Which Brush Shape Should You (Really) Use for Foundation?
Main image – Golubovy/Adobe
When it comes to achieving that perfect foundation application, I’ll let you in on a secret – as well as getting the right shade and formula, the trick is mainly in the tools. It’s virtually impossible to achieve a flawless finish without using some form of brush (or sponge) designed for the task.
But with drugstore aisles and beauty counters all packed to the brim with brush options, choosing which shape and type you should be using can feel like a Sisyphean task.
If you’re at your wits end trying to work out which tool (of the multitude on offer) you should be using for your foundation, I’ve been right there with you.
That’s why we’ve reached out to makeup artists and brand managers for the inside scoop on the different styles of foundation brushes, what each is best used for, plus all the tips and tricks you need to achieve a seamless application, every time.
Which brush should you use for foundation?
Unfortunately, there’s not just one answer to this specific question. On the plus side though, the lack of hard and fast rules here also means it’s unlikely you’re going to go too far wrong, whichever brush you choose.
Essentially though, the shape and type of brush you use will depend on the look you’re trying to achieve.
As Sofia Alfano, Brand Manager at Real Techniques, puts it, “Whichever coverage you would like to achieve is dependent on the type of brush you use.”
However, there are some characteristics to look out for when shopping for foundation brushes across the board.
Azesha Ramcharan, a freelance makeup artist whose clients include The Juilliard School, explains, “Foundation brushes tend to be larger and wider than other makeup brushes. They will generally cover more surface area.”
She adds, “Foundation brushes can be made from both natural and synthetic fibres. Synthetic brushes will absorb less makeup resulting in less product waste.”
The different types of foundation brushes (and the formulas to use them with)
Ok, so we know we’re looking for a tool that’s on the larger side. What else determines the type of brush you choose for foundation?
Broadly speaking, there are three different types of foundation tool.
Azesha points out two main foundation brush categories. “Foundation brushes can be flat and filbert shaped [rounded tipped brushes] or they can be a round, buffing, or kabuki style.”
Alongside these flat brushes and kabuki-style brushes, there’s also the third option – the foundation sponge.
Your choice of foundation tool depends broadly on the amount of coverage you wish to achieve.
As Sofia says, “Tapered bristles provide maximum product pick-up and lay-down for a fuller coverage, while dense, domed bristles buff liquids and cream foundations.”
If you tend to use a powder foundation, you’ll want something a little less dense, too. “Fluffy foundation brushes or a kabuki brush are better for powder foundations so you can press the foundation onto your skin.”
A damp makeup sponge is the best option for anyone looking for more of a sheer, dewy coverage. This type of application is perfect for anyone who likes the more natural look of a tinted moisturiser or BB cream.
Does it *really* matter which brush you use for foundation?
While the type of foundation brush can affect the finish of your makeup, it’s really all about personal preference.
If you have a brush or sponge that really works for you, don’t feel the need to change things up just to follow some arbitrary makeup mandate.
Sofia agrees, adding, “Makeup tools have no rules, the key is finding the right tool that works for you.”
Can you use the same brush for foundation, concealer and powder?
You can use the same style of brush for foundation, concealer, and powder – and even cream blush or bronzer, too. However, you do want to keep your foundation brush separate from your other makeup brushes.
Azesha advises, “You want to use your foundation brush for applying foundation only. For instance, you don’t want to use your foundation brush in a liquid or cream and then use that same brush to apply your powder.”
Keeping your foundation brush separate from your concealer brush and your powder brush is essential to avoid products becoming mixed up in their application. If you use one brush for all of your base products, it’ll get clogged up with product very quickly, and its ability to offer seamless blending will be compromised.
The best foundation brushes
Although flat, filbert-style foundation brushes are less popular nowadays, they can still provide a useful service in your makeup bag. If you need to build high coverage in one particular area, a flat brush is the perfect way to do it quickly and flawlessly.
Sofia agrees, adding, “Smaller brush heads are better to use around the nose and under your eyes for a more precise application.” If you’re looking for a flat foundation brush, we’ve found the 117 Foundation Brush from Vieve (£27 / $26) is top quality and easy to use.
When it comes to a buffing or kabuki-style brush, Sofia recommends Real Techniques. “For a fuller coverage, it’s best to use denser, shorter bristles to really buff the foundation onto the skin in circular motions. The Real Techniques® Expert Face Brush (£7.49 / $9.99) is fantastic for applying foundation because of the domed shape head.”
The Sigma F80 Flat Kabuki (£20.60 / $27) is another of our favourites and is a great buffing brush option for anyone who prefers a flat, rather than domed, top.
In terms of sponges, it’s hard to deny that the original Beauty Blender (£17 / $20) is a fantastic choice. You dampen this sponge with water, making it surprisingly bouncy and soft (and easy to apply product with). The slight dampness can also help to sheer out your foundation for a more natural finish as you tap the product into the skin.
However, the Beauty Blender is rather pricey, and sponges need to be replaced fairly often to ensure they stay hygienic.
If you’re looking for a budget sponge to tide you over until payday, Real Techniques has you covered. Sofia confirms, “If you are after a dewy coverage, the iconic Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge® (£6.99 / $6.59) is the one to use.”
When trying to choose your perfect foundation brush, you need to consider both the application style you like, and the finished makeup look you’re going for.
If you want full coverage, a flat Filbert-style foundation brush may be your best option. If you like medium coverage, a flat kabuki-style brush will offer the finish you need.
If you prefer to use powder foundation, you’ll need to opt for a fluffier style of buffing brush. And if you like a dewy, natural finish, a damp makeup sponge could be the best way to achieve it.
When shopping for a foundation brush, you should consider the type of product you typically wear. But you should also bear in mind what foundation application you find easiest or enjoy the most.
The styles of foundation brush offered here are simply guidelines – you can experiment yourself to find what best works for you, individually.
It can also be useful to have a selection of foundation application tools in your makeup arsenal. Very few of us wear exactly the same style of makeup every day, so having different foundation brushes and sponges on hand can ensure you can create your perfect base depending on the day. Plus, as a bonus, having more brushes means you have to wash them less!
Meet the experts
Azesha Ramcharan is a makeup artist based in NY’s Hudson Valley region. Clients have included NBC, The Juilliard School, Hessel Museum of Art, Craftsy, VOZ, and Kate McCleod.
Sofia Alfano is the EMEA Brand Manager for Real Techniques based in their London office. Sofia has worked with Real Techniques for 5 years and works on global award winning product launches. A trained Makeup Artist, she lives and breathes everything beauty.