October 2009

Lisa Kind - Editor

Esthetic Endeavors | by Judith Culp


Makeup Artistry Brush Basics

Natural Fiber Brushes

Badger — Badger is a rather stiff fiber. This stiffness makes it good for brow color application. The stiff tips will help create a soft feathered brow.

Goat — Goat has numerous uses including luxurious powder applicators. The finest goat is called Capra and this is a great powder applier. It creates a medium to full application, has good absorbency and a soft feel. Good for applying a variety of powders it is found in many configurations.

Kolinsky — This is the king of all brushes. Kolinsky is known for its excellent porosity and the most intensive color application. It comes from the tail of a mink. Kolinsky is known for its strength, ability to hold fine points and ability to snap back. The hairs are finally pointed and very absorbent. Preferred by makeup artists, kolinsky brushes are also popular for those doing nail extensions and fine art. Avoid reoccurring exposure to oils as this will degrade them.

Sable — The best sable is red. There are many qualities available. Some consider it a less expensive alternative to kolinsky as it runs between 40-50% of the cost of the fine kolinsky brush. It has similar properties and abilities. Sable is often used for blush, powder and medium brushes.

Pony — Pony hair is soft and strong. Pony hair is preferred for blush and eye-shadow brushes. It has good strength and strong snap but does not have good ability to hold shape and no point. If you wish more opacity, dampen the hairs or use it dry for a soft effect.

Squirrel — Squirrel is sued to create a soft effect. It is good for used on aged or scarred skin. The grey or blue is more highly prized as it applies a soft wash of color. The brown colors are more available and are used in medium quality brushes. They are good for contouring and shadows or detail work in the crease. Cut properly they give more definition in their compact head and are superior for crease enhancement. They are generally best for powders.

Ox — Ox hair is strong and has good snap with a silky feel. It lacks the fine tip found with red sable or kolinsky. These brushes are moderately priced and have a more rigid feel than sable but less than natural bristle.

Camel — Camel has a soft feel, is very common and inexpensive. Artists like this blend for its ability to hold fluid.

Mongoose — Mongoose is used for a brush between sable and bristle in stiffness. It has dark brown tips, light middle and dark roots. Common uses are as a shaving brush, hair brush or for art work.

As a makeup artist I’ve always been intrigued by brushes, but there are so many out there. Every class I attended the artist had different recommendations. Every distributor has a different recommendation. Each of my friends love different brushes.

This leads to major confusion and spending a lot of money trying to decide what is right for me. So, for this issue, let’s explore some brush basics.

Brushes should be selected with the following considerations:


There are three parts to every brush — the hair, the ferrule and the handle. The hair is the brush part made from natural or synthetic fibers. In larger brushes, the fiber may be squirrel, pony, goat or blends. These brushes include powder, blush, contour and large eye.

In smaller brushes sable, weasel, kolinsky, capra, badger and others are used.

The ferrule is the metal part of the brush. It is most often made from brass, copper or aluminum.

The handle is the third part and it may be made from acrylic, metal or wood. Wood is often preferred for its long term reliability. Short handles are preferred for client use as it allows them to get closer to a mirror to work.

Long handles allow the makeup artist to work farther away from the client and enhance their ability to see the big picture.

It is best if the hairs are fused (glued) rather than stapled for any cosmetic use to avoid the creation of a germ reservoir in the ferrule. Fused bristles are easier to clean.

Cost and Material

Brushes can vary from very inexpensive to highly expensive. The variance in price will depend on if the brushes are machine made or hand made, the type of ferrule, the fiber the bristles are made of and the handle choice.

The same hair fibers are used in both hand made and machine made brushes. The difference will be how they are placed into the ferrule. Commonly brush kits will be machine made and hand made brushes will only be sold individually.

A kit can be a nice way to start as it is less expensive, but professionals wanting to specialize in makeup artistry will want to add quality hand-made brushes as they do a superior job in product application and last longer.

Synthetic verses Natural

Brushes should be selected based on their purpose not on their origin for the best application result. However, synthetics do come in a full range of brushes for the client who wants non-animal sources for all brushes. This comes at a cost however as these brushes are polymer filaments commonly made of taklon or nylon. These brushes have their place and definite use, but require more manufacturing.

In the chart to the right, I have compiled a list of several different types of natural fibers and what product and application they are best known for.

Whatever the brush you are evaluating keep in mind what it is needed for, what type of surface it is for, and is there a particular style or finish effect desired. Construction, quality, and performance life from your investment are also key to factor in.

Judith Culp, a CIDESCO Diplomat has been in the esthetics industry since 1980. A CPCP permanent makeup technician for over 18 years she served a 4-year term as a Director for the Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals, two years as their president. She is president of Culp Enterprises Inc. and CEO of NW Institute of Esthetics. Judy Culp is available for consulting. For more information visit www.estheticsnw.com.