makeup brush
Makeup

The Ugly Truth About Makeup Brushes

Initially, I decided to share my knowledge of and love for makeup brushes with entirely different intentions. It was going to be a quaint yet informative love letter to some of my favorite makeup brushes.

But once I began researching, I started to learn horrible things about how some of my most prized professional possessions come to be. And how we all need to make a conscious choice next time we come to buy a new makeup brush.

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blue and brown makeup brush set
Photo by Laura Chouette via Unsplash

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It’s also incredibly fascinating and morbidly ironic that the beauty industry is leaning ever so more rapidly in time to being cruelty-free, vegan, and ethically aware.

And let’s not neglect a symbol we’ve come to know, love and trust (I speak of the leaping bunny, of course!). One of our most imperative tools of the trade that is sourced cruelly and callously, and we aren’t talking about it very much.

The subject at hand is also a very grey area. It’s challenging to find out specific information about where animal fur originates, how animals are treated if/when caught and also killed. And if at any time humane practices are in place. There are very little to no standards or regulations in place in several regions in which these animals are hunted. Therein lies the dilemma.

According to PETA, animals are often drowned, trapped, beaten alive, electrocuted, gassed, or even skinned alive. All to be sold for their furs and pelts, which in turn become our makeup brushes. And with the workers who carry out these tasks often paid by volume, their concerns are with working quickly, not gently, or with any sort of care or compassion.

Horrifying.

So, my apologies, I always promised myself that everything in my blog would be positive and inspiring. I was inspired to think for a second and to take the time to source synthetic fiber makeup brushes in the future.

There are many, many ranges and brands available nowadays to provide you with everything that animal hair made brushes can do.

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This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. Please read full disclosure for more information. Having said that, I only ever recommend products or services that I truly love and stand behind!

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makeup brush lot
Photo by freestocks via Unsplash

Okay, now to the fun stuff. And I will be mentioning animal hair brushes. And I will probably share some of my brushes, and no doubt animal hair will be a part of some of them. There it is. I have animal hair brushes in my collection. I just won’t have any more in the future.

So now, let’s take a nice, objective and in-depth look at makeup brushes!

Brush History

Our ancestors made brushes somewhere around 100,000 years ago. Archaeological findings in Africa date back that far. Early man made their brushes with bristles from animal hairs. They would tie the hairs  to stick; leaves could also be used and sometimes even bones (at least we don’t do that anymore!)

Cave paintings discovered throughout Africa and in Spain show us that brushes created these paintings and artworks. Throughout history, we see the introduction of beautifully tapered brushes for calligraphy and traditional writings throughout Asia.

I’m sure in no small way that we have the Egyptians to thank for creating makeup brushes. As many products and techniques, we are still familiar with, and yet put into practice today. Things that all came from their fascination and ingenuity regarding beauty so long ago.

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Egypt
Photo by José Ignacio Pompé via Unsplash

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Brush-making has long been a craft that has been refined and improved over the centuries, in countries like China, Germany, and Japan.

Nowadays, many brush-making facilities take place in these countries: China, Thailand, India, Japan, Italy.

Brush Construction

Three components make up (pardon the pun!) a makeup brush: a handle, a head, and a ferrule (pronounced ferr-ool).

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makeup brush diagram
Anatomy of a brush

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Brush Handles

Brush makers can make the handles from a variety of materials. Materials such as wood, metal, plastic, you name it. There is a sentimental tie for me to wooden brush handles. They just feel more hand made, or historical or something, I can’t explain it, but I love wooden handles.

More than just a few of the brushes in my collection are artist’s brushes, bought from art stores. And honestly, if you find a brush you love, go for it. Just have a play on the back of your hand and your face first.

Artist brushes are designed to paint on paper, or canvas; not with going on someone’s face in mind. Therefore they may well be a little rougher and not as kind on the face. However using artist brushes for makeup is not necessarily rule of thumb, so go exploring – it is sometimes where you find gems.

