If you are getting into traditional wet shaving, you have probably already encountered the controversy surrounding animal bristle brushes. You want a nice shaving brush, but do they kill badgers to harvest their bristles?
Most badgers are killed in order to harvest their fur. They have long been considered pests in China and hunted for their meat. As badger hair brushes became more popular, most suppliers have taken to farming badgers to keep up with demand. They are commonly taken from the wild and kept in terrible conditions until their cruel deaths.
Read on to explore why badger bristles are so common, what types of badger bristles are out there, and how their fur is obtained. We’ll also explore some cruelty-free alternatives for shaving brushes.
Why are shaving brushes made from badger hair?
Badger bristle shaving brushes are most commonly believed to have been invented in France during the 1750s, however, the painting Barber-Surgeon Tending a Peasant’s Foot by Isaack Koedijck (dated ca. 1649-50) illustrates a bristly object on the counter that we would recognize as a shaving brush. While we are still unsure exactly when they were invented, by the early 1800s, badger shaving brushes had become popular across western Europe.
Badger used to be a common dinner entree and in that time period, people tried to make use of the entire animal in order to avoid wastefulness.
Badger hair is generally great for brushes because it has the ability to absorb and hold a lot of water which is essential for getting a good lather out of your soap. The stiffness of the bristles is ideal for keeping the shape of the brush while the finer tips of the hair help to create that soft and creamy lather that is ideal for wet shaving. There are also varying grades of badger bristle brushes that can each give a very different shaving experience.
Black Badger brushes are made with the stiffest fur, making them the scratchiest on the skin. They retain a lot of water which makes them lather nicely; however, they are not a good option for anyone with sensitive skin.
Pure Badger brushes are by far the most common. These are often made out of coarser neck, belly, and leg fur. These brushes are usually trimmed to make the final shape. This makes the ends of the bristles blunt which tends to be a bit scratchy on the skin, although most people still regard them as a decent quality brush for beginner shavers.
Best Badger brushes are a big improvement over Pure Badger as these are usually not trimmed and include the softer belly hairs. These are a lot softer than the Pure Badger but can still feel like an exfoliant on the skin. The fur in Best Badger brushes can appear a bit banded as the root and ends are lighter than the midsection of hair. They are far more common than the Two-Band Badger brushes mentioned below.
Silvertip Badger brushes are made of only the finest bristles from the neck of the animal thus making them the highest quality badger brush you can buy. They are the softest brushes on the market; because of this, they make the creamiest lather and are the gentlest on the skin. These often have a very distinct coloring pattern; usually with a band of darker fur color between the tan base and the white soft ends of the bristles.
Two-Band badger brushes are a close second to the silvertip badger brushes, however, they are hard to find and very expensive. The fur from these comes from a very specific spot above the hind end of the animal. In accordance with their name, these have a very distinct band of darker fur, even when compared with the silvertip fur. This makes them the most expensive and least available option for a badger brush.
How is badger hair obtained for shaving brushes?
Badgers are naturally wild animals and have not been domesticated for fur harvesting in the same way sheep have; because of this, they are not very friendly or tame.
Badgers can be seriously injured from struggling while getting their fur cut; it is also a painful process for them because the most common brushes use the fur from their sensitive undersides. It is because of this that most farmers just kill the badgers to obtain their bristles.
In places where there are little to no animal rights laws, there is no such thing as a humane badger death.
PETA has done investigations into the leaders in the badger farming industry and it is very common that these badgers are very cruelly hurt before being left to die alone in awful conditions.
Where does the hair from badger hair shaving brushes come from?
China is the biggest supplier of badger fur.
Badgers have long been considered a pest in China; with the population starving, they started hunting them for food. Selling the hide and other parts of the animal is simply a way to make some extra money off the carcass.
Since their bristles have become valuable to the shaving and art communities, many have started farming badgers en masse in order to keep up with the demand.
Taking badgers from the wild is a common practice among these Chinese farmers as they are difficult to breed. It takes 3 years for a badger cub to grow up and have cubs of its own.
Are badger shaving brushes cruel?
The farming and harvesting of badger hair for shaving brushes is considered cruel.
While there are some companies that claim to be cruelty-free, they often put out little and conflicting information about their practices. It is also very common for these companies to keep their suppliers unknown.
With China being the major supplier of badger fur for the world, we can only assume that there are no true cruelty-free badger shaving brushes. PETA conducted an investigation of these badger farms and released a video exposing the common practices involved.
The age-restricted expose is available on YouTube, but it is not recommended for the sensitive or tender-hearted.
The best synthetic and cruelty-free shaving brushes
In order to help bring down these cruel practices, a lot of companies have conducted tons of research into making brushes out of other materials. Lucky for you, we have some recommendations for the best cruelty-free and synthetic brushes in the industry.
The most popular and common cruelty-free brushes are those made of synthetic fibers. These fibers often create a better lather than the animal hair bristles, they dry faster, require less cleaning, and tend to be more sanitary in general.
If you’re not opposed to the use of natural bristles but would prefer a cruelty-free option, both horsehair and boar bristles can be harvested without harming the animal.
Omega Professional Boar Hair Shaving Brush
The Omega Professional Boar Hair Shaving Brush starts at $9 on Amazon and is typically in stock.
These bristles are a little longer making it an ideal brush for those without a lot of experience. Due to its larger size, you may want to check the dimensions if you already have a brush holder, or are ordering one separately.
One purchase verified user on Amazon states:
The backbone lets me use the tips to whip a lather without any shedding or mashing. That’s really nice because there’s a lot less wear and tear. Despite the coarseness, the brush is exceptionally soft against my skin. I have to say, that this brush is so far the best I’ve ever used. Despite the price, The brush really feels like a high-end product.
Vie-Long 12705 Horse Hair Shaving Brush
You may also want to consider the Vie-Long 12705 Horse Hair Shaving Brush.
This brush is a little under $22. It is one of the more difficult brushes to find on Amazon but has a lot of good reviews. The horsehair bristles tend to be a bit coarse until they are broken in. The hair also has a tendency to have a smell so washing these properly before use is very important.
An Amazon user with a verified purchase had this to say:
…I’ve used it with soap and cream and it whips up a good lather in no time at all…It did have a smell when i first used it but it has faded with use. It was fairly stiff when new but not prickly as others have stated and is now softening nicely.
All Vie Longs come with a hanger for drying included.
RazoRock BRUCE Plissoft Synthetic Shaving Brush
If you’d rather use a synthetic brush, you should consider the RazoRock BRUCE Plissoft Shaving Brush.
These are incredibly soft brushes that hold a good amount of water without being soaked before use, the handle is made from a heavy resin so you don’t have to worry about the bristles falling out either.
This brush currently averages around $20, but you may have a bit of a harder time finding them on Amazon as most sellers have limited stock.
One purchase verified review states:
This brush makes me regret the hundreds (yes hundreds) spent on badger silver tip, horse hair, and boar brushes… this brush is far superior in terms of performance per dollar. When compared to a good Silver Tip, it’s extremely efficient in the amount of soap needed to produce a wonderful lather…
This is a very good brush for anyone new and experienced in wet shaving.