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Synthetic Fibers – A Historical Perspective and how they Relate to Shaving Brushes (Part 9)

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This is the ninth in a series of articles on synthetic fibers and how they relate to shaving brushes, including a brief history of synthetic fibers, their development, stagnation, and resurrection in the market place.   We are now entering into the time that demand for synthetic brushes is beginning to be noticed by several companies.    In the previous article we discussed Men-ü and the review by Mantic59 in 2006.   Other companies such as The Body Shop ®, Omega, and Mühle were providing entrants into the realm of synthetic brushes.   The past couple of years have provided new entrants into the traditional shaving brush market.  These manufacturers such as Frank Shaving and Artist Brushstrokes provide even more choices in terms of price, filaments used, and handle designs.
Details on particular synthetic fibers that are used may be held by shaving brush manufacturers as confidential intellectual property and a mystery that no one can decipher.   However, C.H. Jenkins provides some information in the presentation, “Intellectual Property – (Some of) What Engineers Should Know,” that actually discusses the reality of the situation when the following queries were made with the responses provided.

1. Phone call to a brush manufacturer: “There are no secrets in this industry!”

2. Email from a plastics injection molding company: “Send us the brush handle and we will reverse engineer it.”

3. There are only a very few bristle manufacturers.

4. Attaching the bristles to the handle is not unique.

5. This isn’t rocket science!  [1]

So we see that industry members can reverse engineer items rather easily, so proprietary information and techniques are fleeting.    Since the technology for handles and binding materials have not had major recent developments, we can now turn to back to the original developer of Nylon to see what types of cosmetic fibers are available for shaving brushes.
DuPont during over the course of years, along with other fiber makers, continued to develop new fibers based off of Nylon, Polyester and other composite synthetic materials.   In fact, they have an entire section on the internet dedicated to these fibers.    The web site that contains the summary of the fibers can be seen here.  In addition, we can see more detail into one of the fiber type that has a very similar description to what is used in shaving brushes.  The Dupont ™ Tynex® Natrafil™ filaments are a polymer composite, with colors ranging from natural/white, honey-brown, mustard, dark tan and black [2]   It is noted as being, “suitable for blush brushes, staple-set technology, in-mold technology, and glue technology.”    It is also noted as having, “feel and look of natural bristle, excellent animal hair substitute, improve pick-up and release, a soft synthetic filament option, and is perfect for trend of liquid make-ups.”  [3]  In addition the following is noted about this particular fiber and some of its uses.

“Compared to other synthetic materials, these new DuPont filaments offer better powder pickup and deposit, thanks to a proprietary texturing process that gives the filaments a structured surface. Their stiffness can be adjusted to customer requirements, and it remains stable over time, whereas filaments based on some other polymers tend to get stiffer. In softness the 4- mil diameter Tynex® Natrafil™ is comparable to superior goat-hair, the 3-mil type to sable or squirrel bristle.” [4]

Goat bristles have also served as substitutes, or as “fake badger bristles,” in the cosmetic industry as described below.

“Although badgers are native to many parts of the world, China is the main source of badger hair for brush making. High Quality Badger hair (referred to as Badger ‘Tapers’) is similar to squirrel, kolinsky sable, weasel or red sable, in that Water Badger Hair ‘tapers’, hence it also has a ‘conical’ shape. This means that high quality badger hair makeup brushes would also have thick bellies and thin pointy tips. Badger ‘Tapers’ is ‘elastic’. The less ‘tapered’ the hair is the less ‘elastic’ it will be. Badger ‘Tapers’ are found in high-quality badger hair makeup brushes. The high-quality badger hair has the typical ‘sketchy’ appearance (light-dark-light) with softer and have very thin tips.

Badger hair that are gray in color are less tapered hence are NOT as ‘conical’ in shape and less ‘elastic’ and not as soft as the high quality badger ‘tapers’. Badger ‘grays’ are LIGHTER (nearly grey) in color and are less expensive hence are commonly found on SHAVING brushes and BUFFING brushes at Barbershops (but some are also used in makeup brushes too lately!). Is that why most buffer brush (for e.g. MAC #180, hair not specified) or kabuki brush bear close resemblance to a shaving brush or barber’s buffing brush?!

Unlike sables which are often used in smaller makeup brushes, high quality badger hair is ideal to be used to make bigger makeup brushes such as fan-type brush, bronzer brush and badger ‘tapers’ make the BEST Buffer or Kabuki brush types because they are ‘elastic’ and have very soft tips and will NEVER EVER feel prickly on your face yet still very ‘bouncy’ and are much denser than other hair! However, since high quality badger hair (badger ‘tapers’) are very expensive, often blunt goat hair or mix (some may even be bleached goat hair, badger-look-a-like?) or badger ‘greys’ is used instead to make buffer or kabuki type brushes.” [5]

It is clear that any shaving brush shares most of its elements with the cosmetic brush.   Now we have a view of some of the synthetic fibers that migrated from the cosmetic world to the shaving brush world.    We also see why the demand is great for natural bristles of all types.   The production of synthetic brushes has seen a resurgence in the past ten years. Now there are a variety of synthetic brushes in both size, softness, stiffness and price, as compared to where it all began in the late 1940s with only one fiber type available.     The issue for the next article is how do the brushes stack up in real world testing today, and the potential direction of synthetics in the future.

GD Carrington

GD Carrington

4 thoughts on “Synthetic Fibers – A Historical Perspective and how they Relate to Shaving Brushes (Part 9)”

  1. Pingback: The Best Synthetic Shaving Brush and Its Rise to Glory%page

  2. I have used a Kabuki synthetic with great success on the road. I want a Kent Infinity for travel, but if I like the Kent too much it will stay at home until the Kabuki dies.

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