Brush Head

Makeup brush heads (the collection or section made of hairs) comprise of either of the following types that, of course, we have already touched on Natural Fibres and Synthetic Fibres. Or sometimes a combination of the two.

The natural hairs may come from the following types of animals to begin: goat, squirrel, ox, sable, mink, badger.

As I mentioned, the animal hairs can come from fur farmers. The animal’s fur is its primary purpose from the fur farm. Some of my most special brushes are made from animal hair, as I have addressed. Perhaps yours are too. But there truly comes a particular point when you start to question if that is the way to go. If it feels right ethically, or if there are suitable synthetic alternatives that will do the job as effectively (or if not, more so) as it’s an animal-derived counterpart.

I know I lamented already, and I will be sharing my makeup brush must-haves later in this post. I’m sure a great deal of the brushes will no doubt be natural fibers that came from an animal. That’s hard for me to say, and it’s certainly something I’m not practicing anymore, but there it is.

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person holding brown and white makeup brush
Photo by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash

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Honestly, I think animal fur is still somewhat superior in quality and in its ability to ‘hold’ a product, blend a product, and also in its long-term maintenance. But I will do my utmost to avoid animal hair makeup brush purchasing in the future. Honestly, couldn’t tell you the last time I did so.

The good news is that synthetic brushes are getting to be made higher quality and with greater frequency now than ever before. Companies making synthetics can produce them at a faster speed than animal hair brushes. They are also generally more affordable, so there’s plenty of advantages to synthetic options.

Companies can make synthetic bristles from materials such as Taklon and Dupont’s Nylon and Natrafil. And Natrafil, in particular, that Dupont state on their website is of equal or higher pickup quality than other synthetic brushes and brushes made from animal hair. I look forward to this only improving in the future as well.

Ferrule

A ferrule is a metal or rubber tube that is attached to the end of a wooden stick or post. And in the case of makeup brushes, it holds the bristles securely, and based on it’s shape and size, dictates the the shape of the bristles.

The bristles or hairs are tied and/or glued together and in place deep inside the ferrule.

Okay, So What type of Brush Should I be Using?

In the past, natural fibre brushes have tended to work more successfully for powder products. Makeup like eyeshadow, powder rouge, bronzer powders, powder foundation or setting powder. Anything that requires you to beblending the powdered pigment into the skin.

Brushes made from natural hair just have that perfect ability to hold pigment in the bristles with ease. And release it when you transfer the brush to someone’s face or your own that you’re making up.

Having said that, the synthetic fibres of today are really so good at mimicing and recreating the properties and structure of real hairs. It’s quite astounding!

Synthetic Brushes tend to be more applicable for using liquid or cream products. So when you’re applying foundation, whether it be cream or liquid, they can be your go to. Or if you’re applying lipstick to your client, synthetics are ideal.

Foundation Brushes

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A selection of my most commonly used foundation brushes

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A foundation brush should contain a very dense packing of bristles. In fact, looking at my image above of my four ‘best of’ foundation brushes, I see that all four of them are synthetic brushes. Winner!

Why have I chosen these brushes? Let’s start at the bottom.

The By Terry Tool Expert Foundation Brush has incredibly soft hairs. So they have a lot of flex, and it feels great to the touch. It also features a slightly concave surface area at the toe (see you learnt that already!) of the bristles. And what this does is allow your product to deposit there while you blend it around the face. I can buff and blend to my heart’s content with this brush!

The Bdellium Maestro 947 Small Foundation Brush is a workhorse of my collection. It can really do a full face with ease and efficiency. But is still small enough that I can go under eyes and on eyelids if I have to. I love this brush!

The Sigma Precision Angled P84 and Precision Flat P80 are just solid, slightly smaller brushes. The angled one can move around the face really nicely, across different planes. Great for shading and contouring too. And the flat one I use to really buff in a product. And if I have to use extra coverage on a problem area, or blemish, then this is the perfect tool.

