Today’s synthetic makeup brushes are not your grandma’s stiff nylon bristles. So if you only know the name “Taklon,” it’s time to expand your beauty vocabulary. Today’s modern synthetic fibers, such as Tafre and Natrafil, offer excellent “pickup and payoff” of powder makeup, in addition to liquids and creams.
For decades now, the conventional wisdom in makeup application is that you should use a synthetic makeup brush when applying liquid or cream makeup products and a real natural animal hair brush for powder and blending applications.
Usually, this advice is even attached to explanations that sound perfectly reasonable, such as the (true!) fact synthetic brushes are more hygienic for applying foundation to clean, bare skin.
But the real reason for this longstanding advice – which has become severely outdated in just the last 5 years – is that traditional synthetic brushes have never been very good at picking up powder compared to brushes made with real animal hair.
That’s because the cuticle of real animal hair is covered in dead cells that form scales, which are layered along the hair shaft in specific shingle patterns. Sometimes these scale layers can run 12 layers deep, too, providing lots of nooks and crannies that serve as little scoops to pick up powder makeup particles and ultimately deposit them on skin.
Each animal, in fact, has a different shingle pattern that offers unique characteristics in picking up and depositing makeup, as described in these forensic FBI files. This document from Silver Brush in Windsor, NJ, explains the differences between many animal hair variations when it comes to applying paint. And this this catalog from Crown Brush explains many of the differences when it comes to makeup application.
To date, goat remains the most popular makeup brush toe on the market. But pony, squirrel, badger, boar and sable have remained popular in some circles for their unique cuticle qualities. In fact, Kolinky Sable brushes are highly cherished by makeup artists as well as painters, because of their ability to achieve the finest of point shapes.
The Trouble With Animal Hair — The Animals!
Beginning in 2013, however, US federal authorities began seizing shipments of Kolinsky hair brushes because of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora to protect more than 35,000 species of animals and plants. PETA explains in this article that many of these animals are killed for their hair alone.
So, as you can see, using real animal hair brushes in makeup brushes has gotten, well, pretty complicated from an ethical standpoint and pretty expensive when you consider an animal must be caught or raised, slaughtered, skinned and then the hair has to be cleaned and sorted into different grades.
And to be honest, it’s never been the most hygienic option because those layers of scales that create the cuticle can trap all sorts of dirt and oil and are a popular breeding ground for bacteria.
Aside from allergies to animal hair — and many women have them — there are many other issues that come with using animal hair in brushes.
Most cosmetics brands today only want to use animal hair in brushes if the animal was not killed specifically for their hair. Because that would, obviously, be cruel. And when you’re applying pretty pink blush and lipstick, very few people also want to think of dead animals. In fact, squirrel brushes (which set the softness standard) have pretty much been eliminated from the landscape because of a widespread industry practice to stop killing them for their hair alone.
But if the animal was, say, slaughtered for its meat — goat is the most widely consumed meat in the world — and the hair was a byproduct of food consumption, the beauty industry has mostly still been okay with that.
Sometimes, an animal need not be killed at all for its hair, although it’s often more expensive to acquire animal hair humanely. When Wayne Goss says his brushes were made with natural goat hair “gathered humanely,” it certainly raises more questions than it might answer for some, like, precisely how was it gathered humanely?
Then, once the brush makers have the animal hair, there are also issues with the quality — or grade of the hair — and the consistency of its color, among other factors. When a brush maker is making a huge product line of brushes for, say, the Estee Lauder brand, where all the brush hair needs to be consistent, these issues can be significant. That’s why a lot of brush hair is still dyed, which you can see bleeding from your brushes after washing sometimes.
What’s more, natural hair also has to be well cleaned and sanitized because all those little scales along the cuticle trap dirt and bacteria.
So ultimately, real animal hair – while great at powder makeup application – can be unethical, expensive and problematic. If only it weren’t so darned good at applying powder makeups …
Early Synthetic Fibers
Because of these challenges with real animal hair, a lot of makeup brush manufacturers and their suppliers have been hard at work developing more sophisticated synthetic makeup brushes that behave as good or better than real animal hair or older model synthetic fibers.
The earliest synthetic makeup brushes on the market were straight up nylon and were stiff, flat fibers with a totally flat – microscopically speaking – surface structure. That’s why powder products really don’t stick to them; the powder literally slides off.
If you’ve ever tried to apply a dark eyeshadow with a synthetic brush, you are likely familiar with what a fallout disaster can look like.
Taklon, just like nylon, was originally developed by DuPont, the American chemical company based in Delaware. Taklon is made out of thermoplastic polyester — sometimes referred to as PBT, which stands for polybutylene therephthalate — to mimic the characteristics of natural sable. It is a bit softer than the earliest nylon brushes and a touch better at picking up powder than nylon, but not by much.
Taklon also has a tapered point, and sometimes Taklon, whose rights are now owned by the Toray Chemical Co. of Osaka, Japan, is generically referred to as “tipped polyester.”
You can still find plenty of cheap nylon and Taklon brushes on the market today, and some brush manufacturers have gotten pretty clever to try to get them to work better with powders.
Today, for example, nylon and Taklon are made in a range of sizes, and the diameter affects the stiffness and softness of the brush, with the narrowest diameter fibers being the softest with the most sway.
