Sponge tip applicators deserve more love

Matchbox style packet of sponge tip applicators

Emily Eddington got me thinking a couple of days ago when she advised people not to just throw out their sponge tip applicators from palettes. It reminded me of a story.

Once upon a time, most people used sponge tip applicators for eyeshadow because they were all we had. Then makeup companies got the idea to produce lines of brushes, sell them (often at outrageous prices) and tell us we desperately, desperately needed to use brushes to make our eyeshadow look fabulous. So a lot of us rushed out and spent more on brushes than we did on makeup, and the result? Some of us looked better, some didn’t, but the cosmetics companies sure made money.

Don’t get me wrong. I do love my brushes, and I think they outperform sponge tip applicators in many ways – and you don’t have to spend outrageous amounts to get a good brush collection going. But the truth is, sometimes a sponge tip applicator is your best friend. They deserve more love, and certainly less hate.

The advantages of brushes

First, let’s talk about the ways brushes really are better than sponge tip applicators.

  • Blending. If there’s a way to blend harsh lines with a sponge tip, I don’t know what it is.
  • Brushes don’t suck up so much product. It’s true, a lot of product goes into a sponge tip applicator. But how often do you hit pan on eyeshadows anyway? And when you’re working with loose or fallout prone shadows, you have to “tap the excess” off your brush, which means product going straight down the sink. I don’t think this is exactly a big advantage.
  • Hygiene. Sponge tip applicators generally can’t be cleaned. There may be some really sturdy ones out there that hold up to more than one washing and drying, but that’s usually not the case. This is fine if you’re just using them on yourself, but you certainly can’t just wash them off and then use them on someone else the way you can with brushes.
  • Brushes last longer. Brushes can last decades if they’re well-made. I don’t think the most velvety sponge tip applicators of yore would have lasted more than a couple of years with daily use – at most.

Those are the advantages of brushes. Blending is probably the most important one to most of us.

My $5 blending brush from ELF

My $5 blending brush from ELF

What sponge tips are good for

Now let’s look at ways in which sponge tips are just as good as or even better than brushes.

  • Loose/fallout prone shadows. No one ever had fallout before brushes came along. Sponges sort of soak up any loose bits of shadow so it just doesn’t happen. This makes them better than brushes when you’re dealing with loose shadows or shadows that tend to have fallout (glitter shades or not-so-great formulas).
  • Working with chalky shadows. If an eyeshadow is dry and tending towards chalkiness, brushes don’t work well with it. Sponge tip applicators do a much better job picking up that shadow.
  • Dense applications. No brush designed to “pack on” shadows will do it like sponge tip applicators. You can still apply it sheer with sponge tips by not getting as much shadow on the applicator, but if you want drama, sponge tips really pack it on.
  • Lining. While a lot of brushes do a great job of lining your eyes (with eyeshadow or any other eyelining product), the side or pointed end of a sponge tip can give you a really controlled line and be a little easier to handle.
  • Inner corner. I’ve yet to find a great brush for highlighting the inner corner of my eyes. Fingers outperform brushes, and sponge tips can outperform them both.

What do you really need?

Like I said, I love my brushes and I use them way more often than I use sponge tip applicators. But even if I had the world’s best collection of brushes, there are still times when a sponge tip applicator just does a better job of what I’m looking to do. And consider this: when we use brushes, we actually need higher quality shadows to work with them. That’s fine if you’re able to find quality shadows at a price you can afford – and the brushes to use with them.

My blending brush next to my spongetip applicators

But if you can’t afford a lot of brushes and/or high quality shadows, then I would suggest you get a pack of sponge tip applicators and one single blending brush. The sponge tips pictured above came from Target (their own brand), and they’re a little small to work with, but they work well otherwise (and there are other brands with longer tips, which I’ll be trying in the future). The blending brush above is from ELF’s mineral line, and it cost $5, and it’s great. It’s just stiff enough to blend harsh lines without sheering the color out too much – very easy to control. There are other drugstore blending brushes that are very affordable – check Sonia Kashuk at Target and those Essence of Beauty brushes at CVS. You can use sponge tips for pretty much all your eyeshadow application and just use the blending brush for softening those harsh lines.


  1. Lisa Marie says

    I, too, love my sponge tipped applicators. I really like the ones that Mary Kay offers to for skin care classes. I haven’t been able to find any OTC versions of ’em, though. :(

  2. Dolores says

    You make me less inclined to go out and buy an eyeshadow brush and you answered my questions, thank you!

  3. says

    Great post! I used the sponge tips exclusively for years when I was young and poor, and I always managed to get really good eye looks with them. I switched to brushed when I could afford them, but now I’m revisiting the good old sponge tips for the exact reason you stated, that you can really pack a lot of shadow on with no fallout.

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