It’s strange how long it takes many of us makeup lovers to start thinking seriously about the brushes we use as tools everyday. I was maybe 17 when I was bitten by the beauty bug and its crazy to think that for four years, I used half a dozen makeup up brushes from MAC. I could never figure out how to do a smokey eye because, well...my eye brush collection consisted of the MAC 217, 242 (x 2; why I had two of this already useless brush I can't explain) and, of course, the 266. That was it. With one blending brush aka the 217, it’s not really a surprise that my smokey eye attempts never really took off. After several forays into the smokey eye look, I eventually accepted the fact that copious amounts of black and grey eyeshadow made me look like a strung out chimney sweep more than anything else and directed my attention to executing the perfect cat eye instead. The thickness, the length of the flick, the formula I used were subject to change but I had my basic look nailed. (Emphasis on the 'basic' part.)
Then about four years ago, I ended my long relationship (okay, only relationship thus far) with MAC and started dabbling in high end makeup brands. By Terry, still one of my favourites, has been my go-to brand for base products ever since (with one or two significant caveats.) My first non MAC eyeshadow palette was Kevyn Aucoin’s Essential Eyeshadow Set 1, still a great pick for beginners to eyeshadow. But when it came to brushes, I held out for ages, remaining stubbornly loyal to MAC. About a year later, I discovered a company called Beautylish*. I still remember my first fude brushes - the Chikuhodo Z-4 and Z-10, both of which I still own and use regularly.
I never looked back after trying those brushes - I doubled down on the Z Series, played with the Takumi and GSN Series, eventually learned about Wayne Goss, later learned that Wayne Goss brushes were but a paltry substitute for their Hakuhodo prototypes, etc, etc. It’s really hard to believe it’s only been three years since I fell down the ‘fude rabbit hole’. If you’re reading this post, there’s a good chance you’ve read elsewhere about the dangers of falling down said rabbit hole - it’s standard lingo in the online fude community. (To be honest, it’s a pretty lame metaphor and needs to be retired - the only thing preventing that from happening of course, is the existence of idiots like me who insist on bringing it up). If you’re already halfway down the rabbit hole, this Fude 101 post won’t be of much use to you but hey - stick around anyway!*
For those of you who are curious about fude, it can be utterly overwhelming knowing where to start. Yes, the internet is full of great resources about brushes. And yes, we should be grateful to the bloggers and commenters all over the globe who devote considerable time and effort to helping newbies binge-buy brushes/progressively bankrupt themselves.
However, for the newcomer to fude, venturing onto Sweet Makeup Temptations can be like plunging into a pool of icy water. The choices are overwhelming, the prices are eye- and the lingo of ‘fude talk’ can be difficult to decipher.
The aim of this post is to help you gain some insight into your own needs and/or preferences when it comes to makeup brushes. There is no one-size-fits-all list of ‘the best brushes’ out there - you have to do some of your own homework first. Once you know what you’re looking for, the many good lists and guides that are available on the internet will be far more helpful.
So, with that out of the way, start thinking about the following questions. Take your time. Perhaps jot down your answers. This assignment will not be graded so relax, it’s only brushes after all.
As a general rule, the more familiar you are with using brushes - any makeup brushes, not necessarily Japanese brushes or high end brushes - the more insight you’ll already have into what your preferences are in terms of size, shape, hair type and density.
However, beginners - don't be scared! My first piece of advice to fude newbies is always the same:
*Um, how do I say this in a diplomatic manner? Screw it, I won't bother. Don't do what I did, people! DON'T buy your Chikuhodo brushes from Beautylish because there's this fantastic website called cdJapan that sells them for WAY cheaper prices. Also, Wayne Goss = the poor - but aspiring! - man's Hakuhodo. Lower quality, based on Hakuhodo prototypes, and sold at insultingly higher prices. Did I step on anyone's toes? ....If so, you're welcome. You may hate me right now but you'll agree with me later. *
Assess your own brush collection.
- Note down each brush you own.
- What task(s) do you use the brush for?
- How efficient is the brush at performing the task(s)?
- What do you like about the brush? What do you dislike about it? For example:
Size: is it too big? too small?
