Ethical Beauty: Ethical Brushes, Part Two

In my last makeup brush post, I wrote about cruelty-free brushes that are made in America. Because both Hourglass and OCC’s brushes were on the pricier side, I wanted to cover an ethically made budget brand, EcoTools, as well as some beautifully made yet affordable brushes by Antonym Cosmetics.


EcoTools is a budget brand of environmentally friendly brushes known for their soft bristles. I’d heard great things about EcoTools line of brushes but given their low prices and synthetic bristles, I was a bit skeptical. I was pleasantly surprised to find that EcoTools is a great line that makes some good quality brushes for an affordable price. The only downside to the line is that they don’t sell many individual eye makeup brushes and the quality of those brushes is spotty. (This seems to be a theme in budget brush lines as Real Techniques* has a similar hole in their collection.) Although EcoTools’s brushes are made in China, they have made the following statement on their website about their labor practices:

“We require our suppliers to adhere to fair labor standards including child labor restrictions, fair wages, and compensation for overtime. The production process is monitored as we maintain our own trained quality control and quality assurance staff, conducting ongoing and random inspections to ensure consistent quality and safety. Work environments are held to high standards, as is the quality of the product.”

I haven’t found an organizational body like Peta that third party certifies a company’s labor practices so for now I’m taking EcoTool’s word for it. If I hear anything different about EcoTools business practices, be sure that I will write about it here!

  • Essential Eye Set – This is a five brush set of eye brushes. The brushes have shorter handles which make them suitable for traveling. I tend not to be a fan of brush sets since in my experiences the quality of bundled brushes tends not to be as good as the quality of individually purchased brushes. This set did not impress me at all. I found the size and shapes of the brush heads to be off. The two bigger brushes have brush heads that are too big for a really accurate application and the two smaller brushes have brush heads that are laughably tiny. If you want to get an eye brush set from EcoTools, I recommend the Eye Enhancing Duo Set.
  • Eye Enhancing Duo Set – this set comes with two double headed brushes. Each handle is full-length. I actually was pleasantly surprised with this set. After the Essential Eye Set, I had fairly low expectations. The blending/smudging brush is actually a really decent brush, especially given the budget price tag. The shade/define brush I was less thrilled with mainly because the eyeliner brush had bristles that were too soft and flexible, making it difficult to get a really precise, defined line.
  • Flat Eyeliner Brush – I was *really* glad I bought this brush at a store that accepts returns because this brush was a dud. Unfortunately, EcoTools seemed to prioritize the softness of the brush over its efficacy. It was far too flexible to give a good, defined line. It was also too thick. It’s disappointing because a push liner brush like this one should be a no-brainer for a budget cruelty free company since it must be made from synthetic bristles in order to achieve the stiffness you want in such a brush. You can buy an inexpensive brush from an arts store to do this job for a couple of dollars.
  • Full Eye Shadow Brush – I was pleasantly surprised with this brush. You can use the flat side of the brush to pack on color or the top to lay down a wash of color. The bristles are soft enough that you can use the edge to apply a more defined line in your crease if you wish.
  • Airbrush Concealer Brush – I actually used this brush as a blender rather than as a concealer brush. I found it particularly effective to use with my ColourPop eyeshadows.
  • Stippling Brush – I prefer to apply my foundation with a combination of fingers and BeautyBlender style sponge but I *love* this brush for applying cream formula blushes. It gives a really nice natural finish and blends the blush out beautifully.
  • Fan Brush – This is such a handy brush to have around. I use it to whisk away any eye shadow fall out. It is also great for applying bronzer and highlighter with the lightest of touches.
  • Tapered Blush Brush – I was kind of surprised by how much I loved this blush brush. It’s just got the perfect tapered shape for blending out blush on your skin. It’s really soft and easy to use.
  • Large Powder Brush – This brush is less densely packed than the OCC powder brush I reviewed last time and is great for those times when you only want to apply your powder lightly. There’s not a HUGE difference between this brush and the Mattifying Finish Brush if you only apply a super thin layer of powder. However, if you have oily skin, I’d recommend going with the Mattifying brush.
  • Mattifying Finish Brush – If you have oily skin, sometimes powder application can be tricky – if you put on enough powder to leave your skin looking truly matte, it can end up looking cakey. This brush applies a really light layer of powder so that it takes down shine while still leaving the skin looking like skin.

