed and Makeup Alley and blogs came along. I read reviews and started picking up a brush here and there until I suddenly had too many brushes to use every day. And many of the brushes I purchased did the exact same thing as its sister.
Suddenly, these helpful precision tools felt more like a hindrance. I was more a curious consumer than a true curator, and I felt overwhelmed by the choices and bemused that so many were never used. When a lipstick doesn't work, I toss it into the trash without regret, but a brush is an investment. People don't throw away investments. At the same time, I'd roll my eyes at myself when I remembered how the average cosmetics-loving woman managed to get by for decades without a brush for every conceivable task on her face. Seriously. Time for a purge.
I started paying attention to the makeup I used every day, especially the types of tasks I was performing with or without brushes. I quickly realized there were brushes I rarely reached for and others I actually disliked:
- Paddle-type foundation brushes. They soak up too much product, leave streaks (unless I want to take the extra time to tap tap tap with the sides), and require daily washing. No thanks. If I wear liquid foundation, I'll use my fingers, just like I've done for the majority of my adult life. Hate them. Next.
- Cream eyeshadow/primer brushes. Unless you're really goo averse, these are just another thing to wash every day, when my fingertips work just as well. Yes, I have to wash my fingers, but I don't have to perch my hands on the top of the sink and wait all day for them to dry, either.
A thin angle brush. Although I don't use it every day (sometimes grabbing a pencil), I could never do without a thin angle brush for applying eyeliner and/or brow color. The bristles must be firm yet springy and thin enough for precision. My two favorites are by Paula Dorf and Bobbi Brown.
An eyeshadow sweep brush. For applying pigment to the entire lid, I love the Hakuhodo B532BkSL eyeshadow brush. Its round, flat, paddle-shaped brush covers my large lids with one or two sweeps. The exquisitely soft blue squirrel bristles allow for a quick sheer wash, or I can build up the color. I use it exclusively for matte or satin eyeshadow just about every day.
An application brush. For patting pigment onto the moveable lid, I have two favorites. The MAC 239 can't be beat, period. I use it for all eyeshadow finishes, including pressing shimmer into the inner corners of the eyes. It's dense, small, and I adore it. I also still love the Shu Uemura #10 Natural eyeshadow brush. It's springy hairs are brilliant for diffusing shimmer eyeshadow, and I can use its firm edge for brow highlight, obviating the need for yet another (pencil) brush.
Crease work. After making messes with the Laura Mercier Smudge Brush and Hakuhodo S113, I rediscovered the Laura Mercier Angled Eye Colour Brush. I dip the point into matte pigment and do the windshield-wiper thing, stopping at the center of my lid. Then I use the flat side to diffuse the color upward. LOVE it.
Blender brush. After the Bobbi Brown Blender Brush and Hakuhodo S142 went to brush heaven for being too floppy and soft, I found myself still loving the Edward Bess Luxury Eye Brush (reviewed here). Though I would not do it regularly (muddy the colors) I could take this ONE brush on a trip for base and contour. It's also one of the few brushes I own where the handle is metal instead of wood.
Tightlining. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, beats the Hakuhodo K005 Eye Shadow Brush for lining the eye. The uncut weasel hairs are as perfect for pressing powder into the lash line from above as they are from wiggling gel liner into the roots from below. At $15, it's half the cost of the Hakuhodo Kokutan Eye Shadow Brush SL (H2295) with the exact same brush head and cheaper than most MAC brushes.
Powder foundation. Newly in love with the quality of uncut Hakuhodo brushes, I tried their maple-handled G527 powder brush, but I did not love it. I still prefer the Jane Iredale Handi brush that I have been using since 2000. It applies my holy-grail Jane Iredale PurePressed foundation (reviewed here) in seconds, and the bristles never irritate my skin. Like the G527, the shorter handle is made of maple, and I would not be surprised to discover that JI is outsourcing brush manufacture to Japan. One sweep across the pan picks up the perfect amount of powder, and despite daily use and hundreds of washes, it looks as good as the day I purchased it ten years ago.
Blush brush. Despite its cult status, I did not love the Suqqu Cheek Brush. Yes, it's unbearably soft ... and therein lies the problem. The hairs splay and have almost no control. For brush application, I prefer the MAC 188. The silky-yet-firm duo fiber bristles are outstanding for applying powder, cream, and liquid. I use the 188 for blush, highlighter, and finishing powder, including HD.
|Bye bye Suqqu, it was nice to know you|
Travel brush. The Hakuhodo H501 Slide Face Brush is made of springy goat, and it's great for both powder foundation and blush. That the brush retracts into its own case is very convenient, as I can sweep the tips into pigment and slide it home for later use (meaning I don't have to carry a compact with me.) The plastic is soft and gets scratched easily.
Lips. For lip color application, I use either the brush end of a Chanel lip pencil or the travel Becca Lip Brush, but unless the color is very pigmented, I tend to apply lipstick straight from the tube.
Unless you are a brush curator, do you think there are too many choices nowadays or are you of the opinion that you can never have too many brushes? What are the brushes you can't live without?