Beauty vloggers are still reaching massive numbers of beauty fans on social channels such as YouTube, demonstrating how to use all types of brushes and sponges in various sizes and shapes, to create just one makeup look.
A Rising Demand
As a result, more brands are launching different types of applicators and brush collections, as more consumers are willing to purchase them separately—expecting a better performance. “Brands are developing more professional, single applicators that are sold individually as stand-alone products, not just as side accessories,” says Charlotte Wastyn, makeup product manager, Albéa.
Jason Clerke, president, Garrett Hewitt, says that the contouring trend is creating a new market for contouring brushes. “Just about every brush set we have developed in the last year has included a contouring brush,” he says.
Steve Ostrower, president, The Penthouse Group, mentions the “Beauty Blender” craze. “This trend was born only a few years ago, and it continues to pick up steam, with new offerings from almost every brand. I have seen how these 3D applicators have spawned a new generation of makeup artists, allowing beauty fans to create looks that were previously achieved only by professionals,” he says.
Ostrower says that some of the newly designed blending sponges are like “mini masterpieces,” in a variety of colors and shapes. “New designs go way beyond the traditional types of sponges or puffs,” he says. “Flow-through applicators are especially innovative, and enhance the user’s experience with a product.”
The team at Qosmedix is also seeing a rise in the demand for sponges in unique shapes and offers several new options. “Blender sponges will remain popular because they work,” says Sari Sternschein, director of marketing, Qosmedix. She continues, “Blender sponges make it easier to achieve pro-makeup artist techniques including highlighting, contouring and strobing.”
Makeup Trends Affect New Applicator Designs
Some suppliers work with a trend agency to predict the next big “looks” in makeup, such as contouring, strobing, highlighting, smoky eyes, or matte lips. Then, they will develop the appropriate applicators. Or, a supplier might use trend forecasts for insights on color and patterns, to decorate components such as brush handles and ferrules.
“We work with a trend agency,” says Christian Hauger, executive VP business development/R&D, Geka. “Many of our customers ask us about trends, and we will continually create products that reflect upcoming trends,” he explains.
Hauger says Geka’s team will often conduct development workshops with trend experts, brand marketers, makeup artists and consumers to get feedback and define a packaging concept.
HCT Group has a Brush Division, and its team includes in-house professional makeup artists. “Before strobing became a mainstream trend, our makeup artists helped us develop new brush shapes that would make highlighting and contouring easier, as they were already using these techniques on their clients. By the time brands were requesting these types of applicators, we already had a full range of beauty tools developed, ahead of our competitors,” explains Cindy Lim, senior vice president, Global Cosmetic Brush Division, HCT Group.
Anisa Telwar Kaicker, founder/CEO, Anisa International, says that the contouring trend will continue. “Contouring and highlighting are always going to be a focus because that is what gives the face perfect symmetry. The technique works on the cheeks, jaw, eyes and just about every body part,” she says. “Brows are also becoming a significant trend,” she adds.
Geka’s Hauger also mentions eyebrows, saying that we can expect to see more products, including applicators, being developed for this cosmetic category. “We will soon see more sophisticated packaging solutions for eyebrow products. Adapting a traditional mascara brush for brows is not enough anymore. Brands are looking for more innovation in this area,” Hauger says.
Albea’s Wastyn says there is an increasing demand for new types of applicators for face makeup and eyeliner, in addition to eyebrows. “We are still seeing an increase in makeup tutorials for smoky eyes, layering, and contouring, and we expect these trends to continue,” she says.
Beauty Consumers Expect Quality
Brands often work with suppliers to develop better quality applicators to market as stand-alone beauty tools, but they are also improving the types included in kits and palettes. A high-quality applicator for eyeshadow, for example, will typically have a larger flocked tip, and will cost slightly more. Suppliers say that more brands are upgrading.
The team at Pennellifaro once worked with a brand that improved its eye shadow applicator, and the product was a success on shelf. “It was a brand that was adding a brush to an eyeshadow palette. At first, they chose a very economical applicator. We advised them to upgrade to a double pointed applicator, which made a significant difference in the way the makeup was applied—and the end result,” explains Mariangela Porpora, marketing, Pennellifaro.
The product was a success at retail, and the brand re-ordered the applicator in different handle colors, to promote different ways of using its eyeshadow palette to create different looks. “In this case, the applicator made all the difference in the product’s success,” Porpora says. (Pennellifaro has a new brush design, described below).