Antonym Cosmetics

I stumbled on this indie brand thanks to my beauty box subscription to Petit Vour. I tried a couple of their brushes and fell so in love with them that I bought almost the whole line! Antonym‘s brushes have the same high quality construction as Hourglass’s brushes, but without the painful price tag (the blush brush sells for $20 compared to Hourglass’s $58). They are made in Europe. I adore the bamboo handles – they’re the perfect size and shape and are very lightweight. What I really love about this line is the wide selection of brush head styles and shapes. A lot of cruelty free brands don’t offer a lot of options (Hourglass, I’m looking at you).

  • Contour Brush #3 – I use this brush to apply highlighter at the top of my cheekbones and at my temples, but if you like using a contour brush to apply blush, this will do a great job. What I like about it is it has a relative small head so you’re not applying a super thick line of blush.
  • Foundation Brush #4 – I find most paddle style foundation brushes to be similar but since I didn’t have a cruelty-free one in my kit, I picked this up. I find that I use this brush to lay down a basic layer of product and then use my BeautyBlender sponge to blend it out. I find this brush to be great for cleaning up the edges after I’ve done a dramatic eye makeup look.
  • Concealer Brush #5 – This is a paddle style concealer brush with a relatively large head. It’s got longer bristles which means the brush head has a lot more flex to it. I actually use this brush when I want to pack pigment on my eyelid since I usually use fingers to blend out my concealer.
  • Large Eye Shader Brush #6 – I confess, I don’t reach for this brush very often. The large brush head is just a bit too large for my preference. However, if you really want an intense application of eyeshadow and want to cover a greater area (from lash line to brow, for instance), then this is a good brush for that. It’s also a great brush for packing on loose pigments.
  • Medium Eye Shader Brush #7 – This is a good, basic brush for laying down a wash of color on your eyelid. Almost every brush line makes a brush just like it.
  • Medium Angled Eye Shader Brush #8 – This brush is really nice for applying a very precisely line in your crease, or for blending. I also like to sweep it across my lid to apply a wash of color.
  • Large Pencil Brush #9 – This is a great brush for smudging eyeliner or for a precise application of eye shadow to the crease.
  • Blending Brush #10 – This brush really surprised me. Until this point, I would have said that taklon bristle brushes aren’t the best for blending eye shadows. Although this brush doesn’t perform as well as OCC’s blending brush, it’s still fluffy enough that it does a really decent job.
  • Small Eye Shader Brush #12 – So by now, you guys will have figured out that I prefer a smaller brush head so it should come as no surprise to you to find that this is one of my favorite brushes in the collection. In fact, I have two. I use it most to put highlighter in the inner corners of my eyes or on my brow bone but I use it for lots of other things, too. I use it to press a wash of color on my eyelid, to blend concealer on areas that need extra coverage and the edge can be used to smudge out eyeliner, or run eye shadow under my eyes. I’ve even used it to fill in my brows!
  • Small Angled Brow Brush #13 – Lucky 13! As I’ve mentioned before, most brushes like this are very similar but having said this, this is a great quality brush for a really decent price and I use it every day.
  • Eyeliner Brush #14 – I don’t use this kind of brush for eyeliner. I find it’s great for covering small blemishes, though.
  • Lip Brush #15 – I really love this brush because the pointed tip makes for a really precise lipstick application.
  • Mascara/Brow Spoolie #16 – If you’ve already got a spoolie brush, you certainly don’t need this one. But I bought it because I liked the longer handle and the fact that it matches the brow brush (I’m nerdy like that).
  • Covered Lip Brush – the portable version of #15.
  • Medium Pencil Brush #19 – Along with #12, this is the MVP of my collection. I’m considering buying a second one. I use it every day to get a really precise crease application (the most precise of all the brushes I’ve used) and to smudge out eyeliner or run eyeshadow along the lash line.

And that’s it for my brush round up! What are your favorite ethical brushes? Please let me know in the comments!

*Real Techniques is another option for budget-friendly, cruelty free brushes. While they are made in China, like EcoTools they have a Fair Labor statement on their website. I have not assessed their brushes for review, but I’ve heard good things.


