A makeup brush is worth its weight in gold - when it's the right one!

Quality Has its Price . . . But I Can Get Over That!

Makeup brushes. They're so expensive! When I was a freshman in high school I purchased my first makeup brush. I purchased a 213 MAC eyeshadow brush. Starting out with such an excellent tool has been both a blessing and a curse. I've never bought anything but high-end brushes since, which means my makeup tools are excellent, but I am also insanely hesitant to try anything that appears to be any less in quality. Some people go nuts when they see a sale for $1 makeup brushes, but the first thing that goes through my mind is--how great can this brush really be? I know they mark them up quite a bit between manufacturer and retailer, but $1??? Afterall, there's nothing worse than purchasing a cheaper brush and having it rip across your skin like sandpaper!

Natural Vs. Synthetic

Over the years I've put myself out there and tried different brushes by different companies made of different materials. For me, I have found that MAC has my favorite brushes overall. They wear well over time, apply makeup beautifully and are amazingly soft. I have also found that in general I prefer natural hair over synthetic. For those of you who are cringing over the use of animal fur in makeup brushes, I have no excuse for myself. I have tried different synthetic materials including the increasingly-popular taklon. For me, they've never met my standards in application and they can be a bit rougher/stiffer than real hair brushes. That being said, there are many who absolutely prefer taklon brushes! I say, different strokes for different folks!

There are issues with both natural and synthetic brushes that seem obvious:

Natural hair - the bristles come from animals and are obviously not a veagan choice

Synthetic brushes - synthetic materials such as taklon can be stiff and are generally very fragile (they don't wear as well as natural hair over time)

You've got to figure out what you like through trial and error. This can be expensive, but is any part of being madly in love with makeup inexpensive??? I have a combination of both in my collection, but my natural brushes get far more wear.

Funny Brush Habits

Another funny thing has happened over time. I've found that despite having a wide variety of different brushes that serve different purposes, I have a select few I prefer to use regularly while the rest collect dust (not really since they're well-maintained and organized in a train case, but figuratively speaking). I have one favorite eyeshadow brush that I tend to use for almost all areas of my eye, one favorite liner brush (I rarely use eye pencils nowadays), one favorite lip brush and one favorite powder brush. I never realized I had this weird habit until I recently reorganized my brushes and realized some go untouched! To see if this was just force of habit because some had been more convenient to grab than others or they were simply brushes I'd had a longer history with, I gave a few others a try one day. The result? I was using my tried and true favorites again by the next day! The funny thing is, there is literally a makeup brush for almost everything--from blending brushes to crease brushes, bullet-shaped brushes to kabuki fan brushes. The types are endless, but are they really all necessary? I don't know! All I know is that I will continue to expand my brush collection through my continual search to find the perfect makeup brushes.

Building a Great Makeup Brush Collection

If you're new to the makeup world or have decided to really invest in your makeup brush collection, you can either do what I've done and buy your brushes individually or purchase a brush collection. So many companies offer different size collections that range from a few brushes to 20+ brushes--which can also mean spending under $50 to spending hundreds! I've always had a hard time with purchasing brush collections. Perhaps for the same reason I never like all of the colors that come in eyeshadow palettes. There are always a few that I really don't want, will never use and discourage me from wanting the lot! Strange yes, but that's just my quirky ways. I can't seem to buy the whole if I don't want every single thing. However, if you don't mind having a brush or two that you may not really find a use for or if you manage to find your dream collection of brushes, buy a collection! Often it's much cheaper than purchasing your brushes individually. Even DOD sites like hautelook offer brush collections from makeup companies on occasion. This can be a great alternative because you can purchase them for 50% or more off! I always scout the sample sale sites for makeup companies just in case. I remember I once scored 9 or 10 MAC lipglosses in a random beauty sale one site had. They hadn't even advertised MAC as being a part of it, it was just a blow out sale! That was a fabulous makeup score. Oh lipgloss . . . alright back on topic, getting too distracted by the thought of lipglass and lipstick on sale!

If you're just starting out, you may be asking yourself: what are the essential brushes every beginner should have? In my opinion they are:
1. good eyeshadow brush (again, I love MAC 213)
2. eyeliner brush that can do super tight, thin lines on your lids with either gel or wet shadow (for some reason I've found some of my brushes don't do well with eyeliner gels unless they're super stiff. Gels like Stila's tend to dry out a bit if you use them regularly so the soft bristles may not be stiff enough to pick up much gel or apply it evenly on your lid)
3. lip liner brush (may seem silly, but using a brush to apply your lipstick is super helpful when it comes to not putting your lipstick on too thing - happens more than you'd think - and for getting an even application that's controllable)
4. fluffy blender brush (I have a great angled one by Fresh Cosmetics made with natural hair that is just lovely)
5. super soft powder brush (you want one that picks up just the right amount of powder and dusts it lightly over your face, whether using brush, finishing powder, etc.)