By mixing together various diameters – or denier – of these early synthetic fibers, or by getting clever with the toe shape, brush makers have been able to enhance the pickup and payoff characteristics of certain synthetic makeup brushes.
Take a look, for example, at the severely raked side of the brush toe on a Real Techniques brush, and you’ll see how a clever toe shape, with the end of every strand strategically placed, can improve powder pickup by using the tip, primarily, to pick the product up.
Modern Synthetic Fibers
But the real holy grail in synthetic fibers has been replicating goat hair, the real workhorse fiber of the beauty industry in terms of makeup powders – and, perhaps, enhancing the antibacterial properties of the brush at the same time.
Already familiar with the opportunities of the enormous makeup brush market, DuPont’s Filaments group has been hard at work trying to solve these problems.
Around 2010, DuPont launched Natrafil, which takes another polyster fiber and roughs up the surface structure microscopically with some texturizing additives in a complex and patented process, resulting in a structured surface. Just like natural cuticle, this rough microscopic structure helps the fiber pick up powder as well or better than goat or pony hair.
In today’s competitive beauty market, however, some brush manufacturers decided to kick it up a notch, too.
The Japanese brush maker Taiki, for example, which has a US headquarters in Montvale, NJ, has developed an all-new patented way of making synthetic fiber with an underlying polyester material.
Basically, Taiki uses DuPont’s Sorona fiber — which is a “PTT,” or poly trimethylene terephthalate — to create a new brand of synthetic fiber, Tafre, that may be the most modern and innovative on the market.
Taiki uses its manufacturing machines to extrude the fiber in a way that is similar to the way hair grows out of skin on an animal. Which is to say that they twist it and kink it in a patented process that creates a more natural style of fiber. Because they are using DuPont’s Sorona, which contains 37% percent renewable plant-based ingredients — from corn — it’s also considered a green, environmentally friendly fiber. The creation of PBT fibers relies more on fossil fuels.
Compared to nylon, Sorona production uses 40% less energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 56%. Interestingly, Sorona is also used in residential and commercial carpets, apparel and automotive mats and carpets. It’s also highly durable with a high degree of stain resistance!
Matthew Page, Global Segment Leader, for DuPont’s Sorona Automotive group, told My Brush Betty in November that Taiki is the only company using Sorona material in a makeup brush today. “It has high performance and durability,” he explained, “so we see the cosmetics industry as an attractive opportunity.”
The true test of Tafre’s value for me was when I tested an eyeshadow Taiki-Tafre brush with some bright blue shadow after I had already applied all my other makeup. I have hooded eyelids so eyeshadow application is always an issue for me, because if brush fiber isn’t soft enough, it will tug on my eyelids, causing fallout and misplacing the color. In this fallout test, the brush performed beautifully. The brush was exceptionally soft, so no tugging. And, maybe even more interesting, no waste! I didn’t have to see all those pretty (expensive) makeup flakes dusting away or making a mess on my cheeks.
In the end, synthetic brushes today — if you choose the right ones — are great for all types of makeup products, from liquids and creams to powders, and they are also more hygienic, less prone to shedding and fallout and ensure a more consistent brush.
So when you buy that same model of brush that you love a few years from now, chances are better it will be just like the one you’re replacing.
Synthetic Word Jumble
Now, there are a lot of fancy synthetic fiber names on the market today – and most don’t really explain what they are — so it may be difficult to tell if you’re getting brush made of Tafre or Taklon. Very few sellers of makeup brushes are transparent about the synthetic material used.
For example, the new Alexis Bittar Liquid Gold brushes at Sephora says they have “Satine” fiber, whatever that is?! They say it’s “revolutionary” but don’t explain. Too Faced says its brushes use “Teddy Bear” hair. Again, that comes with no explanation. The innovative new Artis brushes to the left here use “Cosmefibre,” which comes with just a tad more explanation, but still not as much as I would like for something I’m rubbing on my face every day.
There’s one sure-fire way to get an advanced-synthetic fiber brush: Make sure to test a brush before you buy it by dipping it in some powder to see if it falls off. Just give it a light shake and see what happens. An advanced synthetic will hold onto most of the powder until you actively deposit the powder on your face.
Most important of all, don’t believe the old adage that synthetics are only good for liquid and cream products. That’s just not true anymore!
Even More Information
SarahOctober 15, 2015 at 8:24 pm (7 years ago)
Love this article and its emphasis on not using products that harm animals! However, please read article linked below about DuPont.
pruFebruary 20, 2016 at 1:45 am (7 years ago)
Completely fantastic article, Sarah. I totally want to gush about your exceptional writing and research, but I fear you’ll think I’m a stalker, ha. Anyway, this was exactly the sort of info I was looking for AND I appreciate your mention of PETA (I, too, was wondering about Goss’s “cruelty free” animal hair brushes). Off to chase some of those links you put up. Thanks so much for taking the time to research and write this; so awesome to find it all encapsulated here, so I didn’t have to sort through a bunch of mis-info to get the current word on synthetic brushes…
ShazMay 18, 2016 at 4:56 am (7 years ago)
Brilliant article and a really interesting read.
AlexSeptember 28, 2016 at 7:46 pm (6 years ago)
Where can you buy the Taiki Tafre brushes?