Right so, I’ve structured this post as a series of questions (some I made up, some I’ve been asked, and some I’ve seen on message boards) to make it more digestible. You can click on any of the questions in the list below to take you to the answer, or you can just scroll down and read them in sequence. I’ve organised the questions so that, if you do read them from start to finish, they form a comprehensive buying guide that begins with the very basics and then gets more specific towards the end.
See the questions after the jump
- How should I choose my brushes?
- What brushes do I need?
- How do I know which hair-type to choose?
- Which series is the best?
- Why should I buy Hakuhodo? Is it just a passing phase?
- Why shouldn’t I buy Hakuhodo?
- What should I get if I have a big brush collection already?
- What should I pay attention to when looking for a brush on the Hakuhodo site?
- What are the must-haves/Which are your favourite Hakuhodo brushes?
- What should I look for in a lay-down brush?
- What should I look for in an eye-blending brush?
- What should I look for in an eyeliner brush?
- What should I look for in a concealer brush?
- What should I look for in a blush brush?
- What should I look for in a powder brush?
- A note about recommendations/How to spot the same brush head in a different series
- Where can I find reviews and pictures of Hakuhodo brushes?
- What are your thoughts about the price increase?
As with all purchases, the first step to buying is being informed. With the vast number of Hakuhodo brushes available, it’s important to start your search armed with knowledge of: what you want to use the brush for (blush? contour? eyeliner?), how you want to use it (patting? swiping? buffing?), your priorities (softness? handle colour?), and your budget.
The lovely Dain from Ars Aromatica has let me publish her recommendations for essential brushes. I’ve abridged it for the purposes of this question, but if you want to read it in full (and you should) it’s at the very bottom of this post.
- Blush brush
- Basic laydown
- Detail: The perfect detail brush should be exactly 1/3 of your lid space, because beyond that, it is not longer eyeliner but eyeshadow. Obviously, this depends on your anatomy. This category also includes crease brushes.
- Blending brush: this is a similar shape to the blush brush, full and tapered, only much smaller.
These are brushes you may not need, depending on whether you use the products in question:
- Concealer brush: You can double a blending brush (I like Laura Mercier’s Finishing Eye) if you want diffused, buffed in concealer over large areas, or you can use a script brush, something small and pointed, for pinpoint concealing.
- Powder brush
- Brow brush: if you don’t use a pencil. I suggest angled badger.
- Lip brush: if you tend to use bold and opaque lipsticks and need a precise lip line.
- Script brush: for precise, graphic flicks with gel liner
Hair type obviously depends on how you want to use the brush. Below is a rough cheat sheet to hair types, but bear in mind that there are other factors that determine brush use (density, hair length etc.).
- If you want a very very hard brush (for brows, mostly): black pig, water badger
- For a stiff brush (eyeliner, lip, concealer): weasel, kolinsky, synthetic
- For a stiff brush with a bit of elasticity (eyeshadow laydown, detail eye brush): weasel, kolinsky, horse
- For a brush with give, but stiff enough to apply product (blush brush, pressed powder brush, highlight brush, contour brush, versatile eye brush): blue squirrel & goat mix, goat
- For a soft brush with little resistance (loose powder brush, blush brush for pigmented blushes, eye blending brush): blue or canada or kazan or pine squirrel, saikoho goat
- For a brush for liquids: synthetic, goat, tree squirrel
For a more detailed guide, here is Dain’s brush primer, and here is Hakuhodo’s description of its brush hairs.
Like I said in my introduction, in terms of quality the series are the same. I’d advise browsing by brush and hair type because series aren’t all that important, in my opinion.
Of course if you want all your brushes to be from the same series for aesthetic purposes, then (if you don’t have a specific series in mind) it’d be best to shortlist the brushes that would suit your needs, and then see which series appears most in that list.
With the news about the recent price increase there’s been a huge number of Hakuhodo-related forum posts, and it’s easy to assume that it’s just hype.
I love Hakuhodo brushes because:
- A lot of care goes into their creation; the fact that they are all hand-crafted suggests a dedication to brush-making that most other brands don’t seem to have. I know that when I buy a Hakuhodo brush I am buying quality.
- The usage of only the naturally tapering hair ends makes these brushes softer than any others I’ve tried. A Hakuhodo goat brush will be softer than a brush of the same hair that has been laser cut.
- Many are actually very reasonably priced. Yes, Hakuhodo has very expensive brushes, but you can build a substantial collection of beautiful brushes without breaking the bank.
For me personally, Hakuhodo brushes transcend the category of make-up tools. I think their craftmanship, the brand concept and their beauty pushes them closer to the realm of art. I don’t expect everyone/anyone else to feel this way, but I thought I’d explain my soft spot for Hakuhodo.
If you don’t use natural hair brushes, I would advise looking elsewhere for synthetics. While Hakuhodo does offer synthetic brushes, they are relatively new (most were released this year) and I think Hakuhodo has yet to find its feet in the area of synthetics. I do like the Hakuhodo synthetics I have, but I don’t think they have the wow factor of Hakuhodo’s naturals.
