• Real Techniques Everyday Essentials

  • Sephora Collection Ready To Roll Brush Set

  • How We Tested

  • What Should You Know About Makeup Brushes

  • Other Makeup Brush Sets We Tested

  • More Articles You Might Enjoy

Our Favorite Makeup Brushes of 2021

  1. Best Overall

    Real Techniques Everyday Essentials

    Pros

    • Extra-soft bristles

    • Durable build

    • Affordable

    Cons

    • Foundation brush not ideal for cream foundation

    • No storage solution included

    Skip to the full review below
  2. Best Upgrade

    Sephora Collection Ready To Roll Brush Set

    Pros

    • Comes with a storage solution

    • Extremely versatile

    • Durable build

    Cons

    • The silicone-like brush handles get dirty easily

    Skip to the full review below
Real Techniques Everyday Essentials
Credit: Real Techniques

The Real Techniques Everyday Essentials is our Best Overall winner because of its feather-soft bristles and durable build.

Best Overall
Real Techniques Everyday Essentials

The Expert Face Brush, 402 Setting Brush, and Deluxe Crease Brush found in the Real Techniques Everyday Essentials five-piece, synthetic set were hands-down the best brushes we tried.

The bristles of the Expert Face Brush, which I used for applying both cream and liquid foundations, are tightly packed, meaning liquid foundation looked smooth and streak-free. The shape of the brush isn't perfectly cylindrical like most of the other foundation brushes we tested; rather, it's flat on its front and back. Cream foundation took a bit more blending, as it's a thicker formula than liquid, but the effort still yielded an airbrushed appearance.

The 402 Setting Brush was the only powder brush tested that I loved for dusting on both setting powder and for blush and bronzer. The bristles are fluffy and not densely packed like the Expert Face Brush, and it didn't absorb an excess amount of product, meaning that what I applied onto the brush was exactly how much product appeared on my skin.

As for the Deluxe Crease Brush, it has short bristles and a round, dome shape, which fit the curvature of my round eyes perfectly and deposited exactly the quantity of eyeshadow I expected with every swipe. If you don't have a defined crease (the contour between the lid and the browbone), you may find it too fluffy of a brush for the deliberate application of shadow for creating the illusion of depth. However, the crease brush is excellent for other steps in your routine, such as dabbing concealer on the inner corner of your eyes, spreading your eyeshadow primer on your lid, or precise tasks like contouring around the nose.

Across all three of the Real Techniques brushes we tested, the bristles felt feather-soft and didn't lose their texture, even after I washed them with my Zote Laundry Bar Soap. Assuming these three brushes are indicative of the whole set, which also includes a setting brush and a blending sponge, we think this is the best option for the majority of makeup wearers. What’s more, price-wise, it’s one of the most inexpensive options, costing less for the entire set than many of the most expensive brushes do individually. A minor drawback is that it does not come with any storage solution for the brushes, as other sets on this list did, including our Best Upgrade option.

Pros

  • Extra-soft bristles

  • Durable build

  • Affordable

Cons

  • Foundation brush not ideal for cream foundation

  • No storage solution included

Sephora Collection Ready to Roll Brush Set
Credit: Sephora

The Sephora Collection Ready to Roll Brush Set won our Best Upgrade spot because of the variety of brushes and handy carrying case.

Best Upgrade
Sephora Collection Ready To Roll Brush Set

I had high hopes for the makeup brushes from The Sephora Collection, having been a convert to several other products in the line. As I suspected, they didn't disappoint. Each of the 10 brushes are very versatile and can be used for more than their designated use. In our tests, the flat-topped Complexion Brush blended both my cream and liquid foundation without causing any streaks. The Powder Brush picked up the right amount of product when it came to applying my bronzer and blush. (For setting powder, I would have preferred a brush that isn't paddle-shaped and pinched at the base, as this style covers less surface area.) Finally, the Blending Crease Brush has a dome-shaped head that’s slightly tapered, which makes it easy to both deposit the color and blend outward for a smokey but defined crease. Though not part of our specific testing procedures, I also found this brush useful for applying contour around my nose.

My experience with these brushes can be summed up into four words: great brushes, bad handles. In addition to their superior application, the tips of the bristles are white, which made it obvious that I removed all makeup residue while cleaning (I appreciated this aspect of the other white-tipped brushes we tested as well). However, my biggest, also-cleaning-related gripe is with the so-called "soft touch handles" that feel like silicone. Though grippy for fingers, they attract everything from hair and dirt to powder and glitter. They always look dirty, even after cleaning, which is particularly bothersome if you display your brushes on top of your vanity like I do.

As a plus, I found the brush roll that comes with the set handy, and found that the pockets are a universal size that allowed me to swap in brushes from other brands as well.

Pros

  • Comes with a storage solution

  • Extremely versatile

  • Durable build

Cons

  • The silicone-like brush handles get dirty easily

Related content

How We Tested

Testing
Credit: Getty Images / bojanstory

We tested the three most important makeup brushes from 11 popular sets.

The Tester

I'm Michelle Rostamian, a freelance beauty writer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the beauty industry. As a writer and former beauty influencer on YouTube, I've tested and reviewed hundreds of skincare, makeup, and beauty tools. Throughout this, I’ve come to realize that I'm quite the snob when it comes to makeup brushes—but not in the way that you might think. While I don't judge a brush by its price tag or brand name alone, if its bristles feel spiky or rough on my skin, or it doesn't give me a well-diffused crease, or leaves me with streaky-looking foundation, it gets the boot before it even has a chance to earn a spot in my routine. That being said, makeup brushes are my weak spot. Even after testing these 11 sets, brushes are one of those things that I can catch myself saying "but they're all different!" about, as I cling to my brush holders that house 50+ brushes. And really, I feel that each one offers something that I don’t get from another.

The Tests

I scoured high and low for the most highly-rated makeup brush sets until I landed on the 11 that made the cut. We determined that the best way to judge if a makeup brush set was worth it was to test the three brushes that are staples in most beauty routines (and commonalities among the sets): foundation brush, powder brush, and eyeshadow crease brush.

I used each foundation brush with both a liquid and cream formula, the Maybelline Fit Me Matte + Poreless and the Hourglass Vanish Seamless Finish Foundation Stick, respectively. A good foundation brush will spread either formula for even coverage, and can be used to smooth away any streaks once the product has settled.

Each powder brush was used to apply setting powder, blush, and bronzer. For setting powder, I used the Maybelline Fit Me Loose Finishing Powder and looked for even distribution and an airbrushed finish from a wide enough brush head to cover a lot of surface area with each pass. For blush and bronzer, I used the Urban Decay Stay Naked Threesome Palette and wanted the brush to be able to move the product evenly and not disrupt my foundation.

Finally, each crease brush was tested with the Mac Cosmetics Soft Brown Eyeshadow, a matte shade designed for contouring the crease. I hoped that each brush would be able to define the crease without looking too harsh, as well as be able to layer and blend a glittery eyeshadow (I used a Colourpop Glitter Gel) on the lid overtop the matte shade for a seamless look.

I took detailed notes on each brush as I used them, and then teamed up with Reviewed’s senior scientist, Julia MacDougall, to score and weigh the results of my tests on a calibrated rubric. I answered questions about the brushes’ key attributes:

  • Application: How easy is it to apply the liquid and cream foundation with the foundation brush? How well does the foundation brush apply the liquid and cream foundation? How easy is it to apply the setting powder, bronzer, and blush with the powder brush? How easy is it to apply the eyeshadow with the crease brush?

  • Build quality: How would you describe the build quality of this brush? Do the bristles shed at all? How does the brush feel on your face with regard to stiffness and softness?

  • Cleanability: How easy is it to clean this brush? Was the brush unchanged after it had been washed?

What Should You Know About Makeup Brushes

What to know
Credit: Getty Images / Dmytro Pokulityi

A great makeup brush set applies makeup with ease and withstands brush cleaning.

When shopping for makeup brushes, it's important to consider the bristle type. There are two main types of brush bristles: synthetic and natural hair. Natural hair bristles are constructed with hair from an animal (usually boars, goats, or squirrels). They're known to be plush and fluffy, and are best used with powder products, such as blushes, bronzers, and powder foundations. Because of their porosity, they tend to soak up a lot of product if used with a liquid or cream, increasing the likelihood of streaks and blotches.

