The lifetime of a fude brush
How long should a fude brush last? When should you throw your brush out? Today I'm going to walk through the signs which tell when a brush is past its prime.
I often read that if you take really good care of your fude, then your brushes should last a lifetime. But the question really should be: how long is a lifetime? Natural haired brushes can last many many years and while they're wonderfully engineered, they won't last the span of a human lifetime.
I'm not particularly gentle with my fude. Don't get me wrong, I maintain them properly but I don't go to any extreme measures to be delicate. While I adore natural-fibred brushes, particularly artisan-made ones, I believe brushes are there to be functional. All the brushes in my extensive collection are used. If you're using your brushes on a regular basis, then inevitably there will come a day when it pasts its best by date.
What is the lifespan of a brush?
"Brushes should normally last between three to five years but this depends on the type of bristles and how often you use your brush."
The general lifespan of a brush is shorter than what most people think. The famed Kumano brush maker company Hakuhodo states that you should expect your brushes to last between 3 to 5 years. I fully concur that five years is the lifespan of a goat bristled eyeshadow brush that is used on a frequent basis. I was first introduced to Hakuhodo by my aunt as a teenager so I've spent the last 15 years using the same tried and true models. I buy replacement Hakuhodo eyeshadow brushes every 4 or 5 years. My introductory guide to Hakuhodo eyeshadow brushes can be read here.
For face brushes, it depends on the hair material, the hair length and the type of makeup product you like to use. I think 5 to 10 years is fair for a goat-fibred face brush that sees frequent usage. I have replaced my cheek brushes just once. Your brush will have a longer lifespan if you use more powders than liquids or creams. The reason for this is that you can easily tap off excess product onto a microfibre towel whereas liquids tend to be retained by the natural fibre.
I have yet to replace any grey or blue squirrel haired brushes because I really look after them. This means I only use them to apply powder products, I always run them over a towel to give them a quick clean and I minimise washing.
What are the signs that your brush is at its end?
"When you feel the bristles cannot hold as much powder as before and the texture becomes worse, it is time to change your brush."
There will come a day when you notice that your brush isn't picking up product as well as it once did. Either you'll experience an uneven distribution of product across the bristles or it just won't pick up as much powder or cream as it used to. This is the first sign that the bristles have experienced damage.
In my personal experience, this has been most obvious with sokoho hair brushes, particularly the black dyed brushes. These have always been the first to require more dips into the pan than usual. I also feel that the bristles start feeling a bit rough where the hairs take on a hay-like texture when the brush is near its end.
"The brush head can become worn and the bristles start to shed."
Losing hair from your brush is an obvious sign that something is wrong. High-quality fude makers will comb the brush heads to remove loose hairs at the end of the manufacturing process. You may experience some mild shedding after initial washes but typically this should only be a few hairs here and there. When a lot of hairs start coming out, then the brush is at the end of its useful lifespan.
Here's what my Hakuhodo fan brush looks like. I started noticing more frequent shedding on this brush recently but it has reached a point where it is losing far too many hairs. These came out simply with a bit of a rough fondling of the bristles.
Visually, you can see little loose hairs poking out the top of the brush head. They will dislodge quite easily if you comb your brush out or even just use your fingers to gently tease it out.
This is the aftermath of quickly swiping the brush head over the back of my hand and over my palms. The real point of no return is when you get those tiny pieces come out. The long hairs are obvious but the short little bits are actually the tips of the hair breaking off. Think about it this way. The hair on your head needs maintenance. You visit the salon to get a hair cut because your ends become damaged and split. The hairs used in hand-bundled fude brushes are never cut in the first place so as to retain the natural cuticles that make the brushes so soft. They can't remain in perfect condition forever.
If memory serves me right, this fan brush was purchased at the end of 2014 from a Hakuhodo store in Kyoto, Japan. For reference, I used this brush to apply both cream and powder contours, bronzers and as a powder finishing brush over tacky and oily bases. The manufacturer promised 5 years and I got 6 solid years so overall, it was a pretty decent investment. Time of death: December 2020. RIP brush. You've served me well.
Above is another example of a brush that's past its prime. This is a dyed sokoho haired brush. From this distance, it doesn't look bad. It's not the softest brush out there nor was it especially soft when I first obtained this ten years ago. The real tell is when you get very close up.
Upon closer inspection, you can see where the brush hairs have snapped. The ends literally broke off and now there are half length hairs everywhere. Some of the hairs are also quite crinkled and warped in comparison to what it used to be like. This blush brush has been in my possession since 2010 so a decade's worth of moderate usage has been more than enough.
Below is my final example. This is the Chikuhodo T-6 which has been in usage since 2015. Five years is not a long time for this brush because I'm sure that many people who own this popular brush still have theirs in perfect condition. I primarily use this brush to apply cream or liquid products so mine has definitely undergone more heavy duty usage that means it's been washed on a weekly basis.
This brush is not at the point where I'm going to throw it out — yet. The shape is beginning to warp ever so slightly and the hairs around the edges are obviously a little wrinkled but this just means that I'm going to need to dry this in a brush guard to slow the process. I've yet to experience shedding with this brush or significant hair breakage. Only a few hairs have snapped. I just wanted to show an example of something that is potentially nearing its end. If I continue using this as I typically do to apply liquid and cream contour, liquid highlighter or to set an oily base, then I probably have another year with this brush.
How to look after your brushes
I'm truly sceptical of any claim that your fude should last a lifetime. I'm also a firm believer that brushes should be used rather than kept for display. Hakuhodo states that leaving brushes unused for long periods of time will actually cause the bristles to shed. The idea behind this is that there are natural oils on your face that will act as a conditioner on the hairs so you maintain the hairs simply by using them. Besides, using fude truly elevates the makeup application process to a luxurious experience. So what can you do to prolong the lifespan of your expensive purchase?
The first obvious thing to do is to wash and dry your brushes properly. My step-by-step guide to washing and maintaining brushes is also up on the blog so I'd recommend having a read. The most important thing is to ensure you don't allow water to seep into the ferrules.
Another recommendation I have is to clean off your brush after using it. You don't need any fancy chemicals or sprays. Just take your brush and run it over a microfibre towel to remove any excess product. You can use any microfibre towel of your choosing. It doesn't need to be expensive at all. My local supermarket and hardware store sells many kinds. The same brands that you use to clean your home will work just fine with your brushes.
Brushes should be enjoyed to their fullest. Don't get so caught up in preserving them that you become afraid to use them because all good things must come to an end.