Dual-sided, dual-flocked, multifunctional, synthetic fibers, environmentally responsible, single-handed—the list goes on and on. Whether for skincare or color, never have there been more choices when it comes to applicators and brushes in the cosmetics industry. Consumers are faced with a multitude of choices—and are often delighted with highly decorated, bedazzled, even adorable tools topped with figures from daggers to flamingos.
Still, while many of these beauty tools are Instagram-able conversation starters, what really matters when choosing the right applicator is the “handleability.”
Bryce Rutter, founder and CEO of Metaphase Design Group, Inc., specialists in “hand-intensive products,” looks at applicators with a critical eye. He warns there is an industry shortfall in brands that lean predominantly toward aesthetics—that there must be a balance between usability and design for a tool to succeed on all counts.
He tells Beauty Packaging: “Consumers are seeking applicators that are easy to use and provide precision and control when applying product. However, the industry continues to respond with cool-looking designs that are difficult to handle and control. It should come as no surprise that an industry that sells beauty is heavily driven by aesthetics. But industry drivers also are presented with a unique opportunity to be a disruptive brand by being the first to drive applicator designs with usability, then wrapping them in a luxurious style that personifies the brand. Good ergonomic design does not need to come at the cost of stunning aesthetics.”
Rutter says the most important part of any applicator is where the thumb, index finger and, in many cases, the middle finger land on the applicator itself. These, he explains, are critical “fingertip control surfaces” that must consider the size and shape of fingertips, strength needed by the user to hold the applicator, and how dexterity changes as fingernails increase in length. “Within these fingertip control surfaces, surface textures provide valuable traction that aid in precision and control and mitigate drops.”
The problem with some brands, he says, is that “across the industry, brands instead opt for shiny slick surfaces that look beautiful but do little to improve usability.”
The center of mass of the applicator directly impacts usability, explains Rutter. Any front-end or back shifts in the mass directly contribute to instability in dexterous control. “The ideal location for the center of mass of an applicator is in the virtual center of where the fingertips land on the instrument.”
Line of sight of the business end of the applicator plays a role in usability, according to Rutter. For the most part, he says, “Historically, applicators have and continue to be straight sticks with a brush or sponge on the tip, that when grasped comfortably and brought to the eye for application, block the line of sight to that eye.”
How can some of these issues be remediated? What should brands keep in mind? Rutter says, “The applicator must be designed in conjunction with the product. How you apply the product to the applicator to get a correct and even dosing is the first step toward being successful in the application of the product to the eye. What must also be considered is whether this is a one-handed or a two-handed task. In an ideal world, one-handed usability always trumps two-handed usability.”
Many of beauty’s top brands are paying close attention to applicator-product pairings.
For instance, Kat Von D Beauty’s Go Big Or Go Home Mascara’s vegan formula and signature fluff brush pair together to add up to an easy-to-apply mascara that “glides on effortlessly—catching and coating every lash, for full, intense coverage.” The wavy fiber bristles on the fluff brush hold on to more formula to separate each lash at the lash line for a fanned out, eye-opening effect.
The Finger Brush by Urban Decay is described as “the ultimate blend of form and function for concealer application.” It allows for “perfect, finger-like control and the blown-out, stippling effect of a brush.” The brand says they worked with the pros to get their input, then carefully designed each brush for optimal results. Urban Decay’s pro-quality, cruelty-free brushes are easy on the eyes and the environment. The brushed gunmetal handles are made from recycled aluminum, and the super-soft, synthetic hair (made from recycled plastic bottles) mimics real hair—from the feel to the pickup and laydown. Its synthetic brush hair doesn’t hold on to bacteria the way porous animal hair can, so it’s easier to clean and more hygienic.
Fenty Beauty’s 100% cruelty-free magnetic retractable contour and concealer brush attaches to the brand’s Match Stix Matte Skinsticks for seamless sculpting and blending anytime, anywhere. Smoothly tapered, soft synthetic bristles are cut for “foolproof precision and just the right amount of coverage.”
