The right eyeshadow brush can go a long way for getting the coverage and finish desired in less time, and the key is identifying your own preferences, eye shape and size, and considering how varied (or not) the colors you reach for. I can easily go through 100 brushes in a week, as I tend to switch to new, clean brushes as I change colors or finishes (as I’m testing products), but I don’t expect that to be quite as necessary for most readers. I’ve found a lot of brushes I enjoy, so I’ve included the ones I reach for most often, even though there are a slew of additional brushes I keep within reach.
I would love to hear about the brushes you can’t live without for applying powder eyeshadow — share your picks in the comments! Stay tuned for my brush picks for cream eyeshadow, brows, and detail work, and then later, my top brushes for cheeks/face!
Applying Eyeshadow to the Lid
I prefer small-ish, dome-shaped brushes that are flatter but still have some density and spring to them, as I find that helps grab powder well to retain pigmentation onto the lid but helps pack and pat the color onto the lid. A fluffier, more dome-shaped edge can also double as a blending brush in a pinch and can also lay down color into the crease (using the edge to place the color). Flatter, stiffer brushes are better for applying denser, firmer eyeshadow formulas while ultra-soft brushes are better for more buildable application. It’s ideal to have a brush that’s soft enough not to feel pokey or sharp in the eye socket, but sometimes, “softest” doesn’t translate into “best” for a particular purpose.
Long-time readers will notice that a favorite of mine is absent–MAC’s 239–as it was discontinued and redone with synthetic bristles; I haven’t tried it and can’t say whether it’s better or worse, just that it’s definitely gone and I’ve tried to include only brushes that are permanently available.
Hakuhodo J242, Smith 253, Chikuhodo GSn-09, Zoeva 234, Hakuhodo J004, Smith 256, Hakuhodo S133
Hakuhodo J242 Eye Shadow Brush ($18.00) is a small, flat, lightly domed brush made with a mix of goat and synthetic fibers (this mix makes it particularly durable and useful for both powder and cream application) that I’ll reach for when I’m doing more complicated looks with more than three colors on my lid or for getting into the inner tearduct/corner.
Smith 253 Laydown Eyeshadow Brush Small ($22.00) is a small-to-medium sized brush with a tapered, pointed edge that makes applying color to the lid a cinch as the shape fits in well into the inner corner as well as the outer corner. I keep multiples of this one on hand, and it strikes a good balance in soft and functional that it’s the go-to for me when I want really rich, opaque coverage out of an eyeshadow, particularly if the eyeshadow formula is firmer/denser or not as pigmented on its own.
Chikuhodo GSN-09 Eyeshadow Brush ($25.00) is a small-to-medium, dome-shaped brush with a fluffy edge and is quite soft but still packs on color quite well. It can sometimes be a little too soft, which is when I use some of the other brushes mentioned in this post, but I own and use multiples of this one every week.
Zoeva 234 Luxe Smoky Shader ($11.50) is a small-to-medium, dome-shaped brush with light-to-moderate fluffiness at the edge and is dense enough to pack on color beautifully but has enough spring to blend out product, too. It is very similar to MAC’s 239 but less soft, and it is made out of a blend of natural and synthetic bristles. I tend to reach for these when I have a stiffer eyeshadow formula I’m working with.
Hakuhodo J004 Eye Shadow Brush ($20.00) is a lightly fluffed-up, dome-shaped brush with a flatter shape, but it has just enough spring and give to apply eyeshadow to the lid as well as to lightly blend edges or place color into the crease. I find it to be a real workhorse of a brush, and it’s a definite go-to in lieu of MAC’s 239 (the 239 has a little more fluff to it).
Smith 256 Laydown Eyeshadow Brush Large ($24.00) is a larger version of the 253, and I reach for the 256 when I’m working on a larger area or wanting to do a one or two-shae look (not often!). Between the two, I use the 253s more often for my application style.
Hakuhodo S133 Eye Shadow Brush ($35) has a subtle, dome-shaped edge with more tapered bristles as they go from the ferrule to the edge of the brush head. It is made out of squirrel hair, which makes it a more delicate (and very soft) brush and more ideal for applying sheer washes of color, blending and applying color above the crease or on the brow bone. Hakuhodo also has it available in horse hair ($20.00, which would have the same shape but more durable (and slightly rougher) bristles.
