Cruelty-free brushes: Which is better? ‘Natural’ (Animal Hair) or Synthetic?

(cover image @occmakeup – who make cruelty-free brushes)

Cruelty-free brushes is a topic that is is a huge deal in the beauty industry. Before you ask, I used to be vegan (3 years) and then vegetarian over my life 20 years) and then recently started eating meat again. I also wear leather shoes (sometimes but I do try to avoid it). Let me put it out there: there is no reason to use animal hair in makeup or artist brushes. There are enough high quality and in some cases even better quality, synthetic brushes. Buy buying animal hair brushes you are supporting unimaginable cruelty. So having an ethically source piece of fish, or wear shoes with locally produced leather (that doesn’t come from a developing country or China) does not equate to the same level of abuse of animals.

Cruelty-free brushes: what is ‘natural’ hair or ‘animal’ hair and where does it come from

As a painting student we were told to buy Windsor and Newton Sable brushes if we could afford them. Sable hair has a natural curve in it which when made correctly meets the tips of the other hairs for form a perfect point. That’s why real sable are so expensive. They also maintain that natural curve for years. Most brushes that are cheap and labeled sable, won’t be sable.

sable brushes are supposed to be the best in painting but taklon as just as good.
sable brushes are supposed to be the best in painting but taklon as just as good.

When I worked for a skin care company as the art director and we released limited edition brush set. At the new product meeting we were told that the animal hairs were sourced ethically, and the hair was collected as a natural part of the animal’s molting process and that the animals were treated humanely. At the time I believe it to be the case. I mean how can you promote a product that promotes animal cruelty. The manufacturers will say or do anything to make you buy the products. But will they let you visit the farms where these are produced? Never.

Several years down the track and I was in development of my own Di Kennedy Signature Brush Set (it was one of the first pink sets on the market and my clients then still use them). I was told by the Chinese brush company that the animal fur (pony and goat ) – which I later discovered was horse and the left over for slaughtering horses for meat.

The ethical treatment of animals for fur and brushes is a pure fiction. The animal hair for makeup products are bi-products of the fur industry, often in developing countries where there is little or no regulation on the humane treatment of animals for fur and leather.

does this equate to beauty?
does this equate to beauty?

China is the largest supplier of fur and animal hair in the world with 50% of the hair supplied to the USA from China. China don’t have a track record of treating animals kindly. Take the Yulin dog meat festival as an example. If you haven’t heard of it, check out the link.

Please note: this is an extremely disturbing video. Please do not watch if you are upset by animal cruelty.

Back to the fur trade, of which make up brushes fall into. Foxes, minks, rabbits, dogs, cats, squirrels, badgers and other animals pace and shiver in cramped outdoor wire cages, with no shelter from driving rain, freezing nights, or the scorching sun. There are no penalties for animal abuse in China. Before the animals are skinned for their fur, they are yanked from cages, thrown to the ground, and bludgeoned. An undercover investigation from the Swiss Animal Protection/EAST International found that many animals are still alive and struggling desperately when workers flip them onto their backs or hang them up by their legs or tails to skin them.

Please note: this is an extremely disturbing video. Please do not watch if you are upset by animal cruelty.

You just cannot guarantee you aren’t supporting animal cruelty, so why risk it?

When I was at the skin care company, I heard from a reliable source that the warehouse staff were removing the labels from inside the brush sets that came from China and  “weasel”. They were officially marketed as ethically sources as sable, pony or goat. Now, whether this rumour is true, it certainly casts a shadow multinational company ethical practices, when looking at the supply chain. Large companies have the resources and are thus are responsible ensuring that animals do not suffer during the production of brushes.

If you definitely want animal hair brushes, ask where the hair comes from and what practices are used to harvest the hair and what specific type of animal hair is it?

I did a makeup course with a company who claimed all his brushes were sable. Not so. Most were goat (you can smell goat brushes when you wash them) or pony (a.k.a. horse). You cannot believe everything that the makeup companies claim regarding the animal hair brushes. I now opt for only synthetic brushes. There have been some great advances in the technology of synthetic fibres, so a mid-range priced synthetic brush is going to do the same job as a fur brush, without the cruelty. Beauty should not equate to torture.

Visit PETA for more information on the practices and how they relate to your choice of makeup brush.

My picks for cruelty-free brushes that are beautiful and cruelty-free:show?id=0lsp0F9Hnlw&bids=553346

Real Techniques Bold Metals Spotlight Essentials Set $39.00

Real Techniques Bold Metals Spotlight Essentials Set $39.00
Real Techniques Bold Metals Spotlight Essentials Set $39.00

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Real Techniques Bold Metals 301 Flat Contour Brush $29.50

Real Techniques Bold Metals 301 Flat Contour Brush $29.50 (to buy, click on the product image)
Real Techniques Bold Metals 301 Flat Contour Brush $29.50

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show?id=0lsp0F9Hnlw&bids=390406Real Techniques Bold Metals 100 Arched Powder Brush $29.50

Real Techniques Bold Metals 100 Arched Powder Brush $29.50 (to buy, click on the product image)
Real Techniques Bold Metals 100 Arched Powder Brush $29.50 (to buy, click on the product image)

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Real Techniques Illuminate & Accentuate Set LIMITED EDITION $59.95

Real Techniques Illuminate & Accentuate Set LIMITED EDITION $59.95 (to buy, click on the product image)
Real Techniques Illuminate & Accentuate Set LIMITED EDITION $59.95

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Forever New Oval Makeup Brush & Pouch Set

Oval Makeup Brush & Pouch Set
Forever New Oval Makeup Brush & Pouch Set

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Sigma Bunny Eye Brush Set

Sigma Bunny Eye Brush Set
Sigma Bunny Eye Brush Set

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show?id=0lsp0F9Hnlw&bids=390406

Nude by Nature Essential Collection 7 Piece Brush Set $39.99

Nude by Nature Essential Collection 7 Piece Brush Set
Nude by Nature Essential Collection 7 Piece Brush Set $39.99

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Real Techniques Enhanced Eye Set $45.00

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Real Techniques Enhanced Eye Set $45.00
Real Techniques Enhanced Eye Set $45.00

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Charlotte Tilbury The Complete Brush Set – 8 Brushes – Rose Gold & Night Crimson $460

Charlotte Tilbury The Complete Brush Set - 8 Brushes - Rose Gold & Night Crimson
Charlotte Tilbury The Complete Brush Set – 8 Brushes – Rose Gold & Night Crimson $460show?id=0lsp0F9Hnlw&bids=506834

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luxie beauty wonder woman face brush set $124.17 USD

luxie beauty wonder woman face brush set
luxie beauty wonder woman face cruelty-free brushes set $124.17 USD

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BH Signature Rose Gold – 13 Piece Brush Set

BH Cosmetics Brush Set
BH Cosmetics Brush Set

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Note: Kylie Cosmetics Brushes promote the barbaric use of animals in brushes calling them “real”. Real isn’t animal hair. Real is knowing where your brushes come from and how the hair is sourced. $360 is outrageous for this set. Not adding a ling, but take my word for it that they are dreadful and cheap looking. Do not waste your money. Beauty is from within and barbarism and animal cruelty is in no way beautiful.

For more information on cruelty-free brushes read this post by Peta.

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