Start Right: 5 Essential Eyeshadow Brushes to Kick Off Your Brush Collection

Best essential eyeshadow brushes

Let me tell you a secret: When I first started my eyeshadow brush collection, I had no idea what I was doing.

How many brushes did I need? Which brushes should I buy? Will it be worth the money?

Quite frankly, I was intimidated. The sheer number of makeup brushes on the market – each designed for a specific purpose – didn’t make it any easier either. So what did I do? I bought the cheapest makeup brush kit I could find.

Big mistake.

Not only were the brushes difficult to use, but they kept falling apart!

It was later when I realized quality does matter. A quality eyeshadow brush can make or break your look. And those little sponge applicators? You know, the ones usually packaged in eyeshadow palettes and compacts alongside mini brushes that scratch more than they pick up eyeshadow.

Those sponge applicators just don’t cut it.

Maybe you can relate. If you’ve ever been overwhelmed by the number and variety of eyeshadow brushes on the market, keep on reading.

Because you’re about to learn exactly which essential eyeshadow brushes you need to jump start your very own brush collection and how to use them to transform your look from dull to fabulous. No more second guessing which eyeshadow brush to use when – or even if you’re using the right brush correctly!

You Don’t Have to Buy Every Brush on the Shelf

For a makeup beginner, brush variety isn’t always better.

Sure, you want great-quality makeup brushes (can’t look polished without them, right?). But sometimes, too much of a good thing can confuse the heck out of you.

From sharp-pointed bristles to dome-shaped heads, makeup brushes come in a chaotic mix of shapes and sizes. Never mind choosing between natural and synthetic hair (that’s a topic for another article).

So how do you find the best essential eyeshadow brushes to glam up your look, right now?

A Brush for Every Need: 5 Essential Eyeshadow Brushes Every Girl Should Consider

Building your first eyeshadow brush collection shouldn’t be expensive. You don’t need that fancy makeup brush kit to start with. For now, focus on just essential eyeshadow brushes.

We’ll skip technique-specific brushes (like that bent eyeliner brush, angled shadow brush, or even flat-tipped liner brush). Instead, let’s examine only the essential eyeshadow brushes you need to create sophisticated day and nighttime looks.

Sound good?

If you’re just dying to take your makeup application to the next level, you can always go back later and buy more advanced brushes when you need them. Or even pick up some of the same brushes in different lengths and sizes to make applying that eyeshadow just a little bit easier.

Keep in mind: we’re only going to focus on eyeshadow brushes! That is, brushes you’ll need to apply shadow from lash to brow. Yes, there are makeup brushes for the face and lips, but we’ll explore those in another guide.

Are you with me? Let’s get to it.

Below are my top five essential eyeshadow brushes. I also recommend quality brushes, from drugstore to high end, so you can choose the right eyeshadow brush for your budget.

#1: Eye Shader Brush

One of the most basic essential eyeshadow brushes you should have in your brush collection (and you’ll be using this one a lot!), the eye shader brush is designed for the entire lid.

Stiff densely-packed bristles hold a ton of shadow while a wide semi-circle edge conforms to the natural shape of your eyelid. Unlike square-shaped brush heads (that can leave behind harsh lines), the tapered end on this eye shader brush deposits smooth pigmented color.

Take your pick from either natural or synthetic bristles – both work well depending on the shadow you’re applying (choose natural fibers for powdered shadows and synthetic hair for cream).

Simply choose a base powder or cream eyeshadow color and use this brush to apply your shadow all over the lid. You’ll want to start from the inner corner of your eye (just above your tear duct) and work your way outwards.

How you use the eye shader brush determines how much eyeshadow you’ll apply. For great color payoff, evenly pat the eye shader brush over your entire eyelid (from lash line to brow). Or, for a softer everyday look, sweep the color onto your lids with quick gentle strokes.

This eye shader brush can also work double duty. Use the very tips of the bristles to apply color to the lower lash line.

#2: Eyeshadow Blending Brush

Define your crease, darken your outer corners, and put emphasis on your base shadow. You can’t create a seamless eye makeup look without this brush!

As the name suggests, the eyeshadow blending brush meets all of your color blending needs unlike other essential eyeshadow brushes – especially in the crease of your eye or simply when you just need a wash of color.

Featuring long bristles, the eyeshadow blending brush offers more control and precision in hard-to-reach areas of your crease. A fluffy dome-shaped brush head helps diffuse harsh pigment while tapered bristles blend away harsh lines for a smooth transition of color.

Choose natural hair over synthetic when working with powdered shadows. This eyeshadow blending brush is great for smokey eyes too!

Pick a contour eyeshadow (that’s darker than your base color) and use this brush to dust shadow across the crease of your eye, starting from your outer corner.

Change your technique depending on whether you’re adding color or blending. Darken your crease by swiping the brush back and forth (like a windshield wiper). Or, blend away harsh lines with circular motions, concentrating color on the outer corner of your eye.

#3: Angled Liner Brush

You’ll want this brush for a flawless cat eye. The angled liner brush creates sharp fine lines with powder eyeshadow or gel liner. So you can comfortably line lashes or fill in brows without an eyeliner pencil or liquid liner.

The angled liner brush adds polish to carefully applied eye makeup, whether it’s a normal day in the office or a fun evening out. Short firm bristles offer more control than longer-haired essential eyeshadow brushes, so you can create clean defined lines, while an angled flat edge packs pigment close to the lash line.

