A guide to makeup brushes construction, including the parts of a brush and what the bristles are made from.
Makeup Brush Construction
- The toe is the bristle tips – the bit that goes on the skin.
- The heel is the bottom end of the bristles. Here, the bristles are tied and then glued in the ferrule. Some ferrules are also clamped tightly around the bristle heel.
- The length, softness, shape, and amount of hairs used in a brush are dictated by what makeup products the brush has been designed for.
- The bristles are held in place by the ferrule, which is sometimes pinched flat.
- The ferrule is usually metal, such as nickel-plated brass or aluminium. The ferrule can also be plastic.
- The bottom of the ferrule is glued to the handle to make it secure. It is best to not leave brushes in water or let water get into the ferrule.
- Handles are made from solid materials, such as wood (coated in either varnish or paint), resin or plastic.
- Recycled or sustainable materials (like bamboo) can also be used to make brush handles. They are growing in availability and popularity due to having less impact on the environment.
- Printed on the handle can be various information, including the brand logo and the brush’s purpose or size. It varies from brand to brand.
TIP: If you work as a makeup artist, mark your brush handles with your name or a symbol. Use coloured nail varnish, that way you will know they are yours!
What Bristles Are Made Of
The bristles are from either animal hair or synthetic fibres – or a mix of the two. Here is a look at both types of material.
- What is animal hair? Animal hair (sometimes referred to as natural) comes from animals, including goats, badgers, squirrels, weasels (“sable”), and horses (“pony”). Camel hair brushes are not camel hair but a combination of several types of animal hair (including horse, goat and squirrel) – it depends on the desired softness and cost.
- Why is animal hair used? Simply because it has been used traditionally for a long time. There was no other suitable material until synthetics came along.
- How is hair constructed? The hair has a cuticle, a layered outer coating on the hair shaft, which picks up and distributes powder products well. The cuticle also means that animal hair is not so good for cream, gel or liquid products, as it picks up too much product and can lead to clogging, blobs or streaking.
- Each type of hair comes with unique strengths and advantages. For example, sable hair is soft, flexible and goes to a fine point – suitable for precision work. Badger hair is stiff and used in brushes that work to define and shape, like brow brushes. Squirrel and goat hair is very soft.
- How is the hair made? A commonly asked question and the answer is simple: the hair is not given willingly – and is obtained from animals by hunting, farming and slaughter. Animal welfare standards are generally poor. It is not a pretty business.
- What is synthetic hair? Synthetic hair is 100% manufactured fibres, like nylon and polyester.
- Why is synthetic hair used? Synthetic hair does not have a cuticle, so it is very smooth and traps less product in the hair than animal hair brushes. Therefore, they are great for creams, gels and liquids. Powders can also be applied with synthetics designed just for this purpose. For example, Taklon and Natrafil were designed to mimic the different properties of animal hair, making them suitable substitutes for powder cosmetics.
- How is the hair made? In factories – and can be cut to any length and dyed to any colour.
Types of synthetic fibres used in makeup brushes:
- Taklon – is a soft, smooth polyester derivative – developed by DuPont to mimic the qualities of natural sable. Therefore, it is soft and flexible with a good point. It is an incredibly versatile material and can create bristles in all types and sizes of makeup brushes.
- Nylon – has smooth fibres and is used in makeup brushes that need a degree of firmness to the bristles, like concealer, brow and mascara brushes.
- Natrafil® – is another DuPont creation, initially designed to replace animal hair for use in powder brushes. Here, it is essential to pick up the powder product and release it evenly over the skin. Natrafil® is a polyester-based composite made with a textured surface, allowing the hair to grab the powder. The commonly held belief that synthetics are no good for powder makeup is no longer so with this type of bristles.
Summary of the Differences
|Hygiene and Cleaning||Smooth fibres used lack a cuticle, making it easier to clean thoroughly, when done properly that is.||Has an irregular surface (due to cuticles) which traps powders, dead skin cells, bacteria and chemicals. Cleaning may not necessarily remove all these particles.|
|Best Uses||Cream, gel and liquid. Powders can also be applied with the textured synthetic bristles.||Powder makeup products.|
|Feel on Skin||Bristles tend to be firmer, though more flexible versions are available.||Bristles can vary from very soft and fluffy to firmer, depending on type of hair used.|
|Durability||Stands up to solvents and doesn’t dry out. Keeps shape well. Dries quicker than animal hair after washing.||Over time with washing and cleaning, hair is prone to breakage, drying out and can lose its shape. Hair can shed.|
|Ethos||Cruelty free. No protein element, so vegan friendly.||Animal treatment issues.|
|Bristles Made From||Man-made materials like nylon and polyester.||Animal hair from squirrels, goats, horses, badgers and weasels.|
What Do We Prefer?
As professional makeup artists, we use every type of makeup that there is, in all situations, and on all sorts of faces – and we have 100% synthetic brushes in our kit.
As well as the other advantages we feel that today’s synthetic brushes have over animal hair in terms of reliability, durability and hygiene, we cannot ignore the cruelty involved in obtaining hair from animals – just to make makeup brushes. Yes, we are biased towards synthetics and don’t like cruelty.