Makeup Fridays: Cruelty-Free Brush Guide

If you plan on wearing makeup, your first step is to pick out some brushes. You can check my Makeup Tool Dictionary to see a list of all the existing brush options out there. But this guide will focus on what I prefer to use–synthetic brushes, which are cruelty-free–and include some of my fave, cheap options you can find.

Disclaimer: This guide is based on my preferred tools to apply face makeup. If you use any links here, I won’t make money. They just redirect you to sites where you can learn more about the products. 

0) Primer

I don’t use a brush for primer. Generally, you don’t need one. You can apply with your hands, and this will help warm the product and sink it into your skin.


The first brush you will need is one to apply your base, be it foundation/CC cream/BB cream/etc. If you’re applying a liquid product, I prefer to use a makeup sponge over a synthetic brush because sponges blend product well and keep liquids from becoming too cakey. If you like to use a powder base, then a brush is a better choice.

  • The Original Beauty Blender (pink): I prefer the Beauty Blender sponge over others because I do think it is softer. But any sponge will work! Did you know most of the Beauty Blender colours are for different uses? Black is supposed to be for bronzers, and white for moisturizers.
  • NYX Pro Dual Fiber Foundation Brush or Colourpop Duo Fiber Face Brush: If you’re going to use a brush, find one that is more densely packed. I’ll refrain from anymore advice, because I don’t use much powder foundation (and when I do, I usually use the tiny powder puff that comes with the compact!)

2) Bronzer

You want to brush bronzer lightly all over the face (or center it around the forehead and cheeks). For this you’ll want a brush that is not too packed, with a wider end and tapered bristles.

3) Contour

With contouring you want to be precise in your application, so a brush needs to be more densely packed with a tapered end. You will probably not want a fluffy brush, because this means your contour will be all over the place.

  • E.L.F. Angled Blush Brush: Yes, a blush brush, but I love using this for my contour. I pat the product on, instead of brushing, and the angled shape of the brush means I can apply product more heavily along my cheekbones and only skim the area below.
  • N.Y.X. Pro Multi-Purpose Buffing Brush: I know these brushes don’t even say “contour” in the title but I promise they’re good! This one is well-packed and will keep your contour product right where you want it to go. Picks up a lot of product though, so be sure to keep an eye on that!

4) Blush

I’m personally between blush brushes right now. I like a big brush so I can sweep on the product with a real light hand (I’m not a fan of a heavy blush). For blush, I recommend picking something very close to a face brush: wide-ended with loosely-packed bristles. This ensures the product will spread lightly and you don’t end up with five-alarm cheeks. (My own blush dilemma comes because I want a smaller, but still widespread brush, and I can’t find the right one at the moment.)

  • E.L.F. Studio Complexion Brush: This brush has the wide-end I’m talking about. I’ve been using it for the past four or five months and it applies my blush perfectly… I just want something maybe a tiny bit smaller?

5) Highlight

Traditionally, the fan brush is billed as the brush for highlighter, but I can’t stand fan brushes. For one thing, you can’t even fit half the brush into a highlighter pan? So I suggest using a (still lightly packed) brush that has more bristles to it.

  • N.Y.X. Dual Fiber Powder Brush: The bristles at the end of this brush are so soft, and they pick up the lightest amount of product. It makes it really easy to build your highlight. The only suggestion I have here, because I picked this one and stuck with it!

6) Eyeshadow

A class of its own! I hate to spend a fortune on eyeshadow brushes, so I try to limit my brush purchases. But to create a detailed eye look, you do need a few different brushes (at least two, if you have some skill). For now, I won’t list every eyeshadow brush in the book because there are maaaanyy out there, but I’ll focus on what I refer to as the “eye-sentials.” Yeah, I wasn’t even planning on making that pun until I literally made the typo and decided to roll with it.

