The Difference Between Natural and Synthetic Makeup Brushes

Rachel Krause
Image Source/Getty Images

Image Source/Getty Images

Whether you’re a self-professed makeup guru or just graduating from smearing everything on with your fingers, different types of brushes and how and when to use them can be a difficult subject to master. Perhaps the biggest question is in the case of natural brushes vs. synthetic. We recognize them from look and feel, but how are they really different? Both natural bristle brushes and their synthetic counterparts have a place in your beauty arsenal, but that doesn’t mean that they’re interchangeable. In fact, they’re far from it—they’re used for entirely different purposes and different techniques.

Let’s break it down: Natural brushes are called such because they’re made with animal hairs. With that said, it’s important (to us, at least!) to choose high-quality, cruelty-free versions. Natural brushes are overall softer and fluffier in feel than synthetic fibers, and they work wonders for blending any and all powder products into the skin for a seamless finish.

If you’re wondering what kind of animal hair goes into your natural brushes, the answer is frequently squirrels, goats, or horses. (And if you find this unpleasant to think about, there are a good selection of “natural” brushes on the market that use manmade fibers to replicate the look and feel of natural hairs.)

For the most part, natural brushes are not to be used with liquid or cream products, and that’s when it’s time to turn to synthetics. Synthetics are just that—synthetic, frequently composed of nylon or other fibers—and therefore aren’t anywhere near as soft as natural brushes, which makes them ideal for the creamy formulas that don’t work well with natural bristles.

Unlike natural brushes, synthetic brushes don’t “trap” and absorb makeup between bristles, which means that you’ll use less product than you would with fluffier natural brushes. Synthetic brushes tend to be flatter and smoother than natural bristles, which makes them ideal for precision.

Still confused? Here’s what you need to know: Natural brushes are meant to be used with powders, so that can mean anything from mineral makeup to bronzer to brow powder. Synthetic brushes should be used for liquid and cream formulas, like foundation, eyeliner, and lipstick. Between these two varieties, you’ll have every product in the book covered, which means you’re ready to apply makeup like a pro. Go forth!

Read more from Daily Makeover: How to Clean Your Makeup Brushes