Synthetic bristles consist of man-made fibers, such as nylon or polyester or even plant fibers like bamboo. Unlike natural hair bristles, they don't absorb pigments, which makes them better for applying liquid and cream-based eyeshadows and complexion products like foundation and concealer. On the other hand, powders may apply more diffusely than you intend, as they won’t “cling” as much to synthetic bristles. Synethic brushes are usually more affordable than natural-hair brushes and don't shed as much because they don't dry out or have breakage like natural hair bristles. They’re also a better choice for people with allergies or who prefer vegan or “cruelty-free” products (in our testing, we didn’t evaluate brands’ specific claims, so we can’t speak to them).

Most of the sets we tested contained synthetic-bristled brushes, but one set had a mixture of synthetic and natural hair, which gave us a glimpse into the difference. A few of the sets also had accessories in addition to the brushes, such as a cleaning pad or makeup sponge.

Another thing to consider when it comes to makeup brush sets is price. You'll find more value in makeup brush sets than purchasing each brush individually, in terms of raw cost, but some makeup brush sets may come with brushes you're not likely to use. If you’re a minimalist, you may find that buying just the brushes you know you’ll use is your best bet. Still, for beginners who want to explore the world of makeup, a basic set may be worth the investment because it typically includes the most popular, versatile brushes that most people use in their routines. Some sets also include makeup sponges as an alternative applicator for foundation or silicone brush mats, a palm-sized disc on which to suds up bristles for cleaning—both are nice-to-haves but not essentials.

Finally, the end result of your makeup is largely determined by the quality of your brushes. (Even the most talented artists will struggle with poor tools.) But quality doesn't necessarily mean expensive, as evidenced by our Best Overall winner. One way we determined quality was in washing the brushes. If a brush can withstand a good sudsing, rinsing, and air-drying without shedding, losing its shape or texture, or breaking apart from the ferrule (the metal part of the brush that connects the bristles to the handle), we knew we had a quality brush in our hands. While you may not be able to do this yourself at home and return brushes that “fail,” you should always wash your brushes after you buy them and before you use them for the first time to ensure they're hygienic.

Other Makeup Brush Sets We Tested

Morphe x Jaclyn Hill The Master Collection

Morphe began as a makeup brush brand but has since become an all-encompassing cosmetics brand. The Master Collection comes with 24 makeup brushes (more than any other set we tested) that are a mix of natural hair and synthetic. There are 14 eye brushes of varying sizes and shapes, which may feel overwhelming for a beginner but be thrillingly thorough for a pro.

For my testing, I used the natural hair JH32 transition blender brush for my eyeshadow, the synthetic JH03 for my foundation, and the natural hair JH01 brush for my powder. The JH32 stood out most, as I found that it applied colors above the crease and in the crease accurately and evenly. Though it's larger than a typical crease defining brush, it has a slightly tapered shape, so it was effective at seamlessly layering the glitter on my lid over my crease color. Each brush in this set has a purpose, withstood washing, and delivered even results. The storage box, though bulky, fits all of the brushes nicely and has room for a few more face brushes or several eye brushes.

Pros

  • Comes with a storage solution

  • Many options for both face and eyes

Cons

  • May be overkill for beginners

IT Brushes For Ulta Your Superheroes Full-Size Travel Makeup Brush Set

I'm no stranger to It Cosmetics brushes—they've rightfully earned a spot in my makeup repertoire because they're super-soft and feel luxurious with their weight and durability. First up in my formal testing of this synthetic, six-piece set: the foundation brush. This brush, which looks more like a paintbrush with its long bristles and flat sides, tends to be a makeup artist favorite because it allows even application of foundation all over the face before blending. What this means, though, is that it’s too flat for creating a perfectly smooth, diffused finish, so you'll need to reach for a different brush (like a buffing brush, which is not included) for the second step. Though it's extra work, it made a huge difference in the outcome of my face makeup—both the cream and liquid foundations looked like they were airbrushed on. With this shape of foundation brush, I prefer to use a finger to apply and thin the foundation onto the back of my hand, then use the brush to swipe up a little bit of product from hand to face at a time. The bristles don't soak up any product, so the amount I applied on the brush is exactly what ended up on my skin. From there, I built up layers to reach my ideal level of coverage before going over with a clean, dry buffing brush to blend.

