Think of putting on your makeup like you’re painting a house: the tools you use for the application can make or break your end results. A great brush can elevate the performance of a mediocre product; and conversely, a bad-quality brush can make working with a premium product difficult and frustrating.
When I realized the huge role that brushes play in a makeup routine, I bought a lot of them. I wanted to try everything, and over the years I amassed quite the collection for an amateur beauty enthusiast: eye brushes in various shapes and sizes; $40+ big domed powder brushes; several assorted Sephora sets; and every iteration of foundation brush, from small flat numbers to dense kabukis. Last year, I noticed I only reached for about 40% of the brushes in my collection, so I pared things down to just the essentials. Most of my everyday favorites are $10 or less, and I rounded them up for you below!
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Real Techniques Everyday Essentials Set
This kit of fan favorites retails for less than $20 and has everything you need for an everyday makeup routine: a super-soft blush brush that’s perfect for blush and setting powders; an ‘expert face’ foundation brush to buff in creams and liquids (although I usually prefer a sponge); a deluxe crease brush that works for all kinds of eye looks; a small setting brush that I love to use for concealers and light applications of foundation; and a versatile sponge.
Real Techniques Eye Shade + Blend
If you stick to basic eyeshadow techniques, this shade + blend duo is all you need. Real Techniques recently updated their branding with new handle colors, but you can snag the same brushes in the old colorway on Amazon for less than $5! (I recommend buying two sets at that price so you have clean brushes on-hand for blending and/or playing with other shades.)
EcoTools Stippling Brush
I love this $8 dual-fiber stippling brush for bronzer; I have one to use for powders and another for my favorite matte cream bronzer. I can get a little heavy-handed with bronzing products (oops) but this brush helps me out by depositing a light wash of color; I can build the product in light layers and use the soft bristles to buff the bronzer into my base for a seamless finish.
Morphe M518 Crease Fluff Brush
Between the Real Techniques shade + blend duo and this fluffy crease brush that’s just $7 at Ulta, I have everything I need for everyday eye looks. One of my favorite tricks with this brush is to buff my powder bronzer into my crease and along my lower lash-line for quick and easy definition on minimal makeup days.
Morphe M510 Pro Round Blender Brush
This is the perfect brush to use with powder highlight products: it’s super soft and fluffy, and just the right size to highlight the tops of the cheekbones, temples, center of the nose and brow bone without depositing too much product.
e.l.f. Beautifully Precise Airbrush Stipple
I use this small dual-fiber brush exclusively for blending out cream blushes and highlighters.
Real Techniques Miracle Beauty Sponge
I actually prefer this soft sponge to its rival beautyblender for applying liquid and cream products, and you can get a pack of four of the Real Techniques sponges on Amazon for less than the price of one of the latter. I love the flat side of the Real Techniques sponge, which makes it easy to swipe on product and get around the contours of the face. You can dampen the sponge for a sheer/dewy finish, or use it dry for more coverage. (Hygiene tip: I clean mine regularly with the beautyblender solid cleanser and replace the sponge every 2-3 months.)