The Bullshit On Brushes

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Author warning: This post is for people who apply make up. Macho male readers may skip this one.

If you want to apply make up well, whether you are the future Pat McGrath or a girl who just wants to be pretty - you need proper tools.

I strongly advise that before you go gaga over Viva Glam287 or buy the NEW L’Oreal revolutionary 25 patent pending crap- first find yourself a good set of make up brushes. Brushes are an investment you will never regret which I cannot say for the first two.

And speaking of brushes, I am sure all of you have your suspicions. And I am here to confirm it.
Can you really imagine MAC to have its own brush factory or Shu Uemura to have its own curlash making machine?

They don’t. In fact, no cosmetic company does.

We all source from brush manufacturers, a majority of them are from the Far East. These suppliers offer no exclusivity, except of course that they will not stamp the MAC brand to another brush customer.
Bear this in mind- cosmetic brands are in the business of beauty, of image, of bullshit. That means, we have offices- not factories. (I will cover this in detail in a future post: Do you REALLY know where your cosmetics came from?)

And so, when you look for make up brushes- though an expensive brand like MAC might reassure you of good quality, it is possible to get the same quality from a less expensive source.

If you are ready to be a savvier brush shopper, you only need to train yourself to evaluate brushes the way brand product managers/purchasers do.

Our process goes like this-
  1. Suppliers are screened by our purchasing/audit managers.  They sometimes go to China to check first that the company is legit and are really capable of supplying 2million pcs a year.  Since we do not name our suppliers, what ever they do to get those natural hair is something we do not need to know- not that I am suggesting...
  2. We give suppliers a brief, how much, what for, the “look” we are going for, the level of quality we expect and so on.
  3. We get submissions from approved suppliers
  4. Our packaging managers evaluate the brushes for quality
  5. And our product managers evaluate it for pleasure of handling, user experience and image presentation
Fortunately for you, you do not need to go to China. On the other hand, you do not get to keep and use the brushes for months to test before you can decide to buy it.

Here are my general tips if you want to save money :-
  1. AVOID MAKE UP BRANDED BRUSHES. They have mark ups so high that warrants them a place in purgatory. Buy generic or a brush brand instead.
  2.  TRY TO AVOID MAKEUP WITH APPLICATORS. High end brands include applicators on eyeshadows, blushes. Not only are these awkward because of their short handle, they add to the cost of packaging that could have been allocated to the budget of a better texture.
    If you have a choice, opt for products with no applicators And use your own set of brushes instead.
  3. LEARN TO EVALUATE BRUSH QUALITY. Learn the basics of brush quality and evaluate like a real packaging/product pro.
  4. BUY BY THE SET. Once you have found good quality brushes, it is much cheaper to buy by the set rather than by piece.
  5. BUY FROM BEAUTY PROFESSIONAL STORES. There is bound to be one in your city where the salon owners go. Search them and be amazed at all the savings you can make with all your beauty products. Don’t know where they are? Let Google be your friend.
  6. CHECK SUPPLIER FAIRS. If you have the opportunity to go to cosmetic fairs, it is a good venue to buy supplies on the last day of the fair as supplies will sell them all for cheap so as not to bring them back home.

I will assume here that you already know which brush is which.
If you don’t, hmmm... will have to provide you the links for laters.  Or fellow bloggers, I would be happy if you can  link up and promote your instructional blogs on brushes here.

Here goes:
There are 3 parts to a brush- the hair, the ferrule which holds the hair to the handle and the handle.

HAIR – most important determinant of quality.
It is the type of hair that determines the usage of the brush and also decides on the brush quality.
  • Ask your vendor what hair is used and check that it is appropriate for intended usage. 
    Sable is best for small brushes because of their snap and resilience in which there are different grades and which price vary quite a lot - there are European (better) and Chinese varieties and the best of which is the kolinsky sable from tail of male weasel (i am so not making this up!) and  because of the high price of the Kolinsky sable, it might be worth checking your art supply store for smaller eyeshadow brushes. Goat hair is favored for big face brushes especially the cashmere goat which are extra soft. Squirrel and badger are also good choices.  Remember that they come in different grades so best is to test.  Camel hair (which is not made from Camel but pony etc.) not expensive has its virtues though i wouldn't say they would be the best for eye brushes.
    There are synthetic hairs that are used to mimic natural hair - and I wouldn't say no to them- they are cheaper and can be good - again, you have to test.  (Being an engineer- i believe in the virtues of plastic).
    And then synthetic/mix synthetic is inevitable for emulsion brushes (foundation, concealer, lip) as natural hair tends to sop up the emulsion. (Taklon and Nylon are your usual polymers here)
  • As hair have different grades and can thus differ a lot in quality, test that hair is comfortable when used on skin. Though soft may be nice for face brushes, you will need different aspects of quality for foundation, eye brushes..
FERRULE- check that they hold the hair well by slightly tugging the hair and by brushing on a clean surface.
  • Material: Brass is strongest, nickel and corrosion-resistant steel are also good. Aluminum ferrules  are cheaper but are weaker .
  • Construction: seamless ferrules are better  (no welds, joint- it is one continuous piece).  Ferrules with seams tend to pull apart and allow paint, solvents, and water to accumulate, causing loosening or damage to the handle. 
  • Finish : Though sometimes left plain or with a clear or gold colored coating, copper and brass ferrules are usually nickel-plated for appearance and corrosion resistance
HANDLE – wood or plastic.
  • Feel Get the feel by mimicking application on face/eyes. Length, hardness and diameter should feel right,  provide the right amount of comfort and control for eye precision application or light face brushing. 
  • Finish The finish is up to your taste but remember, the fancier, the more expensive for no increase in quality or performance.   But brushes have not only be functional but as well pretty and inspiring, innit?


In principle, art brushes can do the job. In fact, the best and original cosmetic brushes are made by art brush manufacturers (Leonard Pinceaux France) and they will have lower price mark ups than cosmetic brushes. The downside is
  • handles might be too long/thick for makeup application
  • there are different grades of hair even if it is the same animal source.  So  you have to be vigilant and test that the hair are comfortable enough for your skin
So there you go. My first post in Beauty and the bullshit where i encouraged you to buy.
Wasn’t so bad innit? (rhetorical question i ask myself).

I have posted this in advance to buy time for my webmaster.  
I have more articles being uploaded as we speak to the new site.  I am quite annoyed for this delay but rest assured that new site or not, you will see all the articles today.  
Thank you for your patience!