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Concealer Brushes

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Makeup brushes
Just a few of my concealer brushes

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Pictured are just a ‘handful’ of some of my concealer brushes. The three black handled ones are from the Trekkell Golden Taklon 6″ Handle artist brush series. I believe they are from the Filbert range. These are affordable, soft, and sturdy synthetic alternatives to sable brushes and do a great job for me working as a corrective and concealer brush, particularly for the under-eye region.

Below them is one of my beloved Red Fox brushes. I have had this brush for 25 years now. I was just out of makeup college and treated myself to the beautiful set of about 26 of which this came from.

Sadly I probably only have about 2/3 of the set now. Just lost or discarded over time, unfortunately. But this is one I still use often. You can see the enamel is starting to warp at the base near the ferrule. Not bad for 25 years though! And dare I say, this may be one of the few natural hair brushes to feature out of my collection in this post so far!

Powder Brushes

Translucent Powder

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brushes
My two favourite powder brushes from Sigma.

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I love these two brushes. The Sigma Tapered Highlight F35 brush is so versatile. I usually use it for translucent powder. What I love about both of these brushes is that the hairs are just a little longer than standard, which enables a very light touch, and the ability to deposit the smallest amount of product. Great for a highlight across the cheekbone, or even a wash of colour over the eyelid.

The larger of the two brushes is the Sigma Spotlight Duster F37. This brush also has longer bristles than a lot of powder brushes. I can zip over a face with this in an instant! Love them both!

Rouge Brush

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Rae Morris #1 Deluxe Kabuki Makeup Brush
The heavenly Rae Morris #1 Deluxe Kabuki Brush

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I cannot write an entire blog piece dedicated to makeup brushes without including some of my favorite Rae Morris brushes. And this is one of the best.

The #1 Deluxe Kabuki Brush from Rae Morris is honestly (like all of her brushes actually!) the most versatile of brushes.

I love it for rouge, cheeks, decolletage, contouring – cream or powder. As the bristles are dense but soft enough to successfully apply either type of product.Looks like a natural hair brush doesn’t it? But guess again. It’s synthetic!!!

I may have to dedicate an entire post to Rae’s brushes at some point, as I could carry on writing another 2000 words just about them. Swoon!

Bronzer

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The Rae Morris Pro Powder and Flawless Shader Brushes

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I have a slew of large powder brushes that carry out the role of bronzer duty just fine. Again I’ve decided to feature a couple of Rae Morris brushes as they are just so lovely and durable.

Applying bronzer is often times just with quick sweeps, covering large surface areas like necks and the decolletage. I love a well-made brush that has quality bristles to deliver the product sparingly but evenly. These two do just that with ease.

I’m not sure of the availability of these as individual brushes anymore. In the last 6 months or so, Rae had a clearance of her First Edition of makeup brushes. And no doubt in the future she will release a second edition (I’m already warming up the credit card!). So do be sure to check out her site to see exactly what she has in stock. She often has phenomenal sales on her brushes as well.

Eyeshadow Brushes

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Urban Decay Eyeshadow brush

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So I have to mention this eyeshadow brush from Urban Decay for sentimental reasons as well as functionality. I was at work on set some time ago and observed a wonderful colleague using this brush. It’s such a cool looking brush it really caught my eye. So I commented on how nice it looked and she kindly gave it to me, stating she had more than one.

So here it is getting a mention in amongst my faves. I love using it on set throughout the day to just sweep over the eye to clean up, or ‘touch up’ a makeup. And it just looks so pretty!

Sadly this brush is discontinued at this time. But keep an eye out, as sometimes products can be re-stocked at later dates.

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Best eyeshadow brushes ever!! Rae Morris delivers.

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I have so many eyeshadow brushes. And I make no apologies that among them all, I have to say my standout for delivery and quality and just all in all making the job easy are these divine creations. Yet again from Rae Morris.

