The 8 makeup brushes you actually need and how to use them

A makeup artists makes her ultimate brush set and shares her pro tips

A makeup artists makes her ultimate brush set and shares her pro tips

I've been a professional makeup artist for the past 9 years and found I always reach for the same brushes when doing makeup on my clients — and myself. Also, the question I'm asked most is, "What brushes do you use?" hence this list of the makeup brushes you actually need and why. If you have these brushes, you can achieve any makeup look you want, and if I were to make the perfect brush set, this would be it. I love these brushes so much that I have triples in my kit because they work so well! Gone are the days of buying a brush set only to use one or two brushes and never touch the rest, promise.

Powder brush

First things first, you're going to need a powder brush — powder is key to setting your foundation. Plus this brush can help to help blend out blush and contour. To set your foundation, lightly dust some powder all over the face. To blend out any blush or contour simply swirl the brush around in circular motions until the desired effect is reached.

realtechniques.com, $12.82

Blush brush

Even if you use foundation to cancel out or cover redness, you still need to add a little colour to the apples of your cheeks to prevent yourself from being washed out. When I reach for blush brushes I've noticed I always go with this one over my fluffier blush brushes because it really allows me to deposit a good amount of colour where I want, and it's still fluffy enough to blend it out. Don't be afraid of it being an angled brush, that makes it even easier to work; this brush hugs the angles of your cheek. Just make sure you have the shortest bristles on the centre of your cheek, where your cheekbone juts out the highest and have the longer bristles furthest away from the centre of your cheekbone. Use a sweeping and tapping motion when applying blush with this brush. Keep in mind that the bigger the brush is, the more dispersed your powder/colour will be, which is why I don't recommend using your all over powder brush (mentioned above) for blush; the denser a brush the more concentrated your colour will be.

bdelliumtools.com, $18

Contour & highlight brush

This brush is great for contouring and highlighting, both of which can really emphasize your features be it your cheekbones, jawline or nose. On the flip side, it can also help minimize or re-shape features. This is my favourite contour brush because it's fluffy yet still dense enough to give you the colour payoff and blends out colour really well. Its slight dome shape is my favourite shape for blending. To contour, dip the brush in a shade a few shades deeper than your natural skin tone. Tap it out to get rid of any excess powder (it's best to start out lighter and build up to the amount you want) and then sweep the brush on the area you want to have recede, using little round circular motions to blend out. Contour under the jawline and under the cheekbones for definition. To use highlighter make sure your brush is clean (wipe off all of the colour from the brush onto a paper towel) and dip the brush into the highlighter colour and sweep it over the area you want to pull focus to, like the top of the cheekbones.

maccosmetics.ca, $42

Here I used my Bdellium Tools #962 Angled Blusher blush brush, and my MAC #109 contour/highlight brush to achieve this glowy contoured cheek effect.

Flat dense eyeshadow brush

It's good to have at least one dense eye shadow brush for when you want a heavy application of colour on a certain area. It can also create more dimension, even when you're only using one eyeshadow colour because it can be used to make the colour appear deeper in a particular area. I love this eye shadow brush for depositing a good amount of colour onto the lid and under the waterline. I even use it for highlighting under the brow and in the inner corners of the eye. When using this brush you should use two different techniques depending on the area you're using it on. On the lid, pat and drag the colour across with the flat side of the brush, and for highlighting, or under the eye, use the tip of the brush to sweep the colour across.

maccosmetics.ca, $30

Fluffy blending eyeshadow brush

A blending eyeshadow brush is the most important eye shadow brush to have because you can do so much with it! Blending is the most important thing when it comes to makeup: it's basically like using a super cute Snapchat filter for your face. It softens everything up and blurs everything out. This brush blends eye shadow colour  flawlessly and it's dense enough that you can build colour by layering. To blend with this use it the same way you would use your powder and contour brush. Since it's slightly dome shaped and fluffy just swirl the colour in little circles and then back and forth like a windshield wiper. Use the windshield wiper motion when blending out under the eye, and both techniques when blending out your lid into the crease. Pro tip: When you're adding colour to an area with this or any brush, place the colour on the area you want to be the darkest first, then blend out to create a gradient effect.

maccosmetics.ca, $30

To achieve a soft smoky eye look like Megan Fox, you can use the MAC #239 eye shadow brush to sweep highlighter under the brow, to pack the colour onto the lid focussing on the outer corner and sweep it under the eye. Then you can use the MAC #217 fluffy blending brush to blend out the colour from the lid into the crease and under the eye so there aren't any harsh lines.

