I had told myself that i was going to post with more consistency once the summer started but the update on Vindictus Season 3 Episode 1 totally destroyed that resolution.
Anyhow…. This post intends to provide all the information you could ever want two Chikuhodo cheek tools: the Z-4 Cheek/Highlight brush as well as the Z-8 Cheek brush. Based on the fact that you’re reading this post, I’m going to assume that you know what the Chikuhodo Z-series entails. If you don’t here’s a TL;DR version: Japanese, hand-crafted, grey squirrel hair brushes that feel sinfully soft and have hair-raising prices.
Needless to say buying impulsively/without research is a bad idea because they cost a very pretty penny and you can’t easily return them if you make a wrong choice or discover that its not for you. This post will be loosely divided into the following parts and will be fairly long.
- a standard review providing all the boring information you may be looking for, and then some
- a direct comparison of the Z-4 to the Z-8
- other miscellaneous information and rambles (English majors beware. grammar comes here to die)
I’ve seen countless posts comparing the Chikuhodo Z-4 to the Suqqu Cheek Brush, but where are the posts comparing the two Chikuhodo Cheek Sisters? The Z-8 needs some love too. The most commonly asked question on Chikuhodo brush reviews runs something along the lines of, “should i get the Z-4 or the Z-8?” while the answer is usually “Idk, it’s really based on your personal preference…” which roughly translates to, “idon’twanttobeheldresponsibleifyouendupnotlikingyourchoice so good luck!”
I’m aware that not everyone is a comment thread staker like me so I decided to make a blog post about it and help some people out. Getting both brushes might be redundant (not to mention financially painful) for the people who want one luxury tool but aren’t sure of which one to get. The best tool is the one that fits your needs. If there are any questions you still have at the end, feel free to ask. I have tried my best to include all the information relevant to the deciding-and-buying process but I still might have overlooked some points because i have had both of these for a while now.
Spec + Comparison
All measurements should be self explanatory via the pictures and their labels. Clicking on the pics will increase size. Due to the handmade nature of these brushes, there will be a window of variance from brush to brush but honestly, those differences should be too minimal to notice once you’re using it on your face instead of scrutinizing it with a caliper. One important thing to note is that i wash and dry my brushes with brush guards so they may not be as fluffy and big as pictures from another source.
Both brushes are made of grey squirrel hair so they are both good picks if you have dry or sensitive skin. They are essentially the same brush with different measurements. The bristles flare out from the ferrule, and start tapering around 2/3’s of the way up (viewed from the front). The “edge” is semi-lunar or just plain round, depending on your vocab preference. Profile wise, they are fluffy paddles that flare slightly from the ferrule and taper gently towards the tip.
As with most Japanese made brushes, the Z-4 and Z-8 are on the shorter side, but are still long enough to hold comfortably. For reference, my hands are neither large nor small. (I’m incredibly helpful. Can’t you tell?) I can reach 9 keys comfortably on a piano but couldn’t graze the 10th even if my life depended on it. Okay, by musician standards, my hands are depressingly small.
Both brushes have rounded butts and glossy coated handles. Instead of being labeled “Z-4” and “Z-8,” the brushes are printed(?) with “Cheek/Highlight Brush” and “Cheek Brush” respectively. I’ve scratched at the names and logo a couple times and they doesn’t seem to be in danger of coming off. The print does feels 3-D (not flush against the handle) so they must be lacquered under a couple coats of the gloss. The wood used for the handle is quite light and is joined seamlessly to the open ferrule in a very elegant fashion. Despite the lightness of the handle material, both brushes are balanced and i can spin them like pens (throwback to middle school when pen tricks were all the rage).
One thing to note is that these brushes are disappointing small when they first arrive in their plastic sleeve. (No pictures, sorry.) They look rather wimpy and sad. You have to wash and dry them before the first use (like you should with all other brushes) to reveal their true fluffy glory. The Z-4 does fluff up and flare out more than the Z-8. The fluffing up makes it look bigger to the point that it looks almost the same size as the Z-8. When photo taking, i was actually going: uh-oh, they look too similar, even when side by side. When it comes to application though, those handful of millimeters and decimated inches really do make a difference.
