The only makeup brushes you'll ever need

The way you apply your makeup matters just as much as the makeup itself. You can buy the priciest foundation, but if you smear it haphazardly all over your face with your fingers, well, you’ll just look like you have makeup smeared on your face. (You really need to blend foundation into the skin with a brush or sponge for it to look its best.)

Luckily, there are a number of quality makeup brushes available at an affordable price. Unfortunately, they often come packaged in kits (those sold in drugstores and in higher-end boutiques) that include a number of brushes that your typical beauty simply doesn’t need.

Never fear -- that’s why I’m here! Let’s build your own brush kit.

The beauty of custom-creating a kit is that you buy only what you need. Don’t wear highlighter? Skip the fan brush. Really love your eyeshadow? Pick up multiples of the eye brushes.

And if you like the finger-smeared look? You do you, friend. That's the beauty of makeup.

Here's what (I say) you need:

  1. A flat-top kabuki brush (try the up & up Complexion Brush, $6.99 at Target) gives full coverage when applying liquid foundation and concealer. Press the product into the skin with tapping motions, then smooth in swirling motions to blend. (If you're looking for a more natural look, a makeup sponge -- try the Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge, $6.99 at drugstores -- is your best bet. Use damp with a dabbing motion.)

  2. A large powder brush (try the Real Techniques Powder Brush, $7.99 at Target) for setting your foundation with translucent powder. Dust the powder on with a light hand to make your makeup last.

  3. A setting brush (try the Real Techniques Setting Brush, $3.29 at Target) for more precise translucent-powder application, like setting your under-eye concealer.

  4. A contouring brush (try the e.l.f Contouring Brush, $5.99 at Target) for carving out your cheekbones. Using a cool-toned powder, fake a shadow by literally drawing a line where you’d like it to be.

  5. A fluffy bronzer brush (try the up & up Powder Brush, $6.99 at Target) for warming up the perimeter of the face, even in the dead of winter.

  6. A blush brush (try the up & up Blush Brush, $5.99 at Target) to bring a pop of color to the apples of the cheeks.

  7. A fan brush (try the e.l.f. Fan Brush, $4 at drugstores) to apply highlighter to the tops of the cheekbones.

  8. A crease brush (try the e.l.f. Blending Eye Brush, $1 at drugstores) and a matte brown eyeshadow a few shades darker than your skin tone will deepen the crease of your eye socket, making your eyes appear larger.

  9. A shader brush (try the e.l.f. Eye Shadow Brush, $0.99 at drugstores) for applying shadow to the eyelid.

  10. A flat synthetic brush (try the e.l.f. Concealer Brush, $0.99 at drugstores) for packing on shiny eyeshadows.

  11. A pencil brush (try the e.l.f Smudge Brush, $1 at drugstores) for smudging color under the lower lash line when you’re feeling smoky.

Alison Smith owns about 10 e.l.f Blending Eye Brushes. (They’re only a buck!) Got a burning beauty question? Email