At HCP Packaging (which owns SIMP), Cheryl Morgan, marketing manager, notes the integral nature of the pack to the product, especially when it comes to mascara.
She says, “Lip gloss and mascara are categories where the functionality of the pack strongly contributes to the success of a product: The expert pairing and manufacture of the most effective technologies is essential for an outstanding performance.” While the focus is often on formula and applicator, Morgan says the wiper is key to the ideal amount of bulk being left on the applicator prior to application. She says SIMP’s customizable offer is unique within the industry: “As the world leader for material, molding and production of NBR (Nitrile Butadiene Rubber) wipers, SIMP is able to bring unparalleled technical knowledge, design and flexibility for the optimal result.”
With more than 35 years of expertise in brushes, Cosmogen’s Maud Lelièvre, marketing and communications director, says the company aims to imagine new concepts, new gestures for even better performance—matching material and shapes with targeted face areas, and formulas, for a professional and flawless result. “Brands and especially Indie brands, says Lelièvre, are requiring aesthetic, attractive and functional brushes and applicators.”
Relative to Indie brands, Lelièvre says the challenge is “to anticipate the customer experience, on which they rely to develop their ranges.” Therefore, she says Cosmogen provides them with packaging solutions “that have proved their worth,” are quickly accessible (time to market) and at the same time fit their direct sales approach to the consumer via the Internet. “Beyond the qualities required to ensure the effectiveness of the formula, we offer them packaging that tells a story, that’s differentiating, innovative, interesting and eye-catching through photos (Instagram) and /or videos. “They must have an image of quality and expertise at first glance, highlighting the importance of the applicator. This expertise extends to designing smart applicators, and introducing new material like silicone that provides a different consumer experience.”
In some cases, beauty tools are integral to the cosmetics packages, themselves, making on-the-go application and touch-ups easier than ever.
Sue Nichols, CEO, International Cosmetic Suppliers (ICS), tells Beauty Packaging: “The fuss-free on-the-go makeup trend is one of the biggest trends at the moment, and with that comes packaging with built-in applicators. Brands are now no longer seeing applicators as an accessory, but as a key part of the cosmetic packaging design.”
Nichols adds, “With our specialty in pencils, sticks and tubes, we have developed a wide range of removable and washable brushes and sponges that answers the call for this growing applicator-inclusive trend and allows consumers to apply and blend on-the-go, then remove, wash and repeat.”
Steven Ostrower, president, The Penthouse Group, says the 67-year-old company currently sees an overlying trend for multi-purpose applicators that offer the consumer several options for application from one beauty tool. “This effort to extract ‘maximum functionality’ from one applicator can easily be seen in the 3D blender sponge category where sponges are being designed in new shapes with many facets, angles, curves, porosities, textures and with flock,” explains Ostrower. These blenders are used both wet and dry to offer the consumer even more choices for makeup effects.
Jan Wilson, VP sales, product development, TaikiUSA, concurs: “Forecasted trends in the marketplace are leaning toward multifunctional applicators. In addition, brands are seeking animal-free application tools.”
Whether an eyeliner tip, a flocked or silicone tip for their click pens or a sponge tip for their tip-on powders, a majority of the products that Tokiwa Cosmetics manufactures utilizes some sort of applicator and a myriad of applicator tips.
Robert Congionti, VP of operations, Tokiwa Cosmetics America, says, “A recent trend that we are seeing, is the ability of a single tip to perform and achieve multiple effects. For instance, our eyeliner gel tips have an extremely tapered tip with a slightly bulbous base—thus allowing the consumer to draw a very thin precise line at the base of the lashes, but by turning the applicator slightly downward, she can achieve a broad featured look as she ends her stroke.”
Additionally, “We’ve had increased requests for double-ended eyeliners with various types of tips and different colors on either end, such as a very fine tip on one end and a paddle tip in a different color on the other end,” says Congionti.
