Coming from a makeup artistry background I am biased to being a major brush fan and wanting to have options. Having done countless one-on-one lessons with women I can tell you that most ladies are skimping on the brush front. They'll drop $50 for a foundation that will last for a year, but balk at spending the same on a brush that will last them years. YEARS. Can you tell I have feelings?
Good brushes allow you to apply your makeup effectively and honestly helps your makeup stay on longer. Oils from your fingers break down makeup and I'm not even going to talk about having to work literal magic to get that little sponge tip applicator to do anything other than make your eyeshadow look like a stripe. Same goes for the teeny blush brush that may come with your blush. And if you're feeling some pride in the fact that you make those tools work (some of which are really meant to be single use) then IMAGINE WHAT YOU COULD DO WITH A BRUSH!
A sidenote on sponges for the face - you need to wash them after every use and, best case scenario, they're going to last you a month. They also can harbor bacteria over time and the amount you'll go through puts me on the brush path for sustainability points too. Scroll to the bottom for how to wash your brushes.
So assuming you're on board, let's talk hair - you can either do natural or synthetic. Natural is the umbrella that sable (which is actually an animal called a sable), badger, squirrel, goat, pony, or weasel (which is a less cool sable), amongst a few others, fall under. These are getting harder and harder to find as cruelty-free brands are switching to vegan synthetic fibers. Synthetic brushes are cruelty-free as they don't entail harvesting any fibers from animals and are known for being super soft. They also don't aggravate sensitive skin nor do they absorb your products the way natural brush fibers do. As a result we use synthetic for all of our brushes.
If you're wanting a perfect brush kit here's what mine contains (all of these recs use vegan synthetic fibers):
The first generation of these were large and flat but the next generation allows you to buff product in and that's my favorite - it gives a more airbrushed appearance to your foundation/tinted moisturizer and can also double as a cream blush brush. I love our Foundation Brush as it's got the perfect shape for the most seamless finish.
I found I was always reaching for two brushes - one to apply under the eye/on a blemish where I wanted more concentrated coverage and then another to blend out other areas on the face where I wanted a more sheer wash of coverage. As a result I combined those two into one with our Double Concealer Brush and she is perfection!
I feel like Goldilocks with most powder brushes - some are too full, some are too stiff, some are too scratchy - and so when I designed our Powder Brush it needed to be just right. It's the perfect amount of fluff and it has a secret weapon - it's tapered.
I always used to squeeze powder brushes to make them thinner when I would go under the eyes to set concealer or pat in powder around the nose OR grab another, smaller, brush. Because the head is a little "pointy" you can get right in those places without messing your makeup up and it works beautifully for the rest of your face too! You can use it with loose or pressed powders for the face or bronzers.
I like something a little smaller than a powder brush for cheeks since the area of the face we're covering is smaller. I like the density of the Sephora Pro Blush Brush #99 for this - it picks up a good amount of color and has a good shape for apples or contoured temples.
Let's get clear here - one brush is not going to cut it unless you're just going to use one color of eyeshadow. You need at least two. One to apply your all over the lid shade, one to apply your contour (darker shade) and then ideally a third to blend them. You can get away with using the all-over lid shade as your blender if you're wanting to go super minimal but that's it. Once a brush has a deeper pigment in it it's hard to get it out without washing the brush - another reason to have more than one.
I find I am using a second Double Concealer Brush as it has the perfect two sided situation I need but if you're wanting separate brushes I like the Hourglass All-Over Eyeshadow Brush for your all over shade and the Ilia Blending Brush for contouring
You want soft, you want skinny and you want a brush that will hold its shape as this is the brush you reach for for tightlining, cat eyes, wings and more. I designed our Eyeliner Brush to allow for super thin lines along your lashes and hold its shape as long as possible. This genre of brush does have the shortest shelf life as a concept, meaning it has to get replaced most often. The reason being it has to do tight lines and so, with time the bristles start to fray and open up a bit. That's when I transition these brushes to brow brushes.
If you want to have a highlighter/contour brush I'm honestly reaching for my Double Concealer and Foundation Brushes for those areas - I just have doubles/triples of each brush and it makes it easy and everything looks the same which I also like.
How do you clean them? Here's a quick how-to on how to clean your makeup brushes: