Makeup Brushes

The best makeup brushes--those made of sable, goat, or white horse hair--can cost upwards of $100. But even if you're spending $20 on synthetic brushes, you want to buy the right ones and take proper care of them. But how do you know which ones do what? Or how to care for them so they last for years? We asked the man who's wielded brushes at shows from Prada to Victoria's Secret, Estee Lauder's Creative Makeup Director Tom Pecheux.What's the difference between natural and synthetic-haired brushes?
"For me there are three types of brushes: the synthetic hair, the natural hair, and those that are both," Pecheux says. "The funny ones with synthetic on one side and natural on the other are too painful for me. But some have natural hair in the middle, surrounded by synthetic hair to protect the core, which is nice."

Is one kind better than the others?
Pecheux's been a makeup artist for over thirty years, rising to fashion fame alongside Mario Testino and Carine Roitfeld in the early '90s, and says synthetic brushes have already come a long way. While natural-hair brushes like Claudio Riaz's Instant Lid Blush ($95) and Tom Ford's Cheek Brush ($75) are more expensive, he says, "In the near future, the really, really good brushes will be made from synthetics."

How do you know which kind of brush to use with which makeup?
"Synthetic is best for everything with cream in it," Pecheux says, naming lipstick, foundation, and creamier blushes. "Natural hair is for everything powdery."

Do you clean brushes differently depending on what they're made from?
Pecheux cleanses everything the same way, with an all-natural soap, like Burt's Bees' Soap Bark & Chamomile Cleansing Crème ($8) or La Roche Posay's Physiological Micellar Solution ($21), and warm water. "This is very personal, but I don't find brush cleaners to work; they're too aggressive," he says. Synthetic or mixed brushes are done after being washed, but natural brushes get an extra step: conditioner. After cleansing, Pecheux coats the brush head in whatever conditioner he finds in his hotel bathroom and lets it sit overnight before rinsing them out for super soft strands the next morning. The final step for all three types of brush is the drying process: "I stand each brush upright in a cup, pull the hair together to hold its shape, and let them air dry."

Is it ever better to use your fingers instead of a brush to apply makeup?
Makeup artists on set--whether at a fashion show or photo shoot--often wield an array of brushes and sponges. Brushes allow for precision, as well as more coverage in the case of foundation, while fingers lend a lighter hand. "If you want a perfect line or perfect coverage with a creamy product like lipstick, a brush is required," Pecheux says. "If you want a stain or something gentle, dab straight from the lipstick and blend with your fingers." Same goes for blush and foundation; needless to say, Pecheux favors brushes. Now that you know which ones you need and how to take care of them, you might, too.

-Britt Aboutaleb