When it comes to Color Cosmetics, HCP’s Morgan says. “We are seeing a lot of requests for double-ended and multifunctional packs that feature two different applicators. For example, double-ended mascara for primer plus mascara, or brow packs that include an applicator for product plus a grooming tool to complete the look.
Over the past decade or so, cosmetic brushes have reached a new level of sophistication, from fibers to function, decoration to development.
Jason Clerke, president, Garrett-Hewitt International (GHI), tells Beauty Packaging: “The biggest trend we’ve seen in the last 10 years is the move away from natural hair to synthetic hair. It’s not just new brushes being developed, but also companies changing their existing brushes to synthetic hair. The big improvement in synthetic fiber technology over the last five years, has made this possible.
Ten years ago, like other factories, Garrett-Hewitt was purchasing synthetic fibers from a few large fiber manufacturers. The problem was, says Clerke, “the prices were high and there were only a few standard fibers to choose from.” That’s when they decided to purchase their own extruding machines and start making their own fibers. “We only purchase the highest quality resins from companies like BASF and have developed a line of fibers called EVO-fibers, each with its own unique properties,” explains Clerke. “We now make the softest fibers on the market, ‘EVO-soft,’ and also fibers that have texture, like natural hair follicles for superior pickup and payoff, ‘EVO-texture.’ This allows us to offer fibers that are exclusive to GHI customers and at a competitive price, because we’ve cut out the fiber companies.”
Clerke says Garrett-Hewitt recently manufactured an “exciting brush/applicator” for PÜR—the BHOLDER Dual-Action Complexion Applicator. It combines a synthetic foundation brush with a silicone applicator for a flawless finish of liquid foundation, cream, concealer or face powder.
Nathaniel Upchurch, vice president of packaging development for Astral Brands (which owns PÜR), says the innovative brush tool has a silicone platform in the center to place the product and spread over the face, with longer brush hairs around the platform to blend in the product. He explains: “This custom cut applicator requires less product with densely packed, soft, pillowy bristles that work to distribute product, and a smooth, silicone core that holds product and builds a natural, full coverage look.
The result is a strikingly beautiful, airbrushed finish.” See more on PÜR’s packaging and applicator innovations in the sidebar of this issue.)
For more than 30 years, Taiki has specialized in creating applicators in the marketplace for major beauty brands, including brushes and sponges. Wilson says TaikiUSA is continually developing beauty tools that enhance the consumer experience.
In line with the multifunctional trend, Taiki has developed the Pyramid brush series, which includes eyeliner, concealer, contour and foundation brushes. The unique design of these brushes is multi-faceted, allowing each brush to be used on all four sides. The sides of the brush lay down the product, and the tip creates a precise application. All of the Pyramid brushes are created with animal-free/cruelty-free fiber.
Pennelli Faro focuses on both makeup and skincare applicators for the beauty and cosmetic industry, and says they pride themselves on confidentiality, attention to details, investment in R&D, competitive pricing and innovation. Sara Zanafredi, CEO of Pennelli Faro, tells Beauty Packaging they have noted a change in the market for applicators.
“We can confidently state that the market and brands are switching their focus from minimalism to a new luxury,” she says. “This represents an approach more oriented to customization and further attention to the finish and texture of our products, giving an innovative perception of luxury and elegance.” On the other hand, Zanafredi says they’ve also seen increasing attention to green and healthy trends. “Sustainability is now focused on the goals of reducing plastic pollution and water consumption, in addition to the general need for responsible behavior,” says Zanafredi. “At Pennelli Faro, we strongly believe in predicting future market trends to provide ready-to-market solutions as demonstrated with our latest collections Velluto and Ecosophy, which directly address recent ‘maximalism’ and new sustainability trends.”
Pennelli Faro recently introduced a “revolutionary” model, following last year’s Fless concept of a flexible brush. The newest model named Fless (d)Detail is a flexible concealer applicator that’s “wearable” on a finger, and that perfectly adapts itself to the finger shape. The micro-tuft is integrated into the rubber grip, allowing maximum versatility for precise movements along face features. “Fless (d)Detail’s drop-shape facilitates simple and spontaneous gestures, making it fully multifunctional,” explains Zanafredi.
