MAC changes its brushes to synthetic ones - review of the new 217S - twindly beauty blog
MAC synthetic brush 217S review - complete with comparison to different blending brushes, comparison to the old 217 and try-out with different eyeshadows. It's good!
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MAC synthetic brush 217S review

MAC changes its brushes to synthetic ones – review of the new 217S

MAC recently changed the bristles of all their brushes from natural, animal-sourced hair to synthetic fibres. The shape of the brushes we know stay the same, only the bristles change. All new brushes have a S after their serial number on the handle. You’ll see the new brushes at all locations pretty soon. The turnout started in December 2017. When I checked, I recognised that most locations have most new brushes already. Have a look at my MAC synthetic brush 217S review!

MAC 217S review comparison

MAC’s new synthetic version of their beloved 217 blending brush – the 217S.

MAC has been tight-lipped about the whole process. I couldn’t find anything about the why, an in-depth look at the new materials used, or the place where they’re manufactured. What is easy to find out, though, is the price – which remains the same. Ho-hum.

If I were invited to speculate, it’s a move designed to lower the cost, while at the same time sucking up to consumers who were enraged when MAC lost its ‘cruelty-free’ stamp after starting to sell in China.

I researched quite a lot to find cruelty-free natural hair brushes, and the end of the story is, none are. Hakuhodo and Chikuhodo both say that they’ll use hairs from animals that were slaughtered for other purposes, but then, what other purpose can a dead squirrel, weasel or marten have?! Plus, both manufacturers get their animal hides from China, and after living in China for two years and observing the daily treatment of animals here, I don’t want anything to do with that. (Have a look at this interesting reddit discussion.)


First impressions

Comparison and review of MAC new synthetic brushes

Direct comparison between the old 217 (right) and the new 217S (left). Yeah, both are dirty because I just used them.

I got the new 217S, because I also own the old version, made from goat hair, and some similar brushes which make it easy to have some kind of reference frame for the new 217S.

Here’s what the website says about it:

“For the shading or blending of powdery or creamy products. This brush has luxuriously soft, densely packed fibres that are arranged in an oval shape. M·A·C professional brushes are hand-sculpted and assembled using the finest quality materials. Our 100% synthetic brushes incorporate the latest innovations in fibre technology for superior performance and improved longevity.“

New synthetic MAC brushes review

Looks like the new one (below) is made in Japan and comes with a batch code.

I have no idea what material the handle is made from. I guess, though, that the whole brush is made in Japan due to the imprint on the handle (‘Japan A47’).

The handle is very lightweight, and the bristles are soft and firm. My old 217 wasn’t ever that pointy, though. The bristles are much firmer than the old 217 used to be, and firmer than any iteration of the 217 shape of brushes I own. They also seem so soft that they’re nearly slippery.


The 217S with liquid, cream and powder eyeshadows

While I was testing each formula, I used the old 217 on one eye, and the new 217S on the other, to get to know the differences between them immediately.

blending brush comparison MAC, Zoeva, Hakuhodo

I compared the MAC 217S (below) to the old MAC 217, Zoeva 227 Luxe Soft Definer and Hakuhodo J142.

Liquid formulas

Usually, you’ll hear that synthetic brushes excel with liquid and cream formulas, due to the fact that synthetic bristles don’t soak up moisture like natural hairs do. They also retain their shape better after contact with more liquid formulas. So, if I expected anything from the 217S it was a great performance with a liquid eyeshadow formula – my Armani Eye Tint.

What can I say, I didn’t recognise that the new 217S performed better. Both applied and blended out the liquid tint equally well.

Cream formulas

Then, a cream shadow, namely one of ColourPop’s SuperShock Shadows. I’ve never used the 217 with them before, but I was shocked how well the old one picked up the formula. The new one, though, had problems to pick up enough products (I admit that my old 217 has very splayed bristles that of course pick up more product than the 217S). Both blended well.

Powder formulas

Comparison of MAC 217S, 217, Hakuhodo J142, Zoeva 227.

A closer look at the different hair cuts: l-r MAC 217S, MAC 217, Zoeva 227, Hakuhodo J142.

For powder eyeshadow testing, I decided to go with one formula that’s super easy to apply and blend – my Burberry Pale Barley (old formula). You can basically apply that one with whichever brush you choose, and even fingers (or a foam applicator, gasp!) might do in a pinch. And, no surprise, both 217s, old and new version, did very well with that one.

But then I tried it with a more challenging formula – Rowdy from the ABH Subculture Palette. This one tends to have fallout if you’re not careful, and also is a bit challenging to blend, not surprising due to the dark burgundy colour (that’s difficult to manufacture all over brands). Surprise, the 217 did well with it. Of course, due to the splayed bristles it’s a bit difficult to place it exactly where you want. It might also take you a while to blend it properly. My old 217 is a bit scratchy, so blending isn’t always the most comfortable feeling, especially when you’re a bit heavy-handed (oops). And lo and behold, the 217S doesn’t perform any different. Blending feels different due to the smoother, but firmer bristles.

Speaking of blending: Due to the pointy head, blending is concentrated on a very small area. It’s nearly impossible to blend shadows with the flat side of the brush. The bristles are too densely packed, and here the synthetic fibres have a definite disadventage. Brushes with fluffier bristles do it better.


Comparison: MAC 217 (old), Zoeva, Hakuhodo

MAC 217S synthetic worth it?

This illustrates how fluffy/firm the different brush heads are: l-r Hakuhodo J142 – the fluffiest, Zoeva 227 rather firm, my 217 that’s about 10yrs old – quite fluffy, and MAC 217S that’s the firmest of the bunch.

Astonishingly, I find the new and old version of the 217 surprisingly similar, given their rather different haircut. MAC’s 217 was such a beloved workhorse of a brush though. One that you could easily bring for a holiday when you didn’t pack any other brushes, and do an astonishingly high number of looks with it. My first impressions seem to indicate that the 217S isn’t that different. Compared to Zoeva’s 227 Luxe Soft Definer and Hakuhodo’s J142, I can say that Zoeva ranks last for me – that thing is uncomfortably scratchy. Hakuhodo is softer, and has a slightly different shape that makes it perfect for blending. It wins in that regard, but isn’t that multipurpose as MAC’s 217, new or old. Like mentioned above, the 217S seems better suited for packing on colour instead of heavy-duty blending.

Judging from just the 217S, I’m looking forward to testing more of MAC’s new synthetic brushes. The 217S is a good brush.


Beauty junkie with about 20 years of beauty experience under her belt. Editor, writer and twindly’s PR heroine. Has an unbelievably large nail polish stash and a passion for skincare. Gets a kick out of pretty powders.

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