Brush Belt Basics: Cleansing & Keeping your Brushes (+My Favorite Brushes)

My brush belt is a bit unwieldy–it’s ridiculous really.  But I can’t help myself.  As an artist I’ve always found that the mode of application and tool is just as important as the product itself!  A good brush should last years, if cared for properly.  Even working as an artist (i.e., my brushes are used and abused!) I have brushes that have been in my kit for 10 years; the key to keeping a brush this long is all about maintenance.


I clean my brushes after every single use.  I’ll spare you the horror stories, but clean brushes are a must for your skin and your health.  Everyday cleaning can be accomplished with a good brush cleanser spray, which can be purchased just about anywhere.  Personally, I love the IT Cosmetics Brush Love–a divine scent, and a thorough cleanse.  This cleanser is suitable for natural or synthetic brushes.

IT Cosmetics Brush Love

Other favorites are Dante and Bobbi Brown.

Once a week (I know, it seems excessive for personal brushes, but in the VERY LEAST once a month) I clean my brushes with soap and water.  There are several good brush cleansers on the market; these tend to be gentle and are formulated specifically for cleaning brushes.  But if you don’t want to shell out $10+ for a brush cleaner, I have found that Dawn Dish Soap works just as well.


Below you see an image of a makeup brush.  Before I detail the technique for cleaning your brushes, it will help to discuss the various parts of a a brush.

Makeup Brush

Obviously, the top of the brush consists of the bristles, which can be synthetic, natural, or a combination of the two.  Synthetic bristles are used for cream and liquid applications.  Natural bristles, which are porous just like our hair, should be used for powder formulations (using natural bristle brushes with liquids and creams is not advised as natural hair will absorb the product and start to smell).  Combination brushes can be used for either, but typically the manufacturer indicates the purpose of the brush.

The silver metal piece below the bristles is called the ferrule.  The ferrule is where the brush is connected, with glue.

Finally, the handle is typically made of wood or some other material.  If wood, it will most likely be painted and/or coated.


So, why the anatomy lesson?  Because the construction of the brush dictates how it should be cleaned.  When cleaning a brush with soap and water, you always want to keep the bristles pointed downward.  Place a bit of cleanser in the palm of your hand, and work the brush in circular motions through the cleanser.  Then rinse, still being careful to keep the bristle head of the brush pointed downward–if you tilt the brush upward soap and water will leak into the ferrule causing the glue to loosen and the brush to eventually begin shedding (and finally, fall apart).  I repeat this process with soap and water until the water runs clean and all the soap is rinsed from the brush.  Then allow the brushes to dry on a towel with the handle slightly elevated, again to keep water from leaking into the ferrule.


If you read the intro, detailing the cumbersome nature of my brush belt, you know this list might be quite long.  In general, when purchasing brushes, I like to research their construction.  For example, Chanel uses only solid wood handles, metal ferrules, and hand placed bristles, which means each individual bristle is placed to create the shape of the brush instead of placing and then cutting.  This is a particularly rigorous process, that most companies do not engage in, but leave it to Chanel.

You can find good brushes at a range of prices.  I have a mix of high and low end.  Sometimes I even pick up a brush or two at the craft store for special effects work.  Below is a list of my must-have brushes…

  1. IT Brushes for Ulta Live Beauty Fully All Over Powder Brush #211: This brush is just so delicious!  It’s large, soft brush head is perfect for all-over powder application.  The full, domed head is ideal for powders and will leave a light dusting suitable for setting makeup.  The brush features a weighted and tapered handle for easier application.  The bristles are synthetic, as are those on all the IT brushes.  The brush can be used on face and body, and it also feels divine on the skin!IT Brushes for Ulta All Over Powder Brush #211
  2. IT Cosmetics Heavenly Luxe Complexion Perfection Brush #7: This brush is just too good.  It’s very similar to a Bobbi Brown dual-ended brush that is now unavailable (argh!).  The tightly packed bristles (on both ends) are perfect for foundation and concealer applications.  The brush is meant to give a beautiful airbrush finish to the skin.  The bristles are synthetic, and like all IT brushes it is suitable for even the most sensitive skin.  Be careful when cleansing this one–although I love dual-ended brushes, they need to be cleaned one end at a time to avoid water leaking into the ferrule.IT Cosmetics Heavenly Luxe Complexion Perfection Brush #7
  3. Bobbi Brown Full Coverage Face Brush: This brush will always be a favorite.  It buffs liquids and powders into the skin with tightly-packed, synthetic bristles.  Bobbi says the brush is perfect for an “HD” finish, and she’s not lying.  The sturdy construction means this brush will be with you for the long haul.         Bobbi Brown Full Coverage Face Brush
  4. Real Techniques Bold Metals 301 Flat Contour Brush: From the genius Chapman sisters of PixiWoo fame, this brush is perfect for chiseling those cheekbones!  Even though I’m not a fan of a hard-edged contour, this brush can create it.  The synthetic bristles are tightly packed to pick up and lay down a lot of product, so be cautious and build.  This brush is also on the cheaper end, but don’t think that means it’s poor quality!Real Techniques Bold Metals 301 Flat Contour Brush
  5. Dior Concealer Brush N13: The pointed head of this brush is perfect for placing concealer around the nose or the eyes.  I also use it to apply my eye primer, and occasionally cream shadows.  Like Chanel, Dior hand crafts each of their brushes–almost 30 people are involved in the creation of a single tool.  The price point isn’t as astronomically high as one would expect from Dior, either.Dior Concealer Brush N13
  6. Etude House My Beauty Tool Secret Brush 121 Skin: This Korean brand brush is one of my favorite finds.  It gives the most flawless finish, and is under $20 (prices vary depending on where you can find and purchase it).  Like the famed Artis Brushes, the handle on this brush is made for self-application, but the price tag is much more palatable.  It comes with brush and sponge heads, but I only use the brush.Etude House My Beauty Tool Secret Brush 121 Skin
  7. Laura Mercier Angled Eye Color: This eye brush does it all.  Large, fluffy, and angled you can use it for all-over eyeshadow application, or to work color into the corner and crease.  This brush also blends color beautifully.Laura Mercier Angled Eye
  8. Chanel Large Tapered Blending Brush N19: This is one of my all-time-favorite eye brushes.  It is rounded and blends perfectly into the crease of the eye.  It deposits a good amount of color and blurs lines.  I also like the ELF Contour Brush in the socket of the eyes.Chanel Large Tapered Blending Brush N19
  9. Dior Eyeliner Brush N24: This brush can be used to create countless liner looks–you can stamp liner into the waterline, created a winged line, or easily tap liner into the lash line.  I haven’t found a better all-around liner brush.Dior Eyeliner Brush N24