Brushing up on Make-up Brushes
Brushing up on Make-up Brushes

By Kevin James Bennett

Here’s a fact: Quality make-up brushes are essential if you aspire to excellence in artistry. Be aware that price is not always an indicator of quality. I’ve had wildly expensive brushes that fell apart and inexpensive brushes that were workhorses. It all depends on how they’re made. You should pay attention to solid craftsmanship and not get blinded by fancy bells and whistles. A hammer drives nails with or without the gold plating, right?

Conquering Concerns About Construction:

  • Gently tug the brush bristles. New brushes will sometimes shed a FEW hairs. If more than a few come loose, it’s not well made.
  • Whether they’re natural, synthetic or blended, the brush bristles should feel soft and smooth. Run the brush across the inside of your wrist. If it feels stiff or prickly on your skin, it’s going to feel horrible on someone’s face.
  • Check the metal band that connects the bristles to the handle (the ferrule) using these tests:
    1. The brush head (ferrule and bristle assembly) should not be loose, spin easily or wobble on the handle.
    2. There should be crimp rings at the base of the ferrule, securing it tightly to where the brush handle is inserted. Glue alone is not strong enough for durability.
    3. The metal used to create the ferrule should not dent or bend easily with finger pressure.
  • Handles (wood, metal, Lucite, etc.) should feel substantial, not heavy. Novelty shapes or extra-long handles look cool but are not very comfortable to work with.

The Battle of the Brush Bristles:

Most people are familiar with animal-hair brushes, which are typically made of sable, squirrel, goat or a combination of hairs chosen for visual appeal and functional shapes. Many senior artists become indignant at the thought of not working with natural animal-hair make-up brushes. They refuse to believe that man-made materials will allow them to produce the same results. While I admire their conviction, I offer an invitation to stroll into the 21st century. Animal-hair bristles are no longer necessary, due to enormous strides in technology. Think about it —animal hair works as a medium for make-up application, but the new synthetic filaments are designed expressly for that purpose.

Technology has brought us remarkable synthetic filaments that can be processed to look, feel and act like natural hair but offer greater versatility and durability. Our largest concern as artists has been that the smooth surfaces of synthetic fibers (nylon, taklon, polyester, etc.) don’t perform correctly with powder make-up products. Animal hair has a microscopic surface texture called the cuticle, which resembles fish scales. These scales effectively grab and hold onto powder and then release it when brushed against another surface. DuPont has conquered this concern and introduced Natrafil™, a patented polyester filament with a textured surface that, according to tests published by DuPont, surpasses the pick-up and deposit performance of natural hair while adding superior durability

We’ve also been introduced to "blended" brushes that mix synthetic and animal hair to augment the best qualities of each. One of the fastest-growing make-up brush categories is duo fiber. 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 finish

Brush shapes are designed by manufacturers and cosmetic companies in response to make-up product requirements, artist requests, or to correspond with specific make-up application techniques.
Sizing Up the Silhouettes:

  • Square or angled: Bristles are precisely set in a thin profile with a sharp angle or flat surface along the top
  • Chisel: Bristles are gently beveled into an assortment of shapes to be used for blending or contouring
  • Pointed: Bristles are tapered to either a soft or precise point for detail work
  • Round: Bristles are arranged to create a barrel-shaped brush head and can be either domed, angled or flat topped
  • Kabuki: Similar to the round, but a much more luxurious, tightly packed brush head; also made in domed, angled or flat top styles

I'll admit, the inordinate amount of make-up brush choices is completely overwhelming. The only way to navigate through this endless sea of bristles is to forget the quantity and always remember the QUALITY. Don’t be guided by brand names, popular styles or prices (high or low). Use the information we’ve gone through above to help make educated decisions. And when choosing your perfect make-up tools, remember: There’s no right or wrong brush because each artist decides how their masterpiece is created!

Here are just a few of my personal favorites, which have provided outstanding quality and performance with continued use and cleaning:

The Divinity Collection (100% synthetic)
Cylinder Concealer P350, Depositer D225, Contour Stylist S135,
Eye Contour (Medium) S175

aDesign Brushes—
Finishing Powder, Pointed Foundation, Cream Cheek, Eye 3, Pointed Crease

Royal Brush—Silk Collection
Foundation C205, Flat Concealer C230, All Over Shadow C401, Eye Shader C411-S
Smudger C422-S, Liner C441-S

EnKore Makeup—
HD Stipple & Swirl Brush, Duo Fiber Fan Brush, Duo Fiber Shader

Sigma Brush Co. —
Flat Top Kabuki F80, Round Top Kabuki F82, Small Contour F05