Guide to Choosing Makeup Brushes

by Celia Shatzman

An insider’s guide to choosing the right makeup brushes. 

When it comes to makeup brushes, options abound. If you’re wondering what the difference is, natural brushes are made of animal hair and vegan brushes are made of synthetic hair.

“The quality and performance should be the same whether makeup brushes are made from animal or vegan,” says Valerie Giraud, cofounder of Antonym. “Whether you are shopping for natural or vegan brushes, look for softness and the shape of a brush’s head, along with the diameter and length of the bristle hair.”

Now brands are paying attention to every aspect of the makeup brushes they produce. Not only are Antonym’s brushes certified vegan and cruelty-free, but they also have handles made from sustainable bamboo. The wide variety, ranging from lip to foundation brushes, are all made with laser-cut synthetic bristles to guarantee softness and precision, making them a go-to for top celebrity makeup artists.

Urban Decay is dedicated to brushes that are professional grade and green: They are cruelty-free, crafted with super soft synthetic hair made from recycled plastic bottles. The Urban Decay Most Wanted Eyeshadow Brush Set comes with all the tools you need to create any eye look. And Jane Iredale just relaunched their entire brush collection, with soft synthetic bristles made from Naturon and Taklon fibers for excellent coverage and a buildable application. Plus, they dry quickly and don’t shed.

Depending on your needs, natural or vegan could be better for you. “Very often, allergies come from the animal hair, not the makeup,” says Giraud. “A drawback for some people with natural bristles is sensitivity to animal hair. If people are allergic or sensitive to animal hair or animal products, they should use synthetic brushes.” ILIA recently launched three new synthetic brushes: A Finishing Powder Brush, Perfecting Buff Brush and Defining Lip Brush.

Another thing to keep in mind is what you’re using your makeup brushes for. “Synthetic brushes are considered to be better for liquid and cream makeup and give very smooth coverage,” says Giraud. Try the new Alima Pure Liquid Foundation Brush. “Most lines with natural hair have their foundation and concealer brushes with synthetic hair. Synthetic brushes are also more hygienic to use, since their bristles are flat and remain cleaner. If you are using high-quality makeup with great pigment, a synthetic brush will be your best friend. It allows you to build up and have more control over the amount you use. It also can give you sheerer coverage, which looks more natural when used with powder.” EcoTools just launched a full range of beautiful synthetic makeup brushes.

Regardless of which type you buy, they can be cared for the same way. Use warm water and mild dish detergent to remove all impurities while being gentle on the brush. After all, once you find just the right makeup brushes, you want them to last.

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