When I first started watching beauty videos on YouTube close to a decade ago, one of the things that struck me over and over was the near-total absence of lip brushes. I couldn’t believe the number of beauty “gurus” who would spend 20+ minutes and seven different MAC brushes on creating the perfect eye look but would then just slather lipstick all over their mouths straight from the tube without a second thought.
Now, I’d be lying if I said I always use a lip brush. With some products, like balms, it’s not really practical. And I don’t buy extra sponge applicators to use with my lip glosses — that, to me, feels like overkill, although some people do it. And I will confess that sometimes I’m in a hurry (or just feeling lazy) and don’t have the patience to do my lips with a brush. But in general and from a best-practices perspective, when it comes to applying lipstick, I am an advocate for using a lip brush. Here’s why.
1. A lip brush provides more precision.
Theoretically, a lipstick is shaped in a way that makes it easy to apply to your mouth and its various curves and points, but it’s hard to get it just right with what is, ultimately, a pretty blunt object. Especially when working with bold colors, a lip brush lets you apply product with greater precision (and, consequently, fewer mistakes and less cleanup).
2. A lip brush lets you customize the intensity of your lip color.
When you use a lip brush you’re applying less product with greater control. Think of it like nail polish — the first coat will be sheer, and each new layer increases in opacity. So if you’re not sure you’re ready to go all in on that bold red, you can try a sheer layer and build up to a more intense red as your comfort level increases.
3. A lip brush can make your lipsticks last longer — in the tube and on the lip.
When you apply lipstick directly from the bullet, depending on the consistency of the product, you’re probably putting on way more than you need. That’s why your grandma taught you to blot your lipstick with a tissue to get rid of the excess — and when you do that, you’re essentially applying twice as much lipstick as you need and then throwing half of it away. Whether your lipstick cost $9 or $90, there’s no sense in wasting it.
That single thick layer of lip color is also going to slide around on your lips and wear off more quickly than if you build up to the same level of intensity with a gradual application of color. It takes more time up front but saves effort later in the day. If you carry your lipstick everywhere and don’t mind having to reapply all day, that might not bother you, but personally I’m terrible about remembering to (a) bring and (b) reapply my lip color, so I’m a fan of putting it on in a way that will last as long as possible.
4. A lip brush is clutch when you’re using more than one color.
Ombré lips, lip contouring, and lip topcoats are all things that are happening right now, and if you want to try them out, I strongly recommend a lip brush. While I’ve found that some products (like NYX’s Soft Matte Lip Cream and Liquid Suede lip color) blend better with my fingers, I almost always get the best results using a brush to blend lipsticks and pencil liners.
You can also use a lip brush to keep from cross-contaminating your lip colors. If you’ve ever applied a clear or light-colored gloss over a red lipstick and discovered you’ve stained your applicator (or worse, put the applicator back in the tube and tinted the product itself), you know what I’m talking about. When I use lip effects or topcoats that come in a tube (like the Urban Decay Vice Special Effects line), I apply some of the product to a clean lip brush rather than applying it directly to my lips. That way I can use light-colored effects over bold lip colors without worrying about spreading color from product to product.
5. A lip brush is more hygienic.
I’m not a germophobe at all, and I will admit to hanging on to some cosmetics longer than is technically recommended. That said, lip products are soft, warm substances that make perfect bacteria breeding grounds, and your mouth is pretty germy. So rather than rubbing a lipstick all over your mouth and then putting the cap back on to create a perfect environment for microorganisms to flourish, I’m a fan of using a (clean!) lip brush to apply lipstick, making sure to clean it off between touching your lips with it and going back to the lipstick tube. While we’re not exactly talking about surgical sterility, it’s at least a bit more hygienic than the alternative.
Looking for a lip brush?
I use the Stila Lush Lip Brush, which I’ve had for a couple of years. It has a cap that turns into a handle, which is my favorite kind of lip brush because it’s easy to carry with you. In the past I’ve tried some retractable lip brushes, but I’m not a fan; personally, I feel like they never quite get clean enough unless you do a full brush shampoo every time you use them, and who’s got the time?
If I were in the market for a new lip brush, here are some options I’d consider (with the caveat that I haven’t used any of these personally):
Sephora Collection Pro Lip Brush #85, $16: This has great reviews and the price is right.
Real Techniques Lip Color + Blur Duo Pack, $8.99: Real Techniques brushes are a great way to try out a new kind of brush for minimal investment.
Make Up For Ever Lip Brush 304, $25: I know I said I don’t like retractable brushes, BUT. MUFE brushes are excellent quality, and if I were going to buy a retractable lip brush, this is the one I’d try.
MAC 316 Lip Brush, $20: I’ve never been disappointed in a MAC brush, and this one has all the qualities I like in a lip brush.