Buying brushes if you can't read Chinese
This post is intended to help you navigate between all the different hair types when Google Translate fails you.
Buying fude or natural-haired brushes online can difficult if you can't read Japanese or Chinese. The big retailers who ship to Australia, North America and Europe all offer descriptions in English. The only reason one would struggle to understand the listings on CD Japan, Beautylish, Fude Beauty, Visage USA, Hakuhodo USA, Rephr and the likes would be if English isn't their first language. Most of these websites are run out of Western countries so they make buying the choosing and buying process very easy.
What happens when you want to branch out to other online avenues such as AliExpress or Tao Bao or from the manufacturer themselves? Some Chinese reading ability is going to be necessary if you want to avoid buying through an English-speaking intermediary.
The best way to describe how Chinese or Japanese Kanji works to someone whose only language is English is to say that words are comprised of compound words. Take the word 'makeup' in English. It is synoymous with 'cosmetics' and can encompass a variety of items such as lipstick, blush, eyeshadow and so on. The word 'make-up' which is sometimes hyphenated may also be broken up into two separate words in 'make' and 'up'. Separately, 'make' is a verb meaning 'to create' and 'up' is a preposition meaning 'in the direction above'. Now imagine that you didn't know that 'makeup' was a totally different word from the two words 'make' and 'up'. You might end up reading a sentence such as 'I'm going to buy more makeup' as 'I am going to buy more create above.' This is what happens sometimes when you use Google Translate.
This blog post is intended for those who want to try to navigate online shopping of natural-haired bristles with the use of online translators. Unfortunately many online listings use photos so you can't copy and paste the Chinese words into an online translator. There is a Google Translate app you can download on your phone that allows you to point your camera at the screen while it translates for you but it's a really hit or miss type of application. I'll try to explain the variations of all the words that Google translate might spit out at you so can look for the phrases and try to make sense of them.
I want to clarify that I have mostly given the words in Traditional Chinese which is what I learnt as a child because I am Taiwanese-born and my family has been in Taiwan long before the Chinese communists took refuge there. Simplified Chinese was invented by the Chinese Communists as a way to improve literacy rates in the 1950s because it reduces the number of strokes in each character. On a personal note, I am quite unfamiliar with Simplified Chinese so I tend to buy brushes where Traditional Chinese is used because I know exactly what I'm getting. Japanese Kanji shares the same lettering as Traditional Chinese. The pinyin I have given is also for a traditional Mandarin pronunciation. Where possible, I have also provided the Simplified Chinese version of the words because I see both traditional and simplified words across the listings online. Translation is often caught in the nuances so as a general disclaimer, I'm making educated guesses to the English equivalents.
My Chinese reading ability was pretty poor in the first place and it faded away after I stopped taking lessons during high school. As a teenager I declared that I wouldn't need Chinese as much as English in my tenacious pursuit of a career in either law or journalism. One unused Bachelor of Laws and a letter of redundancy from my former newspaper employer later, I'm back to checking my primary school Chinese-English glossary like an eight year-old. Life is filled with many ironies. It turns out that I do need to read Chinese to support my brush-buying mania. Here's all the homework done so you can copy it before the teacher gets around to reading your paper.
Brush = 刷 (shuā)
The word for 'brush' is 刷 (shuā). Expect to see this word tacked onto the end of the hair fibre name. If you want to try and search for a brush yourself, type the animal hair you wish to seek and add 刷 (shuā) to the end of it.
Goat hair = 羊毛 (yáng máo)
There are so many variations and grades to goat hair and it's important to note that each manufacturer has different methods to classify them as such.
羊 (yáng) means 'sheep' or 'goat' or 'ram'. A pat on the back for me because I was born in the year of the ram so I didn't need a dictionary for this one. 毛 (máo) means 'wool' or 'hair from an animal'. Usually, 羊毛 (yángmáo) means 'wool' as in a ball of sheep wool that you use to knit a blanket with. Obviously with brush buying we know it to mean 'goat hair' but you should expect to see dodgy translations mixing any of the words I have defined if you're using an online translator.
