Humans have used animal brushes for quite literally millions of years. From Paleolithic caves in Spain and France to ancient paintings and calligraphy in Egypt and China, brushes have been present in many forms throughout human history.
And although our use for these brushes now varies wildly (it’s not like humans in the Paleolithic era had much use for makeup), their contribution to society remains evident.
Makeup brushes, in particular, have been a topic of debate for the past decade or so. Many people have been protesting the presence and need for animal hair in makeup brushes. With that comes a proportionate increase in interest in vegan makeup brushes—synthetic alternatives that provide the same effects without harming animals.
The Problem With Animal Hair Brushes
Plenty of people are still skeptical about what’s wrong with animal hair brushes. Animals typically don’t die if their hair is taken from them, nor are they harmed by the process. After all, hair grows back, right?
Despite the fact that animal hair brushes technically do not require killing animals, there is still an element of cruelty frequently found in the industry.
For instance, in many countries where natural brushes are developed, there is a lack of animal welfare regulations that protect animals reared for their hair. This means potential for widespread animal abuse in farms or facilities as well as terrible living conditions.
There is also little to no transparency in the supply chain. Most brands stocking natural brushes are not able to precisely pinpoint where their animal hair comes from or whether they have been sourced ethically. And so, the cycle goes on.
If an industry hides its practices behind smoke and mirrors, immediately take it as a red flag. And when there are so many solid vegan options available, it’s pretty unlikely that you would even need natural brushes anyway.
What Vegan Brushes Are Made Of
Vegan makeup brushes are typically made of Taklon or nylon. Both options are synthetic materials and are completely vegan.
Taklon is actually just polyester that has been extruded into a wonderfully fine point, making for an ideal material to use in professional quality paint and makeup brushes.
On the other hand, Nylon is a material all of us have been acquainted with at least once in our lives. It’s another polymer material with numerous applications across various industries, including makeup. Because nylon is abrasion resistant and has excellent elasticity, it’s the perfect material to use in vegan makeup bristles.
Are “Cruelty-free” Brushes Vegan?
There are brands that market their natural makeup brushes as “cruelty-free.” These typically pertain to animal hair brushes sourced in an ethical and humane manner, making the brushes animal-friendly.
One of the problems that ultimately arise is the lack of transparency and traceability in the supply chain. Therefore, these brushes may still be sourced from cruel methods, and there are no certifying bodies we can currently rely on to completely assure that these natural hair brushes were sourced ethically.
And although whether these brushes are genuinely cruelty-free or not remains a gray area, one this is for sure: even “cruelty-free” natural makeup brushes are not vegan.
The mere fact that they’re made from animal hair automatically removes the possibility of them being vegan, regardless of whether they’re “cruelty-free” or not.
Are Animal Hair Brushes Superior To Synthetic Bristles?
The biggest issue most people have with synthetic brushes is quality. Animal hair brushes are reportedly of better quality and perform better than synthetic brushes.
While this may have been true decades ago, many synthetic brushes available today are now up to par with natural bristles. This is especially true if you purchase high-quality synthetic brushes suitable for beginners and professionals.
However, one aspect of application that synthetic brushes cannot match natural brushes in is powder application. One of the major contentions with synthetic brushes is that they cannot pick up powder as well as natural brushes. And while they can definitely do a decent job, there is still a quality gap in this area that needs to be filled.
What To Look For When Shopping For Vegan Makeup Brushes
Although we’ve had quite the discussion on bristles, they aren’t the only important considerations when looking for vegan makeup brushes. Here are some essential markers we always take note of when shopping for vegan brushes:
Grip and Handle
Even though the handle is arguably less important than the bristles themselves, it still plays a significant role in comfort and function when you’re using a makeup brush. Putting on makeup with a brush that doesn’t feel comfortable to you is very likely to impact the final look!
As such, always make sure to consider the weight and heft of the brush’s handle. There are no specific criteria for it other than what’s comfortable for you and your makeup process.
In the world of eco-friendly products and sustainable living, the use of synthetics when unnecessary is sometimes frowned upon. For makeup brushes, most choices are either synthetic or animal hair, so it’s not like there’s much of a choice in the matter.
That said, it is still possible for you to take a look at the other components of the brush and ensure you are choosing the most sustainable option available. This can mean anything from choosing bamboo and other (sustainably sourced) wood handles or choosing brushes with interchangeable handles! The ability to switch handles with each brush head means fewer resources are used and discarded in the long run.
If possible, try to avoid handles made from cheap plastic. Those handles do not have a good end-of-life assessment, and there are countless better options available in the market.
Buy Only What You Need
Most makeup brushes, even vegan ones, come in sets. The sets are often cheaper and come with extra goodies like a brush pouch or baggie. But while these brush sets can be helpful for some people, they aren’t the most practical for everyday use.
For instance, if your makeup routine just involves some concealer, blush, and mascara, there’s no need for all those eight unique brushes in a set. More often than not, two or three brushes are completely sufficient for your look.
Whenever you’re buying new vegan brushes, always keep in mind to buy only what you need. You want to put these brushes to good use, not just leave them in your drawer, gathering dust.
At the end of the day, choosing which type of makeup brushes you want to buy is a personal choice. But if you are in the market for vegan brushes, just know that there are thousands of options out there that are just as good as animal hair—you just need to know what to look out for.
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