Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

Make Up For Ever #222 Sponge Applicator
Make Up For Ever #222 Sponge Applicator

Make Up For Ever #222 Sponge Applicator ($13.00) is a sponge-tipped applicator on a long, wooden (beech) handle. The sponge-tip is 12mm tall, 9mm wide, and 5mm thick. It’s attached to a black knob that has a thin (about 3-4mm wide) plastic piece that has a lot of flexibility, so you can bend the applicator as needed to maneuver around during application. Sponge-tip applicators are good for picking any powder product that is prone to fall out, crumbling, or when you need to really pack on a color; like a white eyeshadow base, sponge-tip applicators can really pack on a product. It is also a useful applicator for smudging eyeliner or eyeshadow underneath or on the lash line.

The sponge really doesn’t feel too different than a mutltitude of sponge-tip applicators that get included in various kits and palettes; yes, the sponge seemed more resilient and durable, as I can try to remove it and it doesn’t instantly rip as cheaper ones do, and it isn’t scratchy. I’ve scratched at it, and it hasn’t shown any signs of wearing, scratching, tearing, or even bits of the sponge flaking off. I’m not sure it would hold up to prolonged or sustained use. Given that Make Up For Ever sells refills (6 for $9) for it, I would expect breakdowns over time. It’s definitely made out of a thicker, more pliable, and sturdier material than the average applicator you’d find in a cheaper palette. If you like handles or have larger hands/longer fingers like me, the long handle could be very helpful. Otherwise, you may find simply buying a 50-pack of disposable sponge applicators for $5-10 is a better option (or merely gathering all the ones you inevitably own–this is what I do; I keep all the random sponge-tip applicators I’ve had in palettes in a plastic cup).

I was most worried about the very itsy bit of glue that connects the actual sponge-tip to the black knob getting broken down over time or while cleaning, you might accidentally tug too much and rip the very bottom of the sponge (where it’s glued) from the knob. For review purposes, I just went ahead and lightly pulled at the bottom, freeing it from the knob, and yes, it will be prone to slipping and pulling off–just patting and lightly blending powder eyeshadow on the lid or smudging eyeliner on the lower lash line didn’t see any slippage, so it will depend on the use.

#272 Eyelash Brush ($12.00) is described as a “spiral brush used to style eyebrows and correct their shape, as well as separate lashes before or after application.” It is a mascara spoolie, so it is good for all things brow and lash. It’s 25mm tall, 7mm wide, and 7mm thick. There is a thin metal wire that extends out of the metal ferrule. Like the #222, you can acquire disposable spoolie wands in bulk and at a low price point (like 50 for $5-10). The difference is that this isn’t designed to be disposable but reusable.

This brush is comparable to MAC #204 ($15.00), which tapers slightly more towards the top so it is narrower overall. This is actually a brush I keep as part of my daily arsenal, as I use it to brush brows and blend out harsh lines when I’ve filled in my brows with powder. I’ve used it for lashes, too, but it’s nowhere near as effective as a metal lash comb for separation. When it comes to lashes, it is best if the mascara is still wet, otherwise it doesn’t do much once mascara has dried on lashes. The same is true for Make Up For Ever’s #272. It works well to comb through brows as well as to diffuse, blend, and even out color from filling in brows. It could also be used to apply mascara, colored mascara, mixing with a product to apply color to the lashes (like a DIY colored mascara), applying brow gel, and so forth.

The #272 can be a total pain to clean, though, which is another reason why I don’t love it with mascara. I highly recommend cleaning it nearly immediately after using with any liquid product like mascara to avoid difficult clean up (everything just hardens and sticks to the interior wire).

Both of these brushes are useful, and I like them, but whether it’s worth investing in one rather than disposable varieties is ultimately something that is going to depend more on how you use it. The #272 is the kind of brush that I do, personally, find necessary, and I can’t vouch for the durability of Make Up For Ever’s (but it’s on my calendar to revisit all my Artisan Brush reviews a year from now to check in), I can vouch for the MAC #204, which seems very similar in length, shape, feel. The biggest difference is that MAC’s ferrule is crimped towards the top, while Make Up For Ever’s #272 is round.

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Monday, September 2nd, 2013

Make Up For Ever #146 Flat Blush Brush
Make Up For Ever #146 Flat Blush Brush

Make Up For Ever #146 Flat Blush Brush ($37.00) is described as a “medium, trapezoid-shaped brush” that is designed to be used with loose and press powders. By its name, one would expect primarily using this with blush, as it is designed for buildable coverage. Make Up For Ever also recommends using it for face painting. The brush head is 26mm tall, 33mm wide (at the top, which is widest point), and 10mm thick with a pinched ferrule. It has a total length of 7.25 inches/18 centimeters.  The brush’s shape is flat, almost a square but slightly flared outwards–like a trapezoid, but it is a squatter one than I envision with just the word “trapezoid.”  It had soft bristles at the tips, and the bristles length-wise were fairly soft but you could “feel” the individual bristles slightly (they didn’t blend together as seamlessly).

I think the shape is somewhat large for a blush applicator, and it’s definitely best for just initially applying color to the cheek and less useful for blending or diffusing blush color. It splays out unevenly, is an odd mix of stiff and springy that never quite blends or applies the way you’d expect. It just seems to make applying blush harder than it is with other blush brushes (with more typical brush heads). I just received another blush brush from the range late last week, so I’m testing that one as well to see if that works better for blush application. I can see the flatter shape working better for face painting, though, and to that end, it was nice for applying liquid primer or moisturizer (I tried with Illamasqua’s Hydra Veil).

There’s something about this brush that felt off, because no matter how many washes (I’ve washed it a dozen times now with four different cleansers), it always feel a somewhat oily or greasy. I can press the brushes together, and it molds that way until I squish the brushes in another way. As of now, this is the only Make Up For Ever brush that I’m having this issue with, so it might be a one-off or more specific to the flatter brush shapes.  I just received a few other face brushes, so I’ll have a better idea of the context of this issue in a couple of weeks.

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Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

MAC x Antonio Lopez 129SE Brush
MAC x Antonio Lopez 129SE Brush

MAC x Antonio Lopez 129SE Powder/Blush Brush ($38.50) is a special edition of the 129 brush, and here, it has a shorter handle. I actually found the shape different, as it is a much longer brush head than the full-sized 129. Where the full-sized 129 has a domed, rounded edge, this special-edition brush doesn’t really flare out that much. (See the 129 here.) Looking back on some of the 129SEs I’ve reviewed, they all seem to be slightly different. This version of the 129SE also comes with a vinyl, zippered pouch that fits just the brush or else one or two lipglosses.

MAC’s 129 brush is not one of its best brushes, as it tends to be scratchy and sometimes prone to shedding (can vary from brush to brush). The 129SE released in this collection is worse, as it was even scratchier, and then the shape was less useful for applying blush. If you’re looking for a blush brush, the 129 would not get my recommendation (I prefer MAC’s 116 over the 129, if you’re looking to stay within MAC’s range).

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Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Hakuhodo J104 Powder Brush Round
Hakuhodo J104 Powder Brush Round

Before we get to the review, let’s talk a bit about Hakuhodo first. Hakuhodo is a prestige makeup brush line that produces brushes under its own name, but it is also an OEM (original equipment manufacturer), which means it will create brushes to another company’s specifications. For instance, it is rumored that Tom Ford’s brushes are manufactured by Hakuhodo. So if you had the cash, you could create your own brush range working with Hakuhodo. And if you don’t, you can buy directly from their own branded products. Hakuhodo’s (U.S.) customer service is really knowlegdable and helpful, so if you have any questions, I highly, highly recommend giving them a quick call to ask (or you can e-mail via their contact form). This morning, I reached out and spoke with Stephanie with a few questions.

What’s the difference between Hakuhodo’s brush series?

I know this was my first question about the brand was what was the difference between all the different series, and she happily informed me that the quality and (in general) the shapes are the same across the series, but the handles differ, which is why the S100 and Kokutan series are more expensive. I picked up the J104, but you can find the same shape in the B series ($66) and S series ($94), with the latter two having black goat hair compared to white goat hair. The S series uses wood handles colored in “rich vermilion” and the brass ferrule is plated with 24-karat gold with a clear coating; the brush handle also comes to a slanted point at the end. The Kokutan series features an ebony wood handle with slightly shorter handles. The J series primarily focuses on using white goat hair, G series on black goat hair, and the two are some of the newer series. Stephanie encouraged me to send her an email if I found a shape in one series that I liked and couldn’t find in another, as most of the shapes crossover through the different series–so I recommend you doing the same.

They’re expensive. Are they worth it?

