If I had to pick five MAC makeup brushes that I considered "must-haves", these would be they. That said, I'll follow this post with posts like Top 5 Eye Brushes, Top 5 Face Brushes and Top 10 Makeup Brush Types (types of brushes you should have, from any brand), because when it comes to brushes I can't pick just 5!
Without further ado...
Top 5 MAC Brushes
- The #239 Eye Shader Brush
Soft and dense to shade or blend eye shadow or emollient-based products. This brush has a tapered, rounded edge with smooth, firm, fine fibres. It can be used to build intense colour on the eyelid.
This is my #1 pick for several reasons. I actually own 3 of them, so I practice what I preach! If you want to buy one eye brush, this is it. If you can only buy one brush at all, this is it.
As stated above in the MAC description, it can be used to work with powder and/or emollient products.
Use this brush to pick up color and then, holding it flat against the eye, pat or press it onto the eye. Repeat until color is at desired intensity.
Multipurpose by: a) using just the edge to push color into lashlines, or b) sweep back and forth to blend or apply a more diffuse layer of color, or c) hold flat again and pat along the area where two colors meet to blend or d) pat color into the area around the tear duct, or e) apply lip products, or f) apply concealer to undereye or around nose.
- The #224 Tapered Blending Brush
For controlled eye shadow application. This brush has soft fibers which taper to form a medium size dome shape.
I love this brush! I have two. Or do I have 3? No, I think it's just two. Maybe I need another!
As with most round brushes, this one is best used in a circular motion. It can also be used to sweep color onto the eye (it will give a lighter application than pressing color on with the #239).
Multipurpose this way: a) blend colors by gently moving the brush in circles where two colors meet, or b) sweep a wash of color onto lid, crease, or up to brow, or c) move back and forth in a windshield wiper style movement to push color in the crease of the eye (it fits perfectly!), or d) sweep a clean #224 under the eye to whisk away color fall-out, or e) apply powder highlighter to the tops of cheekbones and bridge of nose, or f) contour the sides and tip of the nose with a foundation or shadow slightly darker than skintone.
- The #188 Small Duo Fibre Face Brush
A flat-topped, full circular brush used for lightweight application and blending of any formula colour – fluid, cream, powder or pigment. Ideal for creating soft layers or adding textures. Made from a soft blend of goat and synthetic fibres.
Yes, you've probably been told you "need" this brush's big sister, the #187, but I beg to differ. I have both, and I use the #188 far more frequently! I use this size because it fits most faces better than the big #188 - especially faces with smaller features like mine.
Again - round brush, round movements, people! It is fabulous for just about any face product. I bronze, buff, highlight, contour, gloss, gleam, prep, prime, and color with this brush. It does almost everything. Try spritzing the brush with a product like Fix+ before using it to apply liquid foundation. I like to use the brush to apply my moisturizer then primer (letting each set before the next step) and then putting on my foundation without cleaning the brush in between - the moisturizer and primer still in the brush help the foundation glide on!
Multipurposes include but are not limited to: a) applying moisturizer and primer, b) applying foundation of any type, c) applying blush, d) applying highlighter, e) applying contour products, f) applying bronzer, g) applying any kind of color product to skin like when you want to put purple pigments on it for no reason whatsoever, and h) applying body products, too.
- The #168 Large Angled Shader Brush
For expert application of cheek contour.
Before becoming a makeup artist, I always looked at this brush and thought "What in the hell am I supposed to do with that!?" It's a slightly intimidating brush because the shape isn't what we're used to seeing. But it's actually a no-brainer brush, and since I contour (lightly) every time I do my makeup, it's indispensable!
I use this product to pick up a bit of powder about two shades darker than my skin. Mattes are best for this, since we're trying to contour a shadow into the skin. Sweep the color into the hollows of the cheeks (from the top of the ear towards the corner of the mouth, generally speaking, but stopping when below the pupil if you're looking straight into the mirror). I hold the brush so that the shorter bristles are on top (the longer bristles pointing down to the ground).
Why contour? It can give you kick-ass cheekbones, make you look like you dropped 10 pounds, and draw attention to your eyes. All of those are definitely good things!
Multipurpose by a) also pulling contour up to the temples b) down under the jawline, c) show off that sexy physique in your strapless dress by contouring your clavicle (or boobs!) or d) sweeping a shimmering highlight onto the top of the cheekbones.
- The #217 Blending Brush
For shading or blending of colour or creamy products. This brush has fine, densely packed fibers that are arranged in an oval shape.
I have 3 of these, but I don't use them for the same thing most people use them for - blending shadows. I just don't like the #217 for that. First of all, and this is a stupid reason, the bristles are synthetic and sometimes make these weird squeaky-type sensations when I use it, and those give me the heebies. Also, synthetic fibers don't absorb any product, so when pushing product around to "blend", a lot more gets shoveled around and a lot more fall-out occurs. But if you like this brush for blending, rock on! To each his own.
I do adore this brush for creamy products, and have one dedicated just for cream shadows (which I use as shadow primers). I also like this for putting on concealers - the brush slips nicely into the undereye area and around the contours of the nose.
Multipurposing galore: a) sure, blend your shadows, or b) put crease colors down, or c) contour the nose, or d) dust on pigments to highlight, or e) apply concealer, or f) put on cream eye shadow, or g) put some powder shadow or pigment onto the center of the lips before your gloss for extra oomph.
5 MAC Brushes You Can Just Skip
- The #275 Medium Angled Shading Brush
It's like an angled #224 or a really small #168... kind of. Only, here's the thing: it's not as good. It's made of different fibers than the other two brushes; these bristles are floppier, so harder to work with in my opinion.
I think this brush is fine for blending shadows, which is its "purpose" but I'd rather use the #224. I just prefer the way the #224 fits into the crease and how it can be swirled in circles. This brush, the #275, is really only decent in a back-and-forth motion, and since you can do that with the #224, too, I think this brush is redundant. Oh, this one is good for contouring the nose - but you can just use the #224 for that, too, so again: redundant.
- The #191 Square Foundation Brush
A large, flat, square-shaped synthetic-fibre brush with a fine firm edge for distribution and blending of liquid, emulsion or cream products on the face or body.
It's synthetic, so is pushes product around rather than absorbing it. That's not bad, it's just something to be aware of. It's a good brush, but not a must-have. I have one and use it only rarely, preferring instead the #190 (a more paddle-shaped foundation brush with natural bristles) or the #187 or #188. I do like the #191 for applying colored makeup like Chromacakes or Paint Sticks or the like, but for regular foundation? Yeah... notsomuch.
- (and 4. and 5.) The #208 Angled Brow Brush, #263 Small Angled Brush, #266 Small Angled Brush
Why skip these? All three are about $20, and I can think of several other angled brushes I like better. Go elsewhere and whether you spend the same amount or buy a cheaper brush, you're likely going to get a better angled brush!
Uses for this type of brush include filling in the brows, lining the eyes, lining the lips.