Are Pure Badger Brushes Bad?

Examining the Popular Shaving Brush from Fabrication to Function

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I’ll admit that I had to visit Google when I read the words “genuine badger hair brush” and “pure badger hair brush” throughout the pages of the New York Shaving Company’s catalog. They sure were elegant, but I didn’t know what a badger was, in fact, or how to spot a fake one if I needed to.​

As it turns out, a badger is this furry little critter, so I considered it a worthy topic to investigate when I found numerous declarations – on About and elsewhere online – that it is by far “the best” and typically most expensive option among men’s shaving brushes.

I wanted to give it a full-circle examination to answer all of the questions I imagined a natural beauty, one who vigilantly avoids animal testing for example, may wish to know before buying one. Here’s what the pros had to say, to help you make an objective and informed decision.

According to dermatologist Dr. Jessica Krant founder of The Art of Dermatology in NYC, animal hair shaving brushes have been carrying a bad rap for about 100 years, ever since many were found to be infected with Anthrax that caused skin infections in the men using them. She says today's natural bristle brushes are presumably Anthrax-free, but stresses: “Keep your brushes clean regularly, and see a dermatologist to rule out a bacterial skin infection if your usual razor burn doesn't heal."

Q: Where does badger hair come from?

Barber educator and author Leanie Keller, director of men-u Grooming Products, says that virtually all badger brush bristles come from China, even if the final brush assembly occurs in Germany, Italy or another country.

Marla Bosworth, CEO and president of Back Porch Soap Company says that badger meat might be on the menu in China, which means the animals are raised not just for fur exportation but for food as well. While this was initially consoling to me, I learned that’s an even worse a scenario than factory farming conditions here in the United States.

“Unfortunately, the badgers are raised for the purpose of consumption only,” she says. PETA has released shocking footage from inside the Chinese fur trade that can give you some indication of the conditions they are raised and slaughtered in.

Q: Why do badger brushes have a better reputation?

Ethical fashion expert Joshua Katcher gets to the root of badger hair’s rep for being superior. “It's simply not true. There is an irrational and almost entirely aesthetic and semiotic prejudice that places "real" over "fake.” There are synthetic hairs – and skins and furs, for that matter – that outperform real badger hair by a long-shot” he says.

Q: What makes synthetic shaving brushes a better option?

In addition to avoiding animal cruelty, Keller says that in his experience, shaving brushes with synthetic bristles outperform badger brushes, last longer and give a better shave. When compared to badger brushes, a synthetic brush generates much more lather enabling you to use much less shaving cream. And the bristles dry in several minutes, whereas badger brushes can take hours.

Q: What are some good alternatives to badger hair shaving brushes?

Katcher says more and more synthetic brushes are being produced by leading manufacturers like Jack Black, H.I.S, TOBS, Omega and Muhle.

“They have water retention, look good, feel good, lather well, load soap and creams, and allow for smooth application,” he says. In fact, Men's Health gave the "Best Shave Brush" award to Jack Black's synthetic Pure Performance Shave Brush in 2009. If you must go “real” Bosworth recommends horse hair brushes, which are cut without harming or slaughtering animals.