Makeup artists swear by their favourite brushes, but most of us still use our fingers or those fiddly little sticks that come with eye shadows to apply cosmetics. That's no big beauty crime, but for a polished result brushes give more precision. But good brushes aren't cheap, so how do you judge if they are worth the expense?
When Bobbi Brown's director of artistry for Asia-Pacific, Kai Vinson, was in Auckland last week, he advised against skimping on brushes. If they're not well made from good quality synthetic or natural fibre they would not last, whereas decent brushes that were well cared for should still go strong for five to 10 years.
The usual starter brush recommendation is for foundation, followed by powder brushes, but Vinson said his top choices to begin a kit would be blush, concealer, eyeliner and angled eyeshadow brushes.
He advises setting a budget to start a collection, then looking out for brushes that are well-weighted and seem well made. Handmade brushes generally hang together better, but another way to guard against moulting is to never soak them, as this breaks down glue bonds.
Bobbi Brown aims its sets at the luxury end of the market, but Vinson says the value is in the performance and longevity.
"They're made very specifically for what they're meant to do." Handily they are named, rather than numbered, so you can see exactly what you are meant to be using each brush for.
Synthetic brushes are usually used to apply foundation because being softer they don't leave brush marks on skin, whereas bristle brushes are good for working in powders and colour.
At Bobbi Brown the chosen natural fibre is goat hair, rather than sable or blue squirrel, because, says Vinson, goat is the best natural fibre available that can be harvested without cruelty.
To care for your brushes, wash those with natural fibres at least monthly, either in a special brush wash solution or with a gentle shampoo.
Do not fully immerse them, rather keep the wood out of the water and just wash the tips. Squeeze out as much water as possible and reshape the brush head before drying them lying flat. Leaving brushes to dry upright allows moisture to seep back into the sealed area causing deterioration.
Vinson advises washing synthetic concealer and eyeliner brushes daily because they need to be hygienic. "Do it at night when you're washing your face, by rubbing them in a little cleanser in the palm of your hand." After rinsing and reshaping, the brush can then be left to dry flat overnight. "If you take good care of your brushes, they should last for many years."
1. M.A.C Perfectly Plus Brush Kit Advanced - $140
Contains a face blender, angled contour, and eye blending, shader and flat definer brushes. (From M.A.C Britomart, St Lukes and Botany and Smith & Caughey's stores.)
2. Napoleon Brush Kit - $79
This bag contains five dual-purpose brushes and a sponge applicator chosen by Napoleon Perdis. (Selected Farmers stores.)
3. Revlon brush set - $49.95
Nine brushes and a sharpener make this a good buy, lacking only a fine eyeliner brush from my favourites. (Farmers and selected pharmacies.)
4. Bobbi Brown Angled Eyeshadow Brush - $58
This is a multi-tasker compared with the more common fluffy eye shadow brush. Turn sideways to blend and smudge as well.
5. Bobbi Brown Concealer Brush - $57
Concealer applied with the fingers can look heavy, plus it is harder to apply under the lash line and the eye corners, says Vinson.
Beauty Editor's tip: I've also found brushes from Estee Lauder, Elizabeth Arden and Smashbox good to use, but there are plenty of brands that offer at least a few basic foundation, powder and blush options. For loose mineral makeup kabuki brushes are the best option. QVS and Manicare, available in pharmacies and department stores, have ranges that are worth checking out. These are a good way to get a feel for whether you can bother with brushes without spending up large.