What is the *Very* Best Brush for Applying Mineral Makeup?

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Mineral makeup — tiny particles of mineral, such as iron oxide or talc, that have been ground, milled or micronized — has become one of the most popular types of foundation on the market, and its sellers proclaim many benefits for the skin.

But the finish you achieve with those teensy-weensy particles has a great deal to do with the way you apply them — and the brush you use.

So, what is the very best brush for applying mineral makeup?

The answer depends a bit on the finish you’re trying to achieve, so let’s break it down — with science!

(C’mon now — You didn’t think there would just be one answer, did you?)

Brush Shape

Let’s start with brush shapes, which have a great deal to do with the quality of coverage.

sigmaf80A flat-top kabuki brush. This type of brush has become very popular and will, generally speaking, give you the fullest coverage. Why? When you apply mineral makeup with a flat-top brush, it simply deposits the makeup particles more densely when the brush makes contact with the skin.

chisel2Think of it like a chisel-tip Sharpie! It deposits thick and heavy.

That’s also why you have to be careful when using a flat-top of brush, too. It’s very easy with this style of brush to deposit a heavy “dot” of makeup where you make initial contact, which then requires much buffing and blending, followed by more buffing and blending.

You can avoid this problem by making sure you really work the product into the toe of the brush when you swirl the brush into the makeup, and give it an aggressive tap or shake to remove as much excess mineral product as you can. This helps to ensure that you are working makeup particles into the skin as you swirl the brush on your skin, rather than depositing a tight pack of makeup on your face and then buffing and blending it around. It might seem like a small thing, but there’s actually a big difference there — at least for those who want to avoid looking like a kabuki theater performer.

26390-flawlessapplicationfacebrush-0head

A domed-top kabuki brush. This will, generally speaking, give you a more natural finish. That’s because there is more randomness in how the makeup product is deposited onto the skin.finepoint

The heaviest  concentration of product is deposited at the center of the brush. As you swirl the brush in a circle on your skin, the graded perimeter of the brush will blend and deposit more product in a more subtle way that results in a more natural finish.

 

Brush Fiber

Now, you need to consider whether you want a brush with synthetic or natural fibers. Here, too, your choice will strongly affect the quality of your finish.

Generic diagram of hair cuticle. There are actually many different types of hair cuticle designs, which are usually specific to the animal. Science!

Generic diagram of hair cuticle. There are actually many different types of hair cuticle designs, which are usually specific to the animal. Science!

Photomicrograph of Goat Hair

FBI Photomicrograph of goat hair, which makes up the majority of fiber used in cosmetic brushes worldwide. Science!

Generally speaking, real organic hair — the majority of the cosmetic brush market is goat — will be more forgiving, in terms of allowing more natural-looking coverage, than even the best synthetic fibers.

There’s a good and logical reason for this.

FIG. 945– Transverse section of hair follicle. http://www.bartleby.com/107/234.htmlBrush hair is typically selected because of the quality of its cuticle — the microscopically rough surface structure of the hair, which allows each strand to be impregnated with makeup product, so it can then be deposited onto the skin.

Synthetic brush hair attempts to mimic the cuticle of real hair with its own microscopically rough surface structure. 

http://www2.dupont.com/Natrafil/en_US/assets/downloads/Natrafil_presentation_Aug_2011.pdf

But synthetic hair, such as Dupont’s Natrafil, seems to pick up a bit more product than natural hair. This strong “pickup” characteristic is largely considered desirable and efficient, as it eliminates having to continually return the brush to the makeup container to grab more product.

However, when the brush holds onto more product, it also deposits more product, which may then require more buffing and blending, especially when it comes to fine mineral makeup particles.

Real hair, on the other hand, is a little less effective at holding onto the tiny particles of mineral makeup. This leads to more natural – or lighter – coverage, which can then be built up naturally.

One more thing to consider is the density of the fibers, or how tightly the hairs are packed. The more dense and tightly packed, the more product the brush will collect and deposit on your skin. Loosely packed brushes, on the other hand, will collect and deposit less makeup.

Now that you know all that, onto the best brushes!

Best Brushes

Fullest coverage. Choose a flat-top brush with tightly packed synthetic fibers. Top pick: Sigma F80. $21. Made with Synthetic Sigmax. On Makeup Alley, this brush gets 4.6/5 rating with 89% reporting they would buy it again. This is Sigma's most popular foundation brush, and it's recommended for use with liquid and cream foundations. But many women like it best for their mineral makeup. We recommend buying this directly from Sigma, to avoid getting a knockoff.