The powder brush feels exceptionally plush on the skin—almost like velvet. It is a very fluffy brush, best used for setting powder. When I used it with a highly pigmented blush that would otherwise apply overly-concentrated with a denser brush, it gave my skin a subtle wash of color, which I liked. On the other hand, its light touch made it ill-suited for concentrating bronzer in specific areas to make them appear sunkissed. As for the crease brush, it was great for blending two eyeshadows together or layering on glitter, but I didn't find the bristle tips tapered enough for defining the crease.

Pros

  • Fluffy-soft bristles

  • High quality

  • Comes with a storage solution

Cons

  • Requires a separate step for blending foundation

Sigma Essential Brush Set

The 12 brushes in the Sigma Beauty Essential Brush Set are made of its proprietary SigmaTech synthetic fibers, which claim to hold the right amount of product and apply with ease. Like the foundation brush from the It Cosmetics set, the foundation brush in this set looks like a paintbrush, which made it easy to build up my cream and liquid foundation in layers, but not so effective at blending. (You’ll have to follow up with the included duo fibre brush for that.) For the crease brush, I used the E40 in this set. Though this was once a highly acclaimed crease brush for beauty buffs, I found that the bristles are a bit too long and tapered to create a well-blended transition color between the lid and the brow bone.

I own several Sigma Beauty makeup brushes (some I’ve had for four years), and they've withstood every wash without coming apart or shedding. The brushes in this set are also labeled with their intended use. That said, Sigma Beauty's brushes are noticeably stiffer and less soft than the ones from Real Techniques, Sephora Collection, and It Cosmetics.

Pros

  • Easy to apply foundation in layers

Cons

  • Requires a separate brush for blending foundation

  • Crease brush had too-long bristles

  • Bristles aren’t as soft as others

E.L.F. Professional Set of 12 Brushes

E.L.F. is one of my go-to affordable makeup brands, and though a lot of its products have proven to be a hit or miss for me, this 12-piece synthetic set fell in the dead center of this list. It’s called a professional brush set, but I wouldn't classify it as “professional,” as it excludes some key brushes a makeup artist would use (a fan brush, an angled eyeliner brush, and a pencil brush, to name a few). That said, the brushes come out to $1 each, which is a good deal if you're just getting into makeup and need a few starter brushes.

The powder brush, in particular, has longer bristles than the ones found in the Real Techniques set (and others), which made it difficult to deposit loose powder on my skin because it didn't allow for much control. Another finding: The crease brush is short and dome-shaped, which is good for things like blurring the lower lash line, but not ideal for creating a smokey crease, a look that’s best achieved with longer, tapered bristles.

Still, you don't have to have artistic makeup skills to work with these brushes, as each one is labeled with its primary use (like the Sigma Beauty set). Another bonus is that the brushes came with a plastic sleeve to cover the bristles when not in use, which helps keep them contained and free of dust particles that would otherwise get on them as they sit in a brush holder.

In the end, I felt neutral about this set. It didn't have the fluffiness of the Real Techniques or Sephora Collection sets, but it's not a bad choice if you're looking for a drugstore-priced option.

Pros

  • Comes with plastic sleeves to protect bristles

  • Good value

Cons

  • Crease brush doesn't blend well

BH Cosmetics Rose Romance 12 Piece Brush Set

The 12 synthetic brushes in this BH Cosmetics set feel ultra-smooth to the touch. The rose gold hardware makes them display-worthy, and the storage bag it comes with can be used to store your essential makeup products as well as the brushes themselves, which I’d find useful for traveling. The set has a whole also includes several eye brushes for intricate looks.

The biggest selling point of the foundation brush is that it has a flat top, which means it covers more surface area and makes blending a thick cream foundation a quicker process than if I were to use a rounded brush. The powder brush is impressively fluffy and when used with a translucent powder, dusted an even amount of product all over my face. But things took a turn for the worse when I tested the crease brush. The bristles are too long and dense, which made achieving a smokey eye look near impossible, as the eyeshadow kept sticking to one spot rather than blend out.

Pros

  • Good value

  • Comes with a storage solution

  • Fluffy-soft bristles

Cons

  • Crease brush doesn't blend eyeshadow well

EcoTools Start The Day Beautifully Kit

This five-piece brush set from Ecotools has more than 6,000 5-star reviews on Amazon. The bristles are made of 80% bamboo fibers and 20% cotton and the handles contain recycled aluminum and plastic.

