e.l.f. Discovery

Why a Kabuki Brush is a Must Have in Your Makeup Bag

By Aimee Lubrano

Have you ever asked yourself, “What is a kabuki brush?” or “What is a kabuki brush used for?” Don’t worry, because you’re not alone. Makeup connoisseurs would probably laugh at the questions and never bat an eyelash. But for makeup novices, or anyone afraid to openly admit that they use one brush for everything (no judgement here), those poofy, dense, odd-shaped brushes can seem slightly intimidating, yet oh-so appealing.

What is it? Do I need it? Does it really make a difference? What’s so special about it? How is it different from my other brushes? Why are there so many different shapes? All valid questions really. But those who understand their multi-faceted use, understand their appeal.

Soft, dense, versatile – what’s not to love? It’s no wonder that kabuki brushes are a fan-favorite of beauty junkies and professionals alike, making them a makeup bag mainstay! One of the main advantages of using a kabuki brush is it provides more coverage, yet minimizes product waste. And thanks to its unique design with tightly bound, smaller, denser bristles, the brush provides a more even application, blending seamlessly on skin, and leaving you with a more natural-looking finish. But kabuki brushes are great for applying any type of foundation. That’s right, even liquid.

So if you’re looking for a simpler, smoother makeup application or to take your look to the next level with an airbrushed finish, then a kabuki brush should be your go-to beauty tool.

What is a Kabuki Brush?

Kabuki brushes are a small wonder with big impact. The name “kabuki” hails from traditional Japanese kabuki theater known for their heavily stylized performances with glamorous costumes and even more elaborate makeup. Legend has it that kabuki performers used such intricate stage makeup to emphasize the nature of their characters, and required a brush for precise application of the white rice powder over their entire face. Naturally, this smooth application caught on outside of the theater and became a Japanese beauty staple to achieve flawless application.

Characterized by dense, short, and rounded bristles, often bound together in a dome shape – kabuki brushes come in a number of sizes, shapes and even bristle materials. Their popularity is due to the wide variety of specific application uses of different cosmetic products from loose or pressed powders, bronzers, blushes, liquid or powder foundations, or as a buffing or blending tool post application.


FLAT TOP: flat, squared-off top

  • ideal for buffing & blending
  • creates flawless, airbrushed finish
  • used for both liquid & powder foundations

ANGLED: bristles cut at an angle

  • angle helps define facial features, so ideal for precise application
  • used for contouring, highlighting, or applying blush

ROUND: Rounded top, or dome-shaped

  • one of the most common & versatile for applying various products
  • great for buffing or blending foundation, powders, or applying bronzer

TAPERED: bristles that come to a pointed tip

  • used for targeted, precise application
  • (highlighting cheekbones or applying blush)

DUO-FIBER: combo of synthetic & natural bristles

  • great for buffing to achieve a soft, diffused look
  • can be used with both liquid & powder products
  • providing a light & airy application and finish

RETRACTABLE: retractable or collapsible

  • convenient for traveling or makeup bag
  • on-the-go touch-ups

BUFFING: densely packed bristles

  • blending foundation, powder, or mineral makeup – all over application
  • creates a polished & seamless finish

FAN: delicate, fanned out design

  • used for light application & gentle blending
  • applying highlighter or sweeping away excess product after application

SYNTHETIC: applying liquid & cream products

  • Typically cruelty-free
  • Favorite of those who prefer vegan or synthetic options

Round Kabuki Brush

Whether you’re applying at home, or on-the-go, a round kabuki brush is a must-have! The perfect tool for applying full coverage makeup like foundation, blush, bronzer or highlighter, a Kabuki Makeup Brush is great for powdered makeup because it allows for easy, even application over skin. With a short, thick handle, you’ll have a comfortable, sturdy grip as you apply, minimizing error. Its short, dense bristles give you a precise application, but the round design helps to blend product smoothly over a broad surface area buffing and blending as you go, leaving you with that professional seamless and airbrushed finish.

Don’t want to pack that thick brush for on-the-go needs, a retractable Kabuki Brush is ideal for travel and quick touch-ups on the fly with a retractable head for controlled use and buildable coverage, with mess-free storage to boot!

How to use a round Kabuki brush:

  1. Swirl the brush over product
  2. Buff onto skin with broad, circular motion
  3. Clean often with brush or gentle shampoo to maintain brush health and prevent excessive shedding

Contoured Kabuki Brush

Face, decolletage, body—doesn’t matter. A perfectly matched contoured kabuki brush gives you precise application wherever you need it evenly distributing powder, bronzer or shimmer. With angled bristles, product is evenly distributed with a soft, diffused look, making it ideal for contouring and highlighting every area you want to draw attention to, attract light, or define.

By hugging the planes and curves of your face and body, you’ll get even application every application. And the soft, yet firm bristles cut on an angle to create two distinct sides for application.

Use the angled kabuki brush for any of the following:

  1. Application

  2. Blending

  3. Contouring

  4. Contour Lines

  5. Brush Application

  6. Product Pickup

  7. Highlighting

How to Properly Clean Your Makeup Brush

Like any other brush, keeping your kabuki brushes clean is an important step to not only maintain brush shape and longevity, but it can help minimize the spread of bacteria and prevents the buildup of product. (Yeah, you forgot about that part, didn’t you?)

But clean-up is easy! To cleanse your makeup brushes regularly, use any preferred brush shampoo like the go-to fan-favorite e.l.f. Brush Shampoo or sanitize the brush with your preferred brush cleaner in between uses. Doing this regularly will help extend your makeup brush life and maintain perfect color application.

All you need to do after cleansing is absorb excess moisture with a towel, reshape hair, and lay flat to dry. And your kabuki brush will keep as your favorite beauty must-have tool!