Owning quality makeup brushes is essential for a professional make-up artist, so I’ve compiled a “Makeup Brush Buying Guide” with the information you need to make educated purchases.
FACT: Price is not always an indicator of quality. I’ve had insanely expensive brushes that fell apart after a few washings and inexpensive brushes that performed beautifully for years. It all depends on how they’re made.
EXAMPLE: 24K gold plating does not enhance brush performance – so don’t get blinded by gimmicks and marketing hype that have nothing to do with quality or proper construction. If you pay attention to the rules below and focus on solid craftsmanship, your makeup brush investment will pay you back with years of fantastic performance.
THE BRISTLES: These are the brush “hairs” (natural or synthetic). The bristle tips are called the Toe and the base is called the Heel. The Toe gets its shape one of two ways – the tapered tips of the bristles are gathered and arranged to create a shape (best quality) or the gathered tips are cut/sheared to create the shape. Once the bristles have been given their desired shape, they are tied at the Heel and the very base of the bristles are dipped in glue to hold them together. Once the glue is set, the bristles are secured (glued) into the ferrule (I’ll explain what the ferrule is in a minute).
ROAD TEST: Look at the shape of the brush from all angles. Have the bristles been arranged correctly? Do they create a uniform, symmetrical shape? Now gently tug the brush bristles (I said gently). New brushes will often shed a few hairs. If more than a few bristles come loose, they were not glued correctly at their base (heel) and the brush is not well made.
Whether they’re natural, synthetic or blended, the brush bristles should always feel soft and smooth. Certain brushes shapes will feel firmer, but should never feel stiff. Test the brush by running it across the soft skin on the inside of your wrist. If the brush feels stiff or prickly on your skin, it’s going to feel uncomfortable on someone’s face. Would you want someone rubbing a stiff, scratchy brush on your face or eyes? I didn’t think so – don’t buy it.
THE FERRULE: This is the metal band that connects the bristles to the handle. Once the bristles have been shaped and set properly, they are glued into the ferrule. When you combine the bristles and ferrule it becomes what is known as the brush head.
ROAD TEST: Hold the ferrule in one hand and the brush handle in the other. The brush head (ferrule and bristle assembly) should not be loose, spin easily or wobble on the handle. There should be “crimp” rings at the base of the ferrule, securing it tightly to where the brush handle is inserted. Glueing the ferrule to the handle without crimping compromises the brush durability. The metal used to create the ferrule should be rust-proof (aluminum, brass, chrome, etc.) and not dent or bend easily with finger pressure.The top of the ferrule (where the bristles are inserted) should have a smooth, even edge. If it feels sharp, it was finished cheaply.
THE HANDLE: This can be made of any number of materials (wood, metal, acrylic, etc.).
ROAD TEST: The handle should feel substantial – not too heavy or too light. It should be balanced and comfortable when you hold it in application position. Avoid gimmicky handles that don’t enhance the performance of the brush or that might be uncomfortable to hold while working. If your brushes have solid hardwood or composite wood handles…DO NOT submerge them in water. Wood handles are porous and will absorb water. This will cause the handle to expand (when wet) and contract (when dry). The expanding wood will stretch the ferrule where the handle is inserted and cause the entire brush head to become loose or possibly fall off.
THE BATTLE OF THE BRISTLES
Most people are familiar with natural-hair brushes, which are typically made of sable, squirrel, goat or a combination of hairs chosen for visual appeal and functionality. High material costs and animal cruelty issues have negatively impacted the natural-hair brush category.
There are quite a few senior artists who can’t comprehend not working with natural-hair makeup brushes. They refuse to believe that modern man-made materials will produce the same results. While I admire their allegiance to tradition, I offer them an invitation to visit the 21st century. Back in the day, animal hair was the only material available for brush making, so it became the standard. Thanks to strides in technology, today’s synthetic filaments are specifically designed to enhance makeup brush functionality and performance. Natural-hair bristles are no longer the benchmark of quality folks…it’s time to put away the vinyl records and get an iPod.
SPECIAL NOTE: If a company tries to tell you they have cruelty-free natural-hairbrushes – they’re liars. There was one major cosmetic company trying to pass off the ridiculous story that the natural hair used in their brushes was humanely shaved from animals. Seriously…shaving squirrels? Get my boots, the bullshiz is getting deep.
Technology has created synthetic filaments (nylon, taklon, polyester) that offer greater versatility and superior durability – they can even be processed to look and feel like the finest natural hair. The BIG difference is, even with constant use (wet or dry) and frequent cleaning, they don’t degrade or breakdown as easily as fragile natural hair. There were initial concerns surrounding the smooth exterior surface of synthetic fibers and their performance when using powder makeup products. You see, human and animal hair has a microscopic surface texture called the cuticle, which resembles fish scales. These scales grab and hold onto powder and then release it when brushed against another surface. Many manufacturers have now developed synthetic fibers that mimic this texture …but it was DuPont™ laboratories that found a way to actually replicate the cuticle texture and created Natrafil®. It’s a patented polyester filament with a textured surface that surpasses the pick-up and deposit performance of natural hair while adding the superior durability of a synthetic.
Another trend is “blended” brushes that mix synthetic and natural hair to augment the best qualities of each. Duo-Fiber has become a popular makeup brush category. These brushes have a signature bi-level construction (usually black and white) created by mixing multiple lengths of bristles (blended or totally synthetic). The purpose of these brushes is to simulate an “airbrushed” makeup application. In HD media format, this brush type is notorious for creating a streaky liquid/cream foundation application – so I’m pretty sure I don’t agree with that marketing hype. The brush design is totally viable for other application techniques …they just need to stop marketing it as an airbrush alternative.
GETTING INTO SHAPE
Brush head shapes are designed by manufacturers and cosmetic companies to facilitate standard make-up application or the specific application needs of a new product. While some pretty amazing specialty shapes have been introduced in the last 5 years, it’s important to understand what the basic brush head shapes are:
Square or Angled: Bristles are precisely set in a narrow profile with a sharp angle or flat surface along the top.
Chisel: Bristles are set in a narrow profile, with tips gently beveled into an assortment of rounded shapes to be used for blending or contouring.
Pointed: Bristles are set in either a narrow or full round (barrel-shaped) profile. The brush tips are tapered to a precise point for detail work.
Round: Bristles are arranged in a full round (barrel-shaped) profile. The brush tips can can be either domed, angled or flat topped.
Kabuki: Similar to the Round, but a larger in a more luxurious, tightly packed brush head. These brushes are available in domed, angled or flat top styles.
Let’s be honest, the staggering amount of makeup brush choices is overwhelming. The only way to navigate successfully through this endless sea of brushes is to always remember that QUALITY is essential. Don’t be influenced by brand names, popular styles or prices (high or low). Use the information here to help make educated decisions. And, when choosing YOUR perfect makeup tools remember – there’s no right or wrong brush, because each artist decides which tools their masterpiece is created with!