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Skin Deep

Skin Deep: How many makeup brushes do you actually need?

Spoiler: It’s probably not as many as you think.

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Welcome to Skin Deep with Louise McSharry, my opportunity to put years of obsessing over beauty products and techniques to good use. I won’t tell you something is good if it’s not. I won’t recommend products I haven’t actually tried. As the magical sitar in Moulin Rouge said, I only speak the truth.

I often get asked about makeup brushes. How many do you actually need? Which ones do what? Do you have to spend a fortune on them? The thing is, the only one of those questions which has a definitive answer is the third.  No, you don’t need to spend a fortune on them. Once upon a time I would have said you did, but synthetic brushes have come a long way, so that’s no longer the case.

As for how many you actually need, well, that depends on what you want to do and how skilled you are with your fingers. Some people are perfectly happy to apply their makeup with their fingers from start to finish. It’s not for me – I recently found myself physically flinching as I watched someone mashing a full face of makeup into their face with the palm of their hand. If you are someone who likes to use brushes, however, here are the brushes I believe to be the most useful.

FullSizeRender (1) These are the nine brushes I use for 99% of my makeup looks, from Penneys, Real Techniques, Nima Brush, Mac and Laura Mercier.

First, a foundation brush. I know that everyone’s all about the beauty blender these days, but for me that’s too much fussing around with water and dampness and dab, dab, dabbing. Give me an old-fashioned brush any day. (In fairness, foundation is something which can be applied perfectly well with your fingers.) Which brush is up to you. I don’t love the traditional thin flat foundation brush. To me, it feels like I’m wiping the product on my face rather than buffing it in. I prefer a fuller brush, and for years my favourite has been this $7.94 ‘powder brush‘ from E.L.F.

This gal is a bit of a wonder. It’s inexpensive, soft, doesn’t shed, and can be used in all manner of ways. (That goes for most brushes, by the way. Don’t get too bogged down in what purpose the brush is labelled for. Use what works for you. You may find that a ‘contour brush’ is your preferred powder brush, or that a ‘lip brush’ works well on your eyebrows. Do you, babes.)  But, back to foundation brushes. Another brush I’ve been using recently is a Penneys dupe for the extremely expensive Artis brushes. I didn’t expect much, but I’ve found that it applies well and makes a little product go a long way.

PS... flawless finish foundation brush €4 Penney's version of the Artis brushes. I was surprised by how much I liked it.

My other essentials for basic face stuff include a blusher brush, a bronzer brush, a highlight brush and a powder brush. None of these brushes need to be expensive. I use a Real Techniques ‘stippling brush’ for blush because it works well with cream and powder, but any tradition blusher brush will do. A thinner pointier version of a blusher brush is my preference for highlight, like the Blathin from Nima Brush, and a short dense one for powder. Some people prefer a fluffier one, but I’m usually using the powder to buff out any rough contouring edges as well as to finish, so I like the density. I generally use bronzer for contour, and contour only, so this Real Techniques Flat contour does the job (this E.L.F. one is also decent). The flat dense brush makes it easy to get into the crevices of your cheeks, to give you that skeletal look everyone’s after. ;)

Eyes are where brushes really matter, in my opinion, and if you’re going to spend money it should be on these guys. You don’t want anything rough on the delicate skin around your eyes, so make sure that whatever you choose has soft bristles. Aside from protecting your skin, the key to most successful eye makeup looks is blending, and you can’t blend well with anything too hard. I do all of my eye makeup with three brushes. A short, flat eyeshadow brush from MAC, a pointed crease brush from Real Techniques, and the absolute eye makeup holy grail, the MAC 217 for blending. The first two can be exchanged for whatever you have or prefer, they’re just my favourite for getting shadow on the actual lid, in the crease and smoking up below the bottom lashes, but the 217 is an essential.


There are lots of brushes trying to be the 217. There are lots of brushes that come close. However, I have yet to find one that matches its blending abilities. Trust me, even the roughest, mankiest eyeshadow job can be blended to an acceptable level with this brush (simply run it back and forth across the edges of your eyeshadow until its disappearing into your skin). You will not find a makeup artist who doesn’t have it in her kit, in fact, most will have several. You will never regret buying this brush. Throw in an eyebrow brush if you use a cream eyebrow product and you’re done. Anything short and angled will work, but Laura Mercier do my favourite because it has a thin end for perfecting the narrower edge of your brows. (If you have thick brows this won’t matter to you, but if you’re trying to create something out of nothing, as I am, you’ll love it.)

So there you have it, my essential brushes. However, they are just my essential brushes. There are no hard and fast rules. If you don’t contour, don’t worry about those brushes. If you only ever wear liquid eyeliner and never bother with eyeshadow, then don’t worry about those guys. Mix and match as you please, and find what works for you.

As for cleaning them, I can’t recommend Penney’s rubber cleaning mitt enough. It will quarter the effort. Last time I did mine it was so quick I considered upping my routine to twice a year. (I am gross.)

New Product

L.O.V. is a brand popping up at pharmacies across Ireland and Shaw’s department stores, and it’s decent. Their vibe is fancy, but not so fancy that you have to spend a fortune, which is a very good vibe, if you ask me. I especially like their double ended eyeliner and eyeshadows, which are well pigmented and a lovely texture.

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