They are just so good. As stated on her website, these brushes are made from Micro Crystal Fibres to imitate fine goat hair. The brushes truly look and feel like animal hair but are incredulously synthetic. And worth paying for, that’s for sure.

Eyebrow Brushes

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Eyebrow must haves

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The Makeup Forever Eyebrow Brush is a firm and finely tapered eyebrow brush. It is great at depositing product through the brow hair and brushing the brows at the same time. At the time of publishing, this brush is discontinued.. Sorry folks!

My other must-have is the vital Brow Comb and Brush – here I have featured one of my many E.L.F brushes. I’m a big fan of the E.L.F. brand and love everything they stand for. They seem to care about creating quality yet affordable products for consumers. All of their makeup products are cruelty-free and vegan. As are their brushes.

Eyelash Brushes and Combs

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Mascara Makeup Brushes
Bdellium and E.L.F. Mascara Wands

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Here is an assortment of my beloved mascara brushes. I generally tend to use disposable mascara wands, more often than not. It’s just common sense and good practice. But when I have one character that has their own makeup and brushes of mine that I use day to day, there is always one of these kicking about. The two bottom from Bdellium and the upper one from E.L.F

I also have to mention Rae Morris’s eyeylash comb (below). I love it because the metal teeth are actually quite blunt. So it still runs through lashes to separate them, but they are just a little safer to handle and use. And so far it’s still intact!

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Another couple of old faithfuls from Rae Morris

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Below are a couple of gems that are incredibly useful for lthe lashes. The Bdellium 729 Fiber Bent Mascara Fan and the Bdellium Golden Triangle 730 Duet Fibre Bent Lash Fan. I like to apply the mascara with the traditional mascara wand/brush. And then I like to brush through the lashes with this fan brush. With a slight bend in the ferrule, you can really get into the roots of the lashes. Whether applying to someone else, or on your own lashes.

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Bdellium Fan Mascara Brushes
Bdellium Fan Brushes

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Eyeliner Brushes

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An assortment of my eyeliner brushes from Bdellium and Tekklen

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Eyeliner brushes are such a bone of contention among makeup artists. We all have different techniques and use different tools for the job. These days I do like to use liner pens often times. Especially on myself. Liner brushes tend to suffer from the bristles splitting, they just do. Because they are very fine and thin, they require extra looking after.

I also like to use the Bdellium angled brushes for doing clean eyeliner close to the lashline. There are also some flat, or very square edged brushes that do a similar thing. They just have that ability to deposit product in a really small area and allow you to work cleanly which is important with eyeliner.

The Bdellium Golden Triangle 762 Small Angled Brush is the top brush in the image. Below it is a slightly larger brush of the same shape. Designed for the brows but I like it for liner as well. And then followed by a couple more of my Trekell favourite for liner. The bottom is a very thin liner brush and second from bottom has a lovely sharp angle at the toe – I think its called a dagger brush.

The labels have long since eroded from cleaning. But if you would like to know more, please feel free to contact me at one of the contact forms throughout the website and we can do some hard target research to identify them!

Lip Brush

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Kevyn Aucoin lip brush

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I always, yes ALWAYS use lip brushes that have a lid or cover on them. So when working on set each day, I can keep the lip brush dedicated to a particular individual with the lipstick or product deposited on the brush and all securely protected and covered between uses. Bdellium also has a fantastic, retractable version of this brush as well.

Square toed brushes can also be great for applying lipstick to help with the clean line you need for a nice application, and to help look after those lips!

Brush Cleaners

So now you have your beloved brushes and you’ve been using them, it’s time to address just how important cleaning is. As a professional makeup artist, I clean my makeup brushes every day. Sometimes throughout the day, depending on my work schedule.

At home you should be getting into a nice casual routine of a once a week clean. A secret beauty hack of mine is to make it a trifecta of bonuses. Treat yourself to a lovely face mask, and while the face mask is on and working it’s magic, clean your brushes.

