Behind every flawless complexion or dramatic smoky eye is a makeup pro with an arsenal of blending tools at hand. The right brush has the ability to completely revolutionize your beauty routine, which is why we put together a comprehensive list of 12 must-have makeup tools to put your best face forward. Our no-fluff guide will show you which brushes you really need, where to splurge (and save!), and when it's time to reach for the sable versus the synthetic. Click through our gallery now to get the details on our favorite makeup brushes of the moment, with pro tips on exactly how to use each one!
1. Best for Powder
Shooting for velvety smooth but winding up cakey? Go for light and luxe goat hair. The finely tapered bristles on Nars Powder Brush No. 10 ($52; available in April at narscosmetics.com) disperse powder lightly and evenly—especially critical since you're using the tool over your entire face, says N.Y.C. makeup artist Troy Surratt.
2. Best for Eye Shadow
For the accuracy you need on lids and creases, makeