Hakuhodo brush guide

Hakuhodo is a high-quality manufacturer of makeup brushes which are hand-made in Japan. This post provides detailed information about their brushes, along with general information on how to choose makeup brushes.

Why buy Hakuhodo brushes?

One reason to buy Hakuhodo is the quality. The brushes are hand-made, and:

  • They are very soft, since they use natural hair tips instead of laser-cut ones (natural hair gets finer at the tips, so it feels softer than hair that has the tips cut off).
  • They don’t use “filler” hair (low-quality laser-cut hair used to take up space in the brush and save on cost).
  • They are shaped by hand, which means that each brush head is uniform in shape (bristles evenly distributed throughout).
  • They are also durable and don’t shed continually as poor-quality brushes do. (It’s not uncommon for even good-quality brushes to shed a little at the start of use. These are “floating hairs” that were not pinched in the ferrule when the brush maker was assembling the brush. Even though they try to shake these hairs out, sometimes some are left. These hairs are usually the length of the brush head. If hairs were actually coming out of the ferrule – i.e. a sign of poor quality – they would be about twice the length of the head.)

Another reason to buy Hakuhodo is the variety. This can seem like a double-edged sword, since the huge array of choices can be overwhelming. However, it does mean that there’s a wide variety of brushes to suit different needs.

Hakuhodo is also more easily accessible compared to other Japanese brushes which must be ordered from websites like Ichibankao or CDJapan (although Beautylish does sell some Japanese brushes). However, “more easily accessible” is a relative statement; Hakuhodo isn’t carried by any other retailers in the US. You can only see their brushes in person at makeup trade shows or at the Hakuhodo showroom in the Los Angeles area. You can buy Hakuhodo brushes there in person, or you can order them online for a flat shipping fee of $9 inside the US. Due to the shipping cost, it’s worth it to wait to order several brushes at once rather than ordering one by one. On the bright side, their shipping is very fast. I’m not as familiar with how to buy Hakuhodo brushes outside the US, but they do ship internationally for a flat rate of $16 without tracking or insurance (you can opt for those things at a higher cost).

Are Hakuhodo brushes worth it?

There’s no one answer to this question. If you’re just starting out with makeup, I recommend buying cheaper brushes to begin with so you learn about your likes and dislikes in terms of brush types, shapes, and sizes without laying out a bunch of money to start with. And if you already have brushes that you’re perfectly happy with, then of course it wouldn’t be worth it for you to get a new set.

However, if you feel like your current brushes are scratchy, if they irritate your skin, if you’re not getting the kind of application you’d like, or if your brushes keep falling apart (constant shedding, or the entire head falling out of the ferrule), and if you have room in your budget, then it could be worth it.

Many of Hakuhodo’s brushes are priced in line with mid-end brands such as MAC. Some — large brushes, those that use squirrel hair, and the S100 and Kokutan series — are more expensive than their mid-end counterparts. Whether they are “worth it” depends on your personal priorities and how much use you would get out of them. It doesn’t matter how high-quality or soft a brush is if it’s (for instance) too big for your eyes. On the other hand, if a particular brush works perfectly for your needs and you would use it on a daily basis, then that could certainly be worth it.

The Hakuhodo series

While Hakuhodo has a number of different brush series, the quality and many of the head shapes are consistent from series to series. The primary difference between them is the handles. For instance, the S100 series has a 24-karat-plated ferrule and a red lacquer handle, while the Kokutan series has ebony handles. These series are correspondingly more expensive.

When the same brush head is present in multiple series, the name will remain the same, with only letters changing (ex. J5523, G5523; see below for a note on another variation from series to series: hair type).

In short, unless you really care about the aesthetics of the handles, you can disregard the different series as you pick brushes. My recommendations are mostly for brushes with plain black handles.

A Note on Dyed vs. Undyed Goat Hair

White, undyed goat hair is softer than dyed black goat hair, and it won’t bleed or fade as can happen with dyed hair. So white goat hair tends to be more expensive than black. Previously, the J series (now being switched to the B line) mostly used white goat hair, while the G series mostly used black goat hair (as well as other non-goat hair types).

