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Best Brushes | Holiday 2016 Gift Guide

Best Brushes | Holiday 2016 Gift Guide

It’s that time of the year again:  holiday gift guides aplenty!  This year, I’ve broken out my gift guides into best of selections for blush, eyeshadow, highlighter, lipstick, lipgloss, palettes, and brushes.  These guides feature permanent formulas so that they can be useful anytime during the holiday season or even into next year.  For limited edition holiday products, you can check out our list of the top 50 highest-rated holiday products, which updates as I post more reviews for holiday products. Here’s a look at a few of my must-have brushes (there are so, so, so many more I wanted to include!):

Chikuhodo GSN-09 Eyeshadow Brush

Chikuhodo GSN-09 Eyeshadow Brush<


Chikuhodo GSN-09 Eyeshadow Brush ($25.00) is a small-medium, dome-shaped eyeshadow brush made out of gray squirrel hair. The narrower width allows it to apply color more precisely, which is helpful if you’re using more than two or three colors on the lid. It packs on, sweeps, and diffuses eyeshadow beautifully. The edge also fits into the crease area well and can apply color there, too. It’s incredibly soft and silky against the skin, but it still picks up plenty of product, so you don’t sacrifice color payoff in your application. This is a brush that I have multiples of!



Chikuhodo Z-4 Cheek/Highlight Brush

Chikuhodo Z-4 Cheek/Highlight Brush


Chikuhodo Z-4 Cheek/Highlight Brush ($73.00) medium-sized, blush brush with a domed edge and tapered bristles (so the lengths get shorter as you move outward from the center). It’s not a rounded brush, more flattened, but it is not really thin or flat. The brush is made out of gray squirrel. It’s excellent for applying soft, even color along the cheeks with minimal blending required.



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Chikuhodo x Beautylish Holiday 2016 Sakura Brush Set Review, Photos, Comparisons

Chikuhodo x Beautylish Holiday 2016 Sakura Brush Set
Chikuhodo x Beautylish Holiday 2016 Sakura Brush Set

Chikuhodo Sakura Set (Beautylish) ($245.00) includes six brushes that come in a brush roll with a zippered pocket and several slots for brushes that ties together for traveling. They have shorter handles than some might be used to, though they are in line with most Japanese branded brushes (and are consistent with Chikuhodo’s Z-series). The brushes feature a metallic red ferrule and a glossy red handle with cherry blossoms.

The brushes are good quality, and I had no issues with using them thus far. I can’t comment on how the brushes will hold up over time, so the durability ratings you’ll find on these brushes are based on initial washings (I washed each brush six times) as well as my experience with Chikuhodo’s brushes in general (including durability of last year’s Sakura set, which is fully intact and I still use some brushes from that set). I do, however, like Chikuhodo’s brushes a lot, though I tend to lean toward the Z series for brushes I personally use and reach for (but I have some favorites from the GSN range, and I am not well-versed in the Passions series).

I like the set, but I’m not keen on the inclusion of the brow and lip brush–I feel like they are a way to increase the number of brushes but without adding a lot of cost, and these are both brushes that can be easily replaced with a number of other brushes at lower price points. The brow brush is also substantially thicker than the majority of brow brushes on the market, making it less than ideal for doing detail work, creating individual “hairs,” or brushing product through the tail of the brow (depends on how thick the tail of your brow is, of course). The lip brush is functional, but it is synthetic, and there are many quality synthetics available at lower price points.

Thoughts on Value

In assessing value, I think it’s obviously there relative to purchasing comparable brushes individually, but as with all sets, value is truly subjective, because if you would only use two of the brushes, you are better off getting individual brushes that really fit your needs. I find that the softness and feel of the bristles (particularly of the goat hair) are most comparable to Chikuhodo’s Takumi series, where the T-1 Powder Brush is made out of Saikoho goat and retails for $125; T-5 Highlight is made out of Saikoho goat hair and retails for $52; T-3 Foundation is made out of Saikoho goat hair and retails for $65 — and these align the closest to the face brushes in the set. I’d say that Chikuhodo’s GSN-10 is closer to the Blending Brush included in the set but not quite the same in size, but it is made out of goat hair and retails for $21. Chikuhodo’s lip brushes run around $30 (both the Passion and Z series), while the Passion PS-5 Eyebrow brush is also made out of badger hair and retails for $22.