If you start your search by looking at the S or Kokutan series, then yes, they are particularly expensive, but if you look at the B, J, K, or G series, you’ll find the pricing to be comparable to mid to high-end brush brands like MAC, Dior, Chanel, etc. Face and powder brushes range from $24 to $216 with many brushes between $40 and $80. Cheek brushes range from $22 to $156 with many brushes between $30 and $60. Eyeshadow and eyeliner brushes range from $14 to $81 with many brushes between $15 and $30. For example, the J104 is a very large powder brush made out of white goat hair (a more premium material) for $80, while MAC’s 134 Large Powder Brush is $53 and their 150 Large Powder Brush is $42; Chanel #1 Powder Brush is $65, Bobbi Brown Powder Brush is $60. Now, all of those brushes have black bristles, which would make it more comparable to the B104, which is priced at $66–more comparable in price to the others listed there. Here’s another example, using an eyeshadow brush: the J142 is a tapered crease brush that costs $18 and J5529 is another tapered crease brush that costs $16, while MAC’s 224 Tapered Blending Brush is $32, Edward Bess Luxury Eye Brush is $40, Tom Ford Eyeshadow Blend Brush is $55. So long as you don’t opt for the higher-end handle, the majority of crease brushes from Hakuhodo ranged from $16 to $30. The pricing can be more than high-end brands or less than, and it will depend on the individual brush, hair used (it can be difficult to find out exactly what type of hair a brand uses), and, of course, handle chosen. 

Over the years, what I have found to determine that “is it worth it” question in regards to brushes is how often you USE the brush.  If it’s not the right shape that you want for that type of application, it will just sit there, no matter how soft or lovely it is.  If it is THE powder brush, THE blush brush, then yes, it’s worth it.  (This is really true for any beauty product or anything that is more expensive than the norm.) You have to use it, and you have to be unhappy with what you have if you’re looking to replace, but if you already love what you own, you may not find that the differential is that great. As someone who owns just about every MAC brush released in the past five years and all permanent ones, I can tell you that I don’t use the majority of them. Though I bought all more to review here on the blog, for personal use, my money would have been better spent on doubling or tripling up on brushes I used regularly.  If I was starting over, I would buy across brands with a mixture of natural, synthetic, and blend brushes with the shapes that worked best for my application style and face shape.

What type of hair should be used with what?

The general rule of thumb in makeup brushes is synthetic brushes are best for liquids and creams, while natural brushes are best for powders. Hakuhodo strongly recommends using powders only with brushes made from black goat or squirrel hair. For liquid and cream application, horse, weasel, water badger, synthetic, and white goat hair can be used, but they recommend considering a blend of synthetic and natural for best application. Part of the reason for this distinction is to minimize the degree your brushes need to be washed, as Hakuhodo recommends washing minimally (see their brush care guide). Hakuhodo has a good FAQ regarding the different types of hair here. You know, like if you’ve ever wondered what the difference was between Blue, Tree, and Pine Squirrels, you’ll find it there (a very useful read well worth the time).

If you’d like to further fall down a rabbit hole of makeup brushes, you can do some googling for brands like Chikuhodo and Suqqu (which is manufactureed by Chikuhodo). Those are both harder to obtain in the states (not impossible), so I really appreciate that you can purchase Hakuhodo direct from the company, and even better, they ship from within the U.S. so you’re not getting gouged or having to deal with exchange rates. The only downside is outside of trade shows (like IMATS), it’s tough to try before you buy, and they only accept returns of unused product (they say they may make exceptions, though). Items are shipped via USPS Priority, and I made two separate orders, both of which I received two days from when I order.

Hakuhodo J104 Powder Brush Round ($80.00) is a large brush with a very slightly domed edge with a brush head that is medium in size at the base and then flares out. It’s made out of white goat hair and has a black wood handle with a nickel-plated brass ferrule. The brush head is 50mm in length, 45mm in width (at the top) / 20mm in width (at the base), and 20mm in thickness. It is 7.4 inches/18.5cm in total length. It is also available as S104 ($94) or B104 ($66) with black bristles.

It’s moderately dense but airy enough to work well with powder application without caking powder on but more than just a fine dusting of powder. There’s some springiness to the brush that enables it to be pressed and feathered across the skin with ease. I think this brush is going to be too large for some faces–in some ways, it reminds me of the size of a buffing brush with a long handle (the shape/density/function is not comparable, just the size).