However, as of mid-2016 Hakuhodo has begun to transition to using only undyed goat hair, so the prices of brushes that used to use dyed hair are going up. So far the only one in my list below that’s been switched over to undyed goat hair is the G5521, now the B5521, but apparently Hakuhodo will finish this transition later in 2016.

Choosing a Brush

First, assess your needs, thinking about the gaps in your brush collection and the things you like and dislike about your current brushes. Perhaps your blush brush is a good size and shape but is scratchy and over-applies your blushes, for instance. Make a list of your needs, both general (ex. “a blush brush”) and specific (“a small brush that produces a very light, precise blush application”).

The next step is to determine the exact kind of brush that will meet those needs. Here are factors to consider:

  • Synthetic vs. natural hair – Most of Hakuhodo’s brushes use natural hair, but some are mixes of natural and synthetic, and a few are synthetic. Synthetic brushes are non-porous, so they don’t soak up liquid like natural hair does. On the other hand, often natural hair can pick up powder pigment better than synthetic. This means that in general, synthetic brushes work better for liquid/cream products, and natural fibers are better for powder/mineral products.
  • Types of natural hair – Stiffer hair retains its shape better when pressed against the skin; softer hair will splay out and provide a more diffused application. So, from very stiff to very soft:
    • Badger hair, which is very stiff, is good for eyebrow brushes.
    • Weasel is stiff but has more elasticity, so is good for eyeliner, lip, concealer, or eyeshadow lay-down brushes.
    • Horse, much like weasel hair, is stiff with some elasticity, and is used for eyeliner and some eyeshadow brushes.
    • Goat hair is pretty versatile – not very stiff or extremely soft. It’s good for blush, powder (loose or pressed), highlighter/contour, and eyeshadow.
    • Squirrel hair is very soft and delicate. It’s good to provide a soft, diffused application for loose powder, highlighter, pigmented blush, or eyeshadow blending.

    Hakuhodo has more information on different types of hair here. As for where the hair comes from, see here.

  • Flexibility – Going along with the above, how stiff/flexible a brush is will make a difference to application. A brush that is too stiff will be uncomfortable to use and won’t blend out product; a brush that is too flexible will flop all over the place and not apply the product where you want it to go. Eyebrow, eyeliner, and eyeshadow lay-down brushes should be pretty stiff. Flat concealer brushes should be flexible enough to bend against your face. Blush, powder, and eyeshadow blending blushes should also be flexible, but not floppy.
  • Size – If you have a small face (for instance, if most hats are too big for your head, or many sunglasses are too loose for your face), then you’ll want smaller face brushes. If you have small lid space (which is common with hooded eyes or monolids), then you’ll want smaller eyeshadow brushes.
  • Brush head shape – A flat top is good for all-over application with little precision (powder or foundation). A tapered point allows more precision in placement and is necessary for highlighting/contouring. A domed head provides a bit of a balance between the two extremes.
  • Density – A very dense brush will pick up and apply more product than a looser brush. A dense brush is good for foundation and anything else that requires a strong application (such as eyeliner). For setting/finishing powder, on the other hand, you’d want something fluffier so you end up with a light application rather than a too-heavy, cakey one. The same goes for highlighter, bronzer, and anything else that requires a soft/light application.
  • Your skin type – If your skin is oily, squirrel hair will soak up the oil; goat hair, which is more resilient, is better for oily skin. On the other hand, squirrel hair is great for dry or sensitive skin.

You can use these factors as you consider what kind of application you want, and then go from there to figure out what kind of brush you need. For instance:

  • If you want a brush for setting/finishing powder, you’d need to look for something fluffy and large. Squirrel hair would be good for loose powder, but it might not pick up pressed powder very well; goat would be better for that, and could also work for loose powder.
  • If you want a blush brush, consider whether you tend to have difficulty getting blush to show up or, conversely, overapplying. If you have trouble getting blush to show up (perhaps if your blushes are hard/unpigmented or if you have darker skin), you’d want something fairly dense so it picks up more product, probably made of goat hair for increased firmness. If you have the opposite problem (overapplication), you’d want something fluffier, with squirrel hair for a soft, diffused application. Also consider whether you need a small or large brush, and whether you want a precise application (in which case a tapered brush shape would be good) or not (in which case a domed shape would work).

