It seems that there is a lot of information out there about MAC brushes but not all of it is accurate. There are unfortunately many fakes out there but also some great sellers who do sell the real thing. Here are some facts that I hope will help you to make a more informed decision when purchasing your brushes.
1) Not all MAC brushes are made in Japan! There seems to be the belief that all MAC brushes are made in Japan. This is in fact not the case. MAC makes their brushes in Japan, France, USA and China.
- China - the brushes made in China are mostly the SE or Special Edition travel sized brushes that come in the sets. MAC generally brings out some sets with their Holiday collections every year and then sometimes with other special collections. The sets most commonly consist of 5 travel sized brushes. However there are also sets that have 3 (Wonder Woman Collection), 4 (Heirloom & Pleat Face Brush sets) and 6 (2004 Holiday Brush Sets). The 318 retractable lip brush and the 182 Buffer Brush are both still current and they are made in China. Also made in China are the 169 Angled Blush Brush, 183 Buffer Brush and the 185 Body Buffer Brush that are now all discontinued. Recently the Dual Fibre limited edition brushes, numbers 234, 235, 179 and 128, from the Semi Precious collection of 2011 are all made in China as well. More recently there is also the 286 & 287 brushes as well that were made in China.
- USA - brushes that are made in the USA include; 189, 190, 192 (discontinued), 194, 209. There are not many brush styles made in the USA and MAC currently has both the 189 & 194 on their Goodbyes list as those are being phased out. Many of the brushes made in the USA do NOT have USA stamped on the brush. They do however have made in the USA on the bar-coded label that is on the brush sleeve.
- France - brushes that are made in France include; 134, 195, 208, 210, 213, 224, 225 (discontinued), 228, 249, 263, 266, 275 etc. This is not a complete list but this is a good representation of the most popular brushes that are made in France. Brushes made in France will have France stamped onto the handle of the brush as well as Made in France on the bar-coded label that is on the brush sleeve.
- Japan - brushes that are made in Japan include; 109, 116, 129, 130, 131 (limited edition), 150, 165 (discontinued), 168, 180 (discontinued), 184 (discontinued), 187, 188, 191, 204, 217, 219, 222, 239, 242, 252 etc. Again this is not a complete list but this is a good representation of the most popular brushes that are made in Japan. Brushes made in Japan will have Japan stamped onto the handle of the brush as well as Made in Japan on the bar-coded label that is on the brush sleeve.
2) Some characteristics of real vs. fake brushes and things to watch out for:
- Density of the bristles – you will notice that on a real MAC brush that the bristles are densely packed. When you push against the bristles you will feel a resistance. In other words it will feel like the bristles do not want to be pushed back. The fake brushes have fewer and less densely packed bristles so they can be pushed back to the metal ferrule more easily.
- Country of origin stamp – this is a tough one. Since MAC makes its brushes in different countries there are variances among the brushes. For Japan, France and China there is the country of origin stamped onto the brush. For the USA made brushes many of them do NOT have the country of origin stamped into the brush. The country of origin stamp itself is sometimes deeply set and other times it is just lightly stamped into the brush. On the fake MAC brushes some of them have the country of origin stamp coloured on the full sized-brushes. Real MAC brushes only have the country of origin stamped indented on full-sized brushes with no colour. On the SE travel sized brushes the country of origin stamp can be coloured on the real brushes.
- MAC & Brush number – On the real MAC full sized brushes the MAC and the brush number is in silver. It is also slightly indented so that you can feel it when you run your finger along it. However it is not engraved or deeply indented. Some of the fake MAC brushes have the MAC and the brush number written in white or much more deeply set or engraved into the brush. Over time the MAC and the brush number will wear off on the real MAC brushes. That is why many people put clear nail polish over the numbers to stop that from happening. The MAC & the brush number used to rub off very easily on the real brushes simply by running your fingernail over it. That is not necessarily the case anymore and it does take some time for the writing to wear off. Although if you do scratch at it repeatedly with your fingernail the paint will come off. The writing on the fake MAC brushes is much more permanent.
