Quality Has its Price . . . But I Can Get Over That!
Makeup brushes. They're so expensive! When I was a freshman in high school I purchased my first makeup brush. I purchased a 213 MAC eyeshadow brush. Starting out with such an excellent tool has been both a blessing and a curse. I've never bought anything but high-end brushes since, which means my makeup tools are excellent, but I am also insanely hesitant to try anything that appears to be any less in quality. Some people go nuts when they see a sale for $1 makeup brushes, but the first thing that goes through my mind is--how great can this brush really be? I know they mark them up quite a bit between manufacturer and retailer, but $1??? Afterall, there's nothing worse than purchasing a cheaper brush and having it rip across your skin like sandpaper!
Natural Vs. Synthetic
Over the years I've put myself out there and tried different brushes by different companies made of different materials. For me, I have found that MAC has my favorite brushes overall. They wear well over time, apply makeup beautifully and are amazingly soft. I have also found that in general I prefer natural hair over synthetic. For those of you who are cringing over the use of animal fur in makeup brushes, I have no excuse for myself. I have tried different synthetic materials including the increasingly-popular taklon. For me, they've never met my standards in application and they can be a bit rougher/stiffer than real hair brushes. That being said, there are many who absolutely prefer taklon brushes! I say, different strokes for different folks!
There are issues with both natural and synthetic brushes that seem obvious:
Natural hair - the bristles come from animals and are obviously not a veagan choice
Synthetic brushes - synthetic materials such as taklon can be stiff and are generally very fragile (they don't wear as well as natural hair over time)
You've got to figure out what you like through trial and error. This can be expensive, but is any part of being madly in love with makeup inexpensive??? I have a combination of both in my collection, but my natural brushes get far more wear.
Funny Brush Habits
Another funny thing has happened over time. I've found that despite having a wide variety of different brushes that serve different purposes, I have a select few I prefer to use regularly while the rest collect dust (not really since they're well-maintained and organized in a train case, but figuratively speaking). I have one favorite eyeshadow brush that I tend to use for almost all areas of my eye, one favorite liner brush (I rarely use eye pencils nowadays), one favorite lip brush and one favorite powder brush. I never realized I had this weird habit until I recently reorganized my brushes and realized some go untouched! To see if this was just force of habit because some had been more convenient to grab than others or they were simply brushes I'd had a longer history with, I gave a few others a try one day. The result? I was using my tried and true favorites again by the next day! The funny thing is, there is literally a makeup brush for almost everything--from blending brushes to crease brushes, bullet-shaped brushes to kabuki fan brushes. The types are endless, but are they really all necessary? I don't know! All I know is that I will continue to expand my brush collection through my continual search to find the perfect makeup brushes.
Building a Great Makeup Brush Collection
If you're new to the makeup world or have decided to really invest in your makeup brush collection, you can either do what I've done and buy your brushes individually or purchase a brush collection. So many companies offer different size collections that range from a few brushes to 20+ brushes--which can also mean spending under $50 to spending hundreds! I've always had a hard time with purchasing brush collections. Perhaps for the same reason I never like all of the colors that come in eyeshadow palettes. There are always a few that I really don't want, will never use and discourage me from wanting the lot! Strange yes, but that's just my quirky ways. I can't seem to buy the whole if I don't want every single thing. However, if you don't mind having a brush or two that you may not really find a use for or if you manage to find your dream collection of brushes, buy a collection! Often it's much cheaper than purchasing your brushes individually. Even DOD sites like hautelook offer brush collections from makeup companies on occasion. This can be a great alternative because you can purchase them for 50% or more off! I always scout the sample sale sites for makeup companies just in case. I remember I once scored 9 or 10 MAC lipglosses in a random beauty sale one site had. They hadn't even advertised MAC as being a part of it, it was just a blow out sale! That was a fabulous makeup score. Oh lipgloss . . . alright back on topic, getting too distracted by the thought of lipglass and lipstick on sale!
If you're just starting out, you may be asking yourself: what are the essential brushes every beginner should have? In my opinion they are:
1. good eyeshadow brush (again, I love MAC 213)
2. eyeliner brush that can do super tight, thin lines on your lids with either gel or wet shadow (for some reason I've found some of my brushes don't do well with eyeliner gels unless they're super stiff. Gels like Stila's tend to dry out a bit if you use them regularly so the soft bristles may not be stiff enough to pick up much gel or apply it evenly on your lid)
3. lip liner brush (may seem silly, but using a brush to apply your lipstick is super helpful when it comes to not putting your lipstick on too thing - happens more than you'd think - and for getting an even application that's controllable)
4. fluffy blender brush (I have a great angled one by Fresh Cosmetics made with natural hair that is just lovely)
5. super soft powder brush (you want one that picks up just the right amount of powder and dusts it lightly over your face, whether using brush, finishing powder, etc.)
Cleaning Your Brushes: How often, with what, etc.?
I find that so many different people have different makeup brush cleaning habits. Some clean them religiously after each use, some only clean them if they switch products or colors and some NEVER clean their brushes. I can honestly say I clean most of my brushes after every use. On occasion, if I use a super light eyeshadow color I will blow any excess off of my brush until what little powder was left on the bristles is gone, but that's an infrequent thing. I don't want to over-wash my brushes and destroy them, especially since they're not cheap, but I don't want to destroy them neglecting them. I also don't want to mix my expensive shadows! I think it's probably best to clean your brushes after each use, with the exception of powder brushes that you only use for certain things (like your brush brush, your finishing powder brush, etc.). I do think it's important to occasionally wash those though! When it comes to what to use, I've heard people say they use different things. Some people use shampoo (can be good for natural hair brushes), some people use a super mellow dish soap (haven't tried this myself, but dish soap is very similar to shampoo so it kind of makes sense), some people just use warm water (I do this on occasion) and of course there is always brush cleaner as well. I think it's best to do a little research, perhaps try some different things and figure out what works for your brushes. Obviously if you're using synthetic brushes there isn't a huge need to condition your brushes by using shampoo, but who knows, maybe you'll still like the effect. If all else fails, purchase a good makeup brush cleaner and keep the guesswork out of the equation!
I feel like I keep saying "whatever works for you", but the truth is, I feel like makeup brushes, just like makeup, is really personal choice! I have some friends who live and breathe for makeup companies I'd never take a second look at and vice versa. Applying makeup is an art form. We all have our own style, preferences and taste. Sample makeup that interests you and decide for yourself if you like it no matter what other people say about it!
So what about you? Do you prefer synthetic, natural or a combination of brushes? Do you switch it up by using every brush in your collection or do you have a few that you always seem to turn to like old friends? Do you have a regular brush cleaning habit or do your brushes look like a 1st grader used them to mash paint onto paper then left them unwashed to harder?