In the paragraph above I’m referring to brushes where the synthetic fibre is the only fibre in contact with your face. That sounds convoluted, but that means I do like synthetic mixes where the hairs are all bundled together (like those in the Kokutan series), but I’m not a huge fan of the synthetic mixes where the hairs are layered on top of each other (like in the G series where the goat is at the base of the brush and the synthetic fibres make up the tips).
If you’re looking to try the brand, but you don’t think you’re lacking anything in your brush collection, I’d suggest one of the more unique Hakuhodo brushes. For example: the finishing brushes, the Japanese tradition brushes, and the kinoko brushes.
If you’re not taken in by those, then I’d recommend a face brush to start with. I love Hakuhodo eye brushes, but I think the true, unadulterated Hakuhodo experience is best contained in their face brushes.
- Hair type (if you’re not sure which hair type you want, it may help to read the questions below).
- Brush Dimensions – it sounds silly, but have a ruler on hand and use it to check how long and thick the brush will be. Just looking at the pictures of the brush can be misleading, and you might be surprised with what comes in the post! Be sure to look at the ‘Thickness’ dimension, as the site’s pictures are taken from top-down view only. This means that two brushes may look exactly the same from the top, but one might be paddle shaped (ie. the ‘Thickness’ will be a smaller number), and one might be really fluffy (ie. the ‘Thickness’ will be a larger number). One of the hardest things to discern from looking at brushes online is brush density. This is annoying, because brush density really does make a difference. The dimensions can help you a little bit.
I can’t really recommend must-haves, as everyone’s needs are different. But I will be posting about my favourites as a follow-up to this post.
For a lay-down brush I like dense, stiff brushes with a bit of elasticity. This usually means I’m looking for weasel hair, or a weasel/synthetic mix. Kolinsky (another weaselly type animal) is also very good, but usually a lot more expensive. Hakuhodo does make Kolinsky brushes, but I can only find them on the Japanese site. However I’ve heard that if you email the US customer service, you can request them. In terms of shape, I look for flat and wide brushes.
Brushes made out of softer hair (like squirrel) can work for applying eyeshadow; it’s best to look for densely packed squirrel hairs though, you don’t want anything too fluffy.
- Flat: 235 Eyeshadow Round and Flat – weasel & synthetic
- Softer hair: Kokutan Eyeshadow T/G5528BkSl – blue squirrel
Softer hairs (most squirrel varieties, some goat varieties) are important in this category. Most people seem to prefer pure squirrel to blend: it diffuses the edges of the eyeshadow but it isn’t strong enough to completely displace it and mess up your hard work.
Personally I like my brush to be a little bit firm because then it’s more versatile (and I’m lazy), and it can do a lot of the grunt work of ‘shaping’ the eyeshadow as well as blending. If you’re like me, you may want to look for a squirrel and goat mix, or one of the denser squirrel brushes.
In terms of shape, round, fluffy brushes make good blenders. The hairs should be quite long (relative to other eyeshadow brushes) because then the brush will have more flex and it will fit the contours of your eye.
- Soft & Fluffy: S142 Eyeshadow Round – blue squirrel
- Firmer: G515 Eyeshadow CM Angled – canada squirrel; G5522BkSl Eyeshadow pointed – blue squirrel & sokoho goat
Naturally this depends on how you apply your eyeliner. A flat brush will apply a simple line, and it will be good at tightlining; a script brush can also make a simple line, but can be used for more artsy things like wings.
In both cases you want a firm hair like weasel, or synthetic. Also make sure the brush isn’t too long, as this makes it less stiff and therefore makes it less easy to control. With a script brush, there’s a fine line between long and too long: it’s preferable for the brush to have a bit of flexibility, but if the hair is too long it becomes difficult to apply precise eyeliner.
For a flat eyeliner brush, you may want to take a look at the eyebrow brushes or the lip brushes (as long as they’re not too long). Try to look for a brush with a tip that isn’t too bushy – it’s easy to build up a thin line into a thick line, but frustrating to apply eyeliner in a line that’s too thick to begin with.
- Flat: Kokutan Eyeshadow SL/K005 Eyeshadow Round and Flat – weasel
- Script: K007 Eyeliner Round – weasel
For blemish concealing, look for a thin, non-fluffy brush. Thicker brushes tend to absorb more product, and, for me at least, I want to apply as much product as possible over the blemish and then blend it out. Weasel and Synthetic hairs are good for blemish concealing. Don’t confine yourself to the ‘concealer’ category on the Hakuhodo site; I find that to get a really thin, non-absorbent brush, lip brushes and even pointed eyeliner brushes work very well.
For bigger areas like under the eye, a fluffier brush is good as it blends the concealer over a wide area. It’s still good if it’s quite stiff (we’re not talking blue squirrel here – not least because blue squirrel hair can get damaged by liquid products) so synthetic hair, goat hair, and even horse hair is good.
The type of blush brush you choose very much depends on how you use blush, and what kind of blush you use.