Keep in mind that there are many brushes that will work for multiple purposes, so look at brushes in different categories. Highlighter and powder brushes can also work for blush; powder and blush brushes can work for bronzer; some blush and highlighter brushes can work for contouring; some eyeshadow brushes can work for concealer; and so on.

For the example of “a small brush that produces a very light, precise application,” the G5521 fits that description well, and even though it’s a highlighter brush, it can be used for blush. My list of recommendations below includes several multitasker brushes, but I haven’t repeated them across categories, so just keep in mind the characteristics you want in a brush as you look throughout the list.

Finally, pay close attention to the measurements provided on Hakuhodo’s site. Measure your existing brushes for comparison’s sake so you won’t be surprised when your brushes arrive!

And you can email Hakuhodo’s customer service with questions about their brushes. They really are very helpful and reply to emails incredibly quickly.

Brush care and cleaning

Hakuhodo’s brush care/cleaning instructions are here. Sweet Makeup Temptations has much more information here.

Note that brushes with very delicate hair (squirrel) should not be washed frequently; they can be cleaned with a microfiber cloth regularly and washed on a monthly or even quarterly basis.

Hakuhodo brush recommendations

Please note that since I don’t own all of these brushes, I can’t evaluate them all from personal experience; my notes are largely based off other people’s reviews.

Blush:

  • B5521 ($53, squirrel/goat; formerly G5521) – my review of the G5521 – a small, flexible tapered brush that can be used for light application of blush (best suited for small features), highlighter, under-eye setting powder, or contour. Comparable to Wayne Goss #2, which is a bit fluffier.
  • J210 ($53, goat) – review – a soft, somewhat small, dense domed brush, suitable for medium to strong blush application. It’s comparable to the MAC 109 and can also be used for contouring.
  • Pointed yachiyo, large ($50, goat) – review – good for blending out blush, and comparable in size to the NARS yachiyo, though the head is rounder and a bit smaller than NARS. The medium size ($42) may be better for you if you have small features, and it’s also a good multitasker for contouring and highlighting in addition to blush.
  • K020 ($68, blue squirrel) – mini-review – a soft, domed brush, good for light, diffused blush application.
  • B505 ($88, blue squirrel/goat) – review – a soft, domed brush, good for pigmented blushes but can build up color as well. May be too large for small faces.

Powder:

  • J104 ($83, goat) – review – a large, soft, moderately dense brush
  • K002 ($83, blue squirrel) – review – a very soft brush of medium density; good for loose powder

Bronzer:

  • J110 ($54, goat) – a soft brush that is fairly versatile and can also be used for blush (though it may be too big for small faces) and powder.

Highlighter:

  • J4004 ($27, goat) – review – a soft fan brush, good for lighter application/frostier highlighters.
  • G5537 ($35, goat) – review – a soft, fluffy brush with long, loose bristles. This floppy brush is good for light, diffused (not precise/directional) application of highlighter, blush, powder, or bronzer.
  • J116 ($35, goat) – review – a small, flat brush that comes to a rounded taper. It could also be used for contouring, under-eye setting powder, or (for small faces) blush. It is almost identical in shape to the Koyudo BP025.
  • J5521 ($38, goat) – review – a dense, tapered brush that requires a light hand. The G5521 is the blue squirrel/goat version of this brush, and is slightly less tapered.

Contour:

  • Itabake, small ($48, goat) – mini-review – a flat, square brush, comparable to the NARS Ita but softer/better quality.
  • G503 ($60, goat/horse; will be discontinued) – review – a dense, firm angled brush, suitable for contouring and for strong blush application/unpigmented blushes. Since it creates a very strong line, it may require some extra blending. See also the smaller G504 ($75, blue squirrel/horse, mini-review here; will also be discontinued), which may be better for blending due to the squirrel hair.
  • Fan brush, black ($63, blue squirrel/goat) – review – a soft brush that blends well. Not identical to the Rae Morris ultimate cheekbone brush, but very similar in function.

Concealer:

  • G538 ($18, synthetic) – review – a long, narrow, flexible flat brush, good for applying concealer in little nooks and crannies like the inner corner of the eye.
  • B214 ($37, goat; formerly J214) – mini-review – a small, dense domed brush that’s good for blending concealer (and can also be used for contouring small areas like the sides of the nose).
  • J125R ($28, goat/synthetic) – review – a little duo-fiber brush, good for blending concealer under the eyes if something small works for you.

