Favorite Eye Brushes

Today I'll discuss my absolute favorite eyeshadow brushes- the versatile and fabulous tools that enable me to create a wide range of shadow looks and effects. In my opinion, great tools make a huge difference for a beginner, not a complete newbie. If you have never applied eyeshadow- you do not need great brushes. If you have been working with eyeshadow for a few months, you grasp the basics, but your results aren't really satisfying, you will likely see a huge improvement to your technique when you upgrade to good brushes.

If I gave myself a letter grade, I went from a C- to a B- within just two or three eyeshadow applications when I upgraded from basic brushes to really good ones. And that quick boost in technique, from tools alone, bolstered my confidence and allowed me to jump up to a solid B+ to A- fairly quickly, a jump that I think would have taken much longer if I'd stuck with my drugstore brushes.

Why Are Your Faves Mostly Animal Hair?

For the looks I like to create, synthetic brushes typically do not provide the right amount of bend and sway. Synthetic bristles, as a matter of course, are stiffer and more bouncy in movement. Less floppy and yielding. This is fine for precision, but not so good for buffing soft clouds of color and applying with a whisper soft touch. Vegans or people who otherwise object to animal hair use in cosmetics will likely not find this guide useful. I do use synthetic small brushes- for specific and crisp placement, but not in general for blending.

Although squirrel hair is my favorite for face products, I find goat hair has the exact right balance for gripping and depositing powder eyeshadows. It doesn't take away from a powder's pigmentation, but it also doesn't throw a bunch of color down and lead to chunky opaque edges.

Another reason I favor the handmade Japanese animal hair brushes (aka fude brushes) is that those lines offer a wider range of sizes for brush heads. Most American and European brushes are, in my opinion, way too big to be useful to someone with my eye shape. Japanese lines like Hakuhodo and Chikuhodo offer fluffy but small brushes (a category that's sadly underdeveloped in the West) which enable soft and precise blending- the best of both worlds! There are many brands I won't be covering today- the two Japanese brands mentioned are among the most affordable fude brands available on the market, but you could easily spend $200 on a single shadow brush from a more expensive line. Check out the Reddit Fude sub for more discussion and information.

Precision vs. Flexibility

Having said my piece with regards to animal hair brushes, I do find synthetics useful for specific purposes. I mainly use synthetic brushes when it comes to flat, pointed, or compact/stiff brush shapes. Whenever I want to press or pat a patch of color without worrying about the edges or blending, I reach for synthetic bristles. The texture and stiffness allow for better color placement, all at once.

When you are choosing to create softer veils of color- say in the crease or when smoking out your lashline, you want the opposite of precision. I reach for longer bristles, natural fiber, and larger shapes whenever I want to blend anything.

These descriptions are not really weighted by value- simply they are what I've come to expect from a certain size/shape/texture! As a general rule, the shorter the bristles, the more "blocky" and precise an effect it gives. On the flipside, longer bristles usually provide more sway and splay action, which lends well to a blown-out effect.

My Favorites

Now for the meat of this post- my favorite brushes and their specific usages! I will start at the widest "base" and move into smaller and more precise shapes and movements. I've provided photos of the brushes next to a standard MAC lipstick, the most ubiquitous beauty object I could think for size comparison. I've also attempted to show the main placements these brushes work for. My apologies as I tried to make gifs to show movement/placement but I could not find a combination of filming and editing and compression that yielded anything but tragic gifs, so until I troubleshoot that, pics will have to do.

Hakuhodo J5522

The first brush we have to discuss is this huge, fluffy goat hair pointed dome brush. It is relatively stiff, but it's pointed shape and large size make it an ideal choice for swishing a VERY sheer and diffused veil of color in your crease area. If you have large, dynamic eyes and tend to not emphasize your crease a lot, you might not enjoy the effect of this brush. For me, it's indispensable when faking the high but multidimensional crease I love to do on myself.

I use windshield wiper motions with the J5522- it's too big to benefit from "swirling" as it will take over the eye area. It does best for laying down sheer tones in large swaths. I don't recommend using it with a shadow that's more than 2-3 shades deeper than your skintone.