Cleaning Your Brushes: How often, with what, etc.?

I find that so many different people have different makeup brush cleaning habits. Some clean them religiously after each use, some only clean them if they switch products or colors and some NEVER clean their brushes. I can honestly say I clean most of my brushes after every use. On occasion, if I use a super light eyeshadow color I will blow any excess off of my brush until what little powder was left on the bristles is gone, but that's an infrequent thing. I don't want to over-wash my brushes and destroy them, especially since they're not cheap, but I don't want to destroy them neglecting them. I also don't want to mix my expensive shadows! I think it's probably best to clean your brushes after each use, with the exception of powder brushes that you only use for certain things (like your brush brush, your finishing powder brush, etc.). I do think it's important to occasionally wash those though! When it comes to what to use, I've heard people say they use different things. Some people use shampoo (can be good for natural hair brushes), some people use a super mellow dish soap (haven't tried this myself, but dish soap is very similar to shampoo so it kind of makes sense), some people just use warm water (I do this on occasion) and of course there is always brush cleaner as well. I think it's best to do a little research, perhaps try some different things and figure out what works for your brushes. Obviously if you're using synthetic brushes there isn't a huge need to condition your brushes by using shampoo, but who knows, maybe you'll still like the effect.  If all else fails, purchase a good makeup brush cleaner and keep the guesswork out of the equation!

I feel like I keep saying "whatever works for you", but the truth is, I feel like makeup brushes, just like makeup, is really personal choice! I have some friends who live and breathe for makeup companies I'd never take a second look at and vice versa. Applying makeup is an art form. We all have our own style, preferences and taste. Sample makeup that interests you and decide for yourself if you like it no matter what other people say about it!

So what about you? Do you prefer synthetic, natural or a combination of brushes? Do you switch it up by using every brush in your collection or do you have a few that you always seem to turn to like old friends? Do you have a regular brush cleaning habit or do your brushes look like a 1st grader used them to mash paint onto paper then left them unwashed to harder?


So you want to mix your own shadows . . . are you crazy???

I decided last year that it was time to take my obsession with shadows to a whole new level and try my hand at mixing my own. I had purchased from indy companies and loved their creativity and uniqueness. As a lifelong MAC lover (the sight of a new MAC shadow still gives me tingles down my spine) I'm a pushover for a gorgeous shadow . . . or gloss . . . or lipstick! But let's stick to the story. Anyway, I started to do some research on what went into eyeshadow.  I looked into base ingredients, micas, oxides, and everything in between. I researched methods, materials, tools, etc. The problem was, nobody seemed to give extensive advise unless you purchased a book or took a class. And the problem with the books was that it told you how to make THEIR shadows, not so much how to make your own right off the bat. So I kept digging and digging on line. Sure you can buy pre-mixed bases, but that just felt cheap to me. I wanted my shadows to be MINE.

Pretty soon I'd viewed a million blogs, how-to's, youtube videos, cosmetic supplier sites, natural ingredient encyclopedias and more. After all those months of research I came up with a lot of good tips and a lot of bad or misleading information. Some of the things I learned I had to unlearn after giving them a try with my own shadows. I also found that not everyone who sold eyeshadow ingredients to the general public sold every ingredient I wanted. Trial and error have been a huge part of my journey, that's for sure! But here I am, close to launching my own indy cosmetic company and hoping the world of makeup lovers sees something special in what I have to offer.

Anyway, since I've never been able to find something super helpful on this topic using google (perhaps because the information just didn't hit the search engines high enough or because it didn't exist) I'm trying to make this information accessible to those who are either just curious or who would like to mix their own shadows. The following information is based on my own research and experience, nothing more. Hope this helps!

There are essentially 3 parts to an eyeshadow a lot of the time: 1. the base 2. the micas or oxides that give it its pigment and 3. the binder. It makes sense to discuss each part in this order to stay organized!

1. The Base

The base fills out the shadow and gives it its properties (binding, adhesion, slip, etc.). There are a shitload of different ingredients you can use for the base and a multitude of different proportions. Look up the following ingredients on TKB and Coastal Scents: Serecite, Zinc, Titanium Dioxide, Magnesium Mystrate, Magnesium Stearate, Boron, Kaolin, Silicon, Plain Mica, Talc, Arrowroot powder and Rice powder

Now obviously what you used is based on the performance you want your shadows to have and your personal preference. For example, I don't like talc so I don't use it in my cosmetics. Also, there's a lot of controversy about rice powder. Some people swear by it some people swear it's the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Anyway, what you want to do is look up each of those ingredients on both TKB and Coastal Scents. As you'll notice, Coast Scents sells basic ingredients while TKB sells a lot of combo ingredients. Some people SWEAR by them, but honestly I felt the combos were too hard to control because I couldn't determine exactly what ingredient wasn't working. Anyway, look up their purpose and what percentage of the total composition you should use. Some things are toxic or perform badly if you use a higher amount--always lovely! The difficult part of the base is trial and error over and over to find the right combo. And not every combo will work with every color you create.