Anisa International, known for designing responsibly-made cosmetic brushes and skincare tools, has dedicated years of R&D into patented brush heads using patent-pending, cruelty-free fibers “to continuously evolve with their partners and meet the demands of the eco-conscious beauty consumer.”
Anisa Telwar Kaicker, founder & CEO of Anisa International, says, “With our fully-own, closed loop U.S. manufacturing facility in Tianjin, China, we’ve invested in sustainable and environmentally conscious practices and are leading the brush industry in transparent manufacturing.”
Telwar Kaicker says, “With skincare being the fastest growing segment in the beauty space, we’re investing in the development of thoughtfully designed tools that match market trends and will provide solutions to our brand partners.”
The latest is Prep & Prime, a new brush collection with a patented head shape created to pair with any type of skincare product. While Telwar Kaicker says most tools currently on the market are made for masks or rollers, Prep & Prime offers a solution for every step of a consumer’s routine—from moisturizers to treatments and targeted spot. The patented head shape has an indented center for controlled product usage and longer, more flexible fibers at the top of the head for even application. The brush head also allows for product to be scooped from a jar or pumped into the center well to avoid product contamination.
MODA Brush has launched Renew, a five-piece complete brush kit. The brushes are both attractive and eco-friendly, with 100% biodegradable handles that are made from a sustainable plant-based polymer material. The set contains a buffer, contour, shader, and detail brush, that are packed in a cotton, canvas pouch. Additionally, all MODA Brush packaging is now completely recyclable, and all MODA brushes are vegan and cruelty-free.
Beyond this kit, MODA Brush also launched a consumer recycling program. Consumers will be able to send any makeup brush to the brand’s offices to be recycled “properly” by each component (i.e., bristles, handle, ferrule, etc.) via TerraCycle No-Waste boxes, and recycled properly based on the material. All brands of makeup brushes are welcome, and consumers will receive a discount code in return to purchase new brushes on www.MODABrush.com.
HCT Group provides a full collection of innovative applicators for both skincare and color. Cat Kong, VP of brush sales, says, “Our specialty is thinking outside the box and creating unique applicators that work for everyday use.” She says HCT is currently seeing more interest in skincare application as well as color with skincare benefits. “We are also seeing trends in massaging and caring for the skin, and for applicators that optimize the skincare and color application process.”
From HCT Group’s Unreal Series of synthetic hair brushes to their Cooling Tip Technology, and zamac and gel tip applicators that can be used for both skincare and color products, the team is always looking for the next sensation. They recently developed a new, patented metal applicator for serums and oils that also features a cooling effect. The applicator stores product inside a reservoir; it is released as it is applied to the skin. Thomas Chun, project engineer, HCT Group, says, “Unlike your typical bulb and push button droppers, this applicator allows the consumer to apply the serum or oil directly from the bottle to the face, with no extra motions or gestures.”
Cosmopak has introduced its patent-pending threadless Quick Release Magnetic Vial, a magnetic closing vial. This concept is suitable for any vial product and is available as a stock component in round and square versions. The design ensures the cap stays on and is easy to remove by a simple twist.
Cosmogen’s Lelièvre points to a beautiful mask brush the supplier designed for U.S. Indie brand Tata Harper. The tuft is made of synthetic fiber (vegan), and the handle is gently curved for an easy grip.
Kat Von D’s Lock-It Edge Foundation Brush #10 is an original, custom design featuring a sculpted shape that conforms to the curves and contours of the face. With perfectly symmetrical tapered bristles (cruelty-free synthetic), and consistent density throughout the head, this brush reaches every nook and cranny, from every angle, for 360 degrees of blending. The sleek stiletto handle—inspired by a witch’s broomstick—provides an ergonomic grip for ultimate control and also doubles as a mixing tool.
Applicators are an integral part of mascara and lip gloss success—and new developments in shapes and materials are seemingly constant.
