Synthetic Brush Discoveries From 2021

I love discussing natural hair brushes, and I use them almost exclusively for most makeup tasks. However, 2021 was the year that I dipped my toe back into the pool of synthetic brushes. I wanted to know if some of the positive buzz I heard was well warranted, or if I was right to ignore them. These brushes are in the mid-range to high-end category. Not included today, but I will post in the future, will be a comparison between my old original Real Techniques brushes to the current version today.

Smashbox Synthetic Brushes

I’ve always been a fan of Smashbox’s original line of brushes before they revamped them to be entirely synthetic. It’s my opinion that the majority of expensive ($30+) synthetic brushes aren’t worth the price, so it took many years of waiting before the sale prices on these brushes compelled me to finally try a few. The brushes aren’t very versatile. Most of them serve one singular purpose, but I would rather have a brush that does one task superbly than to have a brush do multiple things at just an adequate level.

Smashbox Buildable Cheek Brush

This brush is very loosely packed, floppy, and the bristles aren’t luxuriously soft, so my first instinct was to write off this brush. However, after using it, I understood why it needed to be this way. Even though the brush head shape looks cool yet gimmicky at best or poorly made at worst, the combination of everything leads to getting a very sheer blush application with my overly-pigmented blushes (like the ones from Wayne Goss). It’s a somewhat large brush, but the sharp angles allow me to still get a controlled and precise application while still being soft and buildable the way it was intended. I also love the grip hold spots on the handle, which intuitively direct the user where to hold the brush in order to get the desired results. I had to put my thoughts on what makes a good brush aside, in order to appreciate the results I got. It’s a lot more thought out and functional than it appears. It does the job very well, so I do recommend it. I purchased mine when it was half off on Smashbox’s website.

Smashbox Precise Highlighting Brush

This is another brush I almost wrote off because the angled side resembles a stippling brush that is grouped together in thicker clumps. I was certain this would lead to patchy results, but I was shocked to see it worked so well to actually create a smooth application. The angle really hugs the top of my cheekbone and other areas I apply highlighter. I still wish it was a little softer, but I can’t knock the results. Because I already have amazing highlighter brushes, I personally don’t feel like this brush filled a void in my collection, but I do use it quite regularly. For someone who doesn’t have, for instance, the Wayne Goss Air Brush or Bisyodo CH-HC Brush*, I recommend giving this Smashbox brush a try when it’s on sale. The full price is still overpriced in my opinion, especially compared to the Bisyodo brush being softer, cheaper, and natural hair. The Smashbox brush has the advantage of being able to work with all mediums, like cream and liquid products, but I only use powder highlighters, so that isn’t a selling point for me. 40% off would be a fair price for this brush, but I got mine at an even better discount at 50% off. Smashbox offers that semi-regularly now, so I suggest signing up to their email notifications.

*Disclaimer: The link for the Bisyodo brush is the only affiliate link in this post. Clicking it will open a new browser tab to the product page and I would get a commission (at no extra cost to the customer) if someone makes a purchase via the link. All brushes in this post, including the Bisyodo brush, were purchased by me with my own money. If you choose to make a purchase via the link, I thank you, but also know I am just happy you chose to read this post today!

Smashbox Cream Cheek Brush

Before Sonia G released the long handle size of the Mini Base brush, I bought this one in the hopes that it would be a nice dupe for it. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. I may have liked this brush more if I didn’t have the one from Sonia G. This brush isn’t as dense as I wanted and the bristles are floppy. It gets the job done, but it has a wider splay than I prefer (because it’s so floppy and flattens with too much pressure). It’s not a bad brush, but it’s made for someone who likes to apply creams lightly at first and build it up. This is because it has the quality of being able to pick product back off the face the way a damp Beautyblender can soak up excess cream and liquid off the skin. I prefer to deposit more of the cream blush onto the skin in the first go and blend it out. The Smashbox brush at full price is $32 whereas Sonia G’s mini base is $40. I highly recommend getting the Sonia G brush instead for those who don’t mind that there are still some natural hairs in that one. I do somewhat regret buying this Smashbox brush, even at the discount of 30% off. For how little I end up reaching for this brush, I wouldn’t have regretted it if it was 50% off instead.

