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BEAUTY LESSONS:

THE
EVERYTHING
GUIDE TO
EYE MAKEUP
BRUSHES

From fan to contour and blending brushes, five tools you need in your eye makeup repertoire—and how to wield each one with aplomb.


Written by FIORELLA VALDESOLO

Photography by DREW ESCRIVA

For many of us, learning the language of brushes—with the endless options out there (in endless shapes, sizes, and materials)—can feel, understandably, like a herculean task. What does one do with fan brush, let alone a mini fan brush? And why do I even need a brush when I see makeup artists nimbly using their fingers as application and blending tools? Short answer: There are certain instances where a brush is simply the better choice. “For very precise applications such as eyeliner or anything with defined edges, brushes will be your best friend,” says Chanel US celebrity makeup artist Tyron Machhausen. To cultivate our brush fluency, we consulted with a few top artists for a primer. Here, the five fundamental brushes to help you master any eye look.

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Two vastly different brush ends—one smaller and firmer, the other soft and larger—means that looks like, say, a classic smoky eye, can be achieved with one tool. “I use the smaller end for delicate highlighting work in the inner corner of the eye (or even the cupid’s bow of the lip), and the larger tip to create a soft, smoky effect with shadow or for diffusing and smudging liner,” says Machhausen. Meanwhile, makeup artist Nick Barose likes being able to switch quickly, with the flick of a wrist, between colors and textures when working on celebrity clients like Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Amandla Stenberg, and Rachel Weisz. “Sometimes I use one side for liquid shadow and the other for powder,” says Barose.

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Its bullet-like design is the ideal shape and size for blending, insists Machhausen. “I use it for blending shadow in the eye crease and it perfectly blurs the edges of any shadow for a soft-focus effect,” he says. The brush is an essential tool for smoothing color transitions. “When using a few colors to define eyes it’s all about creating seamless illusions, and though you’re using darker and lighter colors to define and build dimension, you shouldn’t see where one color begins and another ends,” explains Barose. “I’d use another brush to deposit color and get the shapes I want, and then blend with this.” 

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Dempsey’s makeup credo is decidedly lo-fi, as evidenced by the fact that, for her eponymous beauty line, she only designed one brush (softly fan-shaped and cornerless) to serve many purposes, from crafting a cut crease to building a monochromatic lid. Machhausen embraces its multi-functionality: “I would use it for applying both cream and pressed eye shadows as well as highlighting, and the rounded edges are great for blending.”

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The slender brush with stiff angled pony hair bristles does double duty for both brow detailing—“the bristles are great to mimic single brow hairs,” says Machhausen—and very defined eyeliner looks. “Eyebrow brushes that are super firm and pointed let you get very precise with cream or powder eyeliner,” adds makeup artist Tina Turnbow.

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With rounded edges and a broad tip, the brush plays well with all powder eye shadows. And it will prove indispensable for any throwback eye vibe, says Turnbow. “The brush’s hooded silhouette is great for mimicking ’60s mod eye looks applied both wide or skinny in the crease,” she explains.