Ethical Beauty: Ethical Brushes, Part One – Made in the USA

Even though I’m trying to limit myself to only writing about products that are made locally (meaning North America) there simply aren’t enough options for ethical makeup brushes made in the USA and the ones that are made here are on the pricier side. For that reason, I’m doing two posts. One dedicated to brushes made in the USA and the other dedicated to brushes that are ethically made abroad. Note: I only reviewed the brushes that I could get my hands on. Both Hourglass and OCC have more brushes available than what I reviewed here.

Hourglass Cosmetics Brushes

NOTE: I have just learned that these brushes are made in China. As a result, I no longer recommend them! As I mentioned in my brand overview for Hourglass, they make some beautiful brushes. Unfortunately, the brushes are very expensive and some of them don’t even perform as well as I’d like. The one thing I don’t love about Hourglass’s brushes (other than the exorbitant price tag) is that the brush bristles are relatively stiff. They feel totally soft and comfortable on the skin but they have a tendency to pull at the skin when you’re blending. This isn’t as much of an issue for the complexion brushes because the bristles are so long they have more flex, but for the eye brushes it’s an issue because the bristles are shorter. I have crêpey skin on my eyes these days and so my skin tends to move with the brush, making it a challenge to blend using these eye brushes. They’re great for a very controlled application of pigment, but I found I had to use other brushes to blend out the colors.

  • No. 2 Foundation/Blush Brush ($58) – This brush has a densely packed, medium domed brush head – it’s very soft and luxurious feeling. If you like using a brush to buff in your foundation, this brush will definitely give you an airbrushed, velvety finish. I have dryer skin so I don’t like the finish that brushes give for foundation – the Beauty Blender sponge works much better for me. As a blush brush, your satisfaction with this brush will depend on the size and shape you prefer in a brush head. I personally prefer a smaller brush head with a tapered shape so this isn’t my favorite type of blush brush. But for the type of brush head, it’s gorgeous – it’s super soft and blends beautifully.
  • No. 3 All Over Shadow Brush ($30) – if you’re only going to have one eye shadow brush, this is a great one to go for. You can use the flat part of the brush to pat colors on your lid and the edge to apply a very precise crease color.
  • No. 4 Crease Brush ($30) – If you want a more diffuse color in your crease, this is the brush to reach for. Technically, this brush is also supposed to be used as a blender but it really doesn’t do the job well on my crêpey eye lids. If your skin is taut, you may find this works just fine.
  • No. 5 Concealer Brush ($25) – Hourglass makes two concealer brushes. This smaller one has a really tapered head suitable for getting into the smaller areas on your face. Or you can use the flat side of the head to really pat concealer on. This would be the brush to use around the sides of your nose and to cover up blemishes.
  • No. 8 Large Concealer Brush ($30) – This larger brush is great for covering a larger area (so for hyper-pigmentation or large red areas for those of you with rosacea). The size is halfway between the smaller concealer brush and the average foundation paddle brush. The brush head is exactly the same tapered shape as the No. 5 which means it’s really great for create precise lines. I like to use it to “erase” any eye shadow that has migrated past the imaginary line from the end of my brow to the side of my nose. Both of Hourglass’s concealer brushes are beautifully made and have a really versatile shape. If you’re a perfectionist about your complexion makeup, these would be a great addition to your brush collection.
  • No. 9 Domed Eyeshadow Brush ($28) – The bristles on this brush are very densely packed and are great for packing on the pigment in a very controlled way.
  • No. 10 Angled Liner Brush ($28) – I have to say, I find all angled liner brushes to be more or less identical. I’ve never met one that seemed to stand out from the pack. This one has a nice thin edge for applying a slim line of eyeliner to your lash line. You can also use it to fill in your brows.
  • No. 11 Smudge Brush ($26) – Of all Hourglass’s brushes, this is my favorite. It’s actually hard to find an ethical smudge brush and this one is perfect. You can use it to smoke out your eyeliner or apply a thick but diffuse line of dark eye shadow to your lash line.

Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics

OCC’s brushes look and feel so much like natural hair that I had to double and triple check that they were indeed synthetic. The softness of the brushes means that they’re MUCH better at blending than the Hourglass brushes were. They’re also more affordable than Hourglass brushes without sacrificing quality so if you want to stick to brushes that are made in America, I would recommend starting with OCC’s brushes and then maybe filling in your collection with a couple of speciality brushes from Hourglass’s line.

  • #1 Large Powder Brush ($28) – I love this brush. From the size, shape and weight of the handle to the softness of the bristles to the fluffiness of the brush head, this is an awesome powder brush for just setting your makeup without disturbing the pigment. It’s also really nice for blending out contouring, blush and bronzer lines. It DOES have a big head so if you’re one of those people who only powders in the center of the face, you might find the brush head too large.
  • #4 Tapered Blending Brush ($22) – Thank goodness for this blending brush! As I mentioned before, Hourglass’s blending brush did not do the job for me so I found myself reaching for this one a lot. It’s also great for applying a really diffuse color into your crease. OCC makes a larger version of this brush that I’d really like to give it a try.
  • #8 Small Shader Brush ($22) –  I really like smaller flat sided brushes because I can be really precise about using the side of the brush to pat on lid color. I prefer to pat on lid color rather than brush it on because then you don’t get any fall out. You can also use the edge of this brush to apply a defined line of color to your lash line or crease.
  • #5 Angled Blending Brush ($22) – This is a great brush in a shape that I haven’t found in any other ethical lines*. It’s great for a very precise contoured eye shadow shape or for blending out your crease in a very controlled way.
  • #7 Large Shader Brush ($22) – This is a larger version of the #8 (or the #8 is a smaller version of this). I prefer to use the #8 for the reasons stated above, but if you prefer a larger brush for laying down color, then this is the one for you.

If you guys know of any cruelty free companies that make their brushes in North America, please let me know! Otherwise, please keep a look out for the second part of my ethical brush post about ethical brushes made abroad.

*Although Sigma and IT for Ulta are technically cruelty free, their brushes are made in China, a country notorious for human rights abuses in its manufacturing, and I don’t know if they make any efforts to ensure protections for the workers in their factories.

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