The Bullshit On Brushes

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 suppliers 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. Aluminium 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 encourage you to buy.


  1. Thanks! I RTed! Too good of a post to miss. ;)

  2. I loved it! But what about synthetic brushes?

  3. I love your blog! It helps to declutter the crap the industry feeds us. I love yr brutal honesty. Thanks a lot for writing, pls continue! P.S: I love yr blog so much - I wrote a post about it introducing it to my blogger friends, you can read it here

  4. I would also like to know about synthetic brushes :) particularly taklon. I'm not so keen on the idea of using animal hair on my face.

  5. Hello mercedes! I am glad you liked it!

  6. Hi jbrobeck- oh yes, gwad i so rushed this article so pardon the oversight. I have inserted the info- please read again:-)

  7. Hello Tanveer!
    Thank you very much and welcome to my blog! I really really appreciate the article and will also do a link back.

  8. Hi Jade Carver-
    Ii inserted some more info on synthetics and yes, am glad to know that someone else appreciates the virtues of plastic.

  9. Love it. I actually far prefer synthetic over natural hair brushes. I have a set of 11 e.l.f. synthetic hair brushes that I got for like $25 and they are great. I actually think their blush brush is much better than a Lancome (natural hair) one I own!

    ecoTools also sells pretty great synethetic brushes, also very inexpensive.

    Thanks for the post!

  10. LOVE your article! I will no longer believe companies who tell me their brushes are cruelty-free because they give the animals "hair cuts." If they're coming from China - who knows how they get the hair. I doubt they're checking. You should join our beauty blogger group on Facebook -

  11. Fabulous post! I agree - who knows where they are getting the brushes!! I wish I had the talent to saw down the handles of paint brushes and sand the edges...

  12. Thank you for the tip eight!!!

  13. Hello Beauty Bunny- Thank you and thank you for the FB group recommendation. I sent my request for an invite.

  14. Hi K- Yes, sawing and sanding is not a far fetched idea!

  15. I stumbled upon your blog and its like finding money in the purse you hardly use..the level of joy is at par :>

  16. Dear Jowina-
    Wow- that is one of the best compliments i have ever gotten- i lurv finding money in my purse as it rarely happens. Thank you!
    Ok, i will get back my ass to blogging asap! Gawd if i can figure out how to transfer to wordpress asap.
    See you around soon i hope!

  17. Hooold on a fu*king minute! Google reader doesn't let me know you posted new posts! Little traitor, grrr! I guess I'll have to put you on my mozilla bar. Glad to be reading you again! And this post is solid gold! I'm in the process of re-buying and restocking my brush collection, so it's really a perfect timing, thanks so much!

  18. Pure, unadulterated amazingly refreshing!!!

    I was reading your blog weekly, until your posts dwindled.
    Now I can go back to my ritual on Friday mornings....Coffee and Beauty and the Bullshit. Thank you!

    Agree with EIGHT in above post.....those EcoTools are as good if not better than many of the higher end/brand name brushes I've had.
    All the best,

  19. i followed you because i love the beauty part, the bull shit part and the beauty of the bullshit part :D feel free to reconnect. :D still reading the other posts. actually, was referred to your blog by one of my fb likers :)

  20. Hi Ulmiel!

    Great to hear from you again! Will be suing Google Reader - heehee!
    Anyway, the litte beeatch (Google, that is)is also giving me a difficult time transferring current followers to my new platform but we will get there.
    Cheers from the rainy tropics!

  21. Hi Kumiko Mae!

    Saw your blog- it is a happy place and am flattered to be invited to connect, my blog not being the most cheerful blog on the beauty galaxy. Thank you for the appreciation. I am not so active on twitter nor on FB (I know, i should correct that soon) but will be putting you on my blogroll in my soon to be launched wordpress platform.

  22. Hi Rowena,

    Yeah i noticed how unhappy your place is kidding. :p Maybe that's why im attracted to it! I feel like a girl on a mission haha oh youre moving to wordpress. is it really easier?

  23. Hi Kumiko!
    Wordpress is giving me hell really- which is why i am taking so long. Also because i have been busy being in love on the side- so this place is getting happy sooner than i can set my wordpress up!

  24. u r this i think i will order the saet i saw recently on a china seller website...a stippling brush for 2.5$...n 10 brush set for 11$...nice deal i guess

    1. Hi Pavani Reddy! Thank you! Would be happy to guest you criticquing that brush in the future What say?

  25. Hello I am enrolled in a pro makeup class and was looking to purchase a complete kit of the best professional brush set out there I heard sigma has the best brushes what do u think??????? If you could based on your knowlegde tell me what you think is the best brand of brushes for me to invest in......... thanks alot

  26. Hi Ebony, If you will notice, i do not review products here but rather, i give you the know how to evaluate products yourself. Let yourself be guided by what i wrote and i am confident you can judge for yourself. Cheers!

  27. Wow. This blog post is an answer to prayer. Literally. I'm new to make up brushes and I'm in the process of deciding whether to go for branded or mid-range brushes. The prices are hilarious! Thank you for shedding light to my situation! LOL.

  28. You are most welcome doubtproof!

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  30. Hi, I am a beauty therapist and have done make-up courses. My advice is don't feel that you have to rush into purchase of brushes. Listen to all of the pros out there, who all have really varied opinions and borrow or use cheap brushes to get going. All the best.

  31. Thanks for sharing such an informative stuff.
    I've been using Sigma brushes for 2 years (via an expert's suggestion) but have had a lot of issues with my Foundation and Powder brushes shedding, like as in I may look as if I need to shave after applying. I've always taken great care/washing/drying etc so have been frustrated and am ready to try something else. I will probably be purchasing through Amazon which have very informative instruction pad along with packing for saving brushes from dust etc.


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