Getting the most out of your make-up depends on more than just formulas that work and products with rich pigments. Application is key, and the right make-up brushes make all the difference.
Use a poorly made one and you can end up looking streaky and unblended, with a face covered in bristles.
While there’s no end to the amount of brushes available, sets are the best way to invest in your make-up routine and update your kit. Splashing out can even save you money in the long run, as sets are often much cheaper than the cost of buying each brush individually.
Whether you’re keen to create more complex looks, or replace brushes past their best, having an up-to-date set of tools is just as important as the products you’re using.
We’ve put a selection of brush kits to the test and narrowed them down to the very best, scoring each on how well they blend, how versatile they are and how easily they can be cleaned – because there’s nothing worse than a brilliant brush that moults the second it gets wet.
Our guide spans budget buys, essentials kits and expansive sets, ranging from three to 15 brushes. We reviewed each using cream, liquid, powder and gel products.
You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.
Space NK ultimate edit brush set
Beauty retailer Space NK is a well-respected name in the industry, stocking a selection of premium products and tools. In 2019, it launched its own line of vegan-friendly brushes in a travel-friendly hardshell case that can easily double up as a make-up bag. It’s a well-thought-out set featuring six brushes that span foundation, contouring, highlighting, concealer, eyeshadow and lipstick so that you can create a full face of make-up.
Our reviewer found it to be a fantastic starter set, or great for someone who wants something simple that will help them zip through their make-up routine. The wooden handles are light but sturdy and made from sustainably sourced wood. The eye and lip brushes can also be bought as a smaller set for £40.
By Joy Adenuga the brush set
New for 2020, this brand was created by Joy Adenuga, a make-up artist with over 10 years’ experience working with everyone from brides to celebrities such as Michaela Coel. The range features five brushes that can be bought as a set or individually and which combine to create a fuss-free, streamlined set of everyday essentials. They are soft, brilliant to blend with and work well with cream, liquid and powder products. Our favourite is 005 Little Mama, which we loved for concealers, setting powder and extra touch-ups. Anyone, from novices to professionals, can use these and enjoy the results – they would make a versatile addition to any make-up bag.
Zoeva complete brush set
Boasting 15 tools to play with, this set features Zoeva’s bestselling brushes, which are all handmade and bound in a way that minimises fallout. While you may baulk at the price tag, the set averages at just £7 per brush – considerably less than buying some of them individually (the buffer brush, for example, is £17 on its own).
The faux leather bag allows room for other brushes or products you may own, and is an easy way to store such an extensive collection. On each brush there is also a guide to their purpose – a cream cheek, eye blender or smoky shader, for instance – which would be helpful for a make-up novice.
Spectrum Collections pink 8 piece eye blending brush set
This affordable eight-piece eye brush set is one of many by Spectrum, a brand founded by sisters Sophie and Hannah Pycroft. We found they worked particularly well with powder products, with their mix of fluffy and densely packed bristles that are all vegan and cruelty-free. The vibrant design sets them apart from most of the others on this list and the colourful packaging – a millennial-pink pot – would also fit other brushes. Averaging at less than £4 per brush, there’s nothing not to love, and the fun branding would also make them a brilliant gift for any make-up lover.
Sigma essential brush kit
This 12-piece set is well worth investing in if you wear make-up every day, with its impressive variety of bristles designed for use on all areas of the face and with every type of product imaginable. The handles are sturdy but lightweight, making them easy to control when doing precise line work on the eyes and lips. The E65 small angle brush is razor sharp, and our reviewer loved using it to create winged liner and to fill in brow hairs. For the high price tag, we were expecting it to come with a suitable bag, but instead it arrived in plastic-laden packaging. Aside from that, it’s a well-considered set that will satisfy any make-up lover or make a stunning gift.
Morphe babe faves 14-piece best-selling eye brush collection
One of the biggest brands in the beauty sphere is Morphe, who is known for its inexpensive brushes and eyeshadow palettes, often in collaboration with the industry's biggest influencers such as James Charles, Jaclyn Hill and mmmmitchell. This collection of 14 brushes is made for those who like to create big, bold looks, from a perfectly formed cut crease to a high-impact smoky eye – it’s not one for the minimalists. This set features the brand’s bestselling styles for less than £3.50 each. Our only gripe is that it doesn't come with a bag, but it’s a great value option for those hoping to practice more complex blending techniques.
Real Techniques everyday essentials brush set
Anyone interested in make-up will have come across the Real Techniques brush line, an industry leader for affordable tools that don’t skimp on quality. This kit contains all the essentials to apply a full face of product, with soft bristles that can be used for blending eyeshadow, densely packed designs for buffing in foundation, large fluffy styles for powders and the well-recognised complexion sponge, which rivals the original make-up sponges by Beauty Blender in its effectiveness to blend products quickly and seamlessly. It’s important to note that the complexion sponge needs to be damp to use: if it’s dry it will soak up all your product, if it’s dripping wet then product won’t blend at all. The most impressive feature of these brushes is how well they last, despite being repeatedly washed – no hairs moulted, flaked or affected the performance.
Huda Beauty mercury retrograde brush kit
While Huda Beauty is well known for its line-up of full-coverage foundations, dazzling eyeshadow palettes and richly pigmented matte lipsticks, its brushes are underrated gems. The three double-ended brushes in this set, which come in an iridescent make-up bag, offer six versatile tools that can deliver everything from the most colourful of looks to a more pared-back style. We were very impressed with their ability to blend liquids, creams and powder eyeshadows quickly and seamlessly, and they didn’t moult when washed either.
The verdict: Make-up brush sets
Space NK’s ultimate edit brush set is worth every penny, with the packaging being just as impressive as the brushes themselves. Catering to every make-up need in just six brushes, it’s designed with portability in mind, while the range of product textures makes it incredibly versatile. However, the By Joy Adenuga brush set is also a brilliant buy if you’re seeking tools specifically for complexions products.
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