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.


Ethical Beauty Brand Overview: Hourglass Cosmetics

This week I’m going to be highlighting one of my favorite ethical beauty brands – Hourglass Cosmetics. Hourglass makes great quality products – and charges an arm and a leg for them! Despite the high price tag, I appreciate the company’s commitment to quality, making animal-friendly products and the fact that so many of their products are made in America. I have tried almost all the products the company makes, but I will not be reviewing any of the products that are made outside of the States. They’re particularly well loved by the beauty blogger set, however, so if you’re curious about the other products Hourglass makes, a google search will quickly reveal all the review posts you could possibly want!


Hourglass Cosmetics is the ONLY company I’ve found whose brushes are not only cruelty-free, they’re made in America (NOTE: I have just learned that these brushes are NOT made in America so they are NOT a good ethical option). Every other synthetic brush I’ve found is made in China. Because Hourglass’s brushes are so pricy, I will relax my made in America ban to write a future blog post on the various cruelty-free brushes I’ve found. Even though Hourglass’s brushes are expensive, they are so beautifully made that I’m actually quite happy to spend the money on them. Especially since they’re the only brushes that meet my high standards for ethical beauty products. Unfortunately, their selection of brushes isn’t very broad so I’ve had to fill the gaps in my collection with made in China brushes from other brands. Still, I regard Hourglass as my default brush company.

  • #2 blush brush – The #2 has a classic, domed-shaped brush head. The bristles are densely packed and smooth as silk! Because they’re not animal hair, at first the bristles are stiffer than an animal hair blush brush’s bristles. However, after you’ve washed and used the brush a few times, I’ve found that the bristles relax and now they are perfect for a smooth and even application of blush. In addition, because the bristles are synthetic, they are actually perfect for foundation so this brush does double duty. You can actually use it for your foundation, wipe it clean with a kleenex, and then dip it in your blush! When used with foundation the #2 gives a beautiful, air-brushed finish to the skin.
  • #7 finishing brush – The #7 kabuki brush is great for bronzer or finishing powder. It is super soft and feels absolutely luxurious on the skin. After using the #2 to apply blush to my cheeks, I like to buff the #7 in a circular motion over my cheeks to blur the edges and give an ultra-natural finish to my blush.


Hourglass is justifiably famous for their primers. I usually don’t use primers but I actually love to use both of their primers.

  • Veil Mineral Primer Broad Spectrum SPF 15 – This is the primer that gets the most press. On a day to day basis, I don’t wear primer, however if I was going to an event and wanted to make sure my makeup stayed looking fresh, I would definitely smooth this on as a base. I’ve discovered that this primer works great as a base for concealer. Using my ring finger, I gently dab a tiny dot of this primer under my eyes. It creates a smooth surface for my concealer and makes it last a little longer. Consequently, I really get my money’s worth out of this product! One travel-sized bottle can easily last me a year.
  • No. 28 Primer Serum – This silicone-based primer is very moisturizing and gives a gorgeous radiant glow to the skin. Again, I don’t use it all-over every day but I have found a brilliant daily use for it – as a lip primer. Instead of smoothing on a moisturizing lip balm and then wiping it off before I apply lipstick, I apply a bead of No. 28 to my lips before I start applying my makeup. By the time I get to my lips, they have completely absorbed the primer, leaving a plump, perfectly moisturized surface for my lipstick! Again, I only buy the travel-sized bottle of this and one bottle last me a really long time!

Complexion Makeup

Hourglass’s complexion makeup is where I really get sticker shock. The formulas of the two complexion products I tried were very good – they blended easily and came in a great range of natural-looking colors. No weird pink or overly yellow tones in the lot.

  • Illusion Hyaluronic Skin Tint Broad Spectrum SPF 15 tinted moisturizer – This product is gorgeous. Ivory is a perfect match for my skin and when I blend it in with my Beauty Blender sponge it looks like I’m not wearing any makeup at all. Yet is still manages to smooth over the appearance of my hyper pigmentation. But the $55/1 oz price tag means that I will be trying many other foundations this year in search of a more affordable option!
  • Hidden Concealer – Before I committed to buying ethical beauty products, my concealer of choice was the infamous Cle de Peau concealer – the cadillac of concealers. Compared to Cle de Peau, Hidden concealer, while very blendable (and coming in a wider range of colors than CdP) just doesn’t have that gorgeous buttery texture that just melts into the skin while giving full coverage. However, I absolutely love the range of colors this concealer came in – ten compared to Cle de Peau’s 6 and with some very deep tones represented, something that CdP lacks. The price is also half of CdP. This concealer is very well-pigmented while still being blendable and is great for covering up discoloration or blemishes. I’m less crazy about it as an under-eye concealer. The texture of this concealer is a bit thick, which means it’s challenging to thin it down enough in order to avoid creases. When applying under eyes, I usually apply it to the back of my hand, letting the warmth of my skin soften it before dabbing the tiniest, thinnest layer under my eyes. It’s workable for under the eyes, it’s just not my favorite.

Lip products

Hourglass has a really well-edited collection of beautiful lipstick colors, available in two different textures and one fantastically luxurious lip treatment.

