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A spinoff discussion related to my Top Brushes Series – why pay more for brushes? Right off the bat, pricy brushes aren’t for everyone; some just want a tool that works. If you’re entirely satisfied with your Sigma/MAC/whatever brushes then great! Keep using them. That being said, there is rhyme and reason behind the prices of luxe* brushes, shall we?

Disclaimer here: I’m not here to sell you anything or suggest that pricy brushes are always better. I’ll map out the facts and the pros/cons, you can determine if the price is justifiable for you.

* Luxe = Generally speaking, I’m referring to handmade, Japanese brushes. Brands include Hakuhodo, SUQQU, Chikuhodo and such.

They’re not laser cut

If you think of an eyelash, the base of the individual strand is denser before it tapers to a very fine tip. For the most part, mass produced brushes use a technique whereby the fibres are cut to shape, removing the fine tip. Handmade Japanese brushes are generally crafted by arranging the hairs to construct the shape, which preserves the tip of the hair. But what does this mean? In layman’s terms, the brushes are softer to touch, which leads me to my next point. 

They tend to be softer

I’ve never come across a mass produced brush, synthetic or natural, that is as soft as my Japanese brushes. This is partially explained by the omission of laser shaping but additionally, the fibres themselves tend to be better quality and hence, softer. This is especially crucial if, like me, your skin is barely two atoms deep.

Variety of fibres and shapes

For every purpose, a hair type is selected based on characteristics. For soft and sheer application, you may opt for Kazan Squirrel. For an eyebrow brush with a stiff and resilient form, Water Badger is the better option – you get the gist, full explanation of each hair type here. This just gives you more options, depending on the kind of look you want to achieve.
Anyone who has visited the Hakuhodo website will tell you, that sh*t is overwhelming. If you’re a brush fanatic, you will appreciate the extensive range; any shape and fibre you could possibly want, they got you covered. 

Craftsmanship

Craftsmanship, yo. For the most part, you get what you pay for. Handmade attention to detail generally results in greater quality assurance so minimal shedding, no bleeding of dye and brushes that last a lifetime. If you never have to replace them, is it actually more costly in the long run?

Any cons?

Ofcourse. Firstly, I’ve noticed the fibres used in Japanese brushes tend to be more delicate than those available on the mass market so extra care is required when washing. Additionally, you can’t just run to your local department store and pick up a Japanese brush (unless you’re in Japan!), they tend to be less accessible so do a solid amount of research before buying online. Finally and perhaps the most obvious, handmade brushes can be more expensive than the other alternatives, but not always…

Let’s talk about prices

Yes, SUQQU and Chikuhodo brushes are expensive. Like… sell an arm and a leg and a kidney sorta expensive. Japanese brushes aren’t always as pricy as you may have perceived, Bern poses a valid observation: MAC 109 currently retails for $35.00USD – its Hakuhodo counterpart, the Hakuhodo 210, is only $36.00USD. The MAC staple 217 is $22.5USD while the closest Hakuhodo dupe (the J5523) is $18USD. I can say with confidence that the Hakuhodo equivalent is far, far superior in all respects. 

So, there you have it, the pros/cons/cold hard facts. I reiterate, Japanese brushes are not the be all end all (I use and abuse my synthetic Real Techniques brushes on a daily basis!) but if you were considering investing some cash and research into a Japanese brush haul, I hope this post clarified things! Let’s start a discussion, is it worth it to you? Why or why not?

xxkarima

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  1. Hi Karima! I was wondering if makeup brushes can really last a lifetime. It would be awesome if they did because the good ones cost a lot, but what do you think based on your experience? How old is your oldest brush and how do you take care/wash them in general?
    Thanks :)

    1. I think it depends on how you care for them and how often you use/wash them. Some of my brushes are ten years old and still in great condition. To be honest, if a brush lasts ten years with daily use, I consider that worth the money and I’d be happy to replace it.
      x

  2. Hi Karima!
    I’m going to Japan next summer and I’m thinking about getting some brushes while there. Do you have any store/shop recommendations for where to buy these or can you get them almost everywhere around Japan?

    Thank you so much!

  3. Hey Karima – I’m curious, how did you find out about Japanese brushes? And do you know if they’re cruelty free?

    I’m your newest fan btw. I want to fly to Australia and chat with you about products all day long! haha
    Your blog and videos are superb :)

    1. Hey Martine,

      I read a lot of blogs and internet reviews and that’s how I discovered Japanese brushes :) Some brands claim to be cruelty free but I guess it depends on how you define it.

      So pleased you’re liking the blog and the videos :) Welcome!

      xx

  4. Hi Karima! I usually use sponges for foundations and I mostly use my fingers to blend out cream eyeshadows. I want to start purchasing brushes. Do you recommend starting off with cheaper brushes or to start investing in more luxurious brushes?