If you bought these individually, they would run you $315. That being said, the Takumi T-1 Powder Brush is much, much larger and fuller (it’s a huge brush), and I think that a fairer assessment of value would be closer to $70-85 for the Powder Brush included in the Sakura set as a result. The T-5 Highlight is fuller as well (19mm vs. 16.5mm) but not as significantly different than the powder brushes, so I think it would be similarly priced. There’s a little value to getting them together, but I don’t think it’s enough if you won’t love all of them.

If you are more inclined to purchase your brushes individually, these are the ones I would recommend in lieu of the Sakura set but having similar shapes and functionality for the four goat hair brushes in the set. Please note, I might reach for other brushes not listed below due to personally preferring slightly different shapes or styles (that aren’t similar enough to the ones in the set). All of the brushes listed below are high-quality brushes that I’ve tried and tested over long periods of time. I tried to include synthetic options as well, for those who prefer synthetics.

* Indicates the brush I personally reach for MOST often for this function. ** Indicates the brush I personally reach for the second most often for this function.

Alternatives: Medium-to-Large Powder Brushes

Alternatives: Flatter, Tapered Cheek Brushes

  • SUQQU Cheek Brush ($97.00), small-to-medium brush with low density, feathery feel, best for applying, sweeping, and blending, works well with blush and highlighters, squirrel hair (review) *
  • Chikuhodo Z-Series Z-2 Highlight ($78.00), small-to-large, tapered brush that’s more rounded in the body but comes to a tapered edge, moderate density, gray squirrel hair (review) **
  • Chikuhodo Takumi T-5 Highlight ($52.00), a small-to-medium brush with a tapered edge, saikoho goat hair, ideal for more specific placement, moderate blending
  • Hakuhodo G5545 Blush Brush ($63.00), medium blush brush with a flared, rounded edge with only a slight taper, flatter, best for sheer to moderate pigmented powder products for application, good for blending in sweeping and patting motions, blue squirrel/goat hair mix **
  • Real Techniques Blush Brush ($8.99), a medium-to-large, tapered blush brush, rather full and rounded in the body, synthetic (I have not found a lot of go-to cheek brushes that are synthetic, but this is the best thus far and I’d give it a soft recommendation)
  • Real Techniques Setting Brush ($7.99), a small, rounded and lightly tapered brush ideal for highlighting, under-eye setting, and soft blush application, synthetic

Alternatives: Dense, Rounded Foundation Brushes

Alternatives: Small-to-Medium, Tapered Crease Brushes

  • Hakuhodo J142 ($19.00), a small-to-medium sized crease brush with a tapered edge, moderate fullness in the body, goat hair (review) *
  • Tom Ford Eyeshadow Blend (13) ($56.00), a small-to-medium sized crease brush with a tapered, lightly rounded edge, moderate fullness, goat hair (review)
  • Wayne Goss Brush 19 ($27.00), a small-to-medium sized crease brush with a tapered edge, moderate fullness in the body, goat hair (review) **
  • OCC Tapered Blending Brush ($22.00), a small-to-medium sized, rounded, lightly tapered brush, synthetic

The Powder Brush

The Powder Brush (Sakura 2016) is designed for use with loose powders and is made out of Saikoho goat hair. It’s a medium-to-large powder brush with a domed, tapered edge that is a little longer but didn’t feel floppy or like it had too much give. The brush head was mm in 36.00width, 51.50mm in length, and 22.00mm in thickness, while the brush had a total length of 7.09 inches / 18.00 centimeters.

The brush works well for patting, sweeping, and blending out powders on the face, particularly loose and pressed setting and finishing powders. It had moderate-to-full density, so it held its shape well and was easy to work with on the face. I liked how it was large but did not feel oversized to me, so I think it is a good size for most faces for powder application. The brush feels incredibly soft and smooth against my skin, and it is definitely softer than last year’s Sakura powder brush.

The Cheek Brush

The Cheek Brush (Sakura 2016) is supposed to be used with powder and cream blushes, bronzers, and highlighters. It is made out of Saikoho goat hair. The brush was small-to-medium in size; not the smallest but a little shy of typical medium from what I’ve seen. The shape of the brush flares out slightly from the base and then flares back in to a rounded, tapered edge with graduation of length down the front and back of the brush, which helps with blending and diffusing color across the skin. The brush head was 26.4mm in width, 39.00mm in length, and 16.5mm in thickness, while the brush had a total length of 6.57 inches / 16.70 centimeters.

