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Brushes: The Full Story

Sometimes stories just get cut, for space reasons, and when I've spent ages on them, that's a pity — for me, for the PRs, for you if you're interested — so here's the full version of the piece I originally wrote for today's Daily Mail


Gone are the days when you’d use the sponge tipped applicator that came free with your eye shadow to apply your product — these days you’re more likely to have a brush for your eye liner, one for each shade of your shadow, and another to blend it all in.

From big fluffy brushes to apply powder, to fan-shaped ones to highlight the face and densely packed ones to buff everything in, there’s a brush for every step in your regime. And that’s reflected in the stats. In 2013, the global brush market was valued at £155bn and is expected to be worth £204bn by 2021. But with new designs coming out all the time — bendy brushes, toothbrush-style brushes, and even ones to apply your eye cream — working out whether something is just a gimmick, or worth your cash, can be tricky. We put some of the newest styles around to the test…


In 2014, Mac revolutionised the world of make-up brushes by creating a set of oval tools that seemed to be modelled on the design of a toothbrush — with densely-packed bristles positioned on one side of the handle. Since then a number of brands have created similar products. The Oval Mastery Set (£34.95, is a range of eight synthetic brushes that apply everything from eyeliner to foundation, Make-up artist Virna Baillie says: ‘I love these types of brushes for blending foundation more than any others because they don’t leave any streaks or marks. To save wasting product I usually apply foundation to the skin first, and then blend with the brush.’

Best for: a flawless base


It’s long been said that synthetic bristles aren’t as effective at picking up and blending powder products such as blusher and eye shadow. But do you really want to have to buy a completely different set of brushes for powder and liquid? Bare Minerals have solved the problem with their Dual Finish Blush and Contour Brush (£21,, a half and half brush with synthetic fibres on one side for liquid products and natural hairs (pony and goat) for powders on the other.

Best for: perfectionists — it sounds like a great idea, but in a blind test, I think most of us would struggle to work out which side was which.


For those who love a big brush, Artis have a palm brush which is just an oval head with an ergonomically-designed handle, designed to fit into the palm of your hand (£66, It is bigger than a standard make-up brush and although it’s designed for applying foundation, powder or bronzer, I think the densely packed synthetic bristles are better suited to applying product to the body. It feels lovely and weighty — but at that price it should.

Best for: applying fake tan or body make-up.


​You might use your fingers to apply moisturisers and serums but brushes and tools to apply skincare are cropping up everywhere. One of the more unusual is this metal under eye massager from RealTechniques. It’s part of the Prep & Prime set (£16, which also includes a brush for applying serums, creams or masks, another for helping to exfoliate and one specifically for exfoliating lips.

Try keeping the under eye massager in the fridge and using it to spread eye cream on first thing. The ball doesn't rotate but the cold metal will help reduce swelling and calm puffy eyes.

Best for: those who suffer from puffy eyes.


​If you hate getting your hands grubby when applying a mask, Clarins (£14, face mask brush could be for you. It has a bamboo handle and a silicone head that flexes to get into tubs and allows you to apply a thin layer of product. But opinion is divided on whether you need a separate tool to do this.

Most facialists use a brush to apply masks and it is more hygienic than fingers.

Best for: skincare devotees, otherwise just use an old (clean) foundation brush


​Rather than a rigid, straight handle, Ainsel’s synthetic bristled yoga lip brush (£27, has a jointed section in the middle which allows you bend it, to get the right angle to apply your product precisely. Simply swipe the brush across your lipstick to pick up the colour. It’s double ended — with an angled end to line the lips and a curved edge at other end to fill them in.

Best for: anyone who struggles to get the perfect angle for lip lining


​Revolution has a range of double-ended brushes in their Flex range that also bend in the middle to allow you more control when applying product (from £9.99, With soft synthetic hairs, this one is designed for sculpting and contouring cheekbones (when a darker shade of foundation or powder is used to make the face look slimmer) and comes with one fluffier end for applying bronzer and one stiffer end for more precision application of highlighter or a contouring shade.

Best for: budget lovers — this is basically two brushes for the price of one


​Four years ago, Welsh sisters Sophie and Hannah Pycroft set up Spectrum Collections in their garage after spotting a gap in the market for brightly coloured brushes. Now, thanks to the popularity of their brushes on social media sites such as Instagram, they have a business worth around £12million and have sparked a trend in rainbow bristles and brushes. The lightweight spread synthetic bristles of this Rain Glow Fan Brush (£9.99, easily sweep away dropped eye shadow under the eye or apply highlighter with a light touch.

Best for: Instagram addicts — it looks pretty but that doesn’t make it a better brush


​At Dutch home store Hema you’ll find holographic ferules (the metal bit that joins the brush and the handle) with blue and purple synthetic bristles (£5.75, which are very much jumping on the brightly coloured brush bandwagon. For the price, the quality isn’t bad, but there are only two brushes (one for blusher and one for powder) and a sponge in this range — which suggests they’re not for true beauty aficionados.

Best for: young teens experimenting with make-up


​Sam and Nic Chapman are better known as the sisters behind the Pixiwoo YouTube channel, packed with how-to make-up tutorials. Their profile led to the launch of RealTechniques brushes in 2011 and it’s now the number one brush brand in the UK. Naturally, the success of RealTechniques has led to a number of brands keen to get a slice of the pie so the brand are constantly innovating with their skincare set (see above) and their new minis (£5, which are decent sized synthetic brush heads with tiny handles, perfect for travelling.

Best for: packing light and make-up on the go


​Hoping for some of the RealTechniques action is new brand Masqd, made by Boots. It bears a striking resemblance to the RealTechniques Original Collection, thanks to its plastic tips and purple metallic handles. Prices start at £7 for a concealer brush, going up to £12 for a powder brush. The prices are similar to RealTechniques as is the bristle quality but the Masqd handles feel more lightweight.

Best for: novelty seekers, Real Techniques are the number one for a reason


​Don’t like anything as common as a brush pot to keep your tools in? This Blank Canvas brush is part of a set that all have magnets in the bottom of the handles. They are sold with a metal frame that the brushes can stand up in or hang from (£90, The tenbrushes, apply everything from liner through to powder, have marble-effect handles and synthetic bristles which are decent quality. But you’re paying extra for the design and the magnets.

Best for: making a dressing table look just so


​Technically not a brush, this By Terry Sponge Foundation Brush (£25, is basically a sponge with a handle. The combination of the point and flat and curved sides make it very easy to apply an even layer of foundation — but do you really need to pay (quite a lot) extra to have a foundation sponge on a stick — especially as it’s a lot harder to clean than a foundation brush.

Best for: sponge fans who don’t like getting their fingers dirty.

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