Ethical Beauty: TheBalm Brand Overview

I’m finally reviewing one of my favorite discoveries since focusing on ethical beauty products. I’ve heard of TheBalm for years but since it isn’t carried in the stores I usually go to, I’d never actually played with any of the products. Like Benefit, theBalm’s products are often packaged in cardboard packaging (which is great for the environment since they’re biodegradeable) and also like Benefit the packaging is very cutesy and the product names are pun-y. I admit, the packaging is not to my taste but once I started using the products, I could care less because TheBalm has a great line of products at a very affordable price. (Especially if you stock up during their 50% off flash sales on and Hautelook!)

Face Makeup

  • timeBalm Foundation is a medium to full coverage creme foundation. It has a sticky, thick texture very similar to concealer. The coverage is great but I found it somewhat challenging to blend out to a natural finish. It’s not a great choice for someone who is a foundation novice since it can easily look quite heavy-handed. However, if you are a fan of MAC’s Full Coverage Foundation and are used to blending it out with a wet BeautyBlender type sponge, then this would be a really good cruelty-free alternative.
  • BalmShelter SPF 18 Tinted Moisturizer gives sheer to light coverage. Not quite enough for me (I prefer medium coverage) so I ended up using this as a base and then blending the creme foundation over areas that needed extra coverage. This tinted moisturizer actually has a broad spectrum sunscreen which means it actually can replace your sunscreen (although personally I prefer SPF 30). It comes in a generous 2.15 fl oz tube so it’s actually a great deal at $25 when you consider that most tinted moisturizers come in 1 oz tubes and at 50% off it’s a steal that rivals drugstore prices with department store quality.
  • Sexy Mama is a translucent pressed powder suitable for setting your foundation and touching up through out the day. Unfortunately, it only comes in one color so I’m not sure how well it would work on darker complexions but it gave me a weightless and invisible mattifying effect. Since the packaging is cardboard, this compact was actually really lightweight to carry around in my purse.

Eye Products

  • Meet Matt(e) Nude Palette – This is easily my favorite TheBalm product. As the name suggests, it contains a selection of 9 neutral colored, matte eye shadows. Each pan contains a full-sized eyeshadow – a 0.1 oz size, which is double the size of MAC’s full-sized eyeshadow pans. The colors are buttery soft, super pigmented and a dream to blend. Really a gorgeous, gorgeous palette.
  • Nude ‘tude Palette – This palette is theBalm’s answer to Urban Decay’s bestselling Naked palette. It contains 12 neutral tone shades – 8 shimmery, 4 matte. It’s not quite as generous as Meet Matt(e) nude – each pan is 0.03 oz – but it’s still a really good deal, especially compared to the price per ounce of Urban Decay’s Naked palettes. I actually prefer this palette to UD because it has a gorgeous aubergine shade and a burgundy-gold smokey eye is one of my favorite looks. (If you’re eyeing Charlotte Tilbury’s Vintage Vamp palette, you can create a similar look with this palette for a fraction of the price). Like the Meet Matt(e) Nude palette, the shadows here are highly pigmented and a breeze to blend. There IS some fallout from the shimmery shades but still the quality of theBalm’s shadow formula is definitely up there with the best of the high end brands.
  • Mr. Write (Now) eyeliner pencils are retractable pencils with a sharpener included in the base. They’re quite soft which means they’re easy to blend and smudge BUT it also means that the tips break off quite easily, which is annoying. I don’t find them much of an improvement over Jordana’s similar eyeliners, which are a fraction of the price.
  • Put A Lid On It eye primer – I’ve never really used eye primer before so I can’t speak to this primer’s performance compared to other brands but I can say that my eye shadows definitely lasted longer when I used this as a base. I only wish that it had some pigment as I have some visible blood vessels on my eyelid that I’d love to cover with primer rather than using both primer and concealer or foundation on my lids.

Cheek Products

Along with the Meet Matt(e) Nude palette, TheBalm’s cheek products are my favorite. They come in an array of beautiful colors and finishes and blend beautifully.

