Finishing School for Makeup Brushes


When beauty lovers say they are shopping for a “quality” makeup brush, that can mean a lot of things.

Usually, it means they want a brush made out of high-quality materials that perform well and are put together in a way that will stand the test of time with repeated use.

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Out of the box, from Dolce & Gabbana. *Not* a good handle-ferrule finish. The gaps are enormous. Compare this photo to the image on Nordstrom’s website for the brush. Um, not even close …

For many years, shoppers were particularly focused on shedding — they simply wanted a brush that wouldn’t lose hairs. Companies listened, and the hair assemblies of makeup brushes today are extremely well made for that reason.

In fact, if a brush sheds today, it often has more to do with the quality of the hair itself. All natural hair brushes from animal sources — goat and pony are the most common — can shed. Just like human hair sheds and breaks off. People who expect a natural hair brush to not shed are just not being sensible. Natural hair will behave naturally …

On the other hand, brushes made with synthetic fibers rarely shed, and if they do, it might be a sign of a poorly manufactured brush.

But fit and finish still remains a challenge for some brands and their manufacturers.

I was reminded of that fact recently when I purchased two luxury brushes, a Dior paddle foundation brush and a Dolce & Gabbana Powder Brush ($57), and was really surprised — astonished really — at the poor fit and finish of these relatively expensive brushes.

I’ve already written about my experience with the Dior brush here, but the Dolce brush was also not very well put together, as seen in the photo to the left here which bears little resemblance to the photo of the same brush on Nordstrom’s website.

Excellent fit and finish on Estee Lauder's Sculpting Foundation Brush

Here is a sample of excellent fit and finish, on Estee Lauder’s Sculpting Foundation Brush. It’s a new brush, released in 2014.

But the fit and finish, well, that was another story.

The gap between the handle and ferrule of the brush was relatively large and uneven around the barrel of the brush. I was sad to have to return it, too, for it was an otherwise beauty of a brush, with AAA-grade goat hair that was a rich chestnut with reds and browns and natural highlights — truly pretty in a way no synthetic has yet achieved. Situated against the gold-plate ferrule, it had a true upscale appearance.

What is fit and finish? Well, it’s a terminology frequently used in manufacturing to express how well parts fit or are assembled together.

In the fit and finish of a makeup brush, one does expect a ferrule to line up tightly with the barrel or lip of the handle, as shown in the Estee Lauder Sculpting Foundation brush to the right here.

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Crimping, as shown in this Louise Young Super Fan brush, used to be considered a sign of a well-built brush, as the crimping showed an additional step taken to secure the ferrule to the handle. While crimping is not really necessary anymore to get a good fit and finish, the handle and ferrule should fit snugly against one another. Relatively new, less than two years old.

It’s honestly rare to see brushes that do not achieve this, but the fact I received two such brushes — from luxury makers no less — forced me to write about it. And I angrily pulled my light box out of the basement to take some HD photos as evidence.

It’s important for a makeup brush, in particular, to have good fit and finish because you do not want dirt, old makeup and water or humidity to get up under the ferrule, where it could compromise the joint between the ferrule with the handle.

You want a nice solid, snug fit. Which is why many brands used to crimp the ferrule around the handle, in addition to using glue. You don’t really need a brush to be crimped anymore to have a good fit and finish, as there are many manufacturing techniques to bond a handle and ferrule.

But if you can wiggle a handle in the ferrule, or visibly see that it’s not fully connected, it’s not a good sign that it will stay in place for the long term. A few bouncy rides in a bag will likely jar it loose.

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This brush, which is several years old, is also extremely well made, with excellent fit and finish. The ferrule is secure around the barrel of the brush, and the lip is curved under to meet the edge of the handle. My 2-year-old plays with this makeup brush and it shows no signs of looseness, despite being a value brush from Target that has been severely abused.

I’ve taken some close-up photos showing the fit and finish of a few brushes here. You can click on them to see close-ups. Some of these brushes are many years old and some are new, but they show a good sampling of fit and finish.

Surprisingly, the most expensive brushes don’t fare as well as they should here. And a few old Sonia Kashuk and EcoTools brushes are still doing well, despite years of use …

Pretty old brush. And still in great shape. Good fit and finish for the price.

Pretty old brush. And still in great shape. Not perfect fit and finish, but okay for the price of these brushes, which I believe were purchased at CVS.




Sarah A. Webster
My Brush Betty

1 comment on Finishing School for Makeup Brushes

  1. Katy Peters
    October 2, 2015 at 12:46 pm (2 years ago)

    Trying to find a great set of brushes because currently I own a hodgepodge of them. I love my RT blush brush and am pleased with my Cala stippling brush, as well as all the Eco tools I’ve collected along the way. But I’m not sure which direction to go in now. I know I want cruelty-free synthetic brushes, and I use primarily ELF makeup, because of the quality, price point, and ethical stand they have–their brushes are horrific even though their make up is really nice, so not investing in that brand of make up brush. I’ve been looking at kabuki makeup brushes because the idea of blending more fully appeals to me, but still haven’t found my brand or price point. Clearly I’m a bit lost. Any suggestions or guidance you could give me would be greatly appreciated!!! Thank you! Katy