  5. +1 on the thin, sensitive skin…gets worse as you age :((( I couldn’t understand why my eyes (more one side than the other, oddly) were starting to water every time I used my MAC 217 brush or Sigma crease brushes. The RT were better tolerated, and I adore them still for cream products. They clean up beautifully and are surprisingly soft. They pick up the perfect amount of product for my taste. BUT…after trying a few hand made Japanese brushes, I realize that I was scratching the $h!+ out of my eyelids while blending with the MACs and Sigmas, and, since I’m often in a hurry, whilst poking myself in the eye with them. ”Twasn’t a product allergy! I can honestly say it hurts much less to poke myself in the eye with a properly harvested Blue squirrel brush than it does to do the same with a laser cut goat hair brush.
    I’m not slamming MAC or Sigma…I still prefer a dampened Sigma F80 over any other brush I’ve tried to blend most foundations, and haven’t quite found a replacement for the MAC 239 (but I’m hoping for suggestions…anyone?). It would, however, be my preference to obtain a hand made, softer, more beautiful brush to a mass produced, scratchier one for around the same price point. I’m a cleaning fanatic, and haven’t found that the Japanese brushes fall apart any quicker. In fact, just the opposite is true. I’ve a Chanel foundation brush and a Louise Young lip brush from which the ferrule has popped loose after less than 10 uses and cleanings. Boo hiss!
    QUESTION…(anyone). How do you store your brushes? The frequently used, the less frequently used, the oddly shaped ones like the redoubtable Rae Morris contour brush? Let’s hear it! Xx

    1. SAME! Only after trying Japanese brushes did I realise how damn irritating my other brushes were. The MAC 239 I use for packing, as opposed to blending, so I don’t mind if it’s a bit stiff (I actually prefer it to any other packing brush).

      And regarding storage, I store all my brushes flat in drawers. Not the most space efficient more hygienic that leaving them in cups, me thinks.
      xx

      1. Thanks. Just bought a brush roll for those brushes I don’t use quite so often, but I was thinkingvtgat storing them upright is probably not ideal to maintain the shape, even though I use brush guards and dry them flat. Do you hang yours to dry? How often do you wash your brushes? I’m such a freak for washing them and I use a gentle 2in1 shampoo, but Hakuhodo’s guidelines say not to wash team unless absolutely necessary! Ew. Is it just me?

        1. And PS… Chikuhodo has their 2powder brushes with GORGEOUS red painted flowers on the handle version now on the Visageusa website. For anyone that enjoys a functionally magnificent brush that is also a work of art. Mine always makes me think of Lisa Eldridge’s makeup history vids…wonder if those will ever be an obsession of some future facial enhancement guru lol…

  6. Hi karima,

    What do you think about the shiseido brushes? They are Japanese, super soft and very readily available at all department stores. They are also a good price. Can you maybe do a review on the powder brush and blush brush especially? I would love to hear your opinion.

    Thanks :),
    Chaya

      1. I do not know if they are handmade. I am assuming they must be as I think I may have read that they were made by chikuhodo. I’d love to hear what you think of them. They blush brush is only $38 here in the States.

        Thanks for the response.

  7. I’ve recently caved for some Hakuhodo and Chikuhodo brushes and imo they are totally worth it. And some of the series are not that expensive compared to Mac’s which are pretty scratchy most of the time. Hakuhodo and Chikuho brushes totally change the way it apply my makeup and saved a lot of time as well. I am not looking back! Just found your blog and totally love it! Keep up the good work!

  8. Hi everybody!

    Great post, Karima, so much useful information on you blog, once again.

    I have a question regarding handmade brushes and I could really use your advice. I really want to invest in these type of brushes and have been looking around on the web for the possibilities. If I decide on one brand, there is no way I can test it (I live faaaaaaar away in Romania) and I rely on the reviews.
    My question: are the Rae Morris brushes as good as the Japanese ones?

    Thanks for your input and good luck with your blog!

    Irina

    1. Hey Irina :D
      Rae Morris recently revamped her line, currently I only own a few of her older style brushes. Soon, I will try out her new line and I’ll let you know my thoughts.
      xx

  9. Spot-on Karima!

    I just recently purchased some Hakuhodo and Koyudo brushes and love them. The softness and efficiency of these high-quality brushes is amazing. I especially love the eye brushes for being so gentle on the delicate skin around the eyes- anything to minimize unnecessary tugging/pulling in that area is a win in my book!

    I’d still like to try Real Techniques brushes and some high-quality synthetics, so by no means do I want to be a brush snob, but those Japanese brushes are in a class of their own.