Overall, I’m happy to be able to say Smashbox brushes as still worth checking out, even though they’re all synthetic now. I’m still using my original brushes from the brand though, so I don’t think I’ll be purchasing anything else from their current line unless they create a new shape.

Scott Barnes 65 Flawless Face Brush

I keep hearing there’s some kind of controversy about Scott Barnes, but I haven’t been able to find reputable sources explaining it. So, I’ve decided to lift the break I had on the brand and buy the last brush from his line that I’ve always wanted. I purchased it during Black Friday.
Like Smashbox, the bristles of Scott Barnes brushes don’t feel particularly special (though they are at least a lot more dense and softer than Smashbox brushes), but it’s the innovative shapes that make the difference compared to other brands. This brush works quite well to apply bronzer and contour products in both cream and powder forms to my face without leaving any harsh edges and without applying too much at one time either, since all the tips don’t get coated with the first initial tap of the brush into the makeup. A section of the brush applies what was picked up while the rest of the bristles blend the product. I do wish this had a slightly thinner surface area though to make over-applying even rarer of an occurrence.

Because I do have more of a void in my collection when it comes to sculpting brushes, I’m more willing to say a synthetic brush at this price is worth it, specifically for me, though I did get it at 40% off. I’m not totally in love with this brush, but I’m strongly “in like” with it and am happy I bought it. It also says quite a bit that having this brush has suppressed my yearning for the Sonia G Lotus Base, Sonia G Niji Pro, and Patrick Ta Major Sculpt Brush.

Urban Decay Pro The Finger Brush F110

This is by far the most disappointing brush purchase I made in 2021, and that’s because I have been wanting this for years, so I am that much more upset that it did not live up to the claims of essentially giving the same results as my finger, without the mess. The only nice thing is that I got it on sale for half off, minus shipping from Nordstrom Rack.
This brush is so dense that it just drags on the eye. There’s no give or flexibility. The head forms a half circle, but the tip is flat and intended to stipple on product. I’ve tried to use it with matte and shimmer eyeshadows, to spread on eye primer, and to apply my concealer. I hate it in every task. The best result I had was using it to apply a transition matte eyeshadow to the crease, but I had to clean up the edges because of how round it is. It initially worked nicely with some of my loosely packed shimmer eyeshadows, but not the kind that need more of a smoothing/spreading application like my Devinah Cosmetics metallic shadows. I do not recommend this brush and I have no intention of using it anymore. I give Urban Decay kudos for the recycled aluminum ferrules and recycled plastic fiber bristles, but if I buy a brush I won’t use, it’s still a waste of a brush anyway. I will try to find this brush a home with someone else.

Sigma Beauty Soft Blend Brush 60 (from the Berry Glow Cheek Duo)

This tapered candle flame shape of highlighter brush is extremely common, so I had high expectations that this brush would be well made. The shiny gold colored ferrule and handle certainly make a positive impression, though the fibers in the brush head weren’t uniformly put together and it isn’t completely symmetrical even post-wash. The head length is also much longer than I’d expect for a highlighting brush, which makes me think that it’s also meant to be used with blush along the side. When flattened against the skin, the splay is wide enough for the cheeks. This makes sense for it to be included in a blush and highlighting duo considering this feature.

My main issue is the way product is deposited on the skin. Blushes that usually take only 2 passes on my cheek to finish the look take at least double that amount because the blush just sweeps off the cheek and into the air or gets pushed further into the brush. It works fine with loosely pressed highlighters, but it has trouble with some formulas, such as the Lethal Cosmetics and Hatice Schmidt Labs highlighters, in failing to deposit all the product I pick up onto my cheekbones. This can be a good thing since I like subtle highlighting anyway, but that also sometimes leads to an uneven application that I have to smooth over repeatedly. As I mentioned in the Smashbox section, I have too many amazing highlighting brushes to want to reach for this one on a regular basis, though it is very pleasing to look at. Ironically, I have even more amazing blush brushes, but I do use this brush more often to sweep on blush rather than highlighter. I intend to keep this brush and I’m glad it came free with my Sigma blush duo. I don’t believe it’s sold individually. I’ve seen a black handle version of it though as part of another Sigma set.

