Makeup Brush Buying Guide
I learned a lot about proper brush construction while developing the [R]evolution™ Professional Makeup Brush Collection with Royal & Langnickel. Owning well crafted, quality tools are essential for a professional make-up artist to succeed. I’ve compiled this “Makeup Brush Buying Guide” so you have the requisite information to make educated purchases for your pro kit.
Price or hype is not an indicator of brush quality.
If you’re a pro, don’t be fooled by gimmicks (mermaid brushes?) or hype from “influencers” offering discount codes/affiliate links. You’re shopping for your kit, so quality and performance is your goal.
And don’t be fooled by prices.
I’ve had expensive brushes begin to deteriorate after a few weeks of use, with regular washing/disinfecting – while relatively inexpensive brushes performed beautifully for years because they were constructed correctly, using quality materials.
Makeup Brush Construction
Understanding the construction of quality makeup brushes and how to test them will help you make smart choices when curating a collection for your pro kit.
I want to make sure your investment will pay you back with years of solid performance.
The Brush 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 natural tapered tips of the bristles are gathered and arranged to create a shape (best quality).
- 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).
Look at the shape of the brush from all angles. Are the bristles 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, but if more than a few bristles come loose, they were not glued correctly at their base (Heel), and the brush is not well constructed.
Whether they’re natural, synthetic or blended, 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 or elbow. If the brush feels stiff or prickly on your skin, it’s going to feel uncomfortable on the person sitting in your makeup chair. Would you enjoy someone rubbing a stiff, scratchy brush on your face or eyes? I didn’t think so – so don’t buy it.
The Brush 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.
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.
The metal used to create the ferrule should be rust-proof (aluminum, brass, chrome, etc.) and should 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.
NOTE: Brushes with wood or wood composite handles should be “crimped” (those ring indents at the base of the metal ferrule), securing it tightly to where the brush handle is inserted. Gluing the ferrule to a wood or wood composite handle without crimping the ferrule compromises brush stability and durability.
The Brush Handle
The Handle of a makeup brush can be made of any number of materials – wood, wood composite, metal, acrylic, etc.
The handle should feel substantial – not too heavy or too light. It should be balanced and comfortable when you hold it in the application position.
Avoid gimmicky handles that don’t enhance the performance of the brush. They might look cute or unusual, but if they’re uncomfortable to hold while working, or difficult to keep clean and sanitized, they aren’t a wise investment.
If your makeup brushes have solid hardwood or composite wood handles – DO NOT submerge them in water.
Wood handles are porous and will absorb water, which will cause the handle to expand (when wet) and contract (when dry). The expanding wood will stretch the metal ferrule where the handle is inserted and cause the entire brush head to become loose or possibly fall off when the wood dries and contracts.
The Battle Of The Brush Bristles
Makeup brush bristles are created using natural or synthetic materials, sometimes a blend of both.
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.
Many of my peers won’t work with anything other than natural-hair makeup brushes. They feel man-made materials will not produce similar results. While I admire their allegiance to tradition, it’s time 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, many of today’s synthetic filaments are specifically designed to enhance makeup brush functionality and performance beyond the limitations of natural hair. Natural-hair bristles are no longer the only “pro-choice”.
Technology has created synthetic filaments (nylon, taklon, polyester) offering superior versatility and durability. The more advanced fiber can even be processed to look and feel like the finest natural hair.
The BIG difference – even with constant use (wet or dry) and frequent cleaning, high-quality synthetics don’t degrade or break down as easily as fragile natural hair.
The initial drawback of substituting synthetic fibers was its smooth exterior surface, which compromised performance when using powder makeup products. Natural hair has a microscopic surface texture called the cuticle, which resembles fish scales. These scales grab and hold onto the powder and then release it when brushed against another surface.
Many manufacturers have developed synthetic fibers with rough surface textures that mimic this “cuticle”, but it was DuPont™ laboratories that found a way to REPLICATE the studded cuticle texture. Natrafil® is 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.
DuPont™ Nartrafil® was my fiber choice when developing the [R]evolution Professional Brush Collection.
Another trend is “blended” brushes that mix synthetic and natural hair to augment the best qualities of each.
Duo-Fiber has become a very 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 synthetic).
The purpose of these brushes is to simulate an “airbrushed” makeup application.
Interesting concept…if it actually worked. In HD media formats, this brush type is notorious for creating a streaky liquid/cream foundation application – so I’m going to give this marketing direction a double thumbs down.
The brush design is viable for certain application techniques …but they need to stop marketing them as an airbrush alternative.
Getting Into Shape (Brush Heads)
Brush head shapes are designed by manufacturers and cosmetic companies to facilitate standard makeup application or the specific application needs of a new product.
While some pretty amazing specialty shapes have been introduced in the last five 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.
Bristles are set in a narrow profile, with tips gently beveled into an assortment of rounded shapes to be used for blending or contouring.
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.
Bristles are arranged in a full round (barrel-shaped) profile. The brush tips can be either domed, angled or flat-topped.
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.
Don’t be influenced by brand names, gimmicks or prices (high or low).
It is essential to look for quality materials and proper construction when navigating through the staggering amount of makeup brush choices.
Unless you’re a beginner, don’t purchase “sets”. Do research and find individual brushes in sizes and shapes that inspire your artistry and you’ll end up with the perfect collection for your kit!
These are a few of the companies I trust for purchasing professional makeup brushes due to price (for quality), performance, durability and customer service: