1. Decide if you want natural hair, or synthetic. Some stylists believe natural hair brushes are better for certain applications. However, synthetic hair technology has improved to the point where many people cannot tell the difference. If you have ethical objections to products using animal hair, you can get awesome results using cruelty-free synthetic bristle brushes. And still feel good about yourself!
2. If you want to use natural hair, sable is best for small brushes because of their snap and resilience. The best is called “kolinsky sable,” from the tail of the male weasel. Goat hair is popular for use in large face brushes. Squirrel and badger hair is also used in good quality brushes. You may see something called “camel” which is actually horse hair, used in less expensive brushes.
3. Synthetic hairs (typically Taclon and Nylon) have improved significantly with modern technology. They are less expensive and for some applications arguably superior to natural hair brushes. Synthetic foundation, concealer and lip brushes are often better than their natural hair counterparts because they do not soak up the creamy makeup.
4. Brush construction can be either plastic or wood handles. They should be wide and long enough for you to comfortably use them as intended.
5. The ferrule (the metal cylinder that clamps the bristles to the handle) should fit tightly and should be seamless (with no weld or joint). Brass, nickel and steel rings are all suitable. Aluminum ferrules are less expensive but weaker. Ferrules should be nickel plated or coated for corrosion resistance. Give a light tug to the bristles to see that the ferrule has secured them to the handle firmly.
6. Ultimately, you have to test the brush. The best brush is the one that works for you and fits your budget.
7. Avoid brushes sold under a makeup brand. They are usually marked up at very high prices, but have no special advantage in quality. Usually you get what you pay for in makeup brushes. But sometimes you get less!
8. Don’t buy one at a time. Once you have found good quality brushes, it is much cheaper to buy by the set rather than by piece. You can save 1/3 or more buying smart.
9. Take care of your brushes. Once a month, mix warm water with a little shampoo for natural hair bristles or dish soap for synthetics. Swish the brushes around, rinse well, blot with paper towels, and lay them flat until they're completely dry. A good brush can last years if well cared for.
10. If you don’t have time to clean your brushes regularly, just accept that your busy lifestyle doesn’t allow that, and replace your brushes regularly. Twice a year works for most people. Brushes that are not cleaned properly will get dirty, clumped with makeup and can harbor harmful microorganisms.
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