HCP Packaging offers complete beauty solutions for the mascara category, including fiber brushes and micro-injection plastic brushes. With innovative brush styles and production facilities in the U.S. in Hinsdale, NH; in Bechhofen in Germany, for twisted-wire brushes; and with SIMP in Paris for plastic brushes, HCP says it offers global brands a full solution for the desired lash look supported by strong engineering and technical expertise.
When developing lip gloss applicators, HCP says applicator shape, material, flock adhesive, flocking length and density are all selected for optimum product performance.
The innovative “double flock” technology from HCP-RUSI enables a high-performance applicator to enhance makeup results. Ideal for the majority of shapes of applicators, the dual-length flocking creates a superior environment to hold bulk—giving extreme coverage to the lips. HCP-RUSI’s Power Flock applicators have ultra-dense flocking for an ultra-sensory experience due to the larger surface area of the applicators, which are very flexible for a gentle and smooth application.
Rebellious lashes can be tamed with HCP-SIMP’s “Punki” plastic mascara brush; the ball-tip brush is ideal to coat and separate the fringe lash by lash.
Punki can be paired with the new HCP stock 13mm double-ended mascara, incorporating a lash primer to add a dramatic boost. This pack is available with a multitude of plastic/fiber brushes, 4.45mm/5.08mm PBT rods and LDPE/NBR wipers. Each PP bottle has an OFC of 7.7ml, joined by an aluminum middle connector.
According to Tokiwa’s Congionti, a constant problem that consumers have with lip liners, is that after several uses, the tip becomes rounded and is no longer able to draw sharp lines. “We’ve developed a synthetic tip which retains its shape permanently, and applies lip color flawlessly time after time after time,” he says. Congionti also points to what he says is another growing trend: the development and refinement of synthetic fiber tips that work, feel and perform as good if not better than the conventional natural hair tips. “This trend will grow and flourish as consumers begin to see the amazing results they can achieve with these improved applicator tips,” he says.
Recently, Anisa’s Telwar Kaicker says they have noted “a major trend toward creating a more impactful eye that goes well beyond bold colors.” She says, “In addition to bright pigments, shimmers and wing liner, eyes will begin to have more textures, sparkly flecks of glitter with graphic eye treatment, bold brows and camera-ready lashes.” She says the reemergence of this impactful eye inspired their latest collection of tools and accessories which include eye brushes, brow tools and synthetic false lashes.
Crafted from patent-pending fibers, Anisa International’s new lineup of eye brushes is designed to define, shape and enhance the eyes and brows. Each brush is hand-shaped and features unique brush head styles that offer a range of application techniques from soft and subtle effects to bold and unlimited artistry. The collection also includes an assortment of false eyelashes made of the same cruelty-free fibers as Anisa’s brushes.
Marc Jacobs Beauty’s The Smudge is a professional eyeshadow smudge brush to effortlessly create smoky, runway-ready eye looks. This eyeshadow brush is designed to work with Marc Jacobs Beauty Highliner Gel Eye Crayon. To create the Undersmoke look, line the lower lash line with Highliner and smudge downward with The Smudge brush.
At ICS, Nichols says, “Ultra-fine glitter pigments, sparkles, highlighters, eyeshadow and eyebrow powders are continuing trends and here at ICS we have developed our Exclusive 50/50 Round Mini Chubby Bottle with EPDM Sponge which is an ideal option for these formulations. The premium thick-wall IBM bottle and cap has a 50/50 proportion and flush fit design. The EDPM sponge generously picks up the bulk which can then be swiped or dabbed for laid-back, effortless makeup looks in seconds. It is also available with various doefoot shapes and brush.”
Noticing requests moving away from powder formulations to liquid formulations, Nichols says they have also seen a rise in demand for uniquely shaped doe foots and brushes, chubby doe foots, innovative droppers, pumps and sprayer applicators. Their newest doe foot innovation includes the In-mold Flocked TPE Doe foots, where the flocking is made of soft fibers that are part of the doe foot tool, rather than traditional flocking. The flexible, silky and synthetic, non-shedding flocking allows the bulk to glide seamlessly over lips without the doe foots soaking up the excess, causing a more streamlined, precise and fuller application. They’re available in a variety of shapes.
