Parts of a Brush
There are 3 parts to a brush, the handle, the ferrule, and the bristle.
Brush handles are available in wood, plastic, metal, and even glass. The standard over the years has been wood that is coated in varnish or paint. Plastic and acrylic handles are available but are not adequate for the professional because plastic has problems in the attachment of the ferrule as well as problems with solvents used in brush cleaners when exposed to the handle.
The ferrule is usually made of metal (e.g. nickel-plated brass; aluminum) and less commonly from plastic. The bristles are held in place by the top of the ferrule, which is sometimes pinched flat, and a good dollop of glue. The bottom of the ferrule is glued to the handle too, so don’t leave your brushes in water or let the ferrule get water in it. Premier quality brushes use an epoxy that is solvent proof in the ferrule to hold bristle better and not be dissolved.
Animal hair (sometimes referred to as “natural”) comes from animals, including goats, badgers, squirrels, weasels (“sable”) and horses (“pony”). Camel hair brushes are not actually made from camel hair, but a combination of several types of animal hair (including horse, goat and squirrel), depending on the desired softness and cost. Simply because it has been traditionally used in brushes for a long time and there was no other suitable material until synthetics came along. The hair has a cuticle, a layered outer coating on the hair shaft, which picks up and distributes powder products well. The cuticle also means that animal hair is not so good for cream, gel or liquid products, as it picks up too much product and can lead to clogging, blobs or streaking. Each type of hair comes with its own unique strengths and advantages.
For example: sable hair is soft, flexible and goes to a fine point, which is good for precision work; badger hair is stiff and is used in brushes that work to define and shape, like brow brushes; squirrel and goat hair is very soft.
Synthetic bristles are made from 100% man-made fibers like nylon and polyester. Synthetic bristles do not have a cuticle, so are very smooth and trap less product in the bristles than animal hair brushes – this makes them great for creams, gels and liquids. Powder can also be applied with synthetics designed specifically for this purpose, e.g. Taklon and Natrafil were created specifically to mimic the different properties of animal hair, making them good substitutes for using with powder cosmetics. Synthetic bristle is manufactured in factories. The hair can be dyed, often to mimic animal hair, like cream or brown.
Types of synthetic fibers used in makeup brushes
Taklon is a soft, smooth polyester derivative, originally developed by DuPont to mimic the qualities of natural sable (flexible and soft with a good point). It is an incredibly versatile material and can be used in all types and sizes of makeup brushes.
Nylon has smooth fibers and is used in makeup brushes that need a degree of firmness to the bristles, like concealer, brow and mascara brushes.
Natrafil® is another DuPont creation, initially designed to replace animal hair for use in powder brushes, where being able to pick up the product and release it evenly onto the skin is important.
Natrafil® is a polyester-based composite and is made with a textured surface, allowing the hair to grab the powder. The commonly-held belief that synthetics are no good for powder makeup is no longer so with these type of bristles.
Summary of hair differences
The Preference of the professional
As professional makeup artists, we use every type of makeup there is, in all situations, and on all sorts of faces – and we have a mixture of natural and 100% synthetic brushes in our kit. The synthetic brush is slowly gaining preference in the industry because of the technical advancements in the ability to imitate natural bristle, as well as, the other advantages we feel that today’s synthetic brushes have over animal hair in terms of reliability, durability and hygiene, we simply cannot ignore the cruelty involved in obtaining hair from animals just to make makeup brushes. Yes, we are biased towards synthetics and don’t like cruelty.
Brush Types of Brush Designs
The basic style of the brush is determined by the designer. Placing bristle into a specific form or “mount” is done first, then the hand trimming of the bristle is done by artisans who have passed down their art from generation. When the design trimming is finished, the bristle is tied at the base of the form and the transferred (or inserted) into a ferrule. Some construction practices at this point add an epoxy into the base of the ferrule to add additional hold of the bristle in the ferrule and to assist in holding the ferrule to the handle. This is done especially if the ferrule is not crimped. Higher quality, and better designed professional brushes are glued and crimped in the handle and ferrule assembly.