#MakeupMonday: Brush Love

One core makeup product I’ve never blogged about is makeup brushes.  I’ve been ambivalent about brushes and for the first couple years of my makeup experimentation, basically didn’t really put any effort into buying them, and just used whatever I had laying around.

Then I started following Ijeoma Oluo on Twitter. Aside from her incredible work on racism (read her book: So You Want to Talk About Race), she is also a dedicated makeup practitioner and shares her looks almost daily.

Ijeoma Oluo

I think it was this one that was the turning point for me.

I studied it, and I thought—my eye makeup does not look like that. Not just because I can’t even begin to pull off such a dramatic look, obviously, but also because, holy shit, I AM NOT BLENDING MY EYE SHADOW NEARLY ENOUGH.

It was a bit of a wakeup call. I realized I’d been just slapping on the shadow, vaguely squishing it around, and running out the door.

I decided to get some decent brushes. Because of my basic policy of starting inexpensively until I’m sure I’m truly invested, I went straight to my trusty TJ Maxx, and bought what looked like a reasonably good set of like 8 Kensie brushes, mainly for eyes.  That’s Kensie, lol, not Kenzie – ie, it’s a cheap knockoff brand.  It was about $16 and I have to tell you, they’ve been fantastic.

<–This is the brush that changed my life and made me a believer. It’s a “puffy” brush on a small eyelid scale (it’s about .5 inch across), and I use it to blend and blend and blend  – and it’s entirely changed my look.

I don’t have great before and after shots, but these two below should give you a sense (caveat: the one on the left was SUPPOSED to be super vivid and dramatic, but even so).









After a bit of time I went to Ulta and Target, and invested in decent quality (but not exorbinant [brands: It for Ulta and Sonia Kashuk) big puffy brushes for the face since I was starting to experiment with setting powder, which is a tricky product!

After a bit more time, I started digging through Ulta Clearance shelves and TJ Maxx and Grocery Outlet for discount name-brand brushes at a great price.

Here are my game-changers below.  I’ll walk through them left to right.

Far left, a Revlon Eyeshadow Brush – found for $2.99 at Grocery Outlet.  A fantastic crease brush; it’s tapered at top to fit in the crease, with a great length and heft and pointy handle (I LOVE POINTY HANDLES BECAUSE THEY FIT INTO MY BRUSH HOLDER!) I adore it and went back with Miyako to buy 3 more! (2 for her and 2 for me, one as my backup and one to stay in my travel kit permanently).

Second from left: the foundation brush that changed my life.  Japonesque, found on clearance at Ulta, that through some sorcery of shape and density, has entirely transformed my foundation (Bare Minerals Complexion Rescue) application. I was already using a different Earth Therapeutics foundation brush that looked like this and was fine –>

But the new one is significantly better. And I’ve learned, a bit to my surprise, that no brush purchase so far has ever been a mistake. Each one has been an improvement on what i used before, and each one  – as long as its chosen carefully – serves a distinct function and produces a distinct effect. That’s been one of my biggest shocks of this whole makeup experience, tbh.

Anyway, third from left: a Stila contouring brush I scored at TJ Maxx for $6. (NORMALLY $38!!!)  I bought it for the small angled end more than the wide end and it has been terrific for precise contouring.

In the middle–my happy, happy, joy, joy eyeshadow blending brush inspired by Ijeoma Oluo, which I delight in using daily.

Third from right, the puffy brush from the Kensie set, which I use for final blending of blush and contour.  The quality deficit of cheap brushes shows at larger sizes. It doesn’t have much heft and isn’t adequate for anything but blending–but as we know, blending is crucial!

Second from right, my newest addition: a Japonesque powder brush with uneven bristles that has transformed my powder experience.  The unevenness of the bristles means that the brush doesn’t pick up too much powder, which bleaches out my face in a thick layer, but has enough bulk underneath to be able to blend the powder effectively. It’s quite ingenious! Found for $5 at Ulta Clearance.

And far right–my most expensive brush purchase, the big powder blush made by It for Ulta, which I thought was going to be awesome for powder but turns out to grab way too much for my taste, and deliver it on the skin much too thickly. So right now, this brush is just hanging out, waiting for its next mission. I sometimes use it for whole-face final blending.

The interesting thing about brushes is that even more than makeup, I find I come back to them again and again, as I learn new techniques. So, I never throw away a brush. Just this past week I’ve dug out three old brushes to use with new eyebrow, lip, and concealer techniques I’ve been experimenting with.

Brushes also require upkeep!

There is a nifty rough spongy item that you can find around (TJ Maxx always has them for about $3.99) that you can rub brushes on to shake out powders when you want to switch colors without starting a new brush.

I also have an ELF daily brush spray that I definitely do not use daily, but do use on occasion when I want to quickly clean out a brush to use it again with an entirely new color. I don’t love it because of the strong cheap scent; I want a better daily spray. Send recommendations!

And every month or so I do a major brush wash. It’s supposed to be done weekly, but whatever. This is the set up. You wash them using the brush wash you can get at Target or wherever, using this corrugated pad that is sold anywhere there is makeup (TJ Maxx, $3.99) and let them dry overnight, facing downward.








Anyway,  to conclude: I just want you to know: brushes matter. They all do different things, in a different way, and achieve different effects. Quality matters to a degree, but I’m still not sure why a person needs a $100 (or more!) brush.  Use them to apply and most of all, to BLEND. And last, speaking of soft fuzzy things, my bunnies are the cutest!



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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.

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