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We all know that both natural and synthetic makeup brushes exist. But the question is, are you using the right ones?
To be totally honest, this is a question that I pretty much ignored for most of my makeup wearing life. I used whatever brushes I could find, not caring whether the bristles were labeled natural or synthetic. As long as they didn’t scratch my skin off, I called it good.
I suppose the strategy works to a degree, because went on that way for years.
My ignorances were only thrust to the forefront as I dove deeper into the world of YouTube. I watched beauty channels diligently, dutifully purchasing the products they recommend.
Images of my own perfectly made-up face danced through my mind. However, I was often sorely disappointed in the products that YouTubers praised so highly. Many just didn’t work for me the way the products worked for the YouTubers.
Was the problem the products? Or was it me? Or was it the brushes I was using?
Let’s talk about it.
Natural vs. Synthetic makeup brushes
The difference between natural and synthetic makeup brushes mainly has to do with the bristles. Namely, whether they are composed from fibers found in nature or created in a lab.
Yes, the bristles are definitely the important part of the brush, but obviously, they are not the only part.
The brush handle, the ferrule (the piece encasing the bristles,) not to mention the glue holding it all together, are rarely included in the natural or synthetic label.
This may not be a big deal to some, but for those who choose one over the other for reasons beyond simple makeup application, this creates problems. Just something to think about.
What is “natural” about natural brushes?
Natural makeup brushes use bristles made from animal hairs and furs. Goats, boars, horses, squirrels, and minks are common choices.
Depending on the animal, the bristles tend to be darker in color, and look slightly more unruly than perfectly coiffed synthetic bristles.
The brushes with the clear handles above are made from natural horse hair, and you can see the difference in texture from the synthetic brushes on the left.
Whey do they mean when they say “synthetic”?
Likewise, the term “synthetic makeup brushes” refers only to the bristles. Therefore, a handle made out of wood is irrelevant.
Synthetic materials commonly include Taklon, nylon, and polyester.
The price difference is steep
Regardless of which direction politics involving animal-derived products is moving, the fact is people still put a premium on goods labeled “natural.”
That being said, natural makeup brushes cost upwards of 2x more than their synthetic counterparts.
If price is an issue, or you simply don’t want to spend a lot on fancy brushes, (I totally get you if that’s the case,) then sticking to synthetic makeup brushes is your best bet.
Because *spoiler alert* while natural makeup brushes do afford some specific benefits, it’s oftentimes not enough to offset the cost. Just saying.
Makeup best applied with natural bristled brushes
So what exactly are the benefits I speak of?
Natural makeup brushes feature porous bristles, since the bristles are actual hairs. Basically, natural makeup brushes grab on to products and don’t let go.
When is this a good thing? Applying loose pigments is one good example. Because of the loose and powdery texture, you need a brush that can really hold on to the product so as much product as possible ends up on your eyes, and not on your cheeks and on your shirt.
Natural brushes also distribute color evenly, since not all the product just slides off as soon as the brush hits your skin. Think of it like a time-release pill. This makes them great for things like bronzer, blush, and eyeshadow transition shades. Basically any product where you don’t want any harsh edges.
Takeaway >> Apply loose and messy products with natural makeup brushes for an even and mess-free application. (Loose pigments, eyeshadows, face powders, bronzer, blush, etc.)
Makeup best applied with synthetic makeup brushes
On the other hand, synthetic makeup brushes don’t have porous bristles so they don’t hold on to product nearly as much. For this reason, synthetics come in handy for cream and liquid products that you don’t want soaked up.
Foundation, concealer, lip products, and cream eyeshadows are perfect examples of products best applied with synthetic makeup brushes as opposed to natural ones.
Takeaway >> Apply cream and liquid makeup products with synthetic makeup brushes. (Foundation, concealer, lip gloss, lip stick, gel eyeliner, cream eyeshadow, etc.)
