Q&A: Types of Makeup Brush Bristles

Ollie wanted to know what the differences between natural-haired and synthetic-haired makeup brushes are, and also the use of a kabuki brush.

Different Makeup Brushes 1

As you know, makeup brushes come in many different types, shapes and sizes. The main difference between the brushes is the type of bristles used (for different purposes). They are either synthetic- or natural-haired.

Physical Difference between Naturals and Synthetics

Synthetic brush bristles are softer and smoother upon touch. Now I know that natural hair bristles can also be very soft, but at first touch, synthetic brushes are softer and appear more shiny. Natural-haired brushes feel just a tad rougher compared to synthetic-haired brushes. That does not mean they are better; just that they are meant for different uses.

Synthetic-Haired Makeup Brushes

  • Man-made, using either nylon or polyester filaments.
  • Common types are taklon and nylon. These are very similar to the taklon or nylon paintbrushes you see at art stores.
  • Less prone to damage from makeup and solvents
  • Easier to keep clean compared to natural-haired brushes as the filaments do not trap or absorb pigment.
  • As the bristles are very smooth, they don’t hold powders very well. Thus, they are better suited for soft layering of powder, or best for application of creams (liquid/cream foundation, cream blushes, cream eyeshadows, etc).

Natural-Haired Makeup Brushes

  • Natural-haired brushes are made from natural hair like squirrel( very soft) , badger (firm), pony and kolinsky.
  • Slightly more difficult to care for compared to synthetic-hair brushes.
  • Used for powder makeup applications – face powder, powder eyeshadow, powder blush.
  • You can learn more about the different types of natural-haired brushes from Urban Apothecary.

Different Makeup Brushes 1

The brushes can come in a variety of colours; it’s just a matter of dyeing the hairs. In general, synthetic-haired brushes can come in a slightly more colourful variety (I’ve seen them in brown, pink, blue, white, etc) compared to natural-haired ones (mostly black, brown or white).

I learned the difference between the brushes the hard way when I used synthetic-haired eyeshadow brushes to apply powder shadows. I experience a lot of powder fall-out upon application. Also, using a synthetic-hair brush on powder (loose or compact) gives me a sheerer cover, whereas the natural-haired one packs more punch per application. I like using a natural-haired blush brush when I use blush which are less pigmented on me, e.g. Benefit Dandelion. When it comes to NARS blushes (except for the Orgasm and Deep Throat, they are extremely pigmented), I use my synthetic-haired blush brush (from Eco Tools) instead so that I have more control over the amount of flush I want.

What is a Kabuki Brush?

Kabuki Brushes

A kabuki brush comes in a very short handle, with a lot of bristles firmly packed at its circular base. It’s used for application of mineral foundation, or face powder. The very short handle makes it very easy to buff the powder onto the skin, and the firmly packed bristles in a circle give it more coverage. Its principal purpose is to create an even and thorough coverage of the powder on the face.

This is not to say you cannot use a kabuki brush as a blush brush. But in general, it’s not used for that purpose because you don’t want to accidentally puff too much colour onto your cheeks, making you look like a clown. A proper blush brush is better used for even distribution of colour and natural looking definition on the cheeks, because of its tapered, flat head.

The difference between a face brush and a kabuki brush is that the kabuki brush packs more coverage onto the skin, whereas with a face brush, you’d just want to sweep some powder onto your face to set your liquid foundation. A light sweep of powder will do to avoid the cakey look, and a face brush does just the job.

I hope this has answered your question, Ollie 🙂

Keep the questions coming!

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14 comments… add one
  1. LyNn

    no wonder i always get fly away flakes when i use my dome shaped brush on my powder eyeshadows.
    its made of synthetic bristles i think its nylon.

    haha but i did know that synthetic works with cream better because they breed less bacteria
    and natural bristles work better with powder.

    i was told about that. only have one natural bristled brush
    so i dont really know how natural bristles help.

    thanks for the info 🙂

  2. Ollie

    Thanks so much for the explanation. You’re the best!
    And the photos you of your brushes are beautiful! 🙂

  3. MisSmall

    Great pictures, hun! And your brushes are SO clean that they look brand new!

    Personally, I can’t even remember which of my brushes are synthetic and which are natural hair. I just grab whatever that’s (relatively) clean. Haha.

  4. Traclyn Yeoh

    That’s a lot of great info. I prefer to use synthetic for now, I do have natural bristles ones but lesser usage. Anyways, you have a wonderful collection of MU brushes!

  5. fabulessbeauty

    Great and informative post!

  6. cuteandcurls

    Hi there Tine, its me Rojak & Tapai ..i decided to change my name since that name makes me hungry everytime i type it and it makes me crave for Tapai which I can only find at my hometown ^_^ anyway your blog today is very informative. I have never learnt so much about cosmetic brushes that I have over here 🙂 thanks!

  7. Sylvia

    Informative and useful post, Tine. I am newbie with brushes, so this makes a worthy reading for me.
    I do have several brushes of all kinds but I bought them in travel packs because they are more economical and save me the time of choosing during purchase. I do have ONE favourite big brush which I use everyday for sweeping access foundation and to blend blusher on my cheeks. I love it to bits! It’s so soft to the touch on my skin.

  8. prettybeautiful

    yr pics look so pro! like those company-website pics! btw, i used kabuki for blusher before, and WOAH the result was scary. lol.

  9. Connie

    I love my iddy biddy EDM baby buki. It feels like a hamster. I think I just like playing with it more than actually using it. But it’s great to use with my blush samples.

  10. bluehaert

    thank you so much for this. I was happening to wonder about the difference between synthetic and natural bristles.

    just double checking. So i presume synthetice bristles are better for lip brushes? But my the body shop lip brush soak everything up and does not leave much on my lip, making the colour very sheer.

  11. Eunice

    Hi, I wonder what are the must-have eye make up brushes and if it’s better to get natural hair or synthetic hair. I’m an asian, with monolids, which mean single eye lid and for me, that means i don need something for crease, etc.. but wonder what kind of brushes are essentials as I’m new to eye make up. thanks!

  12. karen green

    i was wondering if you can tell me, if you think that the TOO FACED KABUKI BRUSH will work well with applying BENEFIT DANDELION? i never use any sort of powder or foundation on my face, so i will only be using the kabuki brush for THIS ONE purpose- applying Dandelion. i read great things about TOO FACED kabuki. do you apply Dandelion all over your face or just your cheeks? i read that the brush that comes with Dandelion isn’t too good. do you think so to?
    thanks alot!!

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