A Bristley Tutelage

In Field Manual on November 7, 2008 at 12:17 am


After whispering these words to a $270.00 Shu Uemura eye makeup brush, In The Makeup got educated and answers the question “So why does it cost so much to apply some eyeshadow?”

The answer starts with hair. Natural hair. Only natural hair has a center structure (known as the medulla) covered by a thick sheath called cortex, layered by cuticle. The cuticle holds and traps whatever powders or cosmetics it picks up. When you press the brush, the “trappings” will release. Synthetic bristles (clung to by vegans, eco-friendlies, conservationists, and anyone who is vexed by animal hair) do not have cuticle; hence are not so “absorbent” and will not “trap” makeup media the way natural hair will. This is why natural hair is the best for delivering and applying makeup most effectively. The quality of natural hair makeup brushes varies depending on factors such as hair type, type of cuts or harvesting methods used  (virgin, first-cut, second-cut or blunt-cut).

Kolinsky hair has the best porosity for application of the most intense, truest form of color, and precise layering of color, especially for the creation of specific gradations. They are also generally the most expensive. Each Kolinsky hair has a naturally long, fine-point tip, a thick “belly”, and a “springy” resilience, so they retain their original shapes quite well. Kolinsky is an animal found in cold regions of Russia and China, so In The Makeup thinks its entirely fair to charge hundreds of dollars for these brushes. We would probably charge thousands if we had to go chasing minks in the cold.

Squirrel is very soft, very fine and relatively thin with a thick belly and tips that come to a fine point. To preserve these precious tips, a brush must be hand made. Squirrel hair brushes are one of the most sought after for their softness; they pick up a good amount of makeup product and deposit the product smoothly and evenly on the skin. Note: Don’t even think about the squirrels you see running around in your back yard, the hair must come from ‘cosmetic-grade’ long-hair squirrels.

Goat hair is less costly than squirrel, but also does a good job of picking up makeup product and laying it on the skin smoothly and evenly. Because it is less expensive and still performs well, it is one of the more popular types of bristles. However, not all goat hair brushes are created equally. In order for goat hair to be its softest, it must come from the first cut with the tips still intact. Of course, bristles from a first cut will be more expensive than bristles from subsequent cuts. Goat hair makeup brushes from blunt-cuts are used in mass produced (not hand made), lower quality brushes. Only handmade high quality goat hair makeup brushes can be considered as a more affordable alternative to Squirrel makeup brushes.

Pony hair brushes are generally less expensive to make than squirrel, but more expensive than goat.  Pony hair has little or no “belly” and less ‘pointy’ tips compared to squirrel hair. The fact that it has little or no “belly” makes it a great brush for laying down a very sheer application. In The Makeup loves using pony hair to achieve sheer applications of eyeshadows and blushes that would look too dark or too bright applied with any other type of brush.

Sable makeup brushes vary in price, but also vary in quality and performance because they may contain other hair such as ox hair, pahmi hair or short blunt-cuts of many other hair as fillers. But a true sable makeup brush should have the same characteristics as kolinsky hair, just to a lesser degree.


Whenever you are working with liquid or creamy products such as foundations, concealers, and cream blushes, a synthetic brush will perform nicely. Synthetics are often made of nylon or taklon. Taklon is used as a more affordable substitute for Sable but lacks durability as it tends to ‘fan out’ and become stiffer with each use. Nylon, on the other hand, is commonly used for eyebrow groomers or eyebrow brushes as it is harder than Taklon. With modern advanced technology, the manufacture of synthetic makeup brushes has become more and more sophisticated and may one day give their natural counterparts a run for the money! But for now, natural hair makeup brushes are still the choice of makeup artists, makeup brush connoisseurs, and makeup mavens at large.

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