Cleaning synthetic makeup brushes
Synthetic makeup brushes are super easy to care for; there’s not much you can do to screw them up. Simply wash with water and a little dish soap, dry on a towel and you’re good to go!
If gingerly caring for each individual brush sounds like a total drag, then synthetic makeup brushes will make your life a whole lot easier.
Want even more? See my streamlined method for bulk cleaning my synthetic makeup brushes right here >> How to Clean Makeup Brushes the Easy Way
Cleaning natural bristled brushes
Natural bristles are a bit more finicky. Unlike durable nylon, the natural hairs are prone to breakage, fading, and frizz. Sound familiar?
When cleaning your natural makeup brushes, you’ll want to use a gentler detergent such as baby shampoo to avoid stripping the hairs.
Additionally, adding a bit of olive or coconut oil to the detergent helps recondition the bristles and prevents frizz and breakage (shedding.)
Overall, it’s just more work, and the process proves less foolproof.
Matters of durability
For the most part, synthetic makeup brushes are more durable than natural makeup brushes. Though you’ve likely gathered that much from the cleaning methods above.
If you are hard on your brushes like I am, then I definitely recommend using primarily synthetic makeup brushes.
Personally, I use synthetic brushes because I’m lazy and I don’t want to mix a specialty potion fro every cleaning, and comb by brushes’ little coifs all the time.
Vegan concerns & animal rights
Now, I know many of us are super passionate about animal rights. For the most part, I try to steer myself toward cruelty-free makeup and beauty products just because it makes me feel better.
Obviously, natural makeup brushes are not vegan friendly. However, some brands claim their natural bristles are “ethically sourced” and are therefore “cruelty-free.” I don’t know how this is possible, but there’s that. It just goes to show that brands can claim just about anything in marketing, so do your research before your buy.
Also, just because certain makeup brushes use synthetic bristles does not mean they are cruelty-free and vegan. There are numerous other parts and processes that go into the brush besides just the bristles.
Do a little research on the brand’s cruelty-free reputation before purchasing if you’re unsure.
Suffer from allergies? Read this.
Regardless of how processed and pasteurized those natural furs are, they can cause allergic reactions in some people. If you are sensitive and get irritations easily, you may want to avoid natural makeup brushes.
Is there a clear winner in my book?
Some people insist that natural makeup brushes are softer. That may have been true in the past, but it’s quite an outdated stance these days. Synthetic makeup brushes have come a long way, and even inexpensive ones are super soft and silky. If you lean towards natural makeup brushes because you think synthetics will irritate your skin with their scratchiness, then you probably just haven’t found the right brushes yet.
Looking for some awesome synthetic makeup brushes? These brushes from E.l.f. are a great starting point. Read my full reviews on E.l.f. Face Brushes and on E.l.f. Eye Brushes.
I think it’s pretty obvious which brushes I’ve been advocating for throughout this post. Synthetic makeup brushes are just as soft, easier to deal with, (generally) cruelty-free, and not to mention much less expensive than natural bristled brushes.
I do own a few natural bristled brushes, but I use them only on very rare occasions when I’m working with a particularly difficult product. Other than that, I say synthetic makeup brushes all the way!
Shop my favorite synthetic makeup brushes
EcoTools 6 Piece Essential Eye Brush Set >> Purchase on Amazon
E.l.f. Ultimate Blending Brush >> Purchase at Elfcosmetics.com
E.l.f. Crease Brush >> Purchase at Elfcosmetics.com
Sephora Here’s The Skinny Brush Wrap >> Purchase at Sephora
That’s all for today!
Like this post all about the differences between natural and synthetic makeup brushes? You’re sure to find this post helpful too >> The Ultimate Beginner Makeup Brushes How-To Guide
If you find this post interesting, informative, or just plain entertaining, tell me about it in the comments below! And don’t forget, sharing is caring. Share this post!
Till next time. ♥︎
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FTC- Not sponsored by any brands mentioned. I purchase all products myself. All opinions are my own. Some links may be affiliated.
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