By Fiona McKim
When you think about it, the best foundation brushes might be the one exception to the old saying about bad workers blaming their tools. Because far from being a lame excuse, it's known a fact that using the wrong applicator really can mess up some otherwise-solid makeup handiwork.
Would you paint a wall with a cotton ball or write a shopping list with inky fingers? Probably not, and yet so many of us use unsuitable tools (or none at all) for our base.
So if you've ever read up about the best foundation, tracked it down, color-matched in the unkind glare of the beauty hall, and it still sat on top of your skin like parchment paper, just know that you aren't the problem. Let's channel all that confusion and unhelpful self-doubting energy into seeking out the best foundation brushes and tools instead.
Should I apply foundation with foundation brushes or my fingers?
While there are a large number of options available, generally speaking, mastering how to apply foundation can go in two directions. You can aim for a classic polished look using a firm brush shape, or something more naturalistic and skin-like using no brush at all.
“For long-lasting coverage, I always apply foundation with a flat foundation brush, starting in the center of the face and blending outwards,” explains A-List make-up artist Zoë Taylor. “Using a brush instead of fingers can help make-up stay on longer, as the oils from your fingers can mix into the product you’re applying.”
If you’re going for a natural look with sheer products and want plenty of skin show-through, try NARS Senior Artist Rachel Hardie’s manual approach.
“A NARS signature trick is to use your fingers to apply your foundation. We always apply this way backstage as it gives the most seamless finish,” explains Rachel. "The warmth of your hands really helps to blend the product into the skin, build coverage but also show the natural glow through the make-up, and gives an appearance of a second skin, completely undetectable.”
The best foundation brushes and tools for every look
As well as an array of foundation brushes, the beauty market is awash with other tools - from sponges to gadgets and those gorgeous but confusing fan brushes nobody seems to know what to do with.
These are the ones we think are worth a spot in your beauty bag.
For buildable coverage
Illamasqua Foundation Brush
Every make-up bag needs a great all-rounder foundation brush like this. It's 100% vegan and cruelty-free, with a flat top and soft bristles that help you build and buff layers of the base into the skin slowly, avoiding heavy flat finishes or streaks.
"Pick up a small amount of foundation with the tip of the bristles and blend into the skin with a circular motion," advises Illamasqua’s Director of Artistry, Pablo Rodriguez. "Build-up in layers where needed for extra coverage."
Due to those long, flexible bristles, this also is used as a stippling brush if you have nimble enough hands for that fast-patting application technique. If you don't, the Starskin Artist FX Auto-Patting Make-up Applicator at the end of this list might tempt you instead.
For a dewy finish
Beauty Blender Original
Sponges were everywhere in the '90s, then not as we all decided they were a bit icky. Now they’re back, reinvented as blenders in conical shapes and clever materials that won’t drink your make-up.
They work well for dehydrated skin or those who want light, dewy coverage. Dampen to make a drop of the best foundation for dry skin go all the way, and bounce on for a sheer wash of pigment and a perky glow.
There are plenty of these blenders out there but original and best is of course the Beauty Blender, which is so easy to use it’s borderline fun. The pointy angles get into every little nook and cranny and you won’t have to worry about tidemarks or streaks.
For polished perfection
YSL Y Foundation Brush
The firmer the bristles, the fuller the finish, so pick a densely-packed flat-topped brush if you are working with the best foundation for oily skin or like your coverage on the muscular side.
YSL Y Foundation Brush is a great example of a subspecies of foundation brushes with little well to perfectly ration out the product. If it's ever OK to call a brush sexy, this is the one. It’s sleek, weighty, and easy to control. You may have to work a little to blend in a very high-coverage base, but the polished result is so worth it.
For lighter cover
Real Techniques Face + Body Blender
If full-on foundation isn’t your thing, but you still want to give your skin a light wash of color here and there, pick a domed brush.
They partner well with slippy formulas such as BB creams or light bases like Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer, as the tapered top spreads product quickly without overworking it, while the fat base massages everything to a natural skin-like finish.
Real Techniques Face Make-Up Blender Brush is a little fatter than most of us will be used to working with but feels strokably soft and blends any formula quickly and easily.
For powder foundations
Trish McEvoy Precision Cut Fan 62
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
Have you ever looked at fan brushes and wondered what on earth you are supposed to do with them? It turns out these pretty little numbers are ideal for creating a barely-there base with powder foundation.
"Fan shapes are ideal when you want a wash of face color with zero risk of overdoing it,” explains make-up guru Trish McEvoy. “This brush is marvelous for applying a veil of powder and whisking away any fallout or tiny loose hairs on the skin's surface, without disturbing make-up underneath."
For an airbrushed effect
Starskin Artist FX Auto-Patting Make-up Applicator
Do you really need a gadget to apply foundation? The short answer is no, but you might want one once you see what they can do. Vibrations and pulses are the business of laying down make-up evenly and smoothly, and the Starskin Artist FX Auto-Patting Make-up Applicator is like having the nimble fingers of a make-up artist in your beauty drawer.
As a very lazy gadget-user and therefore very skeptical tester, this somewhat converted me. I pressed the button, and it took 30 seconds to cover my whole face in a medium coverage foundation. The little interchangeable applicators take a minute to fit on, but that’s a minor gripe for amazing, almost poreless-looking skin.
Would I use it every day? Probably not. Would I want this for my next big event? Absolutely.
As woman&home's Senior Beauty Editor, Fiona Mckim has tried more products than she’s had hot dinners and nothing makes her happier than raving about a brilliant beauty find on womanandhome.com or her instagram grid (@fionamckim if you like hair dye experiments and cute shih-tzus)
Fiona joined woman&home as Assistant Beauty Editor in 2013, working under legend Jo GB, who taught her everything she needed to know about the industry (clue: learn about ingredients and employ extreme cynicism).
In a previous life, Fiona studied journalism back home in bonnie Scotland and honed her skills as a magazine features writer, with a brief and terrifying stint on the showbiz gossip pages of a tabloid newspaper in between. She's a skincare fanatic who can’t resist adding an extra step to her routine if it’s all the rage in Japan, loves fragrance, has fun with makeup and never turns down the chance to test a new hair tool. Basically, she loves it all.
When not slathering herself in self tan or squinting at a tiny ingredients list on a moisturiser, you’ll probably find Fiona enjoying something to do with food - cooking it, eating it, cajoling her friends into trekking across London to try a hyped pop-up in a dirty car park.
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