Hakuhodo J5523

The second brush is a classic- or rather it's a near clone of a Western classic we all know and love- the MAC 217. This brush post would be half Hakuhodo, half MAC, were it not for MAC's recent overhaul of its entire brush line. I personally use and love decade-old goat hair MAC brushes made in France, but I can't get behind their new synthetics line. Since any MAC recommendations would be for discontinued brushes, I won't include them!

The Hakuhodo J5523 is slightly smaller and slightly more compact compared to the classic 217. It's a full oval shape, not flat but with a slightly pinched ferrule that gives you a lot of versatility. You can use this brush in several ways- it lays down a patch of lid color quickly, with an automatically diffused edge. You can accomplish this with short combination pat-swipe motions Or you can use it to apply a crease shade, working in small circular buffing motions and building color as desired.

If you could only afford one brush, make it this one. You can literally do a whole soft eye look using only the J5523- no you can't line your eyes with it. But you can do a lot.

Hakuhodo J5529

This brush completely changed my shadow game- it's the shape and size you can't find in any Western drugstore line, and not in most Western luxury brands either. This is like your classic domed blender brush, shrunk to 1/4 of the size. While you might use a large domed brush for your crease (if you haven't tried the awesomeness of a tapered dome like the one discussed above...) you would use the J5529 for more "precise blending." 

This is for depositing accent colors in your outer V and for blending those same colors. The small size is ideal for more detailed, gradient shadow looks as a larger brush would swallow the eye area and turn all the shadows into one color. I also use this on a daily basis to buff and blend smoky lower lashlines- a technique I've heard is challenging for many of you. Trust me when I say the effect eluded me too- until I got the J5529.

This brush is so compact that you can use it fairly lavishly in wide swiping motions- its small head size means it won't disrupt or muddy even if you use it in larger areas. I drag this brush over linear placements like my lower lashline, in a back and forth motion. I also use it in dotting motions to deposit small concentrated patches, and in tight circular motions to blend smaller precise areas like the outer V.

Zoeva Luxe Smoky Shader 234

A natural/synthetic blend brush that I love for packing on lid shades. This is an exact dupe for the MAC 239 (old) and for the Hakuhodo J004G, but I find the 3 truly identical, so I'm going with the cheapest! I hate all the blending brushes I own from Zoeva (and I own them all) because the synthetic blend causes them to be too stiff. They don't have enough yield to really create a halo of softness- but with a shorter brush like this, this is when you stop having to worry so much about bristle quality, and you can find much cheaper items as long as the shape works.

If you are a relative newbie to eyeshadows and you find yourself constantly foiling shadows or using Fix+ to "intensify" your shadows, you may be overlooking a really simple fact: your flat shadow brush sucks at gripping and depositing color! A lot of flat shadow brushes found in American lines are too flat and they don't have enough er, girth, to properly dig into a shadow and pick up color. Slightly fuller and fluffier bristles on a short, flat brush head will also do a better job of laying down color vs a tight flat shape.

I use this brush especially for pressing color into the center of a halo eye or for the lid of a smokey eye...or just for allover shimmer! A very versatile brush that's necessary in any beginner's bag. If you really could only afford two brushes, it would be the Zoeva 234 and the Hakuhodo J5523 I'd recommend first.

Beauty Junkees Pro Pencil Brush

I guess I shouldn't have spent so much time disclaiming my snobbishness, because this is another cheap brush that really performs at the level of a more expensive one. I believe this is pony hair or goat hair- it's found on Amazon Prime and isn't a prestige brand, so I'm not 100% sure of the composition.

A good pencil brush has spring, softness, and precision all in harmony. This one from Beauty Junkees does the trick and doesn't scratch, but it still holds up without splaying its bristles. When you start narrowing the size of brushes, it means you are looking to create more dramatic dimension- deeper, smaller shadows and brighter, tighter highlights. At this point, we stop loving the softly bendy bristles of our earlier crease brushes, and want to focus on getting a stiffer brush head that still doesn't feel rough.

I use this brush every single day- in fact I own two- one for light shadows, one for darker ones. I use the former to apply and blend my inner corner/browbone highlight, to dot concentrated bright spots into a halo eye, and for blending out harsh edges on very graphic looks. The latter is used for adding definition to the corners of a halo eye and for smoking out both upper and lower lashlines.