  • No. 28 Lip Treatment Oil has many of the same ingredients as the primer above but in an oil base rather than a silicone base. I use it twice a day as an intensive moisturizing lip treatment replacement for Aquaphor which is neither animal-friendly nor eco-friendly. This product is very rich and can easily be worn as a pigment-free lip gloss since it makes your lips very shiny! The unique applicator has a pump so you can dispense just the right amount of product and a 24-karat gold plated tip which supposedly ensures that the product stays sanitary. So far I’ve had mine for six months and I will buy it again without hesitation when I run out. The lip treatment oil has a faint botanical scent which luckily does not irritate my allergies although I could see it bothering someone else.
  • Opaque Rouge Liquid Lipstick – This lipstick is kind of like a more natural take on the longwear liquid lipsticks that other brands have. Unlike those longwear liquid lipsticks, this formula does not have the same toxic chemical ingredients or drying texture. Unfortunately, that means that it doesn’t last as long, either. This lipstick comes in a tube like a lip gloss and the wand has a proprietary doe foot sponge applicator with a flexible tip so once you get the hang of it, it’s actually fairly easy to get the perfect line with this very pigmented lip product. It definitely took me a few tries before I felt comfortable applying this because the texture is a little different from what I’m used to. And I wouldn’t apply it without a mirror because the intense pigmentation means that an uneven lip line really stands out. Unlike wax-based lipsticks, you can’t smack your lips together while it’s drying because that can lift the pigment off your lips leaving you with an uneven mess of balled up pigment on one lip, and bald patches on the other. But once you get into the habit of NOT rubbing your lips together, two coats gives you pigmented, matte lips that holds up really well to drinking glasses. (It’s not transfer-proof but it is transfer resistant.) If you’re one of those women who can eat without touching food to her lips, then one application of this could last you all day but I prefer to reapply it after a meal. That’s a little bit of a pain because if you apply wet product on top of dry, it balls up. So I usually end up wiping off my lips and reapplying after a meal. Because of this, I’m a little on the fence with this product. When I run out of my favorite colors, I may get them in the more forgiving Femme Rouge formula below. The formula has no discernible taste or scent which is a HUGE plus for me since scents and flavors can irritate my allergies. I tried this in the following colors:
    • Icon – a gorgeous, classic cool-toned red. This is, without a doubt, my holy grail shade of red lipstick. I am *definitely* going to buy it again, I’m just not sure if I’ll buy it in this formula. This is NOT a color for the faint of heart as it is very pigmented.
  • Raven – a warm-toned red that can lean slightly orange, depending on your skin tone.

Another look at the #FOTD.

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  • Riviera – a sister color to Raven, Riviera is a red leaning orange (rather than an orange leaning red). It’s a bright, fun color to wear.

Orange lipstick. Yay or nay?

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  • Ballet – a sweet, bright, blue-based pink

  • Empress – a moody burgundy

  • Femme Rouge Velvet Crème Lipstick – at $30 this is one of the most expensive lipsticks I’ve ever purchased HOWEVER it is refillable! I love that! I hate throwing away expensive lipstick tubes, don’t you? This lipstick is richly pigmented and feels very comfortable on the lips. I wouldn’t call it moisturizing, per se, but it definitely is soft and doesn’t dry lips out. Like the Opaque Rouge lipstick, the Femme Rouge doesn’t have a scent. I tried this in two colors:
    • Fever – a cool-toned vibrant fuchsia that brightens my whole face. I *adore* this color and plan to never be without it!
    • Embrace – Hourglass’s website description for this is a “bronzed, plum burgundy”. It’s a really unique color – when I wear it, it makes my lips look like they’re wearing molten metal. It’s a very warm color, which ordinarily I would steer away from, but I love it with bronzer and a smokey eye.


Extreme Sheen High Shine Lip Gloss – this lip gloss is soft, not sticky and the pigmentation varies wildly from color to color. Some of the colors are sheer whereas others are so deeply pigmented you need to wear them with a lip liner to prevent bleeding. I’m not really a lip gloss person so I didn’t end up buying any of these but I have to say the bright metallic red of Siren looked really unique – a gorgeous look to wear for the holidays if your skin is warm-toned. Of course the color I was drawn to most was Icon. If I were going to a big event, I think I would consider layering Icon lip gloss over Icon Opaque Rouge for high impact classic Hollywood glamour.


I got a sample of Hourglass’s Film Noir Full Spectrum Mascara as a gift with purchase and I have to say it’s a fantastic mascara. Even though it’s not waterproof, it holds up really well to my constantly watering eyes and unlike many mascaras does a good job of holding a curl. The brush clings to my lashes, coating each one evenly. And because it’s not waterproof, it’s so easy to wash off at the end of the day. I’m hoping that FLOWER Beauty’s mascara is even better because it bothers me to spend so much money on a product that I have to throw away every three months!

NOTE: In order for a personal care brand or product to be written up in my #EthicalBeauty posts it has to be independently verified as cruelty-free and made in North America (where I live). Hourglass Cosmetics is certified cruelty-free by Logical Harmony and PETA.