Flat angle eyeliner brush

You need a flat angled liner brush is perfect for  liner, of course, but you can even use this brush for your brows because it will give you the most precise line and you're going to want that for any detail work. This is my favourite angle brush because it keeps its shape so well and it's super easy to work with. It's flat, dense, angled and synthetic which makes it ideal for winged liners and other liners. It's best to use synthetic brushes for creams and gel liners because the brush doesn't absorb the product like a natural hair brush would. Creams and gels can also damage natural brush hairs so stick to synthetic brushes for your creams and gels, but you can use this brush with any product; it's also great for creating a softer liner with a shadow. Use it dry or wet with shadow depending on how bold and how pigmented you want the liner to be. Using a dry liner brush with a dry shadow is going to create a softer liner look, while using a wet liner brush is going to create a bolder more pigmented and precise liner look. This brush is shaped just like the angled blush brush so it's going to fit the shape of your eye, which is basically a dome. You're going to start by keeping the longest side towards the inner corner of your eye and flip it when it hits about half way and start it at the outer corner of your eye and drag it to the centre. That way it will hug the shape of your eye best. Use a press and sweep technique to apply liner. By doing this you're basically dragging the colour from the outside in.

maccosmetics.ca, $24

To achieve a classic bold liner like Adele you can use the MAC #263 angle liner brush with either a wet shadow or a gel liner. You can create a softer version of this look by using just shadow with a dry brush. For an even lighter version of this you could "tightline" with shadow, which basically means getting as close as possible to the lash line and creating a super thin and natural looking liner. Press and drag from the outer corner to the centre, on both sides. Doing a tightline adds definition and makes your lashes look fuller, but it's not a bold liner look.

Dual-sided flat angled brow brush

You can use your MAC #263 angle liner brush to do your brows, but I actually prefer this brush for brows. It's even more stiff and dense, which really allows you to have the most control when creating little hair strokes and defining the shape of your brow. I also love that this brush is dual sided with a mascara spool on the end that you can use to comb out your brows to keep them looking natural. To use this brush first comb your brow hairs up and out, and then add a little bit of tinted brow gel to the flat liner brush. Use the tiniest amount of product to flick little brush hair shapes up and out, following your natural brow hairs. When you get to the arch and outer corner of your brow, brush the hairs down and then use that same flicking technique to follow your natural brow hairs to fill in and define the shape of your brow even more. After you've created the shape you're happy with, lightly comb your brush hairs up and out. Add a little brow gel to keep everything in place and you're good to go!

Sephora.ca, $23

Lip brush

Although a lip brush isn't as essential as all of the other brushes on this list, lip brushes can help you achieve a bold lip or blend out lip colours that have two different shades, like an ombre lip. They're also amazing to use as a concealer brush for around the mouth — when you're wearing a bold lip you always want to have a clean edge so that it looks polished and not sloppy. You might be thinking, "Hey Kristina, why can't I just use my MAC #263 angle liner brush to help clean up the edges?" You could, but I find this brush is a lot easier to use when cleaning up edges, with its flat, rounded edge. To use this brush to clean up your edges with concealer, pat it in concealer, wipe off the excess, then place the brush flat to the skin and drag it in the shape you want.

bdelliumtools.com, $8

For a bold red lip look like the Bachelorette's Kaitlyn Bristowe's you can use the Bdellium Tools #542 Bold Lip Brush. Use the lip brush to put the lipstick on your lips and to clean up the edges with a concealer. When wearing a bold lip it's always important to make sure the edges are clean. Also, to achieve a defined brow like Kaitlyn Bristowe's and all the other looks seen above, you can use the Anastasia Beverly Hills #14 brush with a brow gel or powder.


Kristina Johnston is a Toronto based professional makeup artist, actor, and beauty writer. She started doing makeup in 2009 while on a short film set during her time studying at York University for Film. She later completed the complete make-up artistry program at CMU College of Makeup Art and Design in 2012, which included Hair, Fashion, Bridal, Theatre, Film, TV, Prosthetics, and Creature design. After CMU College of Makeup Art and Design, she then worked as a Certified Makeup Artist for Sephora and MAC Cosmetics where she perfected her skills in beauty and  bridal makeup. Kristina currently works as a Freelance Makeup Artist and Actor focusing primarily in Film & TV in Toronto, Canada. She has also written for xojane.com and xovain.com as a Beauty Contributor.