Do Animal-Hair Makeup Brushes Contribute to Animal Cruelty?

+ Pamela Friedman

Many natural makeup brushes are made with squirrel hair.

If you regularly use brushes to apply your makeup, you know the advantages-they make it easier to control application, blend, and create a natural look, without the contamination risks of using your fingers. But when it comes to what kind of brushes to use, should you choose synthetic or animal hair?

For years the professionals have preferred animal-hair brushes, citing their softness, ability to “carry” color, and usefulness for specific natural-looking applications. But we wondered-are animals harmed in the making of animal-hair brushes?

Goats, badgers, squirrels, minks, and ponies all donate (unwillingly) their hair to makeup brushes. Each type of hair comes with its own unique strengths and advantages. The stiffness of badger hair works to define, shape, and fill in brows. Goat hair is very soft and provides a medium-to-full application that is even and natural-looking. Kolinsky hair (from the tail of a species of mink) holds a fine point and is good when you need to be precise. Pony hair is typically used in blush or eye brushes, and is considered strong enough for good contouring. Squirrel-often considered the softest hair-is good for detailing and shading the crease of the eye.

Are the animals harmed when they give up this hair? According to, mink and sable brushes often use hair obtained from the fur industry, which is known for trapping and killing animals for their pelts, often by gassing or electrocuting to avoid damaging the hair. Horse hair commonly comes from horses slaughtered for meat, goats are shorn like sheep (and may suffer cuts and other injuries), and squirrels are hunted or trapped. Some manufacturers obtain their hair supplies from other countries, where animal welfare regulations are either lax or nonexistent.

“Companies that claim that they are cruelty free,” says Peggy Hannaman-Jones, founder of the Branded J Collection, “claiming they are shaving the animals and using shed hair from animals are deceiving themselves and others. It is simply not true! All hair is bought through fur farmers all over the world.”

Trying to nail down exactly where different cosmetic companies get their animal hair, however-and how those animals are treated-is difficult, if not impossible. Most companies don’t have this information available to the public. So what is a conscientious consumer to do?

First, if you’re really sold on animal-hair brushes, ask your favorite company what “cruelty-free” means to them. Where do they get their animal hair? Is it possible for you to see the conditions in which the animals are kept? Can you to get any literature on the matter at all?

If you want to avoid anything made with animals, or simply want to skip the hassle of trying to figure out which animals (if any) are treated humanely, stick with synthetic brushes. The good news is that modern-day technology has made it possible to create high-quality synthetic brushes that hold color, resist shedding, apply evenly, and are easy to clean. There are several brands out there-to get started, try Sevi Vegan brushes, Branded J, Ecco Bella Botanicals, Paris Presents’ Eco-Tools, Garden Botanika, and Origins Natural Resources.

Have you tossed your animal-hair brushes for synthetic alternatives? Give us your recommendations.

Photo courtesy ::novocainated:: via