- Brush sleeves – The real full-sized MAC brushes have full length clear plastic brush sleeves that have a barcode label attached to the sleeve. Along with the barcode the brush will also have the country of origin as well as information about MAC like a partial address all on the label. The MAC SE travel sized brushes will most often be in full length sleeves that are open at both ends and they will not have a barcode on the sleeve. The MAC 184 brush has a small opaque plastic sleeve that just covers the brush head but then it is also in a full length sleeve that has the barcode on it. Fake MAC brushes often have only a partial plastic sleeve that just covers the brush head and the metal ferrule. The brush cover is often clear and made of a harder plastic. There are also fake MAC brushes that do have a full length plastic sleeve that does not have any barcode as well as some that do have a barcode but the barcode sticker is not the same.
- Brush handle color – This can be hard to distinguish. Real MAC brushes can also now have a shimmer to them for some of the brush numbers so this is not a great way to distinguish the real from the fake.
- Brush Odor – The real MAC brushes do not have a very strong odor to them. They will have a slight odor but nothing obnoxious. The fake MAC brushes often have a strong lacquer odor to them. I do find that some of the brushes made in the USA like the 189 & 190 have a stronger odor on the real brushes than some of the real brushes made elsewhere but it does not compare to the odor of the fake ones.
- Metal Ferrule indents – There are certain numbers of MAC brushes that have deeply set crimping on the metal ferrules. That includes brushes like the 130, 131, 138, 165, 187, 188, 217, 219, 222, 239 etc. The fake brushes of those versions do not have deeply set crimping. However MAC also does have many brushes that do not have deeply set crimping on the handles so in those brush numbers the crimping is not a good indicator of real vs. fake. Brushes that do not have deeply set crimping include the 134, 195, 208 210, 213, 227, 228, 263, 266, 275, 311 etc. So as you can see there are many brushes that do not have deeply indented crimping. The easiest way to figure it out is that any real MAC brush made in Japan has deeply indented crimping and any real MAC brush made in France does not. So if you receive a MAC 187 brush (made in Japan) that does not have deeply indented crimping then it is a fake.
- Shedding - Be advised that there are certain MAC brushes that do shed more often than others; the 109 is an example. Just because a brush sheds does not mean that it is a fake brush. If you look at reviews online for certain brush numbers you will see which ones shed more than others. It is also important to make sure that when wasing your brushes you do not let them dry standing up with the bristles facing up. What this does is lets the water get into the base of the brush head and over time may affect the adhesion of the bristles into the metal ferrule and you may have even more shedding.
- Standing the test of time – This one obviously takes the longest to figure out! MAC brushes are high quality brushes and that quality just cannot be faked. Over time you will just know the quality of your brush. MAC brushes hold up extremely well to repeated use and washing. The fakes are just not in the same league.
3) If it seems too good to be true it generally is! MAC brush sets are generally only travel sized SE editions. If you see a 12, 20, 24, 32 etc piece “MAC” full-sized brush set it is a fake. You cannot get a 32-pc set of authentic MAC brushes for $100 or even $200. It is just not possible. MAC only made a couple of full-sized brush sets and they were quite expensive. The Prêt-A-Porter Brush set had 8 full-sized brushes (190, 187, 129, 316, 231, 224, 266 & 219) that came in a black satin brush roll. There was also anther full-sized brush set release in 2008 as part of a Nordstrom’s exclusive that included (168, 187, 208 & 222). This set came in a black makeup case with MAC written on it. If you find any other full-sized brush sets then chances are they are fake. There are a bunch of fake Hello Kitty brush sets out there. The only Hello Kitty brush set that MAC made included 3 SE short-handled travel sized brushes that came with a Hello Kitty head as the brush holder. The 3 brushes were a 187SE, 109SE & 239SE. If you see any other Hello Kitty brush sets other than this one they are fake.