I found it useful for applying blush, highlighter, and bronzer on the face, but I liked it best for powders as I find denser brushes better for cream applications (you need that extra density to get the product onto of the pan, in my experience). The brush itself is soft, smooth, and silky against the skin, and I never felt individual bristles using it, regardless of direction. It is best for blush, as the size is most suitable for that, but it can be used to apply highlighter if you keep the product concentrated on the edge and then sweep it on. The brush will work best for someone who likes to sweep and pull their powders on the face, rather than buff in circular motions.

The Foundation Brush

The Foundation Brush (Sakura 2016) was created to be used with liquid and cream foundations, as well as cream contour products, and it is made out of Saikoho goat hair. It is a smaller foundation brush with a wider shape that has a rounded edge and has some depth that gives it a flat, working surface along the edge. The brush head was 26.00mm in width, 24.50mm in length, and 19.00mm in thickness, while the brush had a total length of 6.06 inches / 15.40 centimeters.

Of the four natural hair brushes in the set, this is the only one where I could sometimes feel the edges (a bit of sharpness) of some bristles when I used a moderate hand with a stippling or tapping motion. If I was only lightly stippling, it felt soft and smooth against the skin, as it did when swept, buffed, and pulled. Personally, it’s smaller than I like for foundation, as it takes longer with this brush, but if you have a smaller face, it will be a nice option for you. It soaks up more watery foundations more than I like, so I’d consider using fingertips to spread the foundation out initially and then using this brush to blend; or you can lightly spray the bristles with water (which gives it something to absorb first) and then work the foundation across the face. It is a bit harder to clean, as it is a denser brush, but the small size means it dries faster than most foundation brushes.

The Blending Brush

The Blending Brush is supposed to be used for applying and blending color in the crease and is made out of Sokoho goat hair. It’s a medium-sized crease brush that flares out from the base to a fuller mid-width and then tapers to a soft pointed edge. It had light-to-moderate density, enough that it can still deposit color with some precision but still fluffy that it can blend and diffuse color in sweeping and buffing motions. It’s a solid crease brush, but it’s one of the more popular sizes/styles, so it is also more readily duped by individual brushes. I noticed it tended to fluff up with half a dozen bristles that splayed out, so this is one you might want to use a brush guard or wrap for to help it retain its shape better.

The brush head was mm in 9.00width, 19.00mm in length, and 9.00mm in thickness, while the brush had a total length of 5.82 inches / 14.80 centimeters.

The Lip Brush

The Lip Brush (Sakura 2016) is designed for giving crisp edges and full coverage, and it can be used with concealer, too. This brush is made out of synthetic fibers. It’s a rectangular, flat synthetic brush that comes to a very flat, crisp edge. The brush head was 5.50mm in width, 11.50mm in length, and 2.30mm in thickness, while the brush had a total length of 5.55 inches / 14.10 centimeters.

I liked it best when I used downward, pulling motions on the lips for filling in my lips with color completely. When I used it more for lining and stayed primarily on the edge, I noticed some of the bristles separated from the majority of the bristles, which gave me a little less precision than I’d like. It’s also stiffer that it did not maneuver around the cupid’s bow with as much fluidity as I have experienced with other lip brushes.

The Brow Brush

The Brow Brush (Sakura 2016) is supposed to be used for depositing and blending powder or pomade brow products and is made out of water badger hair. It’s a small, angled brow brush that’s noticeable thicker and almost “fluffed” in appearance compared to the majority of angled brow brushes I’ve tried. The brush head was 5.52mm in width, 6.20mm in length, and 2.60mm in thickness, while the brush had a total length of 5.43 inches / 13.80 centimeters.

That thickness actually makes it much less suitable for working on brows for initially applying color (powder or cream), filling them in, or creating “hairs” with fine lines. I just didn’t think it worked well for depositing color, so applying color or filling in my brows with this brush often resulted in over-application of product, but I did like how it blended color after I had applied it with another brush. The thicker quality of the brush gave it the give and flexibility needed to diffuse and blend brow color without disturbing it too much, and the small size of it made it appropriate for blending within the brow’s natural shape without it being too easy to go outside the shape. I do, however, find a spoolie brush more effective and faster to use for that purpose.