Avoiding Kylie’s Lip Brush Blunder
Beauty consumers expect a high level of quality, and an applicator’s performance is especially crucial for lipgloss. When a product or package isn’t up to par, a brand should expect to be called out on social media.
The Kylie Lip Kit by Kylie Jenner includes matte lip colors paired with flock tip applicators and a gloss formulation with a brush applicator. The first batch of glosses shipped with an applicator that didn’t work. The brush tip was too long, and the creamy gloss made it clump and separate.
Unhappy customers complained on Twitter, posting photos of the disheveled brush, but Jenner didn’t lose any fans. She quickly announced that she changed the applicator, showed the new one on SnapChat, and then tweeted that everyone would receive a new gloss. The new applicator still has a brush tip, but now it’s shorter and more firm.
How can a brand avoid this type of mistake? “When it comes to creating or choosing an applicator, you have to consider the whole product—the applicator itself, the formula and also the packaging,” says Geka’s Hauger. “Only the perfect combination of these components delivers perfect application results,” he says.
Laurence Petiteaux, press officer, Cosmogen, agrees, saying, “We test product—packaging, brushes and tips—with different formulas and especially with our customers’ laboratories before a launch.” She adds, “We work with a select, shortlist of suppliers that respect our technical specifications, and they meet the high-quality standards of the most prestigious brands on the market.”
When The Penthouse Group is working with a lipgloss brand to supply a flocked tip applicator, Ostrower often advises on the length, material, and denier of the flock, as well as different material options for the applicator head, which will work best with a brand’s formula. “We make sure our customers receive an applicator that has already been thoroughly tested and proven to be compatible with a formula,” Ostrower says.
Producing a flocked applicator requires using an adhesive to adhere the flock to the head, and this is where issues might arise. “The adhesive is key,” says Ostrower. “Our customers send us their product, along with an ingredient list, and we make sure the adhesive is compatible,” he adds.
JFA Flock produces innovative types of flock, combined with unique shapes for applicator heads, which are ideal for lip and eye products. The supplier has created different shaped tips for applicator heads, in eight new ergonomic shapes inspired by nature. One of the supplier’s new applicators is designed for use with eyebrow products. It is made from a thick, flocked fiber that performs like a brush.
“Traditional flocking, or full flocking, is done by completely submerging an applicator’s head in an adhesive, and then applying the flocking. But since this process completely covers up a uniquely shaped applicator, we developed a partial flocking process to solve this issue,” explains Ferdinand Fütterer, director, JFA Flock.
The supplier has also produced shiny, flocked applicators, made from Trilobal fibers. This type of fiber has three distinct sides, shaped like a 3-pointed star. The sides reflect more light in a direct path, which gives the fiber a high-sheen appearance. “We have a high level of demand from our customers for our Trilobal flock,” says Fütterer.
The Penthouse Group has a new dual fiber flocked lipgloss applicator by Erzi. “These are some of the most sophisticated and affordable lipgloss applicators in the world. The dual fiber technology provides an application and aesthetic appeal that will re-set the bar in the category,” says Ostrower.
Geka also has new applicator options for lipgloss, including “smoothLEAF,” a flexible, ergonomically shaped applicator for shiny, “wet look” lip color formulations; and “softDEFINITION,” a tapered spatula that has a flattened side to evenly apply creamy lip color formulations.
Solving Mascara Issues
For mascara, compatibility between a product and applicator is essential. The product’s formulation must work well with a bottle, wiper and applicator, to deliver the results a brand intends. “Only the perfect combination of these components provides perfect application results,” says Geka’s Hauger.
Hauger says he often sees a few common issues arise. “Either the mascara brush is very soft, so it cannot penetrate the lashes. The lashes will stick together, and the application will look messy,” he explains. “Or, a mascara brush can be very stiff so that it nicely separates the lashes and avoids clumping, but as soon as you touch your lid, it might hurt.”
These issues inspired Geka to develop two patented technologies, “Moltrusion” and “Sandwich.” “Both processes use two different materials to produce molded brushes that will deliver perfect application results,” says Hauger. “They are made with a hard material at the core, to ensure the stability of the brush. They also have soft bristles that feel very comfortable when applying makeup to the lashes.”
Geka’s patented technologies were sold exclusively to certain brands in previous years, but since the exclusivity contracts have expired, we can expect to see many more brands taking advantage of these brush designs shortly.
Geka is also promoting its endlessSPHERE mascara brush. “It is Hypno Cut, with three volume zones so that plenty of product is absorbed and evenly applied to the lashes,” says Hauger. This brush is made using Geka’s new EOSdelta fiber, which claims to separate lashes perfectly due to its triangular shape.