Foundation:

  • G5557 ($72, goat/synthetic) – review – a large, soft, dense angled duo-fiber brush. It can produce an “airbrushed” finish and is particularly good for thick/creamy foundations. The smaller G5555 ($57) may be better for small faces/detail work.

Note: Hakuhodo’s even-numbered duo-fiber brushes (G5552, G5554, G5556) have a 4mm distance between the goat and synthetic fibers, which produces a lighter application that is good for cream blush. In particular, the G5552 ($47, review here) would be a good choice for cream blush. The odd-numbered brushes (G5553, G5555, G5557) have a shorter (2mm) distance between the goat and synthetic fibers, which produces a heavier application and is more suited to foundation.

  • Mizubake ($54, goat) – review – a fluffy, flat-headed brush that works well with liquid foundation and liquid/cream blush.
  • G543 ($98, goat) – review – a small, very dense brush that does an excellent job of stippling and buffing liquid/cream foundation.

Lips:

  • 280 ($19, synthetic) – can also be used for concealer.

Eyeliner:

  • J521 ($14, horse) – a tiny flat push liner brush suited for tightlining. The Wayne Goss #8 is comparable.
  • G5512 ($15, horse) – review – a very short, firm, curved brush head, good for winged liner or tightlining
  • J005 ($17, horse) – review – a dense, slightly curved brush head; can be used for tightlining, smudging eyeshadow, and putting eyeshadow on the lower lash line. This is identical in shape to the highly-recommended K005, which was made of weasel hair. While the K005 is no longer sold in the US, it is still available in Japan (here).
  • J007 ($15, horse) – a fine-tip liner brush. This is identical in shape to the also highly-recommended and now discontinued K007, which was made of weasel hair.

Angled brushes (eyeliner/brows):

  • B163 ($25, badger) – a very dense, firm little brush. The J163H ($19, horse, review here) is similar but is less stiff.
  • The B264 ($23, badger) and K015 ($25, badger) are both a bit longer than the previous two; the K015 is wider and thicker than the B264.

Eyeshadow brushes

Lay-down brushes:

  • J242G ($18, goat/synthetic) – review – good for small lid space.
  • J004G ($20, goat) – review – larger than the J242G, this is comparable to the MAC 239. See also the G5507 ($19, horse), which is very similar in size.

Crease brushes:

  • J142 ($19, goat) – review – a soft, thin brush with a tapered edge
  • J146 ($18, goat) – review – This is smaller than the J142 and is a good alternative for those with small lid space or who want to do precise crease work.
  • J5529 ($17, goat) – review – This one is even smaller than the J146 and offers still more precision, making it good for defining the outer v.

Blending brushes:

  • J5523 ($19, goat) – review – great for blending eyeshadow; comparable to the MAC 217 in terms of function, though the Hakuhodo is softer/better quality. If you have small lids/hooded eyes, then the J5523 might be a little too big for doing transitions between colors on your lids; the smaller J5529 could work for that.
  • If you want something larger than the J5523, try the J5522 ($20, goat, review here).

Detail brushes:

  • G5520 ($22, blue squirrel/horse) – review – a dense, soft, pointed little pencil brush. The
  • G5514 ($17, horse) – a dense, pointed, small pencil brush.
  • G5529 ($22, blue squirrel) – review – a slim and somewhat tapered brush which applies color softly. Good for detail work such as smudging eyeshadow, defining the “outer v,” and highlighting the inner corner.
  • G5513 ($17, horse) – review – a small, flat brush good for detail work such as highlighting the inner corner, smudging eyeshadow, and patting on shadow on the lower lash line.

Other eyeshadow brushes:

  • J122R ($29, goat/synthetic) – review – a duo-fiber brush good for cream eyeshadow and for blending out under-eye concealer. The J125R (see above) is a smaller version of this brush.
  • G515 ($43, Canada squirrel) – review – a very soft, fluffy brush with an unusual angled shape; it can create a defined crease or put an all-over wash of shadow on the lid.

Links

General information on Hakuhodo:

Hakuhodo reviews:

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