I've been searching for years for the holy grail post of brushes. So many are out there from drugstore no name brands to really high end brushes that cost a mint. How is a girl to choose? Over and over I could see that the ones everyone raved about were from MAC.
My MAC brush experience began when I bought a travel set (4 short handled/SE) brushes back in 1997, Union Square in San Francisco and I still use them today with tight ferrules and zero shed. My next MAC brush purchase was the Cine-Matics set last year. Since then, I've acquired about a half dozen more or so, just by adding them to orders. Crazy enough, the ones I bought in '97 have outlasted a cheap set I bought on Ebay 2 years ago and an assortment of ELF Studio brushes I bought last year- to me, 15 years over 1 in hold-up and still going strong?!- It doesn't get any better than that!
I currently own brushes from EcoTools, ELF, Sonia Kashuk, L'Oreal, Benefit, Estee Lauder, Paris Presents, Chanel, Loew-Cornell, MAC, Smashbox, Kat Von D and Urban Decay. By far, the ones I reach for without even thinking about the brand are MAC. Simply put, they work for me. I'm thinking you'll love them too if you don't already.
Currently I own the following 17 brushes from MAC:
Cine-Matics Brush Set (above):
187 SE Red Duo Fiber Face
190 SE Purple Foundation
168 SE Yellow Angled Blush
194 SE Teal Small Concealer
4 pc set from San Francisco back in the hey-day (all dark brown bristles, nickel ferrules, black wooden shorter handles):
129 SE Powder Blush
239 SE Eye Shader
224 SE Tapered Blending
266 SE Small Angle, Liner/Brow
*SE denotes special edition or sales edition as I like to call it, these are limited edition inclusive sets that are mass produced and machine milled. SH denotes short handled and can be limited edition, but the brush bristles/head quality are the same. The quality of SE are less than original brushes, but dang, $50 for 4 brushes, I'll take it!
Full-Size original brushes:
239 Eye Shader
219 Pencil, Crease/Liner
275 Medium Angled Shading
224 Tapered Blending
266 Small Angle
109 Small Contour
231 Small Shader
Full size brushes are handmade and last forever if you treat them right- but the quality of the SE aren't bad, shoot, like I said mine have lasted over 15 years so far. The only issue I've had is the 266 SE came loose from the ferrule but with some superglue it was back to work as usual.
To clean my brushes I wash them individually with baby shampoo, using my fingers and palm to rub the bristles clean and then lay flat to dry overnight. I'm also aggressive and clean them in 90% alcohol in between uses, especially my kit brushes (full sizers). If you're worried about losing bristle contour, you can buy brush shapers, but I smooth mine when wet and they dry just fine without bristle girdles :).
If you are looking at the long list of MAC brushes and wondering which ones to buy- or a list to see if you have the ones most gurus/pros use, here's what I think is the essential MAC brush list that will be all you'll really need to last a lifetime and do ANY look:
Top Ten MAC Brushes: The Essential List
239, Eye Shader *if you're going to buy any MAC brushes, start with this one- best eyeshadow brush ever.
266, Small Angled Liner
224, Tapered Blending
275, Medium Angled Shading
187, Duo Fibre, great for stippling/blending cream/liquid foundations
109, Small Contour
182, Buffer (kabuki)
316, Lip (will get eventually, right now I love my L'Oreal $1 lip brush in a metal container with cap)
If I had to narrow it down to top 5- here are my picks, in order of use and fabulousness:
With those 5, you're pretty much set. The rest are just nice to have long-term and are proverbial icing on the makeup cake.
Background info on the brushes- They're made in China (I told you, one big factory makes everything and prices according to brand, I swear) around 1995 the contract began in Shenzhen via a company from Japan called Hakuhodo. After starting an OEM deal with M.A.C, Hakuho-do began making direct OEM agreements with many world-famous cosmetics companies. If you want to see how to direct order Hakuhodo brushes (be prepared, they's priceh!) go HERE.
I've read a great review on Temptalia comparing Sigma brushes (which I don't own but she declares them 80% of MAC's quality) and I know a lot of you bloggers love EcoTools (I use their big bronzing brushes, one for powder, one for bronzer and blending), but honestly nothing gets between my MAC brushes and I. They're being willed to my daughter :) I should mention I have Pro card which gives me 40% off and I can honestly say if it weren't for that I would NEVER pay $30+ up for one brush. So if you're in that boat, I feel your pain, these aren't cheap. But like antiques, jewelry, and muscle cars- one at a time until you've got what you want. They're worth the wait.
Which do you own? What brushes do you want? I hope this is helpful when it comes time to go brush shopping and this list helps make, if I may quote Pedro, 'all your [brush] dreams come true'.
Have a great day!