The angled brush intended for foundation application is the smallest foundation brush out of all of the ones we tested. This meant it covered less surface area at once and resulted in a longer application process. Because it’s angled, it was easy to apply foundation along the crevices of my nose and under eyebrows, but the shape wasn't ideal for buffing cream or liquid foundation on cheeks because it wasn't flat-topped. The crease brush is dome-shaped and wider than others we tested, and a few of the bristles were sticking out in a different direction from the others. Because of the large size of the brush, the bristles would disrupt the glitter that was already on the lid as I was blending my crease.

I liked the tray that came with the set—if your vanity has the space to store brushes while they're laying down (versus standing up in a brush holder), this is a good option. It's also great for traveling because it's a hard, protective tray. This isn’t a bad option, but there are other sets on this list , some at more affordable prices, that beat it out.

Pros

  • Environmentally-friendly

  • Good value

  • Comes with a storage solution

Cons

  • Crease brush too big

  • Foundation brush too small

  • Uneven bristles

Yoseng Makeup Brushes Set

With their unconventional oval shape, these synthetic Yoseng makeup brushes don't look like your standard brushes. But as a lover of testing out different application methods, I was excited to try this set 10-piece out. Unfortunately, my experience fell flat. The oval-shaped foundation brush soaked up an excessive amount of liquid foundation, which meant I had to keep applying more layers to attempt to get it to look even. It also applied my cream foundation in streaks because the bristles were not uniform—many of the hairs were sticking out and cut unevenly.

The powder brush’s densely packed bristles leave you only with the ability to push powder into the skin instead of dusting it out like you typically would with a powder brush. When I attempted to disperse the setting powder all over my face in a swirling motion, it disrupted my foundation underneath—not an easy thing to fix once liquid and powder mix together. If anything, I’d use this brush for cream blush because that's a product I typically tap into the skin.

Washing these brushes takes longer than most, on account of the dense bristles and larger relative sizes of all the brushes. If you like storing brushes in a brush roll, you'll find that these don't fit well because their odd shape. This is not a beginner-friendly brush set and definitely has a learning curve.

Pros

  • Good value

  • Good for cream blush

Cons

  • Difficult to wash

  • Uneven bristles

Bestope Makeup Brushes 16 Piece Makeup Brush Set

The 16-piece Bestope brush set has nearly 20,000 5-star reviews on Amazon and a wallet-friendly price , making it appealing at first glance. However, I found the brushes were poor quality. The handles felt flimsy, the foundation brush became detached from its ferrule after a single wash, and the other brushes became loose from their handles over multiple uses and cleaning sessions.

Though the synthetic bristles felt feathery-soft on the skin, many of them were noticeably sticking out from the pack and some of the hairs were longer than others. This resulted in patchy foundation application, specifically with the cream foundation, and an overall uneven makeup look. Out of all of the brushes we tested in this set, the crease brush was the easiest to work with. Though the bristles on this brush still weren't uniform and the eyeshadow appeared blotchy, it applied the product where I wanted it to go. Bottom line: There are better brush sets in this list that are just as affordable.

Pros

  • Good value

  • Fluffy-soft bristles

Cons

  • Uneven bristles

  • Not durable

  • Significant shedding after washing

Syntus Makeup Brush Set

Across all three brushes tested from this 16-piece, synthetic Syntus set, the bristles were of different lengths and not uniform. The bristles in the powder brush are tightly packed together, which makes it difficult to get an airbrushed finish with powder. The set comes with a silicone cleaning pad to wash your brushes, but its size is smaller than the palm of your hand so cleaning becomes a lengthy process if you have multiple brushes to clean.

Pros

  • Good value

  • Comes with cleaning pad

Cons

  • Uneven bristles

  • Not durable

  • Bristles shed after washing

Meet the tester

Michelle Rostamian

Michelle Rostamian

Contributor

Michelle Rostamian has over 10 years of experience in the beauty and wellness industry as a writer, editor, publicist, and social media strategist. She holds a bachelor's degree in Communication Studies from UCLA and has bylines at PopSugar, Byrdie, Well+Good, Coveteur, HypeBae, and Hello Giggles.

See all of Michelle Rostamian's reviews

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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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