Makeup artists work like carpenters, seldom parted from their strap-on or roll-up toolkit.
Sometimes they'll also lug about a giant metal box of supplies, but the one thing they insist on always having at hand is a good set of brushes. Nothing else gives makeup a more controlled application and professional finish.
Even if you can't be bothered using multiple brushes every day, it's well worth it for special occasions. Foundation, especially, lasts longer and spreads more thinly when brushed on, so your bottle will go further and you can build coverage where it is most needed. Eye shadows also blend much better with decent brushes than with fingers or the fiddly little foam tips they are often sold with.
Most big brands now sell at least a few specialist brushes to go with their makeup ranges. And widespread use of mineral makeup and bronzer means women are increasingly comfortable wielding kabuki brushes.
M.A.C carries a mind-boggling number of brushes and Bobbi Brown, Elizabeth Arden and Estee Lauder have good ranges too.
However, before buying a whole bunch of brushes, ask for a demonstration in store. Check out pharmacies and department stores for cheaper options. Many budget brands are just as serviceable or you can trial a basic brush type before spending a large amount on a "name" version.
Estee Lauder's national makeup artist, Owen Allison, recommends a starting kit of around six brushes. Like most professionals, he favours synthetic bristles for foundation and concealer saying they give a smoother finish, and natural bristles for use with powders as their more porous surface picks up product better.
Allison's picks are a big fluffy powder brush, a smaller version for blush, wedge (angled) brushes for eyeshadow application and filling in the brows, and the all important foundation and concealer brushes. He's also a big fan of mascara spooleys (disposable wands available from many chemists), which he uses to groom brows and comb through lashes after mascara is applied to ensure good separation and the removal of any clumps. Next are fluffier domed and fanned brushes for lid and brow application and for whisking off residue, kabuki brushes for bronzer, and more specialist contouring shapes.
A lip brush can be handy for shaping a dramatic night-time mouth, but for staying power Allison would use a long-wear lip pencil under a sweep or dab of colour.
Getting in there with your fingers is still okay. Leading makeup artists such as Lancome's Aaron De Mey are big fans of sometimes smudging makeup on. Fingers also warm up the product, helping it adhere to skin. Concealer for instance can be brushed on, then patted gently into skin.
M.A.C's Amber Dreadon uses her fingers to give lips a softer edge, by mushing in a little colour rather than painting it on, but she's never parted from her brush kit.
1. Bobbi Brown Foundation Brush $65
You'd expect a makeup artist to ensure her brushes felt well-balanced in the hand and this is the case with Bobbi Brown's wooden-handled brush. Handily she makes shorter versions for travel kits.
2. QVS Must Love Paris Foundation Brush $14.99
Super soft and synthetic, with a slightly more tapered metallic handle than QVS's standard foundation brush.
3. QVS Perfection Brush for Foundation and Concealer $18.99
The only thing wrong with this synthetic double-header is that if you like to store your brushes upright in a little jar, you won't be able to do so with this one. (If there's residue after application, wipe off on a tissue before storage - brush washing under a tap should only be occasional - or use a special spray-on brush cleaner.)
4. Bare Minerals Refillable Buffing Brush $60
Clever-clogs capped brush for mineral makeup fans (or use it to carry around loose powder without fear of spillage). Winds up like a little shaving brush, releasing the powder for the buffing to begin. The bottom screws open to reveal a small, refillable compartment, which even has its own little spatula for top-ups.
5. M.A.C retractable lip brush, No 316 $62
Handy little lip brush with a chrome cap that doubles as a handle, turning this into an easier to use length that stows away tidily.
6. Id Bare Escentuals Full Coverage Buki $59
Kabuki brushes are the standard buffing tool for mineral makeup, but are also ideal for applying bronzer. This, from the American pioneer of minerals, works especially well.
7. Nvey Eco Blush Brush $60
The handle is certified compostable, the green aluminium is recyclable and the bristles are synthetic in this eco-friendly option. (From Glamorpuss, Newmarket and the Department Store, Takapuna.)
8. Elizabeth Arden 100th Anniversary Lip Liner $25
Hand-made in Christchurch by Haydn, a decades old specialist cosmetic and art brushmaker, this well-priced, wooden-handled brush is made from natural fibre and is available as a limited edition.
9. Elizabeth Arden Eyeshadow wedge $29 and domed brush $29
Firmish angled brushes give the control needed to get into awkward areas and this is what you need to apply darker contouring shades into the outer corner of the eye and the lash line. Use the domed brush to blend lighter shades seamlessly into the V-shape you created with the wedge, and to spread powder on lids and your brow bone. A small stiff wedge brush is used for working powder into sparse brows.
10. M.A.C mascara fan brush, No. 205 $40
A strange looking splayed brush that is used to sweep mascara from a wand and then paint it on, to coat every last little lash. (M.A.C Pro Shop, Chancery, has a huge brush range, also M.A.C St Lukes and Smith & Caughey's.)
11. Estee Lauder Powder Brush No 10 $115
Beautifully soft brush, in Estee Lauder's elegant gold and navy colours.
12. M.A.C Brush Cleanser $24
Makeup artists carry round bottles of this stuff to quickly cleanse brushes between models, ensuring good hygiene. You can use cleanser at home to refresh your brushes without a full dousing. (Bobbi Brown and Estee Lauder also make brush cleansers, but not all counters stock them.)
Fake or fur
Synthetic and natural brushes each have their fans and unless you're opposed to the use of animal fibre you'll probably end up with both in your beauty kit.
Natural bristle brushes can be made from anything from sable to badger to goat, with the fibre often combed from live animals.
Leanne Mulder, a makeup artist who works for QVS, an Auckland-based supplier of both synthetic and natural brushes, explains what to look for and how to care for your brushes:
Synthetic brushes are generally shinier and softer than natural brushes and made from nylon and polyester filaments which are less prone to damage from makeup and solvents. They're also easier to clean because they don't trap or absorb pigments, but this means they hold powder less well, and are best suited for application of creams and liquid cosmetics.
Natural-haired brushes are ideal for powder layering, giving a deeper coverage more quickly. They vary in firmness depending on the fibre they are made from, anything from soft squirrel to firm badger hair, and require a little more care in handling.
To wash brushes of any kind wet the tips in warm water and work a little shampoo or mild detergent through the fibres (baby shampoo is ideal). Squeeze gently and repeat as necessary, but do not squash or twist bristles. Avoid prolonged soaking or the use of very hot water as this can loosen the glue that holds the bristles in place. Rinse in clean warm water, shake out excess and lie brush on a towel or face cloth to absorb water, then leave to dry naturally, lying flat.
Do not resort to the blow dryer - it's too hot - and don't leave brushes upright in a jar to dry as the moisture will drain into the base of the brush and may loosen the glue.
Stockists: Brand counters or as stated. QVS from selected pharmacy, department and variety store stands. Bare Minerals and id Bare Escentuals ph 0800 575-565. Haydn carries a full range of brushes from singles to professional kits online at cosmeticbrushes.co.nz.