Are You Allergic to Your Makeup Brushes? And Other Wrong Moves That Ruin Everything

Recently, celebrity makeup artist Bobby Bujisic has been seeing some bad makeup behavior on the subway—one that he says makes all the difference between a good makeup look and a mess. “When I’m riding, I see women applying makeup and they’re using a blending brush for application. This particular brush will just flick shadow fallout around the eye and on the cheek. Eye shadow needs to be laid flat and slowly swept across the lid. So a flat, tapered brush is more appropriate for applying eye shadow. A squirrel-tail brush is ideal for blending shadow lines and edges.” Surprised by what he says is a no-no? Read on for what they experts say are common makeup brush blunders.

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Mistake #1: Thinking synthetic makeup brushes are bad.

Bujisic says synthetic makeup brushes are actually great for concealers, liquid foundations and lipstick, as all of these products tend to be grease-based. “When using natural hair brushes, the product tends to be absorbed by the natural hair, which doesn't happen when using synthetic brushes. Natural hair brushes are best for powder-formulated makeup.”

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Mistake #2: Not going “big” when applying bronzer and blush.

Not liking the way your bronzer or blush is looking? Bujisic says it might be because your brush isn’t big enough. “I suggest using a large dome brush/face makeup brush when applying bronzer and blush as this creates a more natural and softer appearance.” Artis founder Matthew Waitesmith offers this easy-to-remember tip: “Brush shape and size should correspond to the area of the face or body you wanting to apply product. For example, if you want to apply color to the cheek area [which is an oval shape] pick a brush that echoes the oval shape and is about the size of the area you want to create. If you want to apply a line of product along the lash line, pick a brush that corresponds to the size of the area you want to apply, and is also a linear shape like the lash line.”


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Mistake #3: Forgetting to fan.

Adding a fan brush to your arsenal can make all the difference in your look. “When applying translucent or pressed face powders try applying this with a fan brush as this will provide a more natural look and the texture of the skin will still be present and the foundation will be set,” Bujisic says.

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Mistake #4: Not knowing the difference between firm and fluffy.

Sounds pretty simple, but, according to Derek Selby, Cover FX global ambassador, this is a key move to keep in mind. “Generally speaking, you want firm synthetic brushes to apply creamy or wax based products like lipstick, concealer, eyeliner, brow gel or cream foundations, as they will deposit more product where you want coverage. Fluffier brushes are better for softer applications like eyeshadow, blush bronzer and powder. The size of the brush directly impacts how much product is deposited onto the face or eyes. Smaller brushes are better for more detailed work like lining eyes and brows, small-medium brushes are great for eyes, medium-large size for blush and bronzer and large brushes for face and body.” Shawn Towne, global educator at jane iredale, says an easy way to remember the difference is that firmer bristles will give darker marks and more friction for blending, while softer, more flexible bristles will give less intensity. 

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Mistake #5: Not washing them enough.

You knew this one was coming. “The number-one mistake people make with makeup brushes is not taking good care of them,” Selby says. “You should wash your brushes on a regular basis—I suggest once a week. This will ensure you reduce transfer of bacteria from the brush to your face and into product. When you wash your brushes you should squeeze out any excess of water and re-shape and lay flat to dry." Blushington Makeup & Beauty Lounge lead makeup artist, Alexis Ferro, is also a believer in the once-a-week wash. "It is important to clean them so that bacteria doesn't build up. You should clean your brushes with brush cleaner or 99-percent alcohol to sanitize and disinfect. And let them dry flat not standing up because the water will loosen up the glue."

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Mistake #6: Starting too strong.

Selby stresses that, with makeup, you can always add more, but it becomes a little more difficult when you need to remove. “If you use a shorter more deliberate stroke you will deposit more product creating more coverage or intense color. Longer strokes will give you a softer or sheerer result. It’s better to start with less product and build in the areas that you the intensity. Layering different textures or shades of eye shadow will give you depth and dimension.”

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Mistake #7: Not investing in the right ones.

Everyone we interviewed for this story agreed: Investing in good makeup brushes is key to their profession, and that doesn’t necessarily mean spending a ton of money, but rather, “building on” what you do buy. “For makeup artists brushes are the tools of our trade,” Selby says. “They are an investment. If you buy great quality brushes and take care of them, they will last you a lifetime. I still have my original brushes from 30 years ago. Great make-up application is a combination of the tool, the technique you use and the product. To ensure you have great quality tools, buy them over time to build your collection.” Waitesmith agrees, and says most people admittedly spend more money on the actual product they’re applying than their brushes. “People think they should only focus on the product or formula, and can use just any brush for application. This often results in a disappointing application and finish, mostly because the makeup formula isn't a match for the applicator or brush. Would you apply foundation with a butter knife, or frost a cake with a feather?”

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Mistake #8: Not realizing you might be allergic.

Say what? “I don't believe bristles are appropriate for makeup brushes, since bristles are technically animal hair [historically, hog hair] and an estimated 10 percent of the population are allergic to animal hair,” Waitesmith  says. “Rubbing something you are allergic to around your eyes, skin and lips is asking for an irritation to occur. I recommend manmade fibers, like CosmeFibre, which help avoid irritation, and are designed to pick up and laydown makeup product efficiently. Not all synthetics are the same, so be critical about the actual fibers contained in the makeup brush you are considering. Some brands try to replicate the performance of animal hair using synthetic copies, but that just means the synthetic fibers they use will be as bad as animal hair at applying makeup formulas.”

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Mistake #9: Not using the right "motion."

Sounds kind of technical, but Towne says this one is sure to throw you off if done incorrectly. "You want to use the right motion and pressure to get the desired results," she says and offers these examples: "When applying a single color to the lid, use a wiping motion that evenly disperses color horizontally from corner to corner along the lash line using medium pressure. When applying a color to the crease, use a wiping motion, but in more of a crescent shape that follows the crease using medium pressure. When darkening the outer lid, use a concentrated circular motion with more pressure."    

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Mistake #10: Not taking the bristle count into account.

Bigger is not always better when it comes to the bristle count on your brushes. "The more bristles, the more pigment you will lay down," Towne says. "Denser brushes are better for dark or opaque applications; less dense brushes are better for sheer or soft applications." And, she adds, the length of the bristles matters as well. "Shorter bristles will give more friction and intensity, while longer bristles will give softer application and less intensity."