    1. Hey Gina :D
      I actually haven’t purchased any Koyudo brushes yet, but I’d like to! After my experiences with Japanese brushes, it’s almost impossible for me to return to my MAC brushes – they difference is so vast.
      The Real Techniques Buffing and Contour brushes are fantastic synthetic options, definitely check them out :) xx

  10. I’m a huge fan of the Real Techniques brushes and they are my favorites. I don’t even consider buying expensive brushes because I have brushes that works perfectly for me :)

  11. I fell hard and fast for luxe brushes. Applying makeup with a Chikuhodo brush is totally an experience. It’s just the perfect blend of luxury and functionality that I, for one, cannot resist.

  12. Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I love this post & your youtube video on your favourite brushes!! I was wonder if you prefer SUQQU or Chikuhodo? And, out of the two which one is better quality.

  13. This is such an informative post! I would have avoided a lot of expensive mistakes had I access to this information, Karima.

    A long while back, I used to think that price had some relationship to quality and thought if I bought brushes from luxury department store brands, I would automatically be buying best quality brushes. (Many bucks spent later) Predictably, while completely respectable brushes, they were not hand crafted with the kind of hair quality aspects you mentioned above. Took a while for me to figure out that it’s neither the brand name nor the price that makes a brush beautiful, it’s the traits you described in your post (which in many case relate back to high prices).

    1. Hi Belleh :D
      I KNOW RIGHT. We feel as though Chanel/Dior brushes should be amazing at that price point, but they’re still mass produced (and frankly, some of them really suck).
      Had I known this information, I too would have saved a lot of money. Hopefully we can spread the word and help others :)
      x

  14. Great post Karima!

    I love that you highlighted the various advantages of high end brushes without slamming mass produced ones :)

    Personally I have a fairly mixed and eclectic range of brushes some of my faves are cheapy random ones and others are my top end ones. I remember when I firsted started getting into makeup and the makeup blogging world, I always felt a kind of pressure that MAC brushes were be all and end all and I just never got it – I got a 239 for here in Aussie for $45 (which at the time was spendy as for a single brush for me) and just wasn’t that impressed by it.
    I ended up getting a few Sigma and MUG ones before getting some of the Real Techniques and then Hakuhodo.
    Ive finally got to the stage where I buy my brushes based on their purpose, build quality and non-scratchiness and don’t bother looking at brand names.

    Its worth it to me if I love the brush and it works like a dream :) (plus you can always save those damn loverly SUQQU brushes – I’m looking at you Cheek brush!)

    Bambi x

    1. Hey Bambi :)
      I try to be diplomatic, there are some MAC/Sigma brushes that are winners so I don’t discount mass produced brushes altogether!
      Randomly, I’ll find a department store brush that is amazing (i.e.: the Bloom Eyeshadow Brush or the Chanel 24 brush) so I think it’s really important to play with them in person.
      Function is really important, too. For example, those who prefer larger face brushes won’t be satisfied with the SUQQU Cheek, despite the flawless craftsmanship.
      You make very valid points, thanks for your insight :) x

  15. After reading one of your old posts comparing mac and haku (217 and 109 specifically), I finally gave in and placed an order. As for the hakuhodo 217, I am very pleased and believe they are highly superior to the mac, but as for the hakuhodo 109 dupe, I was actually quite disappointed and thus put off from putting any further orders! I have the 109, love it, and after reading your review saying that it is way softer and higher quality, I was so excited! It is true that the brush is quite softer, but mine keeps bleeding blue. Don’t know if I got a bad one, but I can’t use it with liquid products and I rarely reach for it since it is such a pain to wash. Bleeding is just unacceptable for me as far as brushes go and I was so sad about buying an expensive brush that keeps bleeding, no matter how many times I wash it! :(

    1. Hey Debbie!
      I know which Hakuhodo dupe you’re referring to for the 217 (it’s the Hakuhodo J5523, I think) but I’m not sure which is the MAC 109 dupe you’re referring to? Do you still have the Hakuhodo model number?
      That being said, Hakuhodo brushes shouldn’t bleed and if I were you, I’d contact customer service and ask for a replacement.
      xx

      1. It’s the 210 blush brush! I contacted Hakuhodo about this after reading your comment but they said since that brush is goat hair that has been dyed, “dye can come out when washing the product”. And that it should stop after a few washes, and that “I should not wash it with strong chemical soaps.” I have been using baby shampoo on all of my brushes, but honestly at this point, I can’t be bothered to contact them again about this as they seem intent on believing I’m doing something wrong. Oh well!

        1. Hey again, Debbie!
          I actually don’t own the 210 Blush Brush so I don’t think you read that review on the ShamFrip. Sorry to hear about your poor customer service, that really sucks :( Not impressed, Hakuhodo!

  16. I got one Suqqu cheek brush on holiday that I absolutely adore. I’ve never seen or used a brush like it: its quality is truly unparalleled. I plan to care for it properly so that it’ll last me my whole life.