HCT’s Infused Brushes
Several new developments in brush technologies are emerging, and suppliers are developing ways to utilize them. HCT Group is one supplier that is taking applicators to the next level by combining skin care benefits with beauty tools.
HCT’s Lim says, “We are currently experimenting with different filaments, shapes, sizes and functions that we believe will change the industry.”
One of the supplier’s recent innovations is its infused synthetic filaments, which can be used to create “anti-aging brushes.” “These infused filaments contain natural ingredients, and each holds a unique set of properties including anti-aging, antibacterial agents, skin conditioners and anti-inflammatories,” says Lim.
A brand can combine these infused filaments with any of HCT’s beauty tools to create a custom brush design, for example.
Better Brush Shapes for More Precise Application
New brush designs are being developed to help make makeup application streak-free and flawless. Cosmogen recently worked with YSL to create a specially designed brush for its liquid foundation, Touche Eclat Le Teint Yves Saint Laurent. The brush has a Y-shaped well in the center to hold liquid makeup, making it easier to apply it to the face.
Pennellifaro has developed a new brush collection, called Tip & Blend. The brushes have a unique shape, and are ideal for applying foundation or concealer with more precision. “Blending is essential, to recreate some of the most popular makeup looks, and for contouring techniques,” says Porpora. “We wanted to come up with a better way to apply makeup by using a brush, instead of your fingers,” she explains.
Pennellifaro’s new line of brushes features tips on top, which resemble small, round balls that extend from the top of a long hair brush. The tip’s unique design enables users to be more accurate when applying concealer, for example, or any makeup around facial contours. “We have a lot of interest in our new designs, which we just began showing to customers,” says Porpora.
When a brand chooses a quality brush with a unique look that works well, consumers notice. Anisa International recently launched a dual-sided brush collection, ideal for contouring and highlighting.
The brushes contain the supplier’s patent-pending PnP enhanced wave fiber and two-toned synthetic fibers. “Together, these deliver a degree of product pickup and payoff not previously seen in manmade fibers,” says Kaicker. She adds, “A beautiful brush will help a brand rise above industry noise, differentiating a brand from competitors. It is our job, as supplier partners, to help a brand achieve this.”
Garrett Hewitt recently created a double-ended contour brush for Stila Cosmetics, called the “Shape & Shade Custom Contour Brush. It allows for precision contouring and streak-free blending.
“This is one of Stila’s bestselling brushes,” says Garrett Hewitt’s Clerke. “It has synthetic fibers that were customized to deliver the best results when used with their cream-to-matte contour and highlighting products,” he explains.
Vegan Brushes & Eco-Friendly Applicators
Consumers care more about certain causes, especially the use of animal hair for makeup brushes, and many brands are responding. “The most common request we are hearing from brand marketers for the last couple of years is for a synthetic brush that performs like a natural hair brush, and at a competitive price,” says Clerke. “We hear these requests from the largest mass market brands, as well as the most exclusive luxury brands,” he adds.
Clerke says in addition to consumers’ concern for animal welfare, the rising costs of natural hair, as well as supply issues, are contributing to the increasing demand for synthetic hair. In response, Garrett Hewitt has developed several synthetic fiber options that perform as well, or better than, natural hair.
“Cosilk Fibers, unlike a traditional round fiber, are irregular shapes, which cause the fibers on a brush to separate in a more natural way. This increases the surface area that is in contact with the product,” Clerke explains.
What does this mean for performance? “It increases pickup and delivers a better payoff compared to a traditional cylindrical fiber,” Clerke says.
Garrett Hewitt has also developed Silk Fibers. “By using a unique blend of resins with a secret additive, we can create a fiber that is incredibly soft and light on the face. It is ideal for powder and dusting brushes. It feels like squirrel hair,” Clerke explains.
Anisa International is also promoting the use of synthetic fibers, and has several innovative brush collections made from new fibers that are engineered to mimic the performance of natural hair.
“We have made great strides in developing a replacement for fibers made from goat hair,” says Kaicker. (See the supplier’s dual-sided collection described previously, which mimics the performance of pony hair.)
She adds, “We are so confident in the high-performance abilities of the fibers we’re developing, that we are committed to exiting all animal hair by 2017.”
