Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.
If you’re looking to spend big bucks on a makeup brush, we get it. After all, it’s something you’re likely going to use daily and will last way longer than the pan of bronzer you’re using it with, making it a worthy investment. So if you’re ready to splurge, go for it—there’s certainly no shortage of pricey picks to choose from.
But we’re going to let you in on a little secret: There’s truly no need to buy expensive makeup brushes. The drugstore is home to a litany of ah-mazing brushes that can go head-to-head with their pricier counterparts when it comes to efficacy. There are numerous things to look for in a drugstore makeup brush, and they're no different than if you were spending more on a fancier brand. You'll want a size appropriate for what you'll be using it for, as well as the right angle or taper for the job. Bristle material is an important factor, as is how ergonomic the handle is for ease of use.
Save your cash and add any (or all) of these best drugstore makeup brushes to your stash.
Best Overall: e.l.f. Cosmetics Ultimate Blending Brush
This brand repeatedly earns our praise for offering a whole host of ultra-affordable products, and tools are no exception. Byrdie’s Senior Social Manager Kelly Gallagher is a big fan of all of the brushes they make, but if you want to try just one, make it this guy. With a dome-shaped head and tightly-packed bristles, it can be used to apply—and then seamlessly blend—basically any kind of powder or liquid product.
Best Set: EcoTools Makeup Brush Set
Byrdie Associate Editor Holly Rhue raves about this line of affordable brushes; try out some of their best ones with this convenient kit. It comes with five different brushes to meet all of your makeup needs, all made with eco-conscious bamboo handles. If you’re looking to revamp your entire brush collection in one fell swoop, this is the way to do it.
Best for Powder: Wet n Wild Powder Brush
Yes, this brush costs less than an iced coffee. The large, fluffy bristles are choice for evenly dusting on any and every kind of powder product, picking up just the right amount. (And they’re completely cruelty-free and vegan, too.)
Best for Eye Shadow: Real Techniques Eyeshadow Makeup Brush Set
You don’t need 18943 different brushes for eyeshadow application. This set of two gets the job done, no matter what kind of look you’re going for. One features tapered bristles to apply shadow all over your lid, the other, softer bristles ideal for blending colors into the crease. Also nice: The synthetic bristles work well with either cream or powder shadows.
Best for Foundation: Joah Beauty Foundation Brush
Applying foundation with a brush is one of the pro makeup artist secrets and techniques that can make a huge difference. Try it with this brush; its domed and slightly tapered head is ideal for applying and blending in your favorite base.
Best for Brows: Morphe M158 Angle/Liner Spoolie Brush
Use the firm angled side to precisely place any kind of powder or pomade throughout your arches. Then, flip it over and brush through with the built-in spoolie. Brow perfection made easy.
Best for Blush: Flower Beauty Ultimate Blush & Contour Brush
Forget mascara or concealer, it’s blush that would truly be one our desert island must-have. Dust it on with this beauty of a brush. Nice and fluffy bristles pick up and deposit product perfectly. And as an added bonus, the angled shape pulls double duty for dabbing contour color along your cheekbones or jawline.
Best for Concealer: Sonia Kashuk Essential Flat-Top Concealer Makeup Brush
No matter whether you’re working with a cream or liquid concealer, this brush is ideal. A flat top buffs and blends the product into skin, helping you to camouflage imperfections without calling any attention to the makeup itself. We also appreciate that it comes with a convenient cap that’s perfect for travel and keeping the brush clean.
Best for Highlighter: BH Cosmetics All Over Fan Brush 1
Fan brushes are choice for dusting on highlighter and creating that coveted, lit-from-within glow every one craves. The flat bristles and fanned shape of this one make it easy to place product exactly on cheekbones, browbones, and the bridge of your nose, exactly where you want that glow. Bonus points for the synthetic, cruelty-free bristles.
Best for Lips: BLK/OPL Precision Lip Brush
A lip brush is an ideal way to get an ultra-precise application of any bold lip color; use it to either dab on the color directly, or dab it in a touch of makeup remover and use it to wipe off any smudges of color and create a crisp border. The stiff (yet soft) bristles and rounded tip on this brush are ideal for either purpose.
Best for Skincare: NYX Professional Makeup High Glass Face Primer Brush
Believe it, brushes aren’t just for applying makeup. They’re also a great way to effectively and evenly apply any pre-makeup skincare such as serums, and/or primer. We’re fans of this totally unique-looking brush, which features bristles of various lengths to create a nubby type texture; the grooves in between make it easy to seamlessly cover your entire face with product.
What to Look For in Makeup Brushes
Bristle Material and Packing
Drugstore brushes are mostly likely going to be made of synthetic material for the bristles, and there's nothing wrong with that. Synthetic bristles are easier to wash, for one thing. What matters most is that they are tightly packed, and when you run your hands through it, no bristles stray out into them. You'll want to choose ones with bristles that feel soft enough to be comfortable on your skin.
Because you'll be using your brushes to apply makeup, it's imperative that the handles are ergonomically designed to enable you to perform that job well. Make sure it feels comfortable in your hand, and not unwieldly. For smaller brushes, such as to apply eyeshadow or liner, check for a handle that is long enough for you to grip thoroughly.
Having a set of brushes in the sizes needed for the ways you'll be using them is key to your makeup turning out nicely. For example, a brush for foundation will be entirely different in size from a brush for any eye makeup. Since drugstore brushes are relatively inexpensive, it's not too difficult to build up a collection of various sizes. Begin with ones for the cosmetics you use most often, to get the most out of them.
Angle and Taper
For certain purposes, such as applying contour, the angle and taper of a brush's bristles makes all the difference. As you learn assorted makeup techniques, such as how to apply highlighter, you'll become more adept at utilizing the varying ways brush bristles can alter a look.
How can you tell if a makeup brush is good quality?
There are several ways to tell if a makeup brush is of decent quality. First, the bristles shouldn't come off as you touch them. Next, they should be held together to the handle in a way that doesn't wobble or feel unsteady. And lastly, the bristles should feel smooth, not ragged.
Does it matter what makeup brush you use?
While there is some leeway, such as using a blush brush to apply bronzer in a pinch, overall you do want to choose brushes designed for the tasks you'll be using them for. That's the best way to assure you get the results you want.
Is a foundation brush worth it?