As determined by my totally unscientific, patent-pending “squish” test, the Z-8 is noticeably denser than the Z-4. However, the greater length on the Z-8 makes it feel less dense (and softer) when it’s patted or swept across the skin. The Z-4 is resilient like a bouncy seat cushion and has the slightest firm feel when you pat it on the skin. It usually doesn’t need any help being reshaped. After being squeezed or used, the body springs right back. It’s still a very soft brush, but there is a “push back” if you press it on skin.
Coverage and color intensity of products applied with this brush can run from sheer to almost medium depending on your application method. The hairs pick up a light to moderate amount of pigment and the body of the brush act kind of like a storage with a gradual release mechanism. Sweeping will deposit product in a sheer layer and allow for controlled building. Patting motions will shake loose product and will deposit color faster. Buffing will distribute color the fastest but you run the risk of over applying the product if it’s really pigmented or has a texture that’s resistant to blending.
There will never be any poking feelings from the bristles. Pressing will cause the bristles to splay out and cover a moderate area rather than dig into skin. The firmness of the Z-4 allows for it to blend stuff out or blend products together to get a seamless finish. I keep saying that the body of the brush is firm, but the overall feeling is super soft. The hairs are too soft to polish out texture that forms, and it’s near impossible to overblend and muddy everything up because it does not move product that has already been deposited and settled. Moving on…
The gradual release properties of a pure squirrel hair head makes it excellent for setting powder. It will never look too cakey but the Z-4’s size limits it to target powder applications. It’s good for setting powder under the eyes and T-zone setting but wont apply finishing powder to the whole face very efficiently. The small size + moderate point makes it great for highlight and makes it suitable for contour if you like a soft sculpted look. The profile is slim and capable of bringing out cheekbones but don’t expect them to be to dramatic if that’s your thing. It is (of course) good for very controlled blush, especially on smaller faces. You apply product with just with the slightest touch to control where the product goes or press and sweep a few times to cover a larger area faster with more intensity.
Z-8 is plusher and softer feeling like a down comforter. If you squish the Z-8, it will return to its original shape more or less but can benefit from being groomed back into shape. Application starts at very sheer with sweeping notions. Each pass will deposit more color. No extra blending is really required because everything is blended in automatically. No really, a few passes back and forth is all you need to a seamless look. A combination of sweeping and patting will deposit color faster. Also, no real blending effort required. I find that the hairs are too long and the body is too flexible to allow for buffing application.
The bristles splay out more and cover a moderately-large area when more pressure is applied. They fold around contours of face and feel oh so luxurious but the splaying and airiness also make it difficult to achieve intense color if that’s the look you’re going for. Then again, if you want intense color, you’ll be better of with a goat or pony brush. The spreading and folding of the Z-8 makes it perfect for a flawless application of setting powder. Product will be applied sheer and never cake. The size allows it to be used all over with great efficiency while the narrow side (profile) allows for target (eyes, t-zone) powdering. Unfortunately the body is too flexible to allow for removal of excess product (flicking off powder) or polishing texture that may develop. Due to it’s size, the Z-8 is not precise enough for fuss-free highlight (in my opinion). It can be done, but it’s not worth the effort. I would rather pick up and wash another brush that gets the job done faster and better.
The large size + flexibility/softness of the head and bristles makes it very efficient at applying finishing powder or bronzer. A handful of strokes with the broad side will cover the whole face. The profile side is skinny enough to allow for soft sculpting and target blush application. Being so soft and flexible, the Z-8 gets relegated to applying ombre blush, rather than contour, to sculpt. I apply the lighter, pop-color to the top half of my cheeks with the profile (skinny) side and sculpt with a slightly darker, nudey blush by layering it on the lower 2/3’s of my cheek. I then run the main (broad) face of the brush over the whole area a couple times to better blend everything together. It sounds complicated but it’s quite effortless. The process only takes seconds and the resulting look is very flattering. After blush application, finishing powder application is my favorite use for this brush as i don’t wear bronzer very often and use setting powder with a puff or goat hair brush more often than not.
