Essential brushes

I’ve narrowed down my favourite brushes for every task and these are my top eight essential hair, makeup and skincare brushes.

I have spares of all of them stashed away – apart from the Sisley-Paris Gentle Brush which I’ve only just ordered from AllBeauty.

The best thing is that I’ve never had to break open any of the spares, they all do their job, wash beautifully and keep their shape, this is what makes a good brush.

1. Lily Lilo Super Kabuki Brush £17.50. Lily Lilo

Lily Lolo super kabuki brush has rounded edges to allow for full coverage for application and buffing.

Stubby handle fits neatly into the palm of your hand for swift and easy application of product.

Lily Lilo Super Kabuki Brush

The Lily Lilo brand came to my attention when I was searching for a mineral foundation. I bought the Baby Buki Brush and five sample pots of shades (£1.50 each back then, £2.00 now) which were so tiny I couldn’t properly trial them.

I can’t think how you could practically use the baby buki brush as it’s so tiny, I’ve lost mine.

The Super Kabuki Brush is wonderful though for applying bronzer. Not just to your face, but arms and legs when you need a last-minute swirl of colour to disguise deathly winter paleness.

It’s dense and soft without being too soft to control. It hasn’t splayed even after washing. I dab it on a bar of Simple Soap and rinse, rinse, rinse. This is how I wash all my brushes.

The bristles stand the test of time (6 years!) and still look as good and as glossy as the day I bought it. The only downside is that I would love something to put it in when travelling. It comes in a not overly sturdy little cardboard box which only lasted a little while. I’ve been lucky and thrown it into my makeup bag and so far, it’s kept its shape.

Easily, the best kabuki brush I’ve ever bought.

EDIT: I’ve just checked, LilyLilo is offering Mineral Starter Collection boxes with three sample pots of mineral powder foundation and the baby buki brush in shades, Light, Light/Medium and Medium. Darker skin tones seem to have only two shades to choose from,  Truffle (deep warm) and Bon Bon (deep neutral).

2. Illamasqua Highlighter Fan Brush £21.00. Cheapest £6.30 Look Fantastic*

Easy to use, its fanned brush head applies product smoothly and evenly.

A fan brush with featherweight bristles to create a subtle or strobing highlight.

The highlighter brush diffuses product across the cheekbones and cupid’s bow with utmost precision.

Illamasqua Highlighter Fan Brush

This is a new buy but now counts as an essential.

I was a fan of highlighter years ago, those glorious days in the 80s when you could wear a lot of makeup in bright colours without looking over the top.

The trend today is to wear thick layers of makeup for photos on social media which I completely understand.

I think it was Bobbi Brown who said good makeup can make you look 10 years younger, but bad makeup can age you by 15 years.

As I got older it just didn’t look right and I felt it looked a bit clowny, so I retired highlighter.

Ten years on and I’ve done a complete 180 and returned to it to lift my complexion. I’m very aware that I only need a whisper of highlighter which is why this delicate, softly bristled brush is ideal.

3. Tangle Teezer Fine & Fragile Mint Violet £14.00. Cheapest £11.20 Look Fantastic

Detangling your vulnerable hair doesn’t have to be scary and our Fine & Fragile detangling brush is here to take the fear out of it.

Designed for colour-treated, fine or fragile hair, its two-tiered soft-flex teeth glides from root to tip with no pulling and less breakage, meaning you can confidently detangle knowing your hair is in safe hands. Well, teeth.

These teeth are 30% softer than The Original and are super gentle on wet or dry hair.

Tangle Teezer Fine and Fragile Detangling Hairbrush

I wasn’t sure about this but bought it in the Mint and Violet colourway as it was on offer.

I firmly believe it has saved my fragile hair from severe breakage after 40 years of highlighting and heating styling. My hair grows fast so I have to get it highlighted frequently so I spare no expense keeping it in good condition.

There’s a short window of opportunity once I’ve dabbed my hair semi-dry with a towel before it knots up. This brush is very gentle and unlike my other Tangle Teezers (I’m looking at you, one with the long handle that I can’t give up), there’s no ripping sound as it combs through my hair with those soft teeth.

4. Real Techniques 5 Piece Set £16.69. Amazon UK

  • Create a perfect canvas with our flawless base set. Contains: Contour Brush, Detailer Brush, Buffing Brush, Square Foundation Brush, Brush Storage Cup
  • Contour brush: for delicate application of highlighter or contour product above or below cheekbones
  • Detailer brush: precision cut to effortlessly conceal problem areas. Tip: use with lipstick for long-lasting shape and definition
  • Buffing brush: ideal for full coverage application of loose or compact powder foundation
  • Square foundation brush: densely packed and unique cut to build custom coverage with liquid foundation

Real Techniques 5 Piece Set

This brush is old, yet looks brand new. I bought it from Boots about 15-20 years ago. The wording’s rubbed off but the orange metal part hasn’t worn at all despite repeated washing and the bristles have retained their shape.

It’s dense without being stiff and the bristles are just soft enough. Both of mine were bought separately, but as far as I am aware, you can only buy this now as part of a set from Amazon. It’s the ‘contour’ brush.

This is my favourite brush.

5. MAC 217S Blending Brush £21.00. Cheapest £17.85 Beauty Bay

A brush for the shading or blending of powdery or creamy products.