Saibikoho = 細微光峰 (xìwéi guāng fēng) Simplified Chinese: 细嫩光锋 (xìnèn guāng fēng)
Now we're getting into the weird territory where I try to use Japanese to explain the Chinese so I can then find the closest words in English. Saibikoho is the highest grade of goat hair which comes from the neck and chest region on a goat. It is said to be as soft as grey squirrel but it's rare and costs an absolute fortune. 細微光峰 (xìwéi guāng fēng) might translate to 'subtle peak' with an online dictionary which doesn't mean anything. Breaking down the classification one character at a time, 細 (xì) means 'fine' as in 'very thin'. 微 (wéi) means 'micro' or 'miniscule'. In the context of 'saibikoho' the first two characters need to be read together as one compound to create the adjective while the next two are separate. 細微 together is (xìwéi) or 'fine' again. 光 (guāng) means 'light' as in the same as a ray of light from the sun. 峰 (fēng) is 'peak' or 'tip'. Put it all together and 細微光峰 (xìwéi guāng fēng) means 'microscopically fine light tip'. Basically it means that the tips of the goat hairs are so fine that light penetrates through the fibre.
The Simplified Chinese 细嫩光锋 (xìnèn guāng fēng) altogether means 'really thin light front' but the first two words read as 'tender' as in 'oh sweet, innocent summer child' so if I had to guess 细嫩光锋 (xìnèn guāng fēng) means its the very fine hairs of a young goat.
This is an example of a brush set I found that is claiming to be made of saibikoho hair. I personally find that the blockish font used in the marketing makes it harder to read but the top banner reads 细嫩光峰 羊毛 (xìnèn guāng fēng yángmáo) which all together is 'fine young light tips goat hair'. This one mixes a combination of both versions I have written above. You can usually tell if the brush has been classified as saibikoho from the price. This set retails for upwards of AUD$260 (USD$180) which is on the pricier end of Chinese-made brushes. A Chinese saikoho brush set will be at least half that price.
Saikoho = 細光峰 (xì guāng fēng) or Simplified Chinese: 细光锋 (xì guāng fēng)
細光峰 (xì guāng fēng) uses all the same characters explained above. It might translate to 'fine light peak' or 'thin light tip' because saikoho is a goat fibre from the chest and neck that is thin and has fine tips. Saihoko is the most commonly found high grade goat fibre and is very soft but still durable enough to be used with cream and liquid makeup products as well as for applying powders.
The Simplfied Chinese version 细光锋 (xì guāng fēng) has the same 'thin light' meanings but the final character 锋 (fēng) means 'front' as in 'the front of the goat'.
The example on the right says 腮红刷 (sāi hóng shuā) which means 'blush brush'. Then in the brackets we see 羊毛细光锋 or 'goat hair thin light front' written in Simplified Chinese.
Every now and then I also see references to age. In Japanese fude, the brand Tsubokawa Mouhitsu is mostly known by Koyomo because it uses ko (ancient) yomo (goat hair) harvested from goats in the 1970s.
The example in the blue box says
无锡老光峰羊毛 (Wúxī lǎo guāng fēng yáng máo) which means from the province of Wuxi (near Shanghai) old saikoho. 老 (lǎo) means 'old' but I don't know what the old denotes. Is it old hair like Koyomo or is the goat from which the hair was harvested advanced in age?
Sokoho = 粗光峰 (cū guāng fēng)
粗光峰 (cū guāng fēng) again repeats the same last two 'light peak' characters as seen in saibikoho and saikoho. You might see it translated to 'coarse light peak'. The first character is 粗 (cū) which means 'coarse', 'thick' or 'rough'. Unfortunately if you're using an automatic translator 粗 (cū) also has a secondary unrelated meaning which is 'rude', 'crude' or 'uncouth' in behaviour. These words or may come up during a translation.
I have highlighted the appearance of 'sokoho' in the example listing above. It reads 粗光峰羊毛 (cū guāng fēng yáng máo) or 'coarse light goat hair'.
The word 粗 (cū) doesn't have appealling connotations and evokes the suggestion of a negative tactile experience in Chinese so you're more likely to see the generic 羊毛 (yángmáo) goat hair listed instead. Sokoho hair can come from any part of the goat from its jaw, along its back and on the chest. It is the lowest grade of long, thin hair on the goat.
Hakutotsuho = 白尖峰 (bái jiānfēng)
白尖峰 (bái jiānfēng) will probably translate to 'white peak' or 'white point tip' because 白 (bái) is white, 尖 (jiān) is 'tip' or 'point' and 峰 (fēng) is the same 'peak' or 'summit' we've been seeing at the end of every hair type. Hakutotsuho comes from the shoulder/back, forefoot or stomach area of a goat. The hairs are thicker and rougher than the hairs that come from the chest and are more suitable for brushes intended for liquids, creams and hard pressed or unpigmented powders. I don't know why 'white' is used to describe it because hakutotsuho fibres tend to throw off a slightly yellowish tinge in comparison to the aforementioned hair types that are much whiter in colour.