  • HotMama! is theBalm’s answer to NARS’s iconic Orgasm blush – it’s a gold infused peachy pink that gives you a gorgeous glow. I actually prefer the formula to Orgasm, which I find somewhat chalky and unflattering on my skin tone.
  • FratBoy blush is a matte peachy color. It gives a gorgeous, natural look to my cheeks.
  • CabanaBoy is a pinky plum with just a touch of shimmer to give it dimensionality (you don’t see the shimmer on the skin). You can wear it sheerly for a natural flush or build it up to give that just in from the cold glow.
  • DownBoy is a matte, neutral pink color. If you only buy two blushes for a natural every day look, I would go with FratBoy and DownBoy as between them they will go with the majority of your lip products (I pair DownBoy with the cooler toned colors like berries and cool-toned reds and FratBoy with warmer toned colors like corals and warm-toned reds.)
  • BahamaMama is a matte bronzer. In the pan it looks scary dark but if you apply it with a really loose brush (like a fan brush) with a very light hand, it can work for even fairer complexions.
  • Betty-Lou Manizer is a shimmery bronzer/highlighter for that golden, sun-kissed look.
  • Cindy-Lou Manizer is a champagne-pink highlighter and it looks lovely when you’re going for a slightly cooler toned look.
  • Mary-Lou Manizer is my favorite of the highlighters – it’s a champagne gold color that works beautifully in the corner of your eyes as well as on your cheekbones. Apply it with a damp BeautyBlender style sponge for a truly luminous, strobing effect.

Minority Report: My One Year Media Diet

Mei-Lu’s media ban logo selections

Over a year ago, one of my favorite social media friends, Joel Turner, began a project he called the Ladyist Experiment. For one year, he would listen to, read and watch only works by female artists. His project has made me think a lot about my own media diet. Although I am a minority and a woman, most of the works I consume and revere have been created by white men. That’s not accidental because our worldwide culture is dominated by works written by white men. Our definition of what constitutes good art, which works belong in the classics “canon” has been decided for us by the preferences of upper class white men through the ages and therefore, unsurprisingly reflects the interests, politics and priorities of our patriarchal society. When I look back on my literary education, precious few works by women made it into my curriculum. In fact, I can count them on one hand – in high school, only Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome made it into my curriculum. We read multiple works by Charles Dickens but no George Eliot,Elizabeth Gaskell, Brontë sisters or Jane Austen. We studied multiple works by Steinbeck and Hemingway but no Gertrude Stein. I recall one work by a person of color in the entire four years of my high school education. Although we covered the civil war and the civil rights movement, it was primarily from the perspective of the white male leaders such as Lincoln and Kennedy.

This educational indoctrination for what is considered worthy has had far-reaching consequences for what we, as a culture, take seriously. Any work written about a woman which focuses on topics that interest women is immediately and rather sniffily dismissed. More than once, I have heard Jane Austen’s literature described as nothing more than “wedding porn”. (A truly condescending phrase to apply to a woman who write so forthrightly about how utterly trapped even upper middle-class women were in the 19th century, how completely dependent they were on the whims of men for their well-being.)  I recently revisited Shirley Conran’s novel Lace, a book I often hear described as ‘trashy’. Reading it, I was impressed by just how much the book is about the experience of rape culture in the forties through the seventies, by the frustrations of living, working, and conducting relationships with the glaring gender-based double standards. Like Jane Austen before her, Conran has found her literary work dismissed for focusing on female characters and their priorities (friendship, love, marriage, career, children, an enjoyable sex life – not necessarily in that order). Yet I found her book to be cannily written and sharply observed portrait her upper middle class female characters. Were they privileged? Yes, of course they were. (Just as Jane Austen’s characters were privileged.) Yet for all that each of the women suffered as a result of living in a culture that privileges the priorities of men over women. Each of them bore the stamp of rape culture. This book reflected the concerns of millions of women and yet somehow is considered trash. Meanwhile, as a culture, we bend over backwards to embrace genre works written by white men despite their obvious sexism, racism or classism. Witness the recent renaissance of iconic Sherlock Holmes, the epitome of the superior upper class white man, superior by virtue of his race, class, education and gender, a character who is never wrong and therefore stands as an argument FOR colonialism in his embodiment of superiority. Or, for that matter, Batman, for goodness sake, a 1 percenter if there ever was one, a rich white man who believes he knows better than the electorate what is good for the city, who works outside the boundaries of law or the judicial system.

I could probably only consume cultural products by women and people of color for the rest of my life and still not address the imbalance created by my media diet up until now. So I’m giving myself a year from September 1st 2015 to August 31st 2016 to ONLY read/watch/listen to works that have at least one woman or person of color credit as creator. So with bands, I want one band member to be a woman or person of color, with television shows one showrunner, and so on.

I’ll be blogging my experiences here under the hashtag #minorityreport. It should be an interesting year!