Applying & Blending Eyeshadow in the Crease
I love a good crease brush! There are so many to choose from that I think one really has to consider how they apply color into their crease. If you tend to go for a more defined crease, looking for a tapered crease brush that comes to a more noticeable point (rather than one that is wider, fluffier, or rounded) that is smaller rather than larger will be your best bet. If you want a really diffused, blown out crease color, a fluffier, more rounded crease brush will get the job done. I warn those new to crease brushes to carefully consider the size of their crease and the brush you have your eye on. Too small can result in very precise color application that requires a lot of blending but too large can mean color that nearly goes up to the brow bone too quickly!
Wayne Goss 19, Hakuhodo J146, Wayne Goss 17, Hakuhodo J142, Wayne Goss 16, Hakuhodo G5522
Wayne Goss Brush 19 ($23.00) is a smaller, tapered crease brush with a soft, rounded edge that works well for depositing more intense color into the deep crease for depth but applying it without being overly sharp/precise so that blending doesn’t take eons after! (You can’t go wrong with picking Wayne Goss crease brushes, though; they have a good range of sizes.)
Hakuhodo J146 Eye Shadow Brush ($18.00) is a small-to-medium-sized crease brush with a tapered edge that comes to a bit more of a point than the J142. I like it most for applying color into my deeper crease after a transition shade.
Wayne Goss Brush 17 ($28.00) is a medium, tapered crease brush wit a softly, rounded edge that’s slightly longer and holds its shape quite well. I use this for applying color into the crease and blending it out afterward.
Hakuhodo J142 Eye Shadow Brush ($19.00) is a medium crease brush with a rounded, tapered edge that is a workhorse of a crease brush; it’s great for getting depth out of an eyeshadow look as it fits well into my crease, but it has a lovely, tapered edge that blends color out beautifully.
Wayne Goss Brush 16 ($30.00) is a large, tapered crease brush with a subtly rounded edge–a good balance of round and pointed–that works well for more diffused crease color application and for blending out eyeshadow in the socket and just above the crease.
Hakuhodo G5522 ($30.00) (Apparently, I have two versions; it is also available in the J-series, for $20.)
The typical blending brush was made famous by MAC’s 217 brush (which is now discontinued and has been redone as fully synthetic but the shape did change a bit). I haven’t had any 217s in my go-tos for awhile, as other brands put out better-quality versions that are softer and diffuse color more reliably (like Wayne Goss and Hakuhodo, listed below). Newer to the game is Smith’s 220, which I love using for blending crease color into above the crease/brow bone territory. The goal for a blending brush is to be medium in size with less densely-packed bristles and a lot of fluffiness along the edges, which helps to spread and diffuse color without lifting it completely. I use these often enough, but I regularly use crease brushes for the same purpose (even applying and blending out color on my brow bone).
Smith 220, Sonia G. Worker One, Hakuhodo J5523, Hakuhodo S5523, Wayne Goss 18
Smith 220 Eyeshadow Finishing Brush ($24.00) works well for diffusing and pulling color outward from an area with greater precision than traditional, fluffy blending brushes (which follow on this list). It’s incredibly soft but has enough texture to blend out powders well.
Sonia G. Worker One Brush ($36.00) is a very dense, rounded brush that’s almost like an ultra, mini-sized buffing brush (think a buffing brush for face but for eyes). This is very new to my favorites, but I’ve been reaching for it often enough since receiving it that I know it’ll be staying in my go-tos. I use it primarily for diffusing crease colors into transition shades but also for the outer edge to get a really blown out gradient of color from my outer corner to just past my outer lash line.
Hakuhodo J5523 Eye Shadow Brush ($19.00) is a medium, fluffy brush with a rounded edge and light-to-moderate density so it has a fair amount of give and works well for blending and diffusing eyeshadow on the eye. I also like using it to apply brow bone colors or dusting away product underneath my eyes.
Hakuhodo S5523 Eye Shadow Brush ($24.00) is very similar in shape to the J5523, but it is a mix of goat and horse hair, which gives it more density and less fluffiness overall (and it appears smaller than the J-version over time as the J-version fluffs up a bit more). I really like using this one for less blendable crease colors that need a little extra effort but I don’t want to use a rougher brush to do so. This one also is usable with cream and liquid products.
Wayne Goss Brush 18 ($27.00) is a medium, fluffy brush with a domed edge that is in the vein of Hakuhodo’s -5523s and the previous, cult-fave MAC’s 217. I use it interchangeably with the J5523: for blending and diffusing eyeshadows, crease colors, and for applying color to my brow bone.
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