Opt for synthetic bristles, especially if you frequently use gel liner. Synthetic bristles are stiffer than natural hair for more precise brush strokes.

Use this angled liner brush wet or dry.

Just sweep the bristles across your top or bottom lash line, angling the longer end toward your tear duct and gliding the brush across to the outer corner of your eye. Or, fill in your brows with short quick strokes, following the direction of your brow hair.

#4: Pencil Brush

Whether you’re brightening the inner corners, darkening the crease, or smudging out eyeliner, the pencil brush is a versatile tool for precise detailed shading.

Stiff densely-packed bristles pick up a ton of pigment while a pointed tip helps you target small hard-to-reach areas, placing shadow exactly where you need it. This multitasking brush also features a soft tapered brush head, ideal for softening harsh lines and smudging eyeliner. Smokey eyes, anyone?

Try natural bristles for easy blending.

With so many uses, the pencil brush is my go-to for creating both dramatic and everyday looks.

Use this brush to press shimmery shadow next to the tear duct or place concentrated color on the outer-v. You can also drag eyeshadow right below the waterline or run the bristles over eyeliner to soften the look. Even blend color along the crease with soft circular strokes.

#5: Smudge Brush

If you enjoy a sultry smokey eye, you’ll love the smudge brush! As the name indicates, this is one of the best essential eyeshadow brushes for smudging.

Featuring short stiff bristles and a thick brush head, the smudge brush holds a lot of shadow and is designed to fit right against the lash line. Its slightly rounded edge and tapered end also easily smudges eyeliner for a soft smokey effect.

Just brush the tips of the bristles over pencil liner to smudge out color or apply shadow directly against the roots of your lower lashes, facing the edge towards your eye.

If you can’t fit every brush into your budget, no worries! Even a couple essential eyeshadow brushes can help your eye makeup look that much more professional. You might even consider purchasing an eyeshadow brush kit (see below) – much more affordable than buying each brush separately!

Quality Meets Affordable: The Real Techniques Starter Set

You can purchase all of the essential eyeshadow brushes in this guide individually. But sometimes it’s better to practice your technique with an eyeshadow brush kit – especially if you’re just starting out. Not only will you save a bit of money, but you’ll get a feel for the brushes you like.

That way, you can prioritize what to buy next when you’re ready to look into higher quality brushes.

My favorite beginner brush kit is the Real Techniques Starter Set. It comes packaged with all of the basic essential eyeshadow brushes you need to create almost any eye makeup look:

  • Base shadow brush for all-over lid color
  • Crease blending brush for contouring the eye and blending
  • Accent brush for detailing, shading the lower lash line, highlighting the inner corners, and smudging
  • Fine liner brush for precision application of liquid or cream eyeliner
  • Angled brow brush for defining and filling in the eyebrow

For a cheap brush set, I’ve found the Real Techniques Starter Set holds up pretty well.

Essential eyeshadow brushes in this kit are made with soft cruelty-free synthetic taklon fibers, hand cut with labeled rubberized handles (so you know exactly what you’re reaching for). The kit even comes with a brush holder (that can also serve as a stand) – very convenient for travel.

After cleaning, I love to let my brushes dry overnight in the brush holder. Just make sure the holder is sitting flat against a surface (not standing up). You certainly don’t want to ruin your brushes by letting water soak into the handles.

So, you’ve picked up a couple brushes – even given them a test drive. But how can you ensure they stay in the same condition you bought them in?

Keep Essential Eyeshadow Brushes in Tip-Top Shape

No matter the brush you buy, make sure you’re buying quality. You don’t want essential eyeshadow brushes falling apart during a wash, now do you?

We’ve already listed some good-quality brushes in this guide (scroll up if you need a refresher). Not only will buying quality brushes save you money, but you’ll get more professional results. Best of all, a quality brush can last years if you take good care of it.

Make essential eyeshadow brushes last longer by following these tips:

  • Clean your makeup brushes regularly. Brushes can quickly build up with bacteria if you’re not too careful – causing embarrassing breakouts just waiting to happen (not to mention dirty eye makeup)! I recommend washing eyeshadow brushes at least once per week with a gentle brush cleaner or antibacterial liquid soap.
  • Never soak the brush handles. You don’t want to loosen the glue that holds your brush bristles in place. Instead, remove lingering makeup by dipping your brush into warm soapy water and swirling the brush head against a brush cleaning mat (a white plate or the back of your hand works too). After you’ve lathered them up, place the bristles under running water and let your brush air dry.
  • Give essential eyeshadow brushes a deep clean. If simple soap won’t cut it, consider a drop of shampoo. I find a good gentle shampoo cleans makeup brushes very well. Make sure to thoroughly rinse! Try this once a month.

When you’re all done cleaning, leave your brushes overnight to air dry – preferably flat on a towel. Never sit your brushes upright when they’re wet or you might have a bad case of shedding on your hands later.

Which Essential Eyeshadow Brushes Are in Your Brush Collection?

Once you’ve completed your eyeshadow brush collection, you’re ready to move on to more advanced brushes. We’ve listed a lot of versatile brushes in this guide and, while they’re great for many uses, you can speed up makeup application with brushes designed for specific purposes.

We’ve already mentioned the bent eyeliner brush, angled shadow brush, and flat-tipped liner brush. But feel free to explore other brush options, depending on your makeup needs.

Which essential eyeshadow brushes do you currently use? Do you use some eyeshadow brushes more frequently than others? Share your brush recommendations in the comment section below!

Author: Christina Crowe

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