When It's Best (And Safest) To Use Makeup Brushes And When To Just Use Your Fingers

Sometimes it's a matter of safety, and other times it's all about what works best.

Makeup is there to help us look better, or at least like truer versions of our best selves. But for all the products we accumulate on our bathroom shelves, we often don’t understand the best way to apply all this stuff. When are fingers OK? When do you need a sponge or brush? And, with so many expensive makeup tool options out there, which ones are worth an investment? We talked to experts to figure it all out and learn some of their favorite techniques.

The case for using your fingers

Beauty icon Bobbi Brown, founder of Jones Road Beauty, is a proponent of the benefits of skin-to-skin contact. “Fingers are a makeup artist’s go-to because the warmth of fingers melts the product into the skin, giving the most skin-like finish,” she told HuffPost. “They’re also your greatest tool for blending.”

Others agree with her. “Moisturizer, eye cream and other priming products all perform best when worked into the skin with the warmth of fingers,” makeup artist Diane da Silva told HuffPost. While she uses tools for professional work, “I almost never use them on my own face for my day-to-day personal routine,” she said. “I keep it very simple and often use the same color blurred onto my eyes, cheeks and lips. An imperfect application can also make it look a bit more believable. Plus, when you allow yourself five minutes for makeup, as I do, there’s no time to fuss with tools.”

Then there’s the issue of cleanliness. As long as you’re washing your hands well before applying makeup, fingers can be much cleaner than tools. “The best of us only wash brushes and sponges thoroughly once a week,” dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo told HuffPost. “I use my fingers to minimize any chance of spreading microbes that may be growing on brushes or sponges, including fungus, yeast or bacteria. I’ve even switched to Ilia’s Multi-Stick or Merit Flush Balm for blush, since I can apply these directly without using a brush.”

When it’s best to use makeup brushes

Still, makeup artists know the magic that can be achieved with time, talent and the right tools. Brown said, “When you’d like more coverage on the skin or detail on the eyes, grab your brushes to layer additional product or color where needed.”

Sure, makeup brushes can be more sanitary than your hands — but only if you wash them regularly.
Ana Maria Serrano via Getty Images
Sure, makeup brushes can be more sanitary than your hands — but only if you wash them regularly.

“When I’m working on other people, I’m a steadfast brush person,” Fiona Stiles told HuffPost. “I deeply believe that the right brushes and tools create incredible shortcuts for achieving the look you want to create. So much about makeup is about blending, and tools really make that seamless look possible.” But not all tools are created equal, she said. “I’m very anti Q-tip, because they leave bits of fluff on the lashes. Instead, I use tightly wound cotton buds, which don’t leave cotton behind.”

Many makeup artists mix and match application methods for the best results. Sébastien Tardif, co-founder of Veil Cosmetics, told HuffPost that he uses multiple tools, and fingers. One example is liquid concealer. “I like to use a brush for placement of the product around the eyes, then I use my finger to pat into place as I like the warmth of my finger to melt it with the skin and spread it. Then I finish off the application using a fluffy concealer brush to perfect and blend to get that airbrush-like finish. I might even do one last pat with the fingertip for extra smoothing and locking into place.”

Ashley Rebecca told HuffPost, “I use both tools and my fingers, but for very specific things. For instance, I prefer to apply makeup first with brushes, then soften and lightly blend out the product with my fingers. I find that using a mix of both is really beneficial and yields seamless results.”

And then there are those who are firmly Team Brush. “Makeup brushes are the critical tools that allow you apply the product with precision, or to achieve a unique finish like airbrush,” Jamie Greenberg told HuffPost. “Fingers are great in a pinch, but brushes will always be my go-to.”

For those times when only a makeup tool will do, check out these favorites from makeup artists.

HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Every item is independently selected by the HuffPost Shopping team. Prices and availability are subject to change.

BeautyBlender Original Makeup Sponge
“There are many imitators, but none is as good as the original,” Stiles insisted. Greenberg, another fan, did warn that most people are using this tool the wrong way. “You have to completely wet it to make it almost double the size, then squeeze out the excess water,” he said.
Mineral Fushion Blush Brush
“I love using blush brushes for applying loose powder,” Stiles said. “This one is great for applying your powder in a more natural way versus using a powder puff.”
M760 Silicone Glitter Packer Brush
“Silicone doesn’t absorb product, so it generally wastes less than brushes and sponges,” Ciraldo said. “Also, it’s less likely to support microbial growth.”
About Face
About-Face By Halsey Light Lock Kabuki Brush
“I love this for applying and blending body makeup,” da Silva said. “The broad size allows for quick coverage while still being more precise than hands and fingers. This is clutch in getting around tricky areas like shoulder straps and bikini lines. I’ve even seen hair stylists use it with hairspray to tame flyaways.”
Anisa Beauty
Anisa Beauty's foundation and concealer brushes
Anisa Beauty's foundation brush "is my favorite tool, because it doesn’t waste a lot of product,” Greenberg said. “It has a perfect delivery system to the skin, and it glides all over the face and neck for flawless application.” Another fan of this brush is Rebecca, who added, “I use it along with their Angled Concealer Brush. The handles are sturdy, and the brushes have dense bristles that make blending a dream. The shape also allows me to get into hard-to-blend areas, such as around the nose, and it’s gentle enough to use for concealer under the eyes.”
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