Brush Math & E.L.F. Review (kind of)

I’ve seen an uptick lately in people espousing the wonders of E.L.F. brushes because the price point is so low.  Ditto for a lot of mid to low range brush kits commonly found in the fall and close to holiday.  I have pretty strong thoughts about the E.L.F. brushes in particular because I’ve had terrible luck with them, but this fable could be told about other inexpensive brushes as well.  There was a time, when I first bought some of the E.L.F. brushes, that I recommended them.  They were soft and cut well–I thought I’d found a drugstore gem!  I love finding those.  I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of the YouTubers, bloggers, etc. raving about them might not have had to wash them much yet.  Every last E.L.F. brush I’ve bought (more than 20 of them) has died an early death, thus changing my tune about them drastically.

A common comment I hear when I’m at counters or with clients is,  “Oh brushes are so expensive.  I’m sure I can find something at Target or Walgreens that is just as good.”  I would love to tell them yes, but more often it is a matter of math.  Since I’m indicting E.L.F. in particular, let’s look at those.

A decent E.L.F. brush from their Studio line–not the basic $1 ones, which are uncomfortably bristly on your face and packed unevenly–will run you $3 a brush.  Not a bad deal, right?  Their Studio line brushes have nice cuts, decent fibers, and are generally a seemingly nice deal…except I’ve never had one of these last more than 6 washes without getting wibbly.  My favorite cut (I bought two because I loved it so much) both completely separated from their handles after the first two washings. 

I’ve got other more expensive brushes that are on 100+ washings, and that isn’t counting the dozens of times I’ve cleaned them with a daily brush cleaner.  If we are really real about it, many of them are over 200+ washings.  Also consider the makeup counter brushes, washed almost every day.  When I worked full time at a counter, we had brushes that were four and five years old–well up over 1,000 washes–that were still in great shape.  Were those cheap brushes, they would have been replaced many, many times over.

Let’s go with that lower number, though. 

Take a cheap brush that dies inside six washings.  That’s a $3 replacement each time it falls apart or becomes too wobbly to function correctly.  Let’s divide that six washings into the one hundred washings the more expensive brush can handle.  That more expensive brush is going to last roughly 16.67 times longer.  16.67 x $3 = $50.  $50 is how much you are going to spend replacing that $3 brush over the minimum life span of the more expensive brush.  That’s not even taking into count the fiber, cut, selection, etc. that typically comes with buying nicer brushes. 

This means there are well-cut, soft, get-the-job-done brushes that will help your makeup application look its best  that you could very feasibly buy once and only once, never needing to replace it again unless it is lost or stolen. 

Not everyone has a budget to run right out to the department store and plunk down on a full set, though.  Or, possibly, someone is trying brushes for the first time, not sure if it is something they want to truly get into.  Some good quality value-priced brushes that have longer life spans are Real Techniques and Eco Tools.  I’ve still had these give out on me before their spendier counterparts, but they are nowhere near as disposable as the E.L.F. brushes.  However, it should be noted there are definite gaps in both lines when it comes to both cut and fiber–the selection isn’t as broad as one gets with an artistry line of tools.  For example, I dislike Real Techniques eye brushes for crease work, but I love their face brushes. 

Quality doesn’t have to mean you are buying your brushes from the most expensive brand in Nordstrom, either.  Lines such as BDellium and Sigma are still bigger investments than brushes one would buy at Target or Walgreens, but they keep up very well with their department store brothers.  Most of the newer brushes I’m buying (particularly for work) are from these brands because they are workhorses.   I’ve been using these like mad this year and I will say they are holding up every bit as good (and some better) than comparable brushes in lines like MAC and Bobbi Brown.  I particularly recommend these lines for aspiring makeup artists who are stocking their brush belts. 

Moral of the story/TLDR:  Unless you are a rare makeup wearer (we’re talking less than six times a year), it pays to actually invest a bit in your brushes. 


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