Always keep in mind though—whatever the shape, material or design of the applicator, it’s the usability and “handleability” that determines the tool’s—and the product’s—success.
Expanding on their Love Your Selfie line, PÜR’s 4-in-1 Love Your Selfie Long-wear Foundation & Concealer (concealer, foundation, skincare, long-wear) leaves behind a weightless, medium-to-full coverage look in 100 universal shades. Tisha Thompson, vice president of marketing and innovation at PÜR, says the dual-action one-of-a-kind foundation and concealer is packed with skincare ingredients that deliver a flawless coverage, while also working to protect skin from environmental factors.
The packaging is also unique. Nathaniel Upchurch, vice president of packaging development for Astral Brands (which owns PÜR), tells Beauty Packaging they partnered with Yonwoo/PKG on this breakthrough product “that offers the beauty industry a new level of versatility.” When this high-performance foundation/concealer formula demanded more from the traditional package, Upchurch says Yonwoo/PKG answered by unveiling the “Multi-Use,” which unleashes this formula’s dual functionality. As a foundation, the product can be pumped onto a brush or sponge. As a concealer, precision application can be achieved by the custom flocked, flow-through applicator.
Upchurch says bringing the package to market was a group effort of sorts. “This was a first-of-its-kind concept so we had to engineer and custom tool the bottle, wiper, stem, and a flow-through applicator that would function as a traditional doe foot applicator but would also have a product path to work with the pump function of the package. Due to the complexity required to engineer and manufacture this new custom flow-through applicator, Astral Health and Beauty and Yonwoo/PKG partnered with industry-leading applicator manufacturer The Penthouse Group to develop and manufacture this custom applicator in Germany. This new concept demanded the top global engineering and manufacturing capabilities within the beauty industry, and the partnership between Astral Health and Beauty, Yonwoo/PKG and The Penthouse Group delivered in a big way.
Steven Ostrower, president, The Penthouse Group, comments: “Our experience in this category enabled us to offer an extremely long and soft flocked tip that allowed for a smooth and efficient flow-through feature of the pump mechanism.”
The applicator is a Hytrel material that is flocked for both functionality with the pump as well as superb user experience when using it as a traditional concealer doe foot applicator.
With easy-to-apply cosmetics overtaking time-consuming beauty care products, cosmetic pens and pencils are expected to continue their popularity.
According to a research study by Future Market Insights, growth of the global market for cosmetic pencil & pen packaging will be impacted by prominent trends in the consumer retail and beauty care industry—but is expected to reach $2,863.3 million by 2024.
The report notes that in order to keep up with the surging demand for cosmetic pencils & pens, “manufacturers of these products as well as packaging solution providers are intensifying their measures toward providing striking features on packets and using effective packaging materials for protective wrapping purposes.”
The report also projects that global demand for cosmetic pencil & pen packaging will be primarily concentrated in the sharpenable wooden pencil segment. With nearly 50% revenue share, global sales of sharpenable wooden pencils are projected to be valued at $1,392 million by the end of 2024. Demand for mechanical pencils and sharpenable molded pencils, on the other hand, is likely to drop globally.
Plastic materials will continue to dominate the global cosmetic pencil & pen packaging market.
Stringent manufacturing and recycling regulations will be a major challenge inhibiting the growth in global production of cosmetic pencil and pen packaging products that adversely impact the environment in one way or another.
According to Euromonitor International, in a recent Beauty Survey that asked nearly15,000 global respondents—’What type of makeup applicators/tools do you use on a regular basis?’—results showed facial makeup brushes to be the most popular tool among consumers, followed by powder puff/sponges; makeup blenders/sponges; and lip brushes. The results were similar among a smaller domestic U.S. group polled.