I like to wear vinyl gloves while I clean my brushes. So why not make the most of this and give your hands a treat as well? Load them up with your favourite moisturiser, pop on your vinyl disposable gloves and then go to town cleaning those brushes. With your brushes cleaned, remove your gloves and your hands should feel great too. Then once you remove your treatment mask, your face will thank you as well as your hands. And brushes!. Sounds like a great Sunday evening to me!

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99% Isopropyl Alcohol

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The product I clean my brushes with more often than not is simply 99% isopropyl alcohol. I do a lot of special effects and prosthetic makeup. And my glue brushes take a beating with the very strong medical adhesives I use. For those, I always give them a once over with the thinners that accompany the glues I am using. I use alcohol once this is done.

For extra stubborn glue tainted brushes, and for my beauty brushes the next brush cleaner that I love is Parian Spirit. It has been around for over 20 years now, and as a citrus-based product, it cleans, disinfects and breaks down even the most stubborn of products left behind on your bristles.

Another reason I love it is that the company also stock these very handy small jars that have a tray built inside them. So all you have to do is fill the jar, and you can guide your brush back and forth over the lattice-like tray that will allow the crud in your brush to run off underneath to the bottom of the jar. Very well thought out, and logically designed. I must add, Parian does leave a slight oily residue on the brushes after cleaning. I always give them a little going over with 99% alcohol to take care of this.

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Another empty Parian Spirit Bottle

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Dr Bronner’s Castille Soap is definitely worth mentioning at this point. If you have a little more time to wash (with water as opposed to using a solvent) your brushes, then this is a great product. Use the soap bar directly and keep it under a running tap to clean the brushes with ease onto the soap.

Brush Care

And once in a blue moon, I do like to give my brushes a shampoo. Just to give them a little pick me up. Some people swear by dish soap, but I must admit I haven’t tried that yet!

Unfortunately what people sometimes overlook is that wood expands and contracts in temperature fluctuations. It also absorbs water. So if you have ever had the bristles fall out as a collective from your brush, chances are it was a wooden one. This tends to happen less with handles made from materials other than wood.

Wooden brush handles are usually painted with thick lacquer or varnish. This acts as a seal on the handle, to help combat the expansion of the wood by liquids. If you use alcohol to clean your brushes, or other powerful solvents, you will learn that these paint layers can easily be eroded and chip off. So be sure to clean your brushes with care to help avoid this from happening. After all, you have invested in these tools so taking the utmost of care with them will keep them around for many many years to come.

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women's face brushes
Photo by Oli Dale via Unsplash

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Alcohol can also quickly travel up the bristles and inside where they are all glued together at the hair’s base inside the ferrule. This is not necessarily the result of a poor quality brush.

So the moral of the story is – just take a little extra care when cleaning your brushes. And a little extra time. These are tools that you have invested in. Look after them and they will last you a lifetime!

Brush Appreciation

Do you know someone who is a brushmaker? I suspect you don’t. They are quite a rare breed. This is an incredible niche profession that takes years of training and a delicate hand. And although this video deals with animal hair brushes (the world-renowned Kolinsky sable – which is, in essence, a type of weasel) I can appreciate the intricacy and high level of detail-oriented work involved. It takes you through the process of what makes a Kolinsky Series 7 Brush and why they are so expensive. Check it out to really appreciate all that goes into making these superior quality brushes and why it takes around a week to make one brush.

Incidentally, a very adequate synthetic alternative to the Kolinsky brush is the Escoda Versatil line from Spanish brush company Escoda. They look great and at very reasonable prices too.

What is your favourite brush? Did I menton it at all? Did you learn something? I hope so. Now I’ve got to go and clean my brushes!!

Sources:

CV Skinlabs

www.peta.org

Featured Image by Oh Tilly via Unsplash

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