Fullest coverage. Choose a flat-top brush with tightly packed synthetic fibers. Top pick: Sigma F80. $21. Made with Synthetic Sigmax. On Makeup Alley, this brush gets 4.6/5 rating with 89% reporting they would buy it again. This is Sigma’s most popular foundation brush, and it’s recommended for use with liquid and cream foundations. But many women like it best for their mineral makeup. We recommend buying this directly from Sigma, to avoid getting a knockoff.

heavenlyFull, natural coverage. Choose a flat-top brush with more loosely packed synthetic fibers or goat hair. Bare Escentuals Heavenly Face Brush. $30. Made with goat hair. This is Bare Escentuals most highly rated brush, and it is a great pick for full, natural coverage. We do have a word of caution with this brush, however:

Overall, Bare Escentuals brushes, which feature a stiffer goat hair, do not get great reviews, especially from women with sensitive skin. Most of the complaints are thus: their brushes shed (as all natural hair brushes tend to do) and they are less soft than a synthetic brush, which can be problematic for women with very sensitive skin. So if you have highly sensitive skin, you’ll want to shop for a domed brush with either loosely packed synthetic fibers or the softest goat fibers, which are a specialty of Japanese brush makers.

Sephora's Too Faced Retractable Kabuki Brush is black, pinky, stripey and French in feel. $32.

G543LMedium coverage. Choose a domed brush with more loosely packed synthetic fibers or goat hair. Or, even a duo fiber brush. Retractable brushes, such as the popular retractable kabuki from Too Faced (32-34), are a great choice because you can slide the sleeve up for more dense application — or down, for lighter application. For a good domed choice made with goat hair, you might want to splurge on a Japanese brush. There are a few models, such as the Hakuhodo G543 ($94), that seem very soft and splurge-worthy for this purpose!

bare-escentuals-flawless-application-face-brush

Light, natural coverage. Choose a domed brush with goat hair. Bare Escentuals’ Flawless Application Brush. $22. Made with goat hair. This is one of the few mineral makeup brushes that offers light-to-medium coverage. We include it here, even though this brush gets poor reviews, largely because of the sensitive-skin issue mentioned above. Despite all that, if you really want lighter, natural looking coverage, this is the brush you need. We will suggest a better alternative should one ever appear on the US market.

Even More Information

Here’s what others have to say about brushes for mineral makeup:

http://www.makeuptalk.com/t/90041/whats-the-best-brush-for-mineral-makeup

http://www.thingsilove.com.au/2010/08/review-sigma-f80-ss197-synthetic-flatop.html

3 comments on What is the *Very* Best Brush for Applying Mineral Makeup?

  1. My Brush Betty
    January 21, 2014 at 8:59 pm (5 years ago)

    What are the brushes you like best for mineral makeup? Especially if you have sensitive skin! Mineral makeup seems to be a Catch 22 for women with sensitive skin. On one hand, it’s good for the skin. On the other, the method of swirling and buffing it in can be hard for those with sensitive skin.

    Reply
  2. ami
    May 31, 2016 at 7:56 am (2 years ago)

    I think the sensitivity thing really depends on the type of sensitivity. Mine is semi sensitive, but mostly I just can’t stand things feeling like they are sitting on my skin. I am very fair but ALL sunscreens just sit and make me feel yucky and I can’t wait to wash them off. Same thing with traditional makeup. I can feel it and it drives me nuts. Then it starts itching and I scratch at it (which of course looks SOO great). Heavy stuff also makes me break out pretty quick. So once mineral makeup became a thing I was finally able to use something and since I couldn’t feel it I don’t scratch at it or avoid it entirely due to the heavy itchy feeling. (yes I would rather go without then wear heavy itchy makeup).

    As for brush types I prefer synthetic. It doesn’t feel as itchy when putting makeup on and they don’t shed. My current favorite brush is an ancient (10+years) synthetic eye brush. It’s so old the handle came off, but with no shedding the brush itself is still perfect. Without a handle it makes a great travel brush. I came here today looking for suggestions to replace it since I can’t remember where I got it.

    (PS, I LOVE that you include science! There is SO much science in beauty stuff that people don’t seem to realize.)

    Reply
  3. Elizabeth
    March 5, 2017 at 9:18 pm (2 years ago)

    I have very dry skin and a densely packed flat-top brush will exfoliate/flake my skin off. I try and use a very soft dome brush with shorter hairs, and build up to the coverage I desire.

    Reply