Limited Edition

See All Glossovers

Also In This Review

The Sakura Collection 2016 by Chikuhodo x Beautylish

The Sakura Collection 2016 by Chikuhodo x Beautylish
The Sakura Collection 2016 by Chikuhodo x Beautylish

Six exquisite limited edition brushes – designed by us and handcrafted by Japan’s master brushmakers. Each set includes a specially designed travel case.

Now available for pre-order

The Details

The Sakura Collection 2016, $245.00 (Limited Edition)

  • Powder Brush Perfect for your favorite loose powders and ideal for any skin type.Handcrafted of Saikoho goat hair.
  • Cheek Brush Designed to bring out the best with your blush, bronzer and highlighters. Handcrafted of Saikoho goat hair.
  • Foundation Brush Developed specifically to deliver flawless coverage with any liquid or cream foundation. This brush is also ideally suited to work with cream contour. Handcrafted of Saikoho goat hair.
  • Blending Brush The flat edge lays down color while allowing you to blend product with a soft touch. Handcrafted of Sokoho goat hair.
  • Lip Brush The crisp edges delivers full coverage and precise lines. Also suitable for applying concealer. Handcrafted of synthetic fiber.
  • Brow Brush This dense, flat brush is ideal to blend powder or pomade brow products. Handcrafted of Water Badger hair.

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Chikuhodo Noel Collection for Holiday 2015

Chikuhodo Noel Collection for Holiday 2015
Chikuhodo Noel Collection for Holiday 2015

Two limited edition brush sets from Chikuhodo, just in time for the holidays.

Now online

The Details

Noel Collection Lumiere Brush Set, $300.00 (Limited Edition)

This limited edition Noel Collection Lumiere Brush Set is made of seven beautifully handcrafted brushes that feature gold handles with a delicate, silver star design and are made with various types of 100% natural hair. This set includes:

  • Powder Brush (167mm) / Gray Squirrel
  • Cheek Brush (148mm) / Gray Squirrel
  • Eye Shadow Brush Large (133mm) / Gray Squirrel
  • Eye Shadow Brush Small (126mm) / Gray Squirrel & Weasel
  • Brow Brush (122.5mm) / Racoon
  • Shadow Liner Brush (121mm) / Weasel
  • Lip Brush (141mm open/87mm closed) / Weasel
  • Gold Pouch

Noel Collection Rose Brush Set, $120.00 (Limited Edition)

This limited edition Noel Collection Rose Brush Set is made of four beautifully handcrafted brushes that feature a glimmering, rosy pink ombré handle design and are made with 100% natural goat, pine squirrel, and weasel hair. This set includes:

  • Powder Brush (155mm) / Goat
  • Cheek Brush (150mm) / Goat
  • Eyeshadow Brush (130mm) / Pine Squirrel & Weasel
  • Lip Brush (141mm open/87mm closed) / Weasel
  • Pink Pouch

Chikuhodo x Beautylish Sakura Brush Set Photos & Comparisons (Plus, First Impressions)

Chikuhodo x Beautylish Sakura Brush Set
Chikuhodo x Beautylish Sakura Brush Set

Chikuhodo x Beautylish Sakura Brush Set ($215.00) is a five-piece brush set created as a collaboration between retailer Beautylish and Japanese brush maker Chikuhodo (see reviews here). I haven’t had much time to use the brush set, so these are first impressions (and may be the only “review” I’ll write-up, as these are almost sold out). All five brushes appeared very even across the edges upon arrival, and the brushes are incredibly soft, with the exception of the Detail brush, which isn’t scratchy but comes to such a fine point that it is a firmer brush so you’ll want to use light pressure when working with it. The price point is higher than your average brush set but seems in line with the pricing of most handmade, Japanese brushes, if not a little cheaper. The handles have cherry blossoms cascading vertically, and I tried scratching at them with my nails, and none of the sheen or color flaked off. Three of the brushes (Powder, Crease, Detail) are shapes that I don’t find my collection, so that was a nice touch. I’m not sure about the usefulness of the crease brush, but I’m certainly game to give it a try. I think the best brush in the collection is the Cheek brush, with the Powder and Shade brushes right behind it.

