Brushes 101: Synthetic or Real

Makeup brushes have been around for many centuries, with ancient Egyptians being one of the people given credit for its creation. In 1835 the Germans invented a method to mass produce mirrors, making this ingenious tool available to the masses easier for women to apply their own makeup. Before this year makeup brushes, and makeup in general, were only used by maidservants to apply makeup on women of status that could afford such luxury. With the average women now able to easily apply their own makeup the market for brushes exploded. Since 1835 these brushes have been exponentially evolving, giving us the amazing variety of choices we have today.


Brush from the 18 Dynasty, reign of Amenhotep III, dated ca. 1390-1352 B.C.


This variety is also seen in the material that brushes nowadays are made, so before you buy your brush one of the things you will need to choose is between a synthetic and a real hair brush.

Real hair brushes are those made with animal hair, such as goat, horse, mink and a few others. These brushes are mostly used for powder because the animal hair cuticles are covered by scale like cells, creating a lot of little spaces that are great to pick-up makeup particles and deposit them on skin. These brushes are usually not recommended for cream or liquid makeup, since just like any hair they tend to absorb those products. Extended use of liquids can damage your brush, and making it really hard to properly clean them.

Synthetic brushes are made with a variety of fibers, such as nylon, taklon, natrafil, tafre and other polyesters. These brushes are good for cream and liquids, and you will probably have heard that because of their smooth fibers (no cuticles like real hair) they are not good for powder makeup. I would say that this was true maybe five years ago. With a high demand for brushes, the ever-growing desire to be cruelty free, and the potential for animal hair allergies, the way synthetic brushes are made has stepped up. The variety and quality of fibers now available is much higher than a few years ago. Newer synthetic brushes can be as good at picking up powder products and blending as any real hair brush.

New-Fashion-Kabuki-font-b-kit-b-font-Professional-font-b-Makeup-b-font-Brushes-fontBased on my experience and personal opinion, the following are a few comparisons between the two:

Hygiene: Synthetic tends to be more hygienic as it can be hypoallergenic, whereas real hair brushes are made with animal hair which could contain allergens causing allergies.

Cleaning: Both brushes should be cleaned regularly, but the real hair brush will need to be conditioned. Just like a person’s hair it will become “straw like” without hydration. Also because of the hair cuticle it is a lot harder to properly clean a real hair brush.

Price and quality: Synthetic brushes have a much broader price range than real hair brushes, which tend to be the more expensive of the two. This range in price is a good thing but it can also also bad. Be aware that those super cheap sets will probably have a lower quality and not last. Real hair brushes are known to shed, it is just part of using this type of brush, a better quality one tends to shed much less.

Performance: Real hair brushes are known to be the best with powder products, but they can’t be used with cream/liquids, which a synthetic brush can. Most synthetics are now also as good with powder as a real hair brush. One word of advice is to test a synthetic brush with powders before buying it if possible, the cheaper ones are usually still manufactured with older technology and will not pick up powders or blend well.

Manufacturing: There are now so many different synthetic fibers out there, and most works just as good as real hair but are more versatile. My problem with these brushes is that most will only say synthetic fibers without any proper naming, so you really don’t know what you are putting on your face. As for real hair, like it or not they are made with animal hair, and although some say their hair is collected humanely (meaning the animal was not killed just for its hair) I do have to ask if it was collected cruelty free.

Although synthetic brushes are stepping up, the market for real hair brushes will always be around. In my opinion there is definitely something to be said for the feel and effect of those brushes that synthetic hasn’t quite got yet.

With all this said, at the end of the day which one is better? For me it is really a personal choice. For someone just starting I would recommend investing in some good synthetic brushes, since they can be used for all products. The general idea is that the real hair brush lasts longer, I disagree with that, if you buy a good quality synthetic it can outlast any real hair brush.

One more brush to mention is the dual fiber. This type of brush is made with a mixture of real and synthetic hair and has become quite popular as a foundation brush. Its selling point is that it doesn’t absorb much product because of the synthetic hair, but has a great blending capability because of the real hair. To be honest for foundation I am not a big fan of these brushes. I don’t see the blending to be that much better, and because of the real hair the life span of these brushes is quite small (real hair doesn’t do well with liquids). But this is my opinion and I do know people that absolute love their dual brushes.

Well, there is my take on synthetic and real hair brushes. Let me know what your thoughts on the subject are in the comments, and feel free to ask any question you might have about.






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