Being made of squirrel and all, the Z-4 and Z-8 should only be used with powder and oil free products. So for all the products i mentioned, assume powder formulation. The Z-8 isn’t the greatest with hard pressed products, baked powders or anything that needs to be scraped at. The squirrel hairs are too long and thus too floppy to loosen product effectively. The tips and bristles of the Z-4 are just as soft, but like i have mentioned, the body as more resilience. Thus, swirling the Z-4 in a pan will pick up a respectable amount of color.
Both brushes are fantastic with very soft products, especially if there tends to be a lot of loose powder kicked up. (I’m looking at you ambient powders.) There will be minimal excess product kicked up and wasted. I sometimes use the tip of the z-4 to “clean up” dusty compact interiors, then proceed to use the product on my face.
Pricing and Availability
If you live in the US like i do, there are three English sources. All of them are online shops. The fastest and most expensive (hooray for markups!) is Beautylish. The Z-4 and Z-8 are $73 and $111 respectively before tax, but Beautylish offers free two day shipping on orders above $35. It’s fantastically speedy. They ship the same or next day if the brush is in stock. If you decide that getting your brushes quickly is worth the higher price, BL might be for you. BL also has a generous 30 day return policy. The other two options do have return policies as well but are much stricter.
Then there’s Visage USA which is the second most expensive with the Z-4 and Z-8 priced at $71 and $109. With Visage, an unique feature is that you can get your brushes customized with an engraving of your request for an additional $2 (per brush).There is a shipping fee on top of the brush price and sales tax. I’ve never used Visage before so i can’t tell you very much about them but they are speedy with replies if you contact them. However there is a delay before they ship your brushes out because they place a order to the brush maker. Add that to shipping time and you’re looking at a couple of weeks on the conservative end. They have a very strict 7-day return policy. Basically, you cant return it if it’s been opened unless it was sent in already damaged condition. Honestly, unless you have your heart set on getting customized brushes, BL would be the better option at this price point.
The cheapest route is through CDJapan, direct from Japan and surprisingly fast if they have the brushes in stock. The Z-4 is 6,500 yen and the Z-8 is 10,000 yen. In USD, that tranlates to a range of $51 – 54 and $78 – 82. The reason for that range in prices is because the exchange rate changes daily. Those windows’ limits are based on 2 months of me tracking the exchange rate and prices – daily – and rounding the highest and lowest recorded amounts up/down to the nearest dollar. You could say I’m slightly obsessed about saving money. If you are a patient person like me, you can wait for the lower end of the window. If you don’t care about those couple of dollars you won’t be losing much either.
With CDJapan, there’s no sales tax and the AirMail shipping option to the US that i have been using is pretty reasonable (time:price), though most people use EMS. EMS is faster and has tracking but is also more expensive. CDJapan’s return policy, like Visage, only allows returns and refunds on unopened or sent-damaged items but gives you a 30 day window.
For a much more indepth overview and detailed guide of ordering from CDJapan, please see this post.
Notes + Summary
The Z-8 does take longer than the Z-4 to dry because it is denser and has more hair but as long as you wait overnight, it shouldn’t be much of a problem. I do keep both of mine in brush guards though that extra precaution is not really necessary. I sometimes get lazy and let the Z-4 go guard free but i prefer to keep my Z-8 in a slimmer shape so i almost always use a brush guard on the Z-8. When traveling, as long as you tuck both safely away in a brush roll or lay them snug in a pouch, there should be no need for guards.
I personally favor the Z-8 over the Z-4. I don’t really i have a logical reason why. My decision is based on the fact that I reach for the Z-8 more. Logically, the Z-4 should be the winner: it is cheaper, capable of doing more things, faster at building intensity, and capable of more precise work. But my stupid sensory input nerves have expensive tastes like the feeling of the Z-8 more. The Z-4 more versatile in terms of the number of products it can effectively apply while the Z-8 might be too big for some people with smaller faces or non-forgiving cheeks.
So now that this is over, which one of these Chikuhodo beauties have i convinced you to get? If the answer is “both” I’m sorry (outloud) but internally, I’m not sorry.