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A Guide to Makeup Brush Construction

Nov 09, 2017


Makeup Brush Construction

Makeup brush construction

A makeup brush consists of three main parts: bristles, ferrule and handle.

The bristles are the action end of a brush. The “toe” is at the top and the “heel” is the end of the bristles that are secured into the ferrule. The length, softness, shape and amount of hairs in the brush are dictated by what makeup application and products the brush has been designed for.

The ferrule is usually made of metal (e.g. nickel-plated brass; aluminium) and less commonly from plastic. The bristles are held in place by the top of the ferrule, which is sometimes pinched flat, and a good dollop of glue. The bottom of the ferrule is glued to the handle too, so don’t leave your brushes in water or let the ferrule get water in it.

Handles are made from wood (coated in either varnish or paint), resin or plastic. Some handles are made from recycled or sustainable materials. The handle is where any brand logo and other information about the brush (like it’s purpose or size) is printed.

TIP: If you work as a makeup artist, mark your brush handles with your name or a symbol (use a coloured nail varnish) so you know they are yours!

Bristles and What They Are Made Of

The bristles of a makeup brush can be made from animal hair or synthetic hair (or a mix of the two). Here is a look at both types of material.

Animal Hair

  • What is animal hair? Animal hair (sometimes referred to as “natural”) comes from animals, including  goats, badgers, squirrels, weasels (“sable”) and horses (“pony”). Camel hair brushes are not actually made from camel hair, but a combination of several types of animal hair (including horse, goat and squirrel), depending on the desired softness and cost.

  • Why is animal hair used? Simply because it has been traditionally used in brushes for a long time and there was no other suitable material until synthetics came along. The hair has a cuticle, a layered outer coating on the hair shaft, which picks up and distributes powder products well. The cuticle also means that animal hair is not so good for cream, gel or liquid products, as it picks up too much product and can lead to clogging, blobs or streaking.

  • Each type of hair comes with its own unique strengths and advantages. For example: sable hair is soft, flexible and goes to a fine point, which is good for precision work; badger hair is stiff and is used in brushes that work to define and shape, like brow brushes; squirrel and goat hair is very soft.

  • How is the hair made? A commonly asked question and the answer is simple: the hair is not given willingly – it is obtained from animals by hunting, farming and slaughter. Animal welfare standards are generally very poor. It is not pretty business.

Synthetic Hair

  • What is synthetic hair?  Synthetic bristles are made from 100% man-made fibres like nylon and polyester.

  • Why is synthetic hair used? Synthetic bristles do not have a cuticle, so are very smooth and trap less product in the bristles than animal hair brushes – this makes them great for creams, gels and liquids. Powder can also be applied with synthetics designed specifically for this purpose, e.g. Taklon and Natrafil were created specifically to mimic the different properties of animal hair, making them good substitutes for using with powder cosmetics.

  • How is the hair made? It is manufactured in factories. The hair can be dyed, often to mimic animal hair, like cream or brown.

  • Types of synthetic fibres used in makeup brushes:

Taklon is a soft, smooth polyester derivative, originally developed by DuPont to mimic the qualities of natural sable (flexible and soft with a good point). It is an incredibly versatile material and can be used in all types and sizes of makeup brushes.

Nylon has smooth fibers and is used in makeup brushes that need a degree of firmness to the bristles, like concealer, brow and mascara brushes.


Summary of the Differences

Synthetic Hair

Animal Hair

Hygiene and CleaningSmooth fibres used lack a cuticle, making it easier to clean thoroughly.Has an irregular surface (due to cuticles) which traps powders, dead skin cells, bacteria and chemicals. Cleaning may not necessarily remove all these particles.
Best Uses

 

 

Cream, gel and liquid. Powders can also be applied with the textured synthetic bristles.Powder makeup products.
Feel on SkinBristles tend to be firmer, though more flexible versions are available.Bristles can vary from very soft and fluffy to firmer, depending on type of hair used.
DurabilityStands up to solvents and doesn’t dry out. Keeps shape well. Dries quicker than animal hair after washing.Over time with washing and cleaning, hair is prone to breakage, drying out and can lose its shape. Hair can shed.
EthosCruelty free. No protein element, so vegan friendly.Animal treatment issues.
Bristles Made FromMan-made materials like nylon, polyesterAnimal hair from squirrels, goats, horses, badgers and weasels

 

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