This brush has luxuriously soft, densely packed fibres that are arranged in an oval shape.

MAC 217S Blending Brush £21.00.

At first glance, it looks a little large and unwieldy to use as a blending brush, but you can blend out the tiniest area with ease. It’s comfortable to control too.

6. Beauty Pie Seamless Foundation Buffing Brush £12.00 Beauty PieBEAUTY PIE SEAMLESS FOUNDATION BUFFING BRUSH

Beauty Pie Seamless Foundation Buffing Brush

This is the perfect foundation brush, click on the image above for the full review. I have four now. I use it to apply foundation – always spritzing it with Too Faced Hangover 3-in1 Primer Setting Spray*  first to ensure my foundation stays put all day.

I bought the powder brush from Beauty Pie which was a disappointment, it was too big and far too soft, powder went everywhere and I couldn’t control it. The same goes for beauty Pie’s  Pro Contour Angled Cheek brush, too big and fluffy for the job.

7. Sisley-Paris Gentle Face and Neck Brush £34.00 Cheapest £21.95. AllBeauty *

Help remove impurities by using this clever skincare tool, the Sisley Gentle Brush Face and Neck, which has been designed to aid water-based cleansers in your skincare regime for a clearer complexion.

The soft bristles provide an extra level of exfoliation while also being gentle to skin.

This product can be used on almost all skin types, except those prone to acne or those that are highly reactive. Simply dampen the bristles before applying the chosen cleanser and gently massaging into the skin of the face, neck and décolletage.

Sisley Gentle Brush Face and Neck can be utilised as part of a skincare routine while using any water-based cleanser, including foaming cleansers, and helps such cleansers perform even better by removing impurities and dead skin cells.

  • Helps remove impurities and dead skin cells
  • Can be used with any water-based cleanser
  • Stimulates the epidermis of the skin
  • Prepares skin for the application of other skincare products
  • Application: wet the bristles, then liberally apply a water-based cleanser to the brush. Use a gentle circular motion to face, neck and décolleté. Rinse the brush thoroughly with warm water after each use.

Sisley-Paris Gentle Face and Neck Brush

It doesn’t look particularly exciting, but the reviews are very positive. I wanted a dedicated neck brush as the skin on my neck is super sensitive. I worry that I’m putting too much pressure on it using a muslin cleansing cloth but then I think I’m not cleaning it thoroughly, so I like the idea of something very gentle.

I think we all worry about our necks as we begin to age, they are such a giveaway. I can’t use any skincare (apart from sunscreen) for fear of another flare-up and I have suffered the mother of all flare-ups, scary images and my red light saviour right here, so I solely rely on LED red light devices instead of serum, oil or creams. There’s a square patch slap bang in the centre of my neck that creases up and looks crepey if I contort my neck in a certain way. Realistically, I think that’s unfixable and will get worse, but the rest of my neck isn’t too bad at all.

LightStim brought elasticity back to my neck although I now use the CurrentBody Neck LED Mask (with 5 Hydrogel neck masks) £276.00 CurrentBody* – as it covers the neck and chest. I’m a side sleeper (don’t do that) and I have found the mask helps a lot. I have been using it for years though, and that’s the key point I drive home in all my posts about LED devices. They are only a good investment if you’re willing to use them regularly.

I don’t take my foundation down to my neck to match the colour to my face because my skin will get irritated, so I use a light dusting of bronzer, Estée Lauder Bronze Goddess Powder Bronzer to take the whiteness of my neck away, it matches up quite nicely.

Because of this, I worry that the bronzer will get into the nooks and crannies of my neck and that a gentle cleanse with a muslin cloth won’t take it all away so that’s the reason I’m hoping this brush will clean my neck properly.

There’s a video on YouTube by Nadine Baggott that discusses the importance of cleaning your neck which set me thinking about this Sisley brush.

Would I pay the full price of £34.00 that all retailers seem to be selling it for? No, I would find a cheaper alternative. £21.95 from AllBeauty (as of 21/3/24 as their stock changes) is just about right.

8. MAC 219S Pencil Shaped Brush £21.00. Same price everywhere.

For precision shading on the lid, in the eye crease or along the lash line.

The soft, smooth fibres of this brush are gathered into a pencil-shaped tip. It is ideal for blending eye liner into eye shadow to create a smoky-looking eye.

MAC 219S Pencil Shaped Brush
I have lots of these brushes. The densely packed bristles make application a breeze.

Great for faking a crease ie just above your natural crease to open your eyes and give you a little more eyelid space.


Mac 318 Retractable Lip Liner Brush £21.00

A compact lip brush for the handbag. Ultra-firm with a tapered tip. Defines the contours of the lip and fills them in quickly and easily. Retracts into its own M·A·C-style casing.
Mac Retractable Lip Liner Brush

There are a few dodgy reviews, but I’ve had mine for years without issues.

Yes, I think it’s overpriced but the casing is useful. There are times when you can’t whip out a full-sized lipstick. I load the brush up with colour and it stays put in the case until I need to use it.

Estée Lauder Bronze Goddess Powder Bronzer Brush

EL brush
This cute little brush is for contouring and comes with the bronzer compact.

It’s an update on their previous brush, it’s well-made with dense but soft bristles.

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