Ototsuho = 黄尖峰 (huáng jiānfēng)
黄尖峰 (huáng jiānfēng) will probably be translated as 'yellow point tip'. The middle word 尖 (jiān) may sometimes be 'pointy' or 'sharp' as an adjective and in daily life is most typically used in sentences when you want to say something like 'be careful, the scissors are sharp'. Oftentimes these nuances are lost in translation because it takes common sense for people to know if a noun or adjective is being used.
Squirrel hair = 松鼠毛 (sōngshǔ máo)
There are many different species of squirrels from which brushes are made. In terms of pricing, grey, blue, red and Canadian squirrel are softer, rarer and of a higher quality so you should expect them to be more expensive.
The word 'squirrel' is all encompassing in Chinese. Pretty much every type of squirrel, rat, raccoon, possum, chipmunk or small marsupial animal loosely falls under the word 'squirrel'. The reason for that is because 松 (sōng) is literally 'loose' and 鼠 (shǔ) is 'mouse' or 'rat'. 'Squirrel' means 'roughly a rat' because only David Attenborough can tell the differences between them all. The character you want to pay attention to is 鼠 (shǔ) because you might see it pop up in references to weasel and other creatures that are not squirrel. For example 袋鼠 (dàishǔ) which is literally 'bag rat' or 'pouch rat' actually means 'kangaroo'. 毛 (máo) means 'wool' or 'hair from an animal'.
Grey squirrel hair = 灰松鼠毛 (huī sōngshǔ máo)
灰 (huī) translates to the colour 'grey' and 松鼠 (sōngshǔ) is 'squirrel'. I see grey squirrel very commonly translated to 'grey rat' in online listings which attempt to provide some English information. To an English speaker 'grey rat' evokes the image of a fat plague rat scuttling the length of a train station as it drags a discarded hamburger to its hideout back inside the kitchens of the nearest fast food chain. I know it sounds gross but grey squirrel hair is actually quite wonderful.
The example here reads 扁圆头 (biǎn yuán tóu) 'flat round head' and 散粉刷 (sàn fěn shuā) is 'loose powder brush'.
In parenthesis you see 灰鼠毛 (huī shǔ máo) 'grey rat hair'. Remember that the word 鼠 (shǔ) means 'rat' or 'mouse' but is used to denote many rodent-like creatures.
Blue squirrel hair = 藍松鼠毛 (lán sōngshǔ máo)
Simplified Chinese = 蓝松鼠毛
I haven't come across many listings of blue squirrel hair brushes on Chinese websites. Most of them are selling Japanese-made fude from companies such as Hakuhodo who do use blue squirrel or they use the English term 'blue squirrel' in the listing. Either way, you can see that 藍 (lán) is 'blue', 松鼠 (sōngshǔ) is 'squirrel' and 毛 (máo) is 'hair'.
Canadian squirrel = 加拿大松鼠 (Jiānádà sōngshǔ)
'Canada' is written phonetically so 加拿大 (Jiānádà) sounds very close to the word in English. The problem with this one is that again the translation might separate each sound into an individual word and you could end up with the words 'plus' (verb), 'take' or 'grab' (verb) and 'big' (adjective). Canadian squirrel hair is soft and thin at the hair tip and is used to make eyeshadow or highlighting brushes. These fibres are rare and expensive.
This example says 'Eyeshadow brush large' and in brackets, 'Canadian Squirrel Hair'
If you come across 白加拿大松鼠 (bái Jiānádà sōngshǔ) then it's White Canadian Squirrel hair. Expect the price to be higher than regular Canadian squirrel.
Pine squirrel hair = 松松鼠毛 (sōng sōngshǔ máo)
Pine squirrels come from North America. Pine squirrel hair is soft and thin at the hair tip but has a less uniform body. It is used to make smaller brushes such as eye shadow brushes. I sometimes see this presented as pine squirrel 松松鼠 (sōng sōngshǔ) in the title but mostly they're simply listed as squirrel hair 松鼠毛 (sōngshǔ máo).
This example is one that should serve as a warning. It's listed as 'pine squirrel highlight brush' in its title but once I went through the details, I discovered that it's actually a pine squirrel and horse hair mixed brush. I pasted the fine print as the insert in the picture.