4) MAC SE or Special Edition brushes. These brushes are the short-handled or so called travel sized brushes. MAC has come out with quite a few different sets over the years and often does several a year. They are often released with the Holiday Collections and also with certain branded collections like Hello Kitty and Wonder Woman. The SE edition brush sets are made in China. So even though a full sized 222 brush is made in Japan the SE edition is made in China. This can be confusing to some. These brush sets come in many different colours over the years and come is sets ranging from 3 brushes (Wonder Woman & Hello Kitty) to 6 brushes (2004 Holidays Kits brush sets). The majority of the sets though seem to be 5. Since these brushes are all made in China and the full-sized editions that match to them are made in France, Japan or the USA they will not be the same. Many feel that the quality of the travel-sized brushes is not as good as the full-sized versions. With that said they are definitely much easier to take on the go which is the main purpose.
5) MAC SH or Short Handled brushes. These brushes are short handled like the SE brushes however they are made in the same country as the full sized brush of the same number. So the 129SH is made in Japan just like the 129 brush is. The difference between these and the SE brushes is that the SH brushes simply have a shorter handle than the full-sized brush but they have the same size bristles. These are not sold in sets; they are sold individually just like the MAC full-sized brushes are. These are generally part of special releases and are not considered regular MAC permanent stock with the exception of the 129SH which comes in its own travel pouch. MAC may still have some of the other ones available like the 129SH, 168SH, 188SH, 227SH but these were part of the Fabulous Felines collection and are still considered Limited Edition.
Please note that the 188SH brush was not finished very well. The brush itself says 188 and not 188SH and the rounded end looks like it was simply painted and was not finished properly. It basically looks like the full-sized 188 brushes were simply cut shorter and then the cut ends were rounded and painted black to match the brush. I have also had several 188SH brushes at once and they all appear to be slightly different sizes. Overall just not a great looking brush; I would recommend the full-sized 188 instead.
The 129SH has 2 different versions now. The older version has the same sized metal head as the full sized 129 and it takes up most of the length of the brush. Recently the newer 129SH brushes now have a smaller metal head so the black handle is longer. The actual bristles are the same length on the 129 and both versions of the 129SH and both versions of the 129SH are exactly the same overall length. I am not sure why MAC changed the metal head on the 129SH but perhaps there were complaints that the handle was not long enough? I prefer the newer version of the 129SH with the smaller metal head as that leaves more handle so the brush is easier to hold and work with.
6) Pricing. MAC brushes are much cheaper in North America than they are in other parts of the world. In fact some MAC brushes bought in North America are less than half the price of the same brush bought from MAC in Australia for example. So just because the brush seems very cheap compared to the pricing in your country does not necessarily mean it is a fake. Perhaps it is just simply the fact that the particular brush is much cheaper in North America and is being sold by a North American based seller.
7) Other Stock. Many of the sellers who are selling the fake MAC brushes only have MAC brushes for sale. Or they will have just MAC brushes and MAC pigments as those are often faked as well. So if you see a seller that has MAC listings of just the brushes than you should question why. The sellers of authentic MAC brushes on EBay will generally have a wide-range of MAC products available for sale that often also includes the most recent collection releases.
8) Feedback. Many of the sellers of the fake MAC have low feedback scores. They tend to open numerous accounts and sell as much as they can as fast as they can and then change user id's when they start to get bad feedback. They simply close their account and move on. So even though they may have 100% feedback check to see if it is as a seller or as a buyer. Also check to see how recent the feedback is. Most of the sellers of authentic MAC brushes (and other MAC products) will have very high feedback numbers (in the thousands) and will have been users under the same user id for a few years.
9) Its not all bad! There are sellers who sell fakes and misrepresent their products and that is very unfortunate. However there are also sellers of legitimate authentic MAC products so it is important to be informed and to know what you are looking for.
10) Questions? If you have any questions on this or anything else feel free to email me.