If you care for your brushes properly, even the cheapest ones can last years. Admittedly, I’m a bit harsh on my brushes: I wash them frequently, even when I’m only using them on myself, and I don’t always use the gentlest of cleansers since I really emphasize being thorough with my cleaning. However, I take these things into consideration when purchasing my brushes – I’ll explain here how to best go about selecting brushes for yourself, and in future posts I’ll discuss the proper ways to clean and store them.
Probably the most critical choice to make when selecting a brush to add to your collection is the hair type – is it synthetic or natural? A lot of artists will rave about natural hairs and how quality ones are so incredibly soft and smooth, basically making it sound like nothing could possibly compare let alone actually be a better option. I completely beg to differ!
I almost exclusively own synthetic bristle brushes. The few natural hair ones I have in my collection came as part of sets or palettes, and I wouldn’t have explicitly purchased them on their own. For me the decision is easy on this front because synthetic bristles are far more durable, less likely to shed, and require a lot more use to wear out and lose their shape. Given the fact that I wash my brushes on a nearly daily basis, it’s no question for me that I’m going to choose a fiber that stands up to more abuse.
That said, I do recognize the strengths of natural hair: the highest-quality natural hair bristles really will have incomparable softness. They’ll feel completely weightless and almost imperceptible against the skin. While of course this is absolutely lovely and leads to a luxurious experience when applying makeup, incredible softness isn’t always necessary and can make certain tasks more difficult (for example, blending is often easier with a bit of a stiffer brush).
The best synthetic bristle brushes can be indistinguishable from good-quality natural hair. I’ve found the Studio Line of e.l.f. brushes to be surprisingly good for the price, and given how rough I can be with my brushes, it’s hard to justify huge investments. They don’t necessarily have the most complete range in their Studio Line (my biggest gripe is the lack of a blending brush – how could they have skipped something so essential??), but there is a nice selection that is suitable to lay a foundation of solid brushes. You could then round out your collection with selections from another brand.
On the other hand, I don’t at all recommend e.l.f.’s Essential Line. I’ve purchased a few brushes from that line and they seem to be scratchy, shed a lot, and just don’t hold up well. They might work for someone who rarely uses makeup and wants just the cheapest, most basic brushes they can find to have on hand for the one or two times per year they’re going to be used, but they absolutely will not suit someone who uses brushes on a daily basis and has higher expectations of the experience.
As far as natural hair brushes, I’ve enjoyed using Sigma brushes, and they are also a good value. I haven’t had the chance to try too many different styles at this point, but if I decide to expand my natural hair collection, they’ll be at the top of my list for consideration.
Ultimately, I think brush selection can be a bit of a trial-and-error process. I know a lot of make-up artists and gurus will say that investing in the best brushes is more worthwhile than investing in high-end products, but I’ve learned first-hand that that is not at all the case. Depending on your personal style, methods, skin, etc., you could very well find a $2 brush at a craft store that is more perfect for you than any $70 brush from a designer counter. Pay attention to the way you use your brushes and make your choices keeping those things in mind – if you’re heavy-handed, maybe you do want ultra-soft natural hair luxury brushes so that you don’t irritate your skin; if you hate blending and only do precision work, maybe tiny, dense brushes are best for you; if you like to be incredibly delicate in your application, it might be best to look at short-bristle brushes with long sturdy handles; and if you like to keep your brushes squeaky-clean at all times like I do, you’re definitely going to want to choose brushes that are durable and a great value for the price.
If you have suggestions on how to select the right brushes for your needs or you’d like to ask for recommendations, leave a comment below!