Density: Is your blush brush airy enough to diffuse pigment softly? What about your eye brushes - are they dense and firm enough to be good blenders?
Hair quality: How soft is the hair, and does it meet your skin's neeeds? If you have senstive skin, are any of your brushes too rough?
Overall, is each brush good enough to satisfy your particular needs? When it comes it eye brushes, I tend to err on the 'you can never own enough of them' side since using clean brushes makes such a pronounced difference in the final result you achieve. If you have an eyeshadow brush you love, you may want to think about buying a second or buying the 'souped up' fude version.
If you feel like there are any major gaps/holes in your brush collection, what type(s) of brush(es) are you missing? Assign each missing brush a priority and, if necessary, a budget, and note it down on your brush shopping list.
What is your general skin type: dry, oily, sensitive, or normal?
Oilier skin types may be better suited to using goat hair brushes.
Sensitive skin types should avoid scratchy bristles and coarse hair mixes, especially in the delicate eye area. It's not silly to take into consideration whether you have certain allergies - as someone who's highly allergic to cats, you can be sure you'll never find a tamage hair brush in my stash. (Tamage = felis domesticus).
What makeup products do you usually use? What type of formula(s) do you prefer?
- Consider whether your blushes and other pressed powder products have a soft texture that is easy to pick up (e.g. Surratt blushes) or a ’harder’ surface (NARS blushes are a classic example).
- Are you particularly fair and if so, do you use pigmented blushes? The paler you are and/or the more pigmented your preferred products, the less dense a blush brush should generally be.
What facial features do you have that are significant? What shape is your face? Is it more angular or round?
- What effect(s) are you attempting to achieve? E.g. do you want to add definition to your face or is your bone structure already very prominent?
- Blush: Where do you place it? For example, are you very careful about only depositing colour in a small, specific area? Or do you prefer a larger, fluffier brush to generously sweep colour across the apples of your cheeks?
- Contouring - which camp do you fall in? (Let's face it, contouring is a controversial topic, just like many of its most famous acolytes).
IF you're in Camp Contour, what type of product(s) do you use - cream, powder, perhaps even bronzer? (...shhh, I do that one too.)
- Are you extremely focused on precision or are you happy with general (read: lazy) definition?
- What shape of brush do you prefer for contouring? Angled? A tapered candle shape (e.g. Hakuhodo's J5521)?
- Do you want a contour brush that can do it all or would you be open to branching out - perhaps using separate brushes for placement and for buffing out colour?
- Nose contouring - yay or nay? If yay, what brush/tool do you use to contour your nose? Are you happy with the result?
Examine your eyes (visits to opticians are not necessary; a mirror will do)
- Are your eyes hooded?
- Do you have a crease?
- How much lid space do you have?
- Do you wear quite complicated eye makeup or are you typically a 'one and done' sort of person?
Set a budget. Or not. Decide on a time frame for completing your collection...or not.
Many newcomers feel pressure to buy a new fude brush to replace each brush in their collection. This is obviously a huge investment right off the bat and buying everything right away is likely to reduce your budget. (versus spacing out purchases over time). Also, it’s important to get to know each of your brushes individually. This will help inform your subsequent brush purchases.
Always remember the 'back burner'
When it comes to big ticket items like powder brushes, which often come with intimidating price tags, remember the ‘back burner’. The back burner is where you place the brushes you know you WANT to have in the future. You may not be ready to buy them yet, for whatever reason, but you know you want them...eventually.
My advice: if you're able to wait, wait. Compromising on something 'more affordable' or 'more practical' usually leads to disappointment and spending more money later down the (fude) rabbit hole.
*As someone whose inbox is filled with requests for ‘help: complete brush collection upgrade’ requests, remember that other people’s time is valuable too. Asking specific questions will get you more specific answers. I love chatting brushes with people but I don't love feeling like I'm being treated like an unpaid personal shopper, which is unfortunately a common frustration amongst fude 'veterans'. In life in general, a goood rule of thumb is to always respect other people's time and let them know that you appreciate it when they put time aside for you.
(This will be an ongoing series, and yes, it will be written by yours truly - so lots of fun in store! Now go do your homework for next time we meet.)