A make-up artist’s kit is a thing of wonder. Backstage at fashion week, their tools are lined up with military precision, ready to tend to the needs of hundreds of models every season. At shoots, they show up with suitcases full of shades and finishes, pencil cases full of bronzers and blushers, each item packed up at the end of the day with perfectly rehearsed efficiency.
Where it gets really confusing is the brushes. I would be far more interested in creating a look straying away from my daily routine of foundation, brow pencil, eye pencil and mascara if I could only be bothered with the brushes apparently necessary in crafting a properly polished look. I admire the hoardes of YouTubers who know their Mac 217s from their Sigma E40s but for me, ignorance has bred laziness - do I really need separate brushes for bronzer and blush? And must I really wash them as soon as I've finished applying?
If this sounds familiar, read on. We asked two top make-up artists whether it's really necessary to have 17 different face brushes and 24 different eyeshadow brushes in your make-up bag, or whether six stone kits can stay firmly in the hands of the professionals.
How many make-up brushes do I really need?
'The basic number of makeup brushes one needs, in my mind, is five,' says Mac senior artist Dominic Skinner. 'A foundation brush, a powder/blusher/bronzer brush, an eye shadow brush, a small fluffy brush to blend both eye shadow and concealer and a small sharp flat brush for precision.'
Annabel Jardella, make-up artist and founder of ReCover has a slightly less minimalist approach. 'Ideally, I would recommend one lip brush, one concealer brush, one fine liner, one eyeshadow brush, one blush brush, one powder brush and one wider concealer brush - for under eyes. Personally I can't work without brushes as they can make a massive difference to the way things blend, the precision of application and the shapes and styles we achieve with our make-up.'
Jardella says brushes are also necessary for the finer points of make-up application. 'If you have less than perfect skin, concealing a spot without a brush is very hard as you need to feather lightly to keep the product in place - using your finger will keep removing it.'
Overall, Jardella's advice is to use brushes for the things you're not so good at (for me, that is anything to do with my eyes). 'Lean on the brushes for where you need the expertise - from my list, pick and choose according to what your beauty concerns are and what it is you want to achieve with your make-up.'
How often should I wash my brushes?
If there is one thing putting people off using the correct tools for shading and contouring, it's the idea of spending hours on end diligently washing and drying said tools afterwards. Benefit head make-up artist Lisa Potter-Dixon is the owner of the softest brushes in town - she shampoos, conditions, and then uses brush cleaner on them all. Such upkeep is probably not necessary if you're not a professional - but regular cleaning is nonetheless a necessary evil.
'I always advise to wash your brushes at least once a week,' says Skinner. 'Whizz the hair through a solution of warm water and Mac Brush Cleanser mixed in a mug. Massage the brushes in the palm of your hand to foam up the hair and then rinse. Make sure you leave them to dry laying on their side. By looking after them, they should last you a few years' (leave them misshapen and they'll dry misshapen)
The biggest culprits in the case of dirty brushes is face brushes, according to Jardella. 'I often see brushes that are matted with product,' she says. 'I teach make up artists to wash their brushes with soap very gently every day if they can - hygiene is paramount for limiting cross infection. For your personal stash I would say once every two to four weeks. Any gentle liquid soap will do.'
Brush maintenance will pay off. 'I still have two brushes from my favourite brush maker Shu Uemura which have been with me for 25 years and are still looking great. You get what you pay for with make-up brushes - if you take care of them they are an investment you will have for years.'
But really, don't fingers do the job just as well?
OK, a ring finger just won't cut the mustard if you're trying to master a cut crease, but aren't hands the greatest tools man was ever given? Not always.
'As a makeup artist, fingers are a tool I use frequently,' says Skinner. 'They are great for rubbing in cream blush, staining lips and erasing mistakes. But a good makeup brush adds a certain refined quality to makeup that fingers just can't achieve.'
Good for foundation
It may look like an overpriced work of art, but the overall effect post-foundation application is an airbrushed one. And you can't ask much more than that.
Good for powder
Powder brush, £12.99, Real Techniques
You can also add in slanted powder brushes for contouring and shading if you wish. If you are lazy, this will more than suffice.
Good for eyeshadow
Natural brush 10F, £54.99, Shu Uemura
This is small enough in size for a precise look, but big enough that speedy application is a doddle.
Good for blending
217 fluff brush, £20, Mac
There is a reason it's a cult brush among beauty bloggers. This blends eyeshadow and concealer effortlessly - some make-up artists even use it to apply foundation around the tricky areas of the face.