You can never be sure unless you look at the details so you'll have to exercise your best judgement.
Red squirrel hair = 紅松鼠毛 (hóng sōngshǔ máo)
Simplified Chinese: 红松鼠毛
紅 (hóng) is 'red' and by now you should be able to recognise that 松鼠毛 (sōngshǔ máo) is 'squirrel hair'. The same applies to red squirrel hair as to pine squirrel in that many sellers simply list 松鼠毛 (sōngshǔ máo) as the hair type. Red squirrel is typically red in colour, hence its name but you can never be sure unless you seek clarification. It is a rare hair type so expect the price to reflect that.
Striped squirrel hair = 花松鼠毛 (huā sōngshǔ máo)
I don't know if 'striped squirrel' is the correct name for it but that's what I'm calling it because enquiries led me to the answer that these striped squirrels are native to China. Most of the Asiatic squirrels which are not specifically named after colours or countries are striped and that's how I've come up with the name. The first character 花 (huā) is 'flower'. 'Flower squirrel' sounds stupid but that's probably what the translator will give you. 花栗鼠 (huā lìshǔ) means 'chipmunk' and some chipmunks belong to the squirrel family. Japanese retailer Koyudo has released a chipmunk squirrel brush.
Sometimes listings confuse the 花松鼠 (huā sōngshǔ) with the tree or pine squirrel. Every now and then the seller will be very specific in the fine print and offer you a specific genus. I came across 隐纹花松鼠 (yǐn wén huā sōngshǔ) which is Swinhoe's Striped Squirrel, a type of rodent that is commonly found in China. Taken literally, the Swinhoe squirrel is 'hidden line flower squirrel'.
Tree squirrel hair = 樹松鼠毛 (shù sōngshǔ máo)
Simplified Chinese: 树松鼠毛 (shù sōngshǔ máo)
This one is a complicated one. I think this got caught up in translation because a search for 'tree squirrel' leads to calligraphy brushes or watercolour paint brushes. I'm guessing that tree squirrel falls under what I've labelled 'striped squirrel' because that one translates to 'flower squirrel' or tree squirrel might be generically named 'squirrel hair brush' 松鼠毛刷 (sōngshǔ máo shuā).
Other hair types
English-speaking people think of the following hair types as being distinctly different from goat hair or squirrel hair however many Chinese words don't create such clear delinations. Sometimes you may see that the names are combined with words such as 鼠 (shǔ) 'rat' and 狼 (láng) 'wolf' while having no scientific link to that species or genus.
Weasel hair = 黃鼠狼毛 (huáng shǔláng)
The word for 'weasel' 黃鼠狼 (huáng shǔláng) might throw up really strange English equivalents because as three separate words it reads 黃 (huáng) 'yellow', 鼠 (shǔ) 'rat' and 狼 (láng) 'wolf'. Sometimes you'll see weasel as 黃狼 (huáng láng) as I've outlined in the example below.
Weasel hair is great to apply liquid and powder products with because the hair fibres are soft and thin yet durable with elasticity at the same time. It is excellent in lip brushes, eyeliner brushes and concealer brushes.
Kolinsky hair = 貂毛 (diāo máo)
貂 (diāo) is rarely translated into 'kolinsky'. It will nearly always pop up in English as 'mink' which is an entirely different animal that makes people think of eyelashes or fur coats. The kolinsky used in paint brushes and makeup brushes comes from a Siberian weasel that is found in Russia and China.
Horse hair = 馬毛 (mǎ máo) Simplified Chinese: 马毛 (mǎ máo)
Horse hair 馬毛 or 马毛 (mǎ máo) is cheap but is usually quite stiff. It has a high colour payoff but you might need to find a brush which blends horse hair with something else in order to enjoy a softer bristled brush. A pure horse hair brush would be very ideal for an eyebrow brush or a lip brush.
Pony hair has the word 'small' 小 (xiǎo) in front of 'horse' so it will read 小馬毛 (xiǎo mǎ máo) or in Simplified Chinese 小马毛 (xiǎo mǎ máo).
Pahmi hair = 猸子 (méi zi máo)
There's some debate about what pahmi 猸子 (méi zi) is in English. Some describe it as type of weasel while others say that it's a ferret. Pahmi hairs are short and tougher than weasel hair. Japanese retailer Hakuhodo sometimes mixes it with horse or weasel hair.
