+ Makeup

Splurge or Save: Makeup Brushes

Splurge: Seven years ago, I bought a set of travel size M.A.C. makeup brushes at the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale.  I’m still using them today, and I plan to augment my stockpile by purchasing the set seen at left during this year’s sale ($49.50).

Unlike so many brushes–I’m looking at you Sephora–the M.A.C brushes don’t shed their bristles over time.  And they’re dyed properly so your black blush brush doesn’t become a mottled brown blush brush after a few washes.

Also, if you buy both sets, you will be well-equipped for far less than a professional set of brushes would cost you.  A Bobbi Brown set of professional-quality brushes will set you back $175 for just seven pieces.

The set at left is a great kit for those of you who already have the basic brushes.  And the other M.A.C. set offered during the Anniversary sale, a five-piece kit with eyeshadow and face brushes, is a great starter kit.

Save: The set at right is from EcoTools (Walgreen’s, $13).  As far as drugstore purchases go, this one is near the top of the scale.  The brushes are made with a taklon synthetic fiber, the same fiber used in artist-quality paint brushes.  So they’re durable, easy to clean and cruelty free.

This set contains the basics–blush, concealer, angled-eyeliner, eyeshadow and brow groomer–and the brand also makes large and small powder brushes. 

While EcoTools is a good brand, for my money, I don’t think fiscally-minded shoppers can do better than Sonia Kashuk’s brush sets (Target $15-$22).

I especially lover her Purse Brush Set ($13) for women on the go.  It’s flat, skinny brushes and slim-fit case are perfect for tossing in a purse or weekender.  And since the case locks tightly, you don’t have to worry about finding Shimmer Brick all over the inside of your otherwise pristing Rebecca Minkoff MAB.  Not that I speak from personal experience on that one or anything.

Verdict: It’s a draw.  While I believe that brushes are an investment, and find that the M.A.C. brushes are a perfect middle-ground for the budget conscious, quality-seeking shopper, if I needed to save on my purchase, I would buy the Sonia Kashuk brushes.

While the M.A.C. ones will probably last longer, making them a good, long-term investment, $50 is a lot for an unpaid intern to be spending on brushes.  So when it comes to brushes, splurging or saving is a matter of personal preference.


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  1. Allie says:

    Different shapes and brush material affect the application of different cosmetics. Though I hate animal brushes for ethical reasons, they do a far better job with applying powders in the way in which they were intended, and also make them last longer/require less product. Synthetics are fantastic for applying creams and liquids. I went a bit crazy over a decade ago and purchased an army of brushes from Trish McEvoy; they weren't cheap but they have held up perfectly and have not needed to be replaced while many of my cheaper brushes from Body Shop, Sonia Kashuk, etc. have had to be retired. It can be a hefty investment, but if you do invest in the proper brush from the get-go you can easily go a decade or more without ever needing a replacement and by having your cosmetics last longer too!

    July 7, 2011/Reply
  2. Belle says:

    Thanks Allie, I didn't know that about the animal brushes.

    July 7, 2011/Reply
  3. cia says:

    I bought brushes at Bath & Body Works more than 10 years ago (back when they still sold makeup) that are still in great shape. Actually, I haven't been in one of their stores in years, so I don't know if they've started carrying makeup again, but still, those brushes are some good investments! Who knew?

    July 7, 2011/Reply
  4. Amber says:

    Hi there! The best brushes I've found so far are by a company called Sigma. You can order them online or through amazon.com. They are less expensive than MAC but even better quality in my opinion. The F80 brush applies foundation flawlessly. If you are curious, just go to Youtube and search for “sigma brush review”- everyone raves about them!!!

    July 7, 2011/Reply
  5. CMS says:

    Great post!! I have just been considering new brushes, and now I know where to go. Thanks!

    July 7, 2011/Reply
  6. Meg says:

    Thanks for sharing Belle! New make-up brushes have been on my summer shopping list, so this post is very timely. Definitely going to take your advice and grab the MAC ones.

    July 7, 2011/Reply
  7. MBC says:

    If you are looking for good animal hair brushes, Becca is a really great line and I've had mine for years. Also they cruelty free even though they are hair. Allie is right- you use way less product. I actually have found that their foundation brush worked way better to apply my foundation than my Sonia Kashuk brush. Seriously worth checking out if you are looking to invest in brushes. https://www.beccacosmetics.com/us/store/brushes-tools/

    July 7, 2011/Reply
  8. valerie says:

    I'd love to hear about your daily makeup routine, if you are willing to share… I know the Sunday rituals but wondering what you consider the “basics” for pre-work makeup.

    July 7, 2011/Reply
  9. Belle says:


    The only difference is now I use NARS primer.

    July 7, 2011/Reply
  10. Shamed into Anonymity says:

    I need wallet suggestions. Your most recent posts are all sold out (or out of my budget). I had a really cute Target frame wallet that broke after a year, so I replaced it with (I'm SO sorry, and I regret it even with the refund) a Vera Bradley wallet. It broke within 2 months. So now I have my belongings in a blue plastic bag. Help!

    July 7, 2011/Reply
  11. Belle says:

    Dear Shamed…be ashamed.

    Also, what is your price range?

    July 7, 2011/Reply
  12. Shamed into Anonymity says:

    Unemployed law school grad… but I'm willing to pay for quality. I really only want a good number of card slots, to be able to keep my bills flat, and not too many extraneous decorations. I love color, but not tassels, weird ruching, etc.

    Thank you, and I promise – never again.

    July 7, 2011/Reply
  13. Belle says:

    HOBO Int'l makes nice wallets that double as clutches. The one downside is they have magnet closures so they demagnetize SmarTrip cards.

    I own a Marc by Marc Jacobs Turnlock. Fun colors, sturdy, holds all the essentials.

    July 7, 2011/Reply
  14. VCS says:

    SOOOOO true re: Sephora brushes! They shed more than my long-haired tabby.

    For the person in search of a wallet, a second to HOBO– I had one for at least 7-8 years before I was shamed into buying a new one. I've had good luck recently with Kate Spade wallets- they are of good quality and utility and you can find them at a reasonable price in the sale section of their web site (and check often as the styles change with some regularity, so if you don't see anyting you like, check back the next week).

    July 7, 2011/Reply
  15. Shamed into Anonymity says:

    Now I have a Kate Spade wallet on the way, and I spent $12 more than I did on that awful, ugly, poorly made piece of embarrassment. Lesson officially learned. Thanks Belle & VCS! They were 50% off, plus an extra 25% plus free shipping. Can't beat that!

    July 8, 2011/Reply