    Most of my brushes are synthetic, but I have a couple of MAC 217s. I think it’d be worth it for me to invest in some higher-quality brushes over time: I’d rather invest in something that will last me forever than constantly have to replace ill-made products. For now, though, I’m pretty content with what I have.

    1. Hey Ellen :)
      Did you purchase your SUQQU brush in Japan or UK? Mine still looks as good as the day I bought it!
      I quite like the odd synthetic brush, especially Real Techniques, though I didn’t mention it in this post. Love synthetics for foundation!
      I’m glad you’re content with your current brushes, that’s really the most important thing :)
      xx

  17. What a great post! I would absolutely love to try Japanese handmade brushes. I would have already but unfortunately I can’t justify spending that amount of money on brushes right now. I really do hope I’ll be able to do that in the future though – I bet they can make a world of a difference! X

    1. I can only speak for myself but I’d be lost without my brushes, I feel like I can’t do decent makeup without them LOL. As I said in the post, brushes are so personal and if you love what you use, then you need not shell out extra :)
      x

  18. It took me a while to realize how much more sensitive my skin was to cut/uncut tips of brushes. At one point, I mentioned that the Giorgio Armani Blush Brush was horrendous and I was astounded by someone’s defense of that brush; she was adamant that it was just a really good quality brush. In a way, I’m almost a tiny bit jealous, I wish I could use these mainstream brushes without causing skin irritation.

    I feel like anytime I have introduced anyone to Hakuhodo, I immediately have to rush into a hurried price comparison (specifically the MAC 217) just so that they won’t dismiss the line immediately because of the $100+ brushes. On the bright side, I’m happy that more people are interested in Japanese brushes, resulting in wider accessibility. It’s fantastic that Chikuhodo is available through Beautylish instead of now-eproject with their minimum order! :D

    1. Hey Mimi,
      Really insightful comment, thank you for posting!
      I totally agree, I complain about the MAC 217 and my friends look puzzled, to say the least. That being said, they’re not as insane about makeup as I am.
      It was only when I tried Japanese brushes that I realised their worth, previously I owned MAC and I was satisfied.
      You may have noticed that most of my brush related posts have some sort of price disclaimer, people assume that an eye brush costs $100 but that’s not always the case ;)
      Now that IMATS stock Hakuhodo, I feel as though it’s becoming more widely known and I’m so happy about that!
      Again, thanks for your comment :)
      x

  19. Awesome article karima, I’ve always been puzzled by the huge price difference in the larger brushes, this explains it! So crushing on the suqqu cheek brush particularly when Lisa Eldridge keeps flashing it around :)

    1. Hey Erin,
      I’m glad the post shed some light! An overwhelming portion of the people I meet think some brands are just trying to rip us off – sometimes they are, but in the case of handmade brushes, I think the price difference is justified.
      That’s not to say that everyone can justify the price, but the process and fibres are expensive.
      SUQQU Cheek is a work of art ;) x

  20. Japanese handmade brushes are totally worth their prices IMO. NOTHING really compares with the AMAZING feel of an exquisitely soft and effective brush – this way, my day begins with a pampering routine that si so helpful to face the stress which is coming right after I put my beauty tools down (waking up and preparing my 2 year old girl, drive her to the kindergarten and then go to work while I would rather spend the day with my loved ones! (As everyone would as well I guess…)). I also feel it’s important to pay for an handmade item in a world where everything is rushed, where people and objects are throwable and replaced so easily. I love my Real Techniques brushes which are awesome but the feeling of a handcraft Japanese brush is on a totally different level I think. :-) xx

    1. Hey Davie!
      Really interesting point you made about handmade items versus disposable objects! I really appreciate when something is made with care and expertise, as opposed to a mass produced, machine-made item. It becomes a special item to me, although some might not be able to justify the cost.
      xx

  21. My Hakuhodos are a lot more expensive than my previous brushes but the difference is so massive that I wouldn’t even think of going back. So, for me, totally worth it. I had no idea eyeshadow could even be that easy to apply/that brushes could be that soft.

    I think maybe those with less sensitive skin might not feel that the extra expense is necessarily worth it though? I know that many people think the Real Techniques blush brush is incredibly soft but I find it difficult to use sometimes because it can make my skin red.
    I always end up under-applying because I think I look flushed when it’s actually just my skin getting irritated! I think I might have to buy a new blush brush.

    1. Hey Hannah :)
      I totally agree with all your points. Japanese brushes totally enhance my makeup (both the application and the result!) so I could never go back.
      That being said, resilient skins may not perceive much difference at all (or at least, enough difference to justify the price).
      I’m also with you on the blush brush issue, regular face brushes move my foundation and my natural flush begins to show (actually, this is why I’m not a big fan of Tom Ford face brushes, so dense that they move my base).
      I feel your feels ;) x