There are variations on the word 'mei'. I've seen it exactly as the Japanese use it and as well with the 眉 (méi) deriviation (shown in the right image). The word 眉毛 (méi máo) means 'eyebrow' so expect the word 'pahmi' to throw up the strangest of translations. Look for both méi zi options in 猸子 and 眉子.
Tamage hair = 玉毛 (yù máo)
'Tamage' is a Japanese term for 'cat hair'. It's not commonly used but some of the smaller eyeshadow Chinese brushes feature tamage with the same label given on Japanese brushes. The word 玉 (yù) is 'jade' which is green gemstone used in jewellery.
Fox Hair = 狐狸毛 (húlí máo)
Fox hair brushes are now just entering more mainstream brands. The claim is that these fibres are soft as squirrel yet as resiliant as goat hair. 狐狸 (húlí) means 'fox'. There are various types of fox hair brushes available for sale. Expect to see silver fox or snow fox as the most common fox hair. I have also seen red fox, blue fox and black fox brushes for sale.
I found a listing that makes a clear differentiation between what they've labelled 'common snow fox', 'blue fox' and 'black fox'. I have written literal translations in red under the brushes below.
Snow fox hair = 雪狐毛 (xuě hú máo)
I believe snow fox hair' 雪狐毛 (xuě hú máo) equates to the what the Japanese manufacturers are calling 'silver fox hair'.
There is a bit of confusion caused because online research tells me that silver fox is a specific breed and the arctic fox is another breed of fox. If you Google Image search 'snow fox hair' you get some pretty white looking animals and searching 'silver fox' yields pictures of some black wolves with silvery tails. I have not seen the word 'silver' 銀 (yín) or in Simplified Chinese 银 (yín) used in any brushes whereas a search for 'silver fox hair' 銀狐毛 (yín hú máo) yields results for silver fox fur coats and the Chikuhodo Silver Fox brushes.
I did come across a hair description sheet from one manufacturer who clarified that 'snow fox' is the Chinese translation of what the Japanese call 'silver fox'.
Red fox hair = 紅狐毛 (hóng hú máo)
Simplified Chinese: 红狐毛
Red fox hair 紅狐毛 (hóng hú máo) is very expensive and rare.
I see it mostly represented in Simplified Chinese characters with 'red' 红 (hóng) being more common but the Traditional Chinese is sometimes used in the fancy-looking stylised promotion pictures.
Arctic fox hair = 藍狐毛 (lán hú máo)
Simplified Chinese: 蓝狐毛
I think arctic fox is translated into 'blue fox' or 藍狐 (lán hú). I'm guessing here because I had no idea blue fox hair was even a thing until I bought a brush that was mixed with it. The example here uses the Simplfied Chinese version of 'blue' 蓝 (lán).
Blue fox brushes are made of fibres that are soft and long. Blue fox hairs are said to be shinier than silver or snow fox hairs with a good amount of hair sheen or gloss.
I've seen it listed mostly in brushes made of mixed hair compositions. I purchased a grey squirrel and blue fox mixed brush but I found listings of it mixed with saikoho and sokoho goat hair brushes.
I'm guessing here so exercise your best judgement if you buy a brush with the label of 'blue fox hair' 藍狐毛 (lán hú máo).
Synthetic hair = 纖維毛 (xiānwéi máo)
Simplified Chinese = 纤维毛
The actual word 'synthetic' isn't used to describe synthetic hair. Chinese uses the word 'fibre' and then throws the word 毛 (máo) for 'hair' after it. Unfortunately, 毛 (máo) usually means 'wool' so an English translation of synthetic fibre will probably say something like 'fibre wool' which an English reader might accidently take to mean animal hair.
Some brush sets are entirely synthetic while others may contain a combination of natural hair brushes and synthetic brushes. Pay close attention if you're going to buy a brush set. Also, it's worth looking at the details of whether any synthetic fibres have been combined with the natural hair.
Ok, I'm finally done. I originally started this as a private reference sheet for myself as I delved into buying Chinese-made brushes. It was a real labour of love that took me months to collate. If you are a content creator and you use this as a reference, kindly attribute me by linking this post directly. I hope this was useful to you if you are seeking to buy brushes from a Chinese manufacturer or seller. Good luck! #brushguide #brushbuyingguide #brushhairtypes #squirrelhair #goathair #foxhair #weasel #kolinsky #pahmi #tamage #taobao #aliexpress #chinesebrushes #chinesefude #buyingonline