For those most familiar with MAC brushes, this is most comparable to MAC’s 150 brush. The 150 is not as full or as round (it is slightly thinner) and has more domed edges, but their purposes and applications are similar. MAC’s 150 brush only started to feel scratchy to me in the past year or two, but when I initially used it, I wouldn’t have described it as the softest brush I owned, only “not the softest.” The J104 is infinitely softer, there’s no doubt about that, so it feels better against the skin, which would be important for anyone with drier or more sensitive skin. (Softness is not the be-all, end-all of brush quality; it is just one factor to consider.) I like it better than the MAC 150 (and for that matter, the 134 and 136), but I actually prefer Make Up For Ever’s #128 for setting and finishing powders, but both are great brushes and it would come down to personal preference for shape, brush material, etc.

I can’t personally attest to how the brush holds up over years, as I’ve had this particular one for two weeks, but the brand has been around a long time, so the universe at large (from what I’ve been able to research) has not had issues with the brush holding up to prolonged use. I’ve made a note on my calendar to revise this particularly aspect in a year’s time :)

If you’ve tried this brush (or the equivalent S104 or B104), would you consider leaving a review here?

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Monday, August 26th, 2013

Make Up For Ever Precision Powder Brush
Make Up For Ever #128 Precision Powder Brush

Make Up For Ever #128 Precision Powder Brush ($52.00) is described as a “long and flat brush with a tapered tip” to be used with loose and pressed powder for application “the face, neck, and upper shoulders.” It’s a large, substantial brush, and it’s easily one of the larger powder brushes I have. It flares out slightly from the base and then tapers significantly to a rounded edge with the bristles layered and lengthening as you move to the center of the brush. It measures 50mm at its widest part, 56mm tall, 25mm thick with a total length (including handle and ferrule) of just under 8 inches/20 centimeters. The handle itself is quite thick but tapers down towards the end and finishes with a sharp, angled tip. All Make Up For Ever’s Artisan brushes are made out of synthetic fibers and officially release in September.

The new Artisan Brush range is touted as being “hand-crafted by a total of 30 people from start to finish” and have beech wood handles. The slanted tip of the handle is done specifically to “allow for easier product retrieval and can be used to assist in faux lash application.” The first thing I noticed about this brush was how top-heavy it was–the brush head is much, much heavier than the handle, which is incredibly lightweight. You’ll notice that the brush head is actually two-tone–the bottom third is a dark brown, while the upper two-thirds are nearly black. The top two-thirds actually flop a bit; like if you held the brush in your hands and waved it up and down, you would see just that portion moving up and down while the bottom third stays in place.

This brush is incredibly soft, and it’s one of the softest brushes I’ve come across–tying with Hakuhodo and Tom Ford brushes. At times, this almost feels softer, but I think it’s the result of the layering and airiness of the upper two-thirds of the brush that give it a feathery, soft feel. My husband has been a test subject for numerous “which is softer” tests in the past few months as I’ve been doing an extensive testing of brushes across brands, and Hakuhodo and Tom Ford brushes (which are rumored to be made by Hakuhodo) were all readily distinguished as the softest. He described the difference as the Hakuhodo felt silkier, almost cool and wet, but he felt like softness was the same. I had a similar experience to his, and I felt like the bristles melted together to provide a smooth, seamless applicator across the skin. I could jab, splay, and twirl the brush and never felt a jagged or rough edge.

I liked it for applying loose setting powder, and because the top of the brush “flops,” it actually works to press the loose powder against the skin with a lighter pressure than with a sponge or powder pouf but does a better job of getting an even, full layer of powder against the skin to really set makeup. I can’t make any claims as to the durability of the brush, so as I find brushes that I can work into my regular routine, I’ll be adding them and continuing to trial them to see how they hold up to more prolonged use. I’ve washed this brush five times, and I haven’t had any issues with shedding, dye bleeding, or any resulting smells post-wash. It takes awhile to dry, but if I use it in the morning, wash it, then it is ready for me to use about eight to twelve hours later. I wish the handle had more weight to it, though, because while the dark, red-toned wood handle looks nice, it lacks substance.

