I’m a self-confessed snob about a lot of things, but interestingly, makeup brushes aren’t exactly one of them. Not in the true sense anyway. I have a lot of brushes collected over the years, from different price ranges. I must say however that when buying natural hair brushes as I was before, there is a marked difference in quality between a cheap brush and an expensive one so I am very much pickier. The former is scratchy, sheds and can irritate the skin. The latter is usually better made, softer and less scratchy. Usually. There are of course, exceptions.
I must say however that the primary reason I have a lot of brushes is mainly due to the explosion of mineral makeup on the scene about 5 years ago. Although mineral makeup isn’t something I seek out, the other thing they gave us was very lovely, dense and super soft makeup brushes. Oh and at affordable prices. These brushes have synthetic bristles and with synthetic bristles, you get a super smooth surface and it does not scratch the skin. At one time, synthetic brushes were all I was using.
Over the years however, I’ve worked out the sort of makeup brushes I prefer, and why I prefer them, and why I think some types of brushes superior to others. If you’re keen to know what I think, read on and you can share your views too 🙂
Natural Hair Brushes pick up powder colour better
One of my favourite blush brushes is an inexpensive one from Ecotools – the Ecotools Bamboo blush brush. If you want a soft yet dense blush brush that does not scratch and picks up colour from most powder blushes quite easily, this one is the one to pick up.
However, although I love it and still use it a lot, I found that it was hard to use this Ecotools blush brush with some blushes. It wouldn’t pick up and deposit colour very well, and made the powder dusty. I used to think it was the fault of my blushes and panned them as not very good products. However, when I later switched to using natural hair blush brushes, I realised I didn’t have a problem with those same blushes. A touch of the brush on the surface of the powder was enough to pick up colour without making the blush dusty, and it applied on the skin evenly.
That was when I realised perhaps rather belatedly, that natural hair bristles aren’t as smooth as synthetic bristles. Animal hair are like human hair. The hair cuticles overlap and no matter how soft or smooth they feel, they in fact have ridges to them that pick up powder and colour more easily. Synthetic bristles offer nothing to hold onto and so they don’t pick up colour so well. It wasn’t the fault of the blush after all, but my brush. I now use natural hair bristle brushes almost exclusively for blush, bronzer and most face colour products.
Its the same with eyeshadow brushes for me. I have some synthetic eyeshadow brushes, but I’ve gone back to using natural hair brushes. I have less work when trying to pick up colour, and they seem to do a better job with blending, in my view. There are some synthetic brushes I have which I still use often, but it comes down to their quality and comfort.
Synthetic brushes are better for cream or liquid products
For liquid or cream products, however, synthetic bristles do a better job simply because they are easy to wash out. So for cream blushes, I use a synthetic bristle brush. Ditto if I use a lip brush or gel liner, or liquid foundation, concealer or cream shadow. I prefer using synthetic bristle brushes because they are soft, apply cream and liquid products well, and are easy to wash. If you use a brush for liquid foundation, you will also find that a synthetic bristle brush doesn’t use up as much product as a natural hair one. Natural hair seems to soak up product. I’m not sure if its because of the nature of hair but it be quite a waste.
Natural Hair Face Brushes apply powder more sheer
When I apply loose powder, I usually reach for my Sonia Kashuk Face Brush. It has natural hair and is lovely and soft. It is also dense but not too densely packed, as some synthetic face brushes are. I find that when I need to touch up, or apply loose powder, it gives me a sheerer application.
When I want to up the coverage, I usually opt for a dense synthetic face powder brush, or a synthetic kabuki brush, because synthetic bristles are just softer when you are buffing powder into your skin. I used to have a kabuki brush with natural hair bristles. Buffing powder into my skin was like using sandpaper on it 😛 Not true of all brushes of course but I just prefer a synthetic kabuki brush.
For powder foundation, I still prefer using a synthetic brush to apply it because of how much more comfortable the brush feels against my skin. Of course, a high quality natural hair brush will feel as sublime, but it will also cost substantially more.
It may not be the product but your brush
These days, before I pan a product for being unpigmented or for being too sheer or too shimmery, I try it out with a few types of brushes first. In many situations, I’ve found that good natural hair brushes will be able to pick up colour and pigment well, deposit it precisely on the skin and blend it out quite easily. Interestingly, I’ve also found that if a product is too pigmented, using a natural hair brush actually picks up less colour and it is easier to sheer out and blend on the skin, as compared to a synthetic brush. Natural hair brushes, like our hair has natural volume, while synthetic brushes need dense bristles to achieve the same volume and so, can end up applying powder or colour too thickly.
Which type of brush should I use?
For those with sensitive skin, synthetic bristles are a good option. They are inexpensive usually, and are soft against the skin and the odds of an allergy are minimal. With natural hair, you just can’t tell. However, finding a good set of synthetic hair brushes is key because many out there tend to be too floppy or not dense enough to do a good job.
As for natural hair brushes, I’d stay away from most cheap brushes because the quality of hair just isn’t there, and they can get scratchy over time and shed. Also, I’d stay away from coloured brushes e.g. pink hair, red hair etc because of the dyes used. Yes, even expensive ones like Shu Uemura’s Botan Brush. For natural hair brushes, I’m convinced that the Japanese do it best. Most expensively as well, but they have the best brushes on offer for the price you pay.
What’s your preference for a makeup brush? Natural hair? Synthetic? Is your preference swayed by how it performs or because of other reasons e.g. animals.
Picture #1 L-R: Trish McEvoy 2B Sheer Blush brush, Lunasol Blush brush, Ecotools Bamboo Blush Brush (Synthetic), Sigma F10 Blush Brush, Ecotools Bamboo Bronzer Brush (Synthetic), Sonia Kashuk Powder Brush, Trish McEvoy #37 Bronzer Brush
Picture #2 L-R: Shu Uemura #10 Kolinsky/Sable, Tony & Tina Blending Brush (S), Tony & Tina Crease Brush (S), NARS #15 Smudge Brush, Tony & Tina Angled Eyeliner Brush (S), MAC #239
39 comments ... Read or JOIN THE DISCUSSION
I don’t have a proper blush brush yet. >.< I realized that my Etude House skunk brush works better to apply more pigment instead, strangely.
I agree with you on the other brushes though, particularly on synthetic brushes for foundation!
Take your time finding one 🙂 It took me a while to realize what I wanted in a blush brush – I don’t quite get skunk brushes much so I don’t use them 😛
Oh, I don’t discriminate. If it works, it works, I don’t care. 😀 Right now, the brushes I utilise daily are the Shu Uemura 20 Pony for blush and Ecotools blush which I use to dust powder cos it’s so big and wide.
Shu 20 Pony is awesome! I always wanted it (I have #17 but find it a wee bit small) but never got round to buying it. Now I have the Trish McEvoy and the Lunasol, I think I’m set as far as blush brushes go 😀
I’m not too sure which one i like though.
I’m not an everyday makeup girl… as long as it is not too pricey and doing fine, i’m good with it =P
Sometimes I feel that natural brush has smell…goat smell perhaps? =)
Haha yes natural brushes do tend to “smell” a bit especially after washing 😛 There are many inexpensive well made synthetic hair brushes out there that don’t break the bank and do the job well 🙂
I’m prefer natural bristles, simply because i use mostly powder products. In fact, with the exception of cream products, all my stuff are powders! lol! Like you i find that they pick up powders better.
I LOVE the MAC 187 skunk brush (goat hair + synthetic blend) though. I use it for both foundation and powders and it performs beautifully for both! 😀
typo, *exception of liquid foundations
Ooh that iconic MAC #187 skunk brush! I must say that skunk brushes diffuse liquid foundations beautifully for such a perfect finish. I just find it too much work 😛
Oh gosh, I have so many brushes, from natural to synthetic, small to large, flat to pointy. I use them for different pusposes, and I enjoy having a large selection so I can PRETEND to be a pro. LOL! Whatever it is, I always look for softness in brushes and whether or not they shed. As for density and shapes, well, they’re to differentiate the brushes’ functions.
Sounds pretty much like how I view my brushes – every one has its purpose 🙂 But I’ve recently developed a liking for natural hair especially for eye and face brushes but ultimately it all comes down to personal preferences depending on the products we use most often 🙂
LOVE your detailed analysis! I use synthetic brushes for base makeup that covers a large area for the exact reason you mention, and natural for everything else. I even use natural bristles for cream concealer because I feel it picks up color better and applies it more in a diffusing “fluffed out” pattern compared to concentrated/pigmented blotches with a synthetic brush of the same shape.
I’ve been using mostly MAC brushes that are made in Japan or France, but I’m willing to branch out since I’ve bought them yeaaaars ago and a couple of natural brushes are shedding/coming out in chunks/becoming scratchy. I’m surprised how long they’re lasting, though.
Peach! You just reminded me of what a lovely finish natural hair brushes give foundation and concealer even though its cream products. I have to agree with you that a natural hair brush used to buff cream concealer gives a much more even finish and is a lot faster too! I experimented with it once but am now back to using my fingers. Will go back to brushes again and see how I like it 😀 MAC brushes aren’t bad at all actually – they are one of the few things I like about MAC but for makeup brushes my heart is still with Japanese brushes. Do give them a go. You have access to so much more in Japan than we do! 😀
I like synthetic for cream products (cream eyeshadows, gel eyeliners, concealer), and natural for powder products.
Do you have a fave brush?
Oh, I have a couple! 😀 Can’t choose just ONE! Let’s see…Sigma’s F50 duo fibre is lovely for just about anything on the face. MAC 226 for blending eyeshadows…I searched high and low for a dupe of this one before they finally started selling it again! And I have an eyeshadow contouring brush from Taiwan brushmaker Lamsamyick made of natural animal hair.
Ooh I have a #226 or one of them fluffy blending brushes from MAC in one of their travel sets. Its a very good blending brush indeed! 😀
I like synthetic for creams and gels and natural for powders and foundations.
Which is your fave brush for natural hair brushes Jamilla 🙂
Bobbi Brown and NARS!
Oooh I love brushes, especially face/powder brushes and am not too terribly picky about the type of hair used by them either- I just get what’s of good quality, feels good and works haha 😛 None of those cheap, prickly, shed-y types though. I also started amassing brushes during the mineral makeup craze, and my first one was the long-handled kabuki by Everyday Minerals (I now own 3 of these and 2 of the flat-top kabuki!). Now I have brushes from Bobbi Brown, Sephora, Lunasol (Thanks to you! :D), Everyday Minerals, The Body Shop and Ecotools.
I also find that synthetic brushes really are not as good as natural brushes when it comes to picking colour, unless they’re dense and/or kabuki brushes, in which they perform brilliantly, but coverage will be quite heavy 😛 I’m using my Lunasol cheek brush to apply my Burberry compact foundation and it looks more natural than using my Sephora mineral foundation brush 🙂 But then again, I only use them for face powder (Loose and/or compact) so I can’t really comment too much!
I have the Everyday Minerals short handled kabukis – good stuff they are. I got the Lunasol blush brush – its amazing! Feels like air on the skin 😛 I think I’m spoilt. Gonna have to stick to squirrel hair from now. Goat hair just feels too rough for the face now 😛
Yes, that’s why I got so many of them! 😛
Amazing, isn’t it? Thanks to your brief review about it I went out and got it, and never regretted it! 😀 Yeah squirrel hair is definitely way softer than goat hair hahaha!
I don’t mind as long as they’re nice and soft on my skin 😀
Softness, the paramount consideration for brushes 🙂
I prefer synthetic. Natural ones, like you’ve mentioned, are too scratchy. I need them soft and smooth.
Squirrel hair is super soft and smooth! 😀 But they do tend to be much pricier 🙂
I don’t really mind whether the bristles are natural or synthetic. I’ll just use any brush as long as it works and it doesn’t scratch my skin. 🙂
LOL Guess I’m really fussy then 😀
I love EcoTools. So affordable and their brushes are soft and they work. 🙂
Hi Paris, does your Ecotools Bamboo Blush brush work with your Diorblush? Does it make them dusty? Coz i’m planning to buy a Diorblush & i need to buy a brush for it, Ecotools seem like a good option until i read the possible problem with it being synthetic and all.
Do you know if the Bobbi Brown blush brush is using synthetic or natural hairs?
Thanks for your help. =)
Paris B says
I believe Bobbi Brown uses natural hairs. Most major mainstream brands do. Maybe something to do with the application 🙂 as for the ecotools brush, I have used it a while back with the Diorblush and it works, without making it dusty. The Ecotools brush is a good brush, but it does feel “different” when compared with the application with a natural bristle brush that I feel looks more natural
Thanks so much for your detailed reply Paris!
Hehe…i guess i can go ahead with the Ecotools blush brush for the time being then since it doesn’t make the Diorblush dusty which was my main concern.
So i guess, if i purchase those 2, i would like to thank you for being a part in the deciding factor of my purchase as i certainly took notice of both items thanks to your great blog!
Happy New Year Paris! May this year be a great year for you & your blog~ Cheers! =D
Paris B says
Thank you Phoenix and I hope the brush will work for you 😀 You will love Diorblushes, I promise 🙂
Do you think the Real Techniques Starter Set isn’t good for eyeshadows, then? Since they’re all synthetic brushes.
Paris B says
I haven’t tried the Real Techniques eye brushes so I can’t comment, I’m afraid. I don’t think synthetic brushes are bad, I just find they don’t pick up the pigment the way I like it. They have their merits as the bristles are lovely and soft.
I actually only had synthetic cause i thought they were a lot smoother and better till i bought this brush from etude house, the choco stick eyeshadow brush (sounds delicious and looks SO CUTE) and i dint know they were natural bristles till i first used it, my initial reaction was that it was a lot rougher but then i found that i dint really have to swipe it across the eyeshadow as much, as it picked up a lot of eyeshadow right away. after reading your site, now i feel like i want to try more natural bristles and open up more variety to my brushes. i have one problem though. i tend to buy the same kind of brushes again and again just in different brands without even realizing it. 🙁
Hmm…does anyone know where i can buy the lunasol squirell blush brush? im really excited about this SOFT brush. 🙂 Thanks for the review.it’s great.am only now venturing on brushes and been doing lots of research 🙂 stating from 0.
Paris B says
Hi Mell, I’m not sure where you are but in Malaysia you can get it at Kanebo counters. You can also check online stores like adambeauty.com if they have them. I have a review on the brush here.