Due to the pencil brush's stiffness, it works best for dotting motions and very short strokes. It will not hold up to movements that cover a large surface area. You can certainly apply a color in a line across your crease or lashline, but don't expect to get a refined blend- this blends better than applying color with a Q tip, but it is a placement brush not a finisher. For that you'd want to reach for the J5529 to smooth out and buff the edges.

One note is that I own 4 of these and 3 are almost identical, but the 4th is very flexible and flippy. There's variability/inconsistency but to be fair that exists on the handmade/fude side as well sometimes. 

EcoTools Eye Enhancing Duo #2 Brush, Angled Side

Confusingly, this is just 1/4 of a single product- the EcoTools Eye Enhancing Duo is my favorite drugstore brush "set" in existence. But I want to specifically discuss the angled liner brush head found on one of the dual ended brushes. It is the closest thing to EcoTool's long-discontinued angle liner brush- a brush that perfectly married precision and fullness. Most angled liner brushes are only good for two things- brows and gel liner. They are too stiff and too narrow/tight to ever properly deposit a smoky, smudgy, sexy line of shadow. The EcoTools version is just thick enough to soften while it lays down an opaque line. It's absolutely fine for use with a gel liner or brow product too- but I would highly suggest it if you struggle with your "defined lines" looking skippy or too crisp.

Because of the less skinny edge, this can be worked back and forth in a blending motion, but it will only go so far. I mainly use it in a "stamping" motion to press color in a precise line/at an angle when I need to create a very tightly lined eye or a graphic shape. I usually already laid out a base of softer smudginess, and adding a stamped line on top gives a gradually intensifying effect without having to move your brush around that much!

Brush Care

I'm often asked about my brush care routine. And here is my philosophy: I do not baby my fude brushes, as I consider them tools. For me, they are a means to an end, not collectibles or useful just by virtue of existing. To that end, I wash them as often as I need to to prevent muddied colors, and I recognize as a result they will have shorter lifetimes. Some fude collectors will be able to enjoy the same brush shape and fiber texture from their brushes in 30 years. I fully expect mine to be dead within 10 years, and I will repurchase at that time. You will hear from many Japanese brush lovers that a squirrel brush should only be washed once every few months- to me that would interfere with my ability to use the tool as I want to. I wash it as often as needed to clear old color and prevent breakouts.

If you want to wear a pair of shoes for 20 years, rotate it out, give it breaks, don't wear the pair in harsh weather. If you simply want to wear a pair of shoes everyday, well, ignore that, and buy a new pair when you wear yours out. I want to be able to use my brushes daily, which is why I approach brush care the way I do. Different philosophies for different lifestyles and preferences.

None of the brushes I use are so expensive that the though of repurchasing in a few years bothers me. I want to be able to switch frequently between colors (bronzey looks one day, blue the next, soft yellow the next) without buying endless duplicate brushes or risking a muddy unintentional color mix. All the brushes I discussed in today's post are less than $30 each, and getting 5-10 years' use from a $30 item is reasonable to me. I am being conservative- I have 12 year old goat hair brushes that still perform the same as they did when I got them. But just to satisfy my control freak- I accept that my everyday use brushes may shed or go frizzy within the decade.

I treat my brush hairs like I do the hair on my head. I shampoo with a mild, low-lather shampoo, I squeeze to release excess water, press with a towel, then air dry as long as it takes. I wash my face brushes once a week, and my eye brushes once every two weeks (all of them) and clean individual ones as necessary. Brush cleansers are plentiful and varied nowadays, but I prefer the price and convenience of a gentle shampoo for humans (my favorite is the Tea Tree Tingle from Trader Joe's.) You can also use a gentle low lather face wash, but shampoo is more economical.


  1. I love it!


  2. Y'know, this week I've been thinking about how I'd love see some posts on the brushes you use. I was absolutely delighted when this post showed up. Thank you for this amazingly thorough post. I hope a post on face brushes will pop up soon as well. :)

    1. Great! I have a few staple face brushes as well but they are definitely more expensive, which is why I've been avoiding a post. I usually get a LOT of requests for cheap dupes of my favorite brushes, and I don't have satisfactory answers for most.

  3. I love the inclusion of different sized brushes which is helpful To different eye shapes/sizes

    1. I'm happy to hear it was helpful for you!