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Saturday, August 24th, 2013

Real Techniques Expert Face Brush
Real Techniques Expert Face Brush

Real Techniques Expert Face Brush ($8.99) is designed for applying and blending cream or liquid foundation. The brush head is 25mm in length, 30mm in width, and 20mm in thickness. The brush had a total length of 6 inches/15.5 centimeters. The brush is soft, dense, firm (with some give but not fluffy or springy). The edge is slightly rounded, but the most noticeable characteristic about the brush is just how dense it is. It is even denser than the Buffing Brush. I bought this brush after a few readers asked how it compared to Tom Ford’s Cream Foundation Brush, and I don’t think they’re similar in terms of shape, density, and so forth, but the end results achieved with both brushes are more comparable. I do get better and more effortless results with Tom Ford’s, as it doesn’t streak at all for me, but this brush does so occasionally. The rounded, slightly tapered edge makes it easy to buff and blend out any streaks, though, and the synthetic bristles of this brush means it works better with cream and liquid products and is easier to clean. In a blind softness test, I ran both brushes across my husband’s forearm (and I had him do the same for me) three times for each (and at random), Tom Ford always came out on top as softer, but Real Techniques is still very, very soft. I would not complain; I would not even notice, if I didn’t have Tom Ford to compare it to–the way I used this often reminded me of how I used to use MAC’s 109, and this is softer than that brush.

Real Techniques Core Collection ($17.99 for set of four brushes) includes a Buffing Brush, Contour Brush, Pointed Foundation Brush, and Detailer Brush, plus a case to carry them in. For the price, you’re getting a nice amount of brushes, but as with kits, they’re not all as equally useful and ultimately whether you love and use all four regularly will depend entirely on your personal routine and brush preferences. The Buffing and Contour Brushes are both shapes that I think many would use and appreciate, while the Pointed Foundation and Detailer Brushes will be less applicable for all. I really wish you could purchase these brushes individually as well, because I could easily see getting a second Buffing Brush, or if you loved the Detailer Brush, having two or three might be nice for anyone who needs the precision.

Buffing Brush is a medium-sized, wide circular brush that widens at the end and has an ever-so-slightly domed edge. The brush head is 30mm in length, 35mm in width (at its widest point), and 30mm in thickness. In total, the brush has a length of 6 inches/15.5 centimeters. It’s a really nice, multi-tasking brush that can be used to apply foundation (though it says powder, I’ve used it with both powder, cream, and liquid, and it worked fine across all three), blend out blushes and bronzers, or to apply setting powder. It’s densely-packed with soft bristles that feel nice against the skin.

Contour Brush is a small, domed-shaped brush that’s soft, lightly fluffy, and not too dense. The brush head is 30mm in length, 18mm in width, and 18mm in thickness. The brush has a total length of 6.25 inches/15.7 centimeters. It has a good amount of spring so it blends, but it isn’t floppy, so it still retains its shape. It fits nicely into the hollow of the cheeks, so it definitely works exceptionally well for contouring (especially with cream products), but I also quite liked it for applying highlighters on the cheek bones and down the nose as well as for applying cream blushes for a more feathery application. Of the brushes in the set, this was my favorite.

Pointed Foundation Brush was surprisingly small for a flat foundation brush. The brush head is 27mm in length, 15mm in width, and 5mm in thickness. The total length of the brush is 6 inches/15.5 centimeters. It would work better for applying a liquid or cream product to the face, but then using another brush to actually blend and work it into the skin. I often use a concealer brush to dab my liquid foundation in spots on my face before blending the foundation all-over with something larger and denser, so that seemed to be a better use for this than applying foundation all-over. It was very prone to creating lines when I used it for all-over foundation application, so I still needed to go back with something else to buff out all the visible lines. I also tried using it to dab cream highlighters on the cheeks and it was decent, but it doesn’t blend or diffuse the product well enough, so again, a second brush becomes necessary–and I could have just used the second brush for both initial application and subsequent blending.

Detailer Brush is a teeny, tiny firm, flat brush with a tapered edge. The brush head is 9mm in length, 6mm in width, and 3mm in thickness. The whole brush is just under 5.5 inches/14 centimeters. If you have small eyes or deeper crevices around your nose, it might be more useful than your traditional concealer or lip brush as it is much shorter and thinner. This brush was scratchy/rough; when I would pat it underneath the eye for concealer, I could feel a few bristles “stabbing” the skin.

Every brush seemed well-balanced; they weren’t top-heavy or bottom-heavy, so I had good control and they felt good in my hands and as I used them during application. I’ve been using these brushes for several weeks (with the exception of the Expert Face Brush, which I’ve only been using for almost two weeks).  I had few splayed bristles on the Buffing Brush when it arrived and haven’t quite been able to get them to re-shape perfectly, so I might trim those stray ones out.  I’ve only had a few bristles shed during the first few uses with the Buffing and Expert Face Brushes (which is normal!).  I haven’t had any issues cleaning or re-shaping them, and they haven’t bled dye during washes or smelled funny after drying.

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