2. Mica and Oxides for Pigment

So Micas generally have medium or high shimmer, while Oxides are matte. I've found that highly pigmented colors like blue, green and red are harder to work with by far. They are harder to deal with when it comes to adherence to your skin, binding to the entire formula and staying true to color when you add base ingredients. It's important when you're doing a dark color that you use a transparent or semi-transparent ingredients in your base in order to not get a dull end result. When you do a light color like white or light whatever, you can use ingredients that are semi-transparent or aren't transparent at all. You'll see as you look up the ingredients I listed above what's transparent and what's not. If you understand colors and you know what primary, secondary and complimentary colors are you're good on that front. If you just went to google any of those terms make sure you brush up on your understanding of colors. When you mix colors you don't want to turn to black to darken them whenever possible because A. black will mute the color and B. when you do that you generally end up with black adhering to your lid and the other color may or may not.  It's okay to add a whitener to something that needs to be lightened though, just do it carefully with a small bit at a time.

3. Binder

Now the binder is a small but important part of the eyeshadow. After you've created your fabulous eyeshadow and tested it and it works beautifully, you want to spray the powder with a find mist of a binder. The binder gives the shadow more binding powder to itself and can also provide a little bit of glide. Without a binder the powder can be a bit "dusty". People use different things as binders from synthetics to natural oils. Some of the most popular oils used are jojoba and fractioned coconut oil. The reason these two oils are used is because they're NON-OILY oils.  Ironically, jojoba oil isn't even an oil it's actually a wax with such a low melting point it's constantly in liquid form haha. Anyway, you have to experiment and see what you like best. Some companies turn to synthetic ingredients in general because synthetics are engineered for performance while naturals are what they are and it can depend on the quality, batch, etc. If you look at fyrrinae for example they use some synthetic ingredients in their stuff. Silicon is a very common synthetic ingredient in cosmetics in different forms.

The next part of the process is mixing!

There are so many different opinions as to how to mix shadows. Some people swear by blenders, some use food processors, some use coffee grinders, and some even use rock tumblers (the hobby ones use to smooth stones). From everything I've read, mixers with covered motors (this is very important because not all have that and if they don't the powder kills the motor quickly) and coffee grinders work best. The downside can be they're HARD to clean!!! I have used both a blender and coffee/spice grinder and it's a bitch to clean up! Also, I've found with coffee grinders that when you mix the base, some of the ingredients plaster themselves to the bottom so you have to stop halfway through and use a brush to brush them loose so they'll mix. The other downside to using anything with blades is that if you mix for too long it can dull micas so that there's no longer a shimmer and color is dull. You should also NOT put glitter in the eyeshadow then grind it. It has the same effect as it does on the mica--dulls the glitter so it no longer has that glittery effect.

Hygienic Practices!

It's so important that if you mix shadows for other that you use hygienic practices obviously. You should always wear gloves, use a mask that blocks super fine particles (for your own protection) and disinfect everything constantly! The best thing to use is 90% alcohol. You can find it at the pharmacy. You have to use it on your mixing spoons, grinder, the jars you pot your shadows in, etc. The other thing to consider is that if you create cream or pressed shadows you should use a preservative in them. You can use either natural or synthetic. Synthetics generally have a longer shelf-life, but obviously then you have to be willing to use synthetic ingredients in your mixes. There are a number of different natural preservatives worth using. Just make sure whatever you use can be used around the eye area.

Dyes and Such

Probably a good idea to dedicate one last area to using dyes in shadows and cosmetics in general. Dyes obviously aren't good for you and a lot of people have allergies to them, but aside from that you actually can't sell shadows that include dyed batches of mica or oxides unless you get direct FDA approval. Even if the dyed batch of mica or oxide has been FDA approved (and it would need to be approved for specific areas like eyes, lip, etc. to be sold for use in your cosmetics) it doesn't transfer over to you once you open it. You would have to take your specific shadow containing the dyes and get FDA approval through one of the labs that do FDA approval for cosmetics. Definitely something to be careful of! The FDA doesn't require every cosmetic company to have every product approved (only the ones with dyed batch ingredients) but it's important to adhere because if your products were reported you wouldn't want to get into trouble.

That's the general gist!