  • E.L.F. Concealer Brush: This brush has a dual purpose. One, yes, you can use it to apply concealer to carve out your eyebrows or fix any makeup mishaps but two (and more importantly if you’re thinking eyeshadow), this brush is made perfectly to apply shimmer or glitter shadows. Not *glitter* but glitter shadows. Often shimmers or glitters are tough to get out the pan, but a concealer brush is packed so densely that it will pick up a lot of product so you can scoop up the shadow and put it on your eyelid with ease.
  • E.L.F. Eyeshadow Brush: Kind of like the concealer brush, this brush is perfect to just pack on colour. When you want to apply any eyeshadow smack dab on the center of your eyelid, nothing fancy, turn to this brush. Because the bristles aren’t as dense (more fluffy) they won’t pick up glitter/shimmer as well.
  • E.L.F. Concealer Brush: The name is not clear but this is a different concealer brush! I love this brush for adding tiny details on my eye look, fixing mistakes, or adding some highlight on my inner corner. Perfect for precise details!
  • Colourpop Blending Brush: From the moment I tried this brush, I fell in love. The bristles are so soft and they blend out even the hardest to use eyeshadow. This is the brush you want to use to blend out shadows in your crease, or create a smokey eye. Basically, if you want more than one eyeshadow on your eyelid, you need a blending brush.
  • Colourpop Flat Eye Defining Brush: Sometimes you want to line your eyes… with eyeshadow, and this will be the brush to do it with.

Alright! I think we’re really starting to cover all the basics. Maybe next week something on the actual makeup spectrum? We’ll see!

How many makeup brushes do you own? Do you follow makeup brush rules, or do you buy what suits your wallet? Let’s discuss in the comments below!

Stay lovely,
📷 = @shaniasquires



19 thoughts on “Makeup Fridays: Cruelty-Free Brush Guide

  1. I have a lot of brushes, lol. I got a really good set from a cheap site that I was using when I was doing wedding makeup with a hair salon, but I washed them all really well to use for personal use now since I moved. I also got some brushes recently that makeup artist Kristen Leanne suggested, but I can’t remember the brand. I need a good beauty blender rec though. I bought the actual beauty blender brand from sephora and it fell apart too easily when I cleaned it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I need an extended bunch of brushes *.* I end up cleaning my brushes every four days because I use so much colour, they’re too “dirty” with shadow to use again even after so short a time. But since my budget is tight, I prefer to spend any extra cash on makeup over brushes.

      Hmm.. Do you mean the Sephora beauty blender or the Beauty Blender? Because Sephora carries the Beauty Blender but also has their own type of blender sponge.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This is where I got my big brush set:
        And I use their brush shampoo which works really well.

        I also bought the MODA brand brushes from here:
        when they went on sale, and they work really well.

        Both of these brush sets hold up well when I wash them, whereas my couple Mac brushes never went back to normal 😦

        And, I thought it was the beauty blender brand, but it could have been the Sephora brand. It’s black and shaped like a normal blender sponge. I also got one that has two flat ends, and I’m not too impressed with it either. It’s been a while, so I don’t know the brands.


      2. Thanks for sharing! I love finding cheap, usable brushes.

        As to your blender sponge situation, I’ve heard that the Morphe blender sponges are really good. I’ve yet to try one because I’m satisfied with the Beauty Blender brand (and shipping for Morphe to Canada is too high haha) but they look really good.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Maybe I ended up with the sephora brand instead of the actually Beauty Blender brand. I will have to look into it! Shipping is getting expensive in general these days! There are so many vehicles and planes traveling, you would think mail could just hitch a ride and not cost so much, haha!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Agreement on the shipping! Sometimes I just build my wishlist until sites have free shipping days, which are the best. When shipping is more than the cart total, you know there’s a problem!

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I know! And, to top it off. We pay all this money for shipping, and its not 100% reliable. I am currently fighting the post office about a package they misdelivered and aren’t taking responsibility for.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Ahh, yeah, I would hate to bring that to the etsy owner too. Shipping companies have the money and resources to take care of their customers’ items, I understand completely.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.