If you use pigmented blushes often, you might want to try a blush brush made up purely of softer hair (blue squirrel, for example). Softer hair applies blush more lightly, so you’re less likely to overdo it. If you favour unpigmented blushes, a stiffer hair (e.g. goat) would be best. Stiffer hair would lay down more pigment, which is why it’s great for unpigmented blushes.
Naturally if you use both, you’ll need to find a brush that’s a happy medium between those two (a softer goat variety, or a squirrel and goat mix).
Blush brush shape is down to preference. I love fluffy blush brushes, but many prefer to use a more paddle-like shape.
In terms of hair type, this is similar to what I wrote above about blush brushes, but replace ‘pigmented blushes’ with ‘loose powder’, and ‘unpigmented blushes’ with ‘pressed powder’.
With powder brushes, length of the hair plays a big part. Brushes with longer hair are also more suited for a thin veil of powder, as they offer little resistance against the skin so they don’t drop down a lot of powder. Shorter hair brushes are a little stiffer so they can apply more powder.
Because there are two factors (hair type and hair length) that affect how well the powder brushes lay down powder, this means you can play around a bit: if you want to use a really soft hair type to apply pressed powder, go for a shorter brush head (don’t disregard blush brushes to apply powder) to make the brush stiffer.
- Loose powder: Kokutan Finishing L – blue squirrel & synthetic
- Versatile: B509BkSl Powder M Round – blue squirrel & sokoho goat
(I’m afraid I can’t personally recommend a pressed powder brush because I haven’t had need of one, and so I can’t vouch for one.)
When I’ve given a recommendation in the above section and two brushes have been separated by ‘/’ that means that the brush heads of both those brushes are exactly the same, it’s just the handles that are different. In my introduction, I mention that some brush heads appear in more than one series.
So, if you happen to be eyeing up a Hakuhodo brush but don’t like it because it’s too expensive, it hasn’t got the right handle etc., take note of the hair of the brush, and the ‘hair length’ dimensions at the bottom of the page. Then go back to the main category page (e.g. ‘Eye shadow & Liner’) and select that hair type in the drop-down menu at the top. Now and then, a very similar looking brush will appear in your search results. Check to see if the dimensions of your original brush and your new brush match (and to see if the photos look similar) and if they do then you’ve most likely discovered that they share the same brush head.
Within this blog, you can find detailed pictures of my whole collection here; and Hakuhodo-related posts here. As for external links, I love the reviews and comparisons by The Non-Blonde and Delicate Hummingbird. Even when I lived in Japan and had access to a Hakuhodo counter, I still read these reviews avidly before I made my purchases. Kate from Drivel about Frivol has recently added many posts of Hakuhodo brushes.
According to Hakuhodo, the price increase ranges from 5% to 70%.
I don’t welcome price increases, of course, but nowadays I do expect them. Everything is constantly increasing in price: food, fuel, transport etc. so it makes sense that cosmetics and brushes will increase too.
Now, Hakuhodo already has some expensive brushes, and if the price of those brushes increases by 70% then that’s absurd, but it also has a lot of cheap brushes that are really very good. I own many Hakuhodo brushes that cost me less than $25 and I love them like crazy and use them every day. Many (I’m not going to say which ones, in case Hakuhodo is listening!) I would have paid twice as much for without even thinking about it.
In general, I think some Hakuhodo prices don’t reflect the value of the brush. The fact that I can pay $14 and get the G5515BkSL, a brush that has been hand-crafted with naturally tapering hairs that have been meticulously chosen, baffles me. Of course I don’t want its price to increase, but I would completely understand if it did.
Here is the full list of Dain’s recommendations:
1. blush brush, if you like sheer, go for a soft, fluffy brush, if you like strong, then a dense, compact one. In any case, make sure it’s well tapered, so you get no harsh edges.
2. eyeliner: I usually like a flat brush for this—a script brush draws in more precise, graphic flicks but isn’t so manipulable for tightlining and basic eyeliner—and I find the natural hair in Hakuhodo’s K005 ($15!) makes the performance far superior to synthetic brushes.
3. basic laydown: Personally, I like a kolinsky filbert (Shu Uemura) best, the hair is firm but flexible and makes the most out of pigment, but if you like buttery eyeshadows and want to pack on pigment, squirrel is better. Here you want a brush that’s quite densely bundled (as opposed to fluffy).
4. detail: The perfect detail brush should be exactly 1/3 of your lid space, because beyond that, it is not longer eyeliner but eyeshadow. Obviously, this depends on your anatomy. This category also includes crease brushes.
5. a blending brush: this is a similar shape to the blush brush, full and tapered, only much smaller. The classic is MAC 217, if you want luxe, Edward Bess is the best.
These are brushes you may not need, depending on whether you use the products in question:
6. concealer brush: You can double a blending brush (I like Laura Mercier’s Finishing Eye) if you want diffused, buffed in concealer over large areas, or you can use a script brush, something small and pointed, for pinpoint concealing.
7. powder brush
8. brow brush, if you don’t use a pencil. I suggest angled badger.
9. lip brush, if you tend to use bold and opaque lipsticks and need a precise lip line.
10. script brush: for precise, graphic flicks with gel liner
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