Chikuhodo x Beautylish Powder Brush is a large powder brush with a very rounded, angled edge that is flatter than your typical, round powder brush. The angle almost made me think it wasn’t cut right, but the angle is deliberate (described as “allows you to emphasize your most flattering features”). The angled edge is new to me, but it fits well when you brush across the cheek bones, going from the nose to the outer edge of the cheeks. It is incredibly soft and airy, and you don’t feel any of the individual bristles when using it. It is made out of a mix of grey squirrel and goat hair. The brush head is 54mm in length, 42mm in width, and 23mm in thickness. It had a total length of 6.5 inches / 17 centimeters with a lightly pinched ferrule. I compared it to Chikuhodo’s GSN-03 Cheek Brush ($127), which is made out of the same type of hairs, but the Sakura Powder brush is noticeably softer with finer bristles; they are similar in general size and shape, except the Sakura Powder brush has the angled edge and is flatter overall.

Chikuhodo x Beautylish Cheek Brushis a small-to-medium-sized cheek brush with a rounded dome shape that is flatter than some blush brushes (it isn’t rounded as a whole). The shape is perfect for patting on blush and then sweeping to blend and diffuse the edges. It will pick-up less powder than a goat-haired brush will, so the effect is subtler from the get-go and often makes applying blush more foolproof. It is very soft and smooth, and no matter the direction, it never irritates the skin. It is made out of grey squirrel hair. The brush head is 37mm in length, 28mm in width, and 16mm in thickness. It had a total length of 6 inches / 15 centimeters. I compared it to Chikuhodo’s Z-4 Cheek/Highlight Brush ($73), which is wider and fluffier; and SUQQU Cheek (£80.00), which is smaller, flares from the base more, and is more rounded with an airier feel overall, while the softness of the Sakura Cheek is very comparable to both.

Chikuhodo x Beautylish Crease Brush is a very long, tapered, and pointed crease brush that has hairs that start short on the exterior and get longer and longer as they taper. While it comes to a more distinct point, it doesn’t feel sharp (likely because the bristles taper, so there are only a few that reach the very tip) and is feathery (not very dense). This one is going to take some practice to work with, and it has such a light touch that it sometimes tickles to use (for me). It is made out of grey squirrel hair. The brush head is 20mm in length, 6mm in width and thickness (at its widest). It had a total length of 5.25 inches / 13.5 centimeters. I compared to Wayne Goss #04 Crease Brush ($28), mostly for size, as the way they’re designed is quite different.

Chikuhodo x Beautylish Shader Brush is a medium-sized, flat dome-shaped eye brush. This type of brush is similar to more well-known brushes like MAC’s 239, and it is good for depositing powder product on the eyelid. The flatter shape makes it ideal for patting and packing on eyeshadow, but the domed edge and ultra-soft bristles allow maneuverability along the lid as well as into the crease and for light blending. It is made out of grey squirrel hair. The brush head was 12mm in length, 11mm in width, and 5.4mm in thickness. It had a total length of 5 inches / 12.5 centimeters. The brush is wider and flatter compared to Chikuhodo’s GSN-09 ($25), which is also made out of grey squirrel (and one of my favorite brushes).

Chikuhodo x Beautylish Detail Brush is a very tiny brush that is flat and tapers to a rounded tip–it looks almost like a triangle. It is made out of fitch and horse hairs. The brush head is 7mm in length, 4.3mm in width, and 2.2mm in thickness. It had a total length of 4.75 inches / 12 centimeters. It is a very small brush and best used with light pressure, as it is rather pointed, and so it will feel almost sharp if you use too much pressure. I could see it being useful for applying eyeshadow on the lower lash line, inner corner, pin point concealing, or concealing underneath the brow bone or along the lips.  More for reference, I showed it next to Chikuhodo’s Z-10 ($45), which is a more pointed crease brush, but it is quite a bit larger.

Chikuhodo x Beautylish The Sakura Collection Brush Set for Summer 2015

Chikuhodo x Beautylish Brush Set
Chikuhodo x Beautylish Brush Set

Beautylish has partnered with Japan’s legendary brushmaker Chikuhodo to release the first ever Beautylish collaboration project called The Sakura Collection. The Sakura Collection is a five piece brush set designed by Beautylish and handcrafted by Chikuhodo’s team of artisans in Japan. Each brush is made of the softest natural hair and constructed with a makie handle featuring cherry blossom design inspired by the Japanese tradition of sakura. The set includes two face brushes and three smaller brushes for eye and detail work with everything you need to complete an entire look. This limited edition brush set will launch on July, 2nd. The brushes will be available to ship worldwide.