The Penthouse Group’s Ostrower says he often hears requests for eco-friendly applicators, especially brushes and sponges. “We offer eco-friendly puffs that utilize natural undyed cotton velour, organic cotton, bamboo fiber, and natural muslin backings,” says Ostrower. “In brushes, we have ferrules and handles made from recycled aluminum, bamboo, and sugar cane resin,” he adds.
Sponge applicators have come a long way. There are flat styles made for compacts as well as 3D shapes that are ideal for blending.
“Brands want easy-to-use, on-the-go packaging solutions with integrated applicators, like our Eureka,” says Albéa’s Wastyn. The applicator is paired with a cap and jar and is ideal for pressed or poured formulations. “Eureka is both user-friendly and convenient; user-friendly because its shape means a comfortable grip and convenient because the applicator is integrated directly into the pack,” Wastyn says.
The Penthouse Group now offers its signature NBR Yukilon sponges infused with charcoal and green tea. “Charcoal is well-known as a cleansing agent that provides sterilization, deodorizing, absorption and negative ion effects,” says Ostrower. “Green tea is known for its benefits to overall health, including pH balancing and cleansing effects,” he adds.
The Penthouse Group and its partner Yukigaya Chemical Co. are leaders in the cosmetic sponge category. Ostrower says, “Our Yukilon sponge was the very first synthetic nitrile cosmetic sponge to launch in the U.S.”
Qosmedix has several new launches in blending sponges, in eye-catching colors and useful shapes. Its Spiral Blending Sponge, in yellow, is latex-free. “It provides a comfortable grip while applying and blending foundation, concealer or skin care products,” says Sternschein. “The sponge’s contours and ridges allow for precise application in hard to reach areas,” she adds.
Qosmedix has also recently introduced an Angled Blending Sponge, in blue. Sternschein says, “The angled side can be used to apply the product while the flat side can be used to stipple and blend. It can be used wet for sheer coverage or dry for heavier coverage.”
Cosmogen has launched its Mini Squeeze’N Puff, which is an applicator in a mini tube shape, with a sponge tip and patented open/close rotary head. The sponge is removable and washable. It is available in three materials: Rubicell, Flocked and NBR.
“This applicator allows a user to apply a cosmetic or skin care product using a tapping gesture,” says Petiteaux. “It is ideal for liquid, gels and serums, for products that include foundation blush, concealer or skin care,” he adds.
Sponge applicators are often used for liquid cosmetic products while skin care favors dropper applicators, but, this is changing. “Droppers are crossing over to cosmetics,” says Joanna Milne, account manager, Virospack. “Our customers are frequently using droppers for foundation products,” she adds.
A dropper can help a user achieve better results with a product, and it provides hygienic benefits. “Our droppers allow for drop-by-drop dosage, so the consumer applies a product more precisely, without waste or contamination,” says Milne.
Virospack offers a broad range of pipette droppers, including its glass pipette, shown. These droppers are produced in different shapes and sizes, and can be custom decorated for an eye-catching look when paired with a clear bottle. “We can silk-screen standard pipettes with a particular color, design or logo to convey a brand’s style or a trend,” says Milne.
Disposable applicators are another important category since they influence how well a product works when a consumer tries it for the first time in a store. Qosmedix says it offers the largest variety of disposable cosmetic applicators in the industry.
“Beauty retailers, brands, and makeup artists need to maintain a hygienic testing and sampling environment. Stuart Herskovitz, our company’s founder, pioneered the concept of using disposable cosmetic applicators at retail, and we are still best known for providing the highest quality and competitively priced disposable applicators,” says Sternschein.
Qosmedix stocks more than a thousand different types of disposable applicators, including one with a flat spatula tip. “This unique single-use silicone flat tip spatula is perfect for testing lipgloss or lipstick in a retail setting. The flexible spatula tip allows for a smooth and efficient application with little product waste,” says Sternschein.
Always A Collaborative Effort
What comes first, the applicator or the product? It works both ways, suppliers say. “There are times when a brand has an innovative product that requires a new applicator that will maximize its performance. Other times, our customers ask us for innovations in brush designs and material, and these inspire product innovation,” says Garrett Hewitt’s Clerke.
Anisa International’s Kaicker says that the best applicators are developed—and perfected—when the supplier’s team works in close collaboration with a brand. “We work hand-in-hand, every step of the way, to pair our manufacturing expertise with the client’s vision. Lasting success springs from industry partnerships, and we take pride in steering our clients toward designs that best represent their brand’s DNA,” she explains.
A final tip, from Kaicker: “New products are rarely created solely through makeup or applicator design, and vice versa: It’s a collaboration between the two mediums that drives innovation.”