Patrick Ta Monochrome Moment Blush Brush #1

This brush also goes by the name, “Complexion Brush #1” on Patrick Ta’s website. It’s described as, “a fluffy, tulip-shaped brush that applies and diffuses powder for the most natural application.” On multiple websites, it’s listed as being great for diffusing blush, bronzer, and highlighters in a loose or pressed powder formula, which is interesting considering Patrick’s most popular products are his cream and powder duos. The main reason I wanted this brush was after viewing Tara Lynn’s video when she used it with a cream blush. I assumed it could be amazing with Patrick’s own duos or at least other cream blushes. However, any cream blush that is on the stiffer side, like the one in the duo and the LYS cream blushes, are very difficult to pick up product without me having to apply a lot of pressure and wiggle the brush in the pan or even go as far as to squeeze the base of the brush hairs to make the bristles more compact in order to pick up the product. So, ironically, I don’t like using it with the Patrick Ta Blush Duos. Smoother textured blushes, like the MAC Glow Play ones, I had an easier time picking up. The overall downside to using this brush with creams is that it causes the bristles to gunk up in random spots. I definitely have to clean off my brush with a microfiber cloth after each use.

Essentially, the best way I found to use this product with a cream or liquid is to apply those to the cheek first and then blend it out with the brush. This is how I had an easier time using the Makeup by Mario Blush Stick and Glossier Cloud Paint while also keeping the bristle bunching to a minimum. However, an excess of product still gets between the bristles when it comes to creams and liquids. All the non-powder blushes I used ended up looking sheer on my cheeks every time. I essentially had to either apply a lot more product than usual or keep the blending to the minimum. I did enjoy how nice and smooth it always looked in the end. So, I wouldn’t say only use this brush with powders; just be aware that creams can be troublesome with it.

The fibers of this brush are crimped in order to mimic the product pickup of natural hair, and it even feels different than the other synthetic brushes I reviewed today. This is the only one that actually feels luxurious. Of course, synthetic hair doesn’t have cuticles like natural hair to help grab onto product, but the crimping helps. I am able to pick up a lot of product on the brush, however, it doesn’t always want to let it go and deposit it onto my face. So, the result is that this brush is best for those who like to build up blush rather than deposit a lot before buffing out the excess. I wish there were more of the bristles overall though, as this brush is not as dense as it looks. It’s not tightly packed and it is a bit floppy. With more bristles, this would have been perfect with powders (and maybe this would make it better with creams too), but considering the quality of the brush head, the weighty well made handle, and overall look, this was worth me buying at the 20% off discounted price at Sephora. It’s still a hard sell to get me to love a synthetic brush when it’s for blush, but for those who don’t like natural hair, I do recommend this one.

When it comes to using this with the other complexion products listed, highlighting is where I draw the line. No matter how tiny of a spot I try to tap into the highlighter with the brush, it deposits the product onto too wide of an area, covering up too much of my cheeks. I have a similar issue when using this brush for bronzing, but the diffused look it gives me makes me not mind it so much. It’s my preference to keep my bronzed areas on the thinner side, but if I’m randomly in the mood for a wider area of warmth to my skin, I’ll remember to use this brush. As for face powder, I was not surprised to discover this brush works quite well for that.

Final Thoughts

I wanted to know if synthetic brushes were worth buying again, especially at the higher end price tag. After really thinking it over, what I’ve concluded is that the answer is no for me personally. The current synthetic brushes I have are all that I need and even when I find ones I like, the majority are a bit overpriced. I would be more likely to purchase additional brushes from brands like Smashbox and Patrick Ta if the prices were decreased, but the fact that I can always think of a natural hair brush I prefer over the synthetic one, it doesn’t make sense for me to continue buying them. I can say that I was impressed by some of the advancements though regarding synthetics and mimicking natural hair, so perhaps in another five years after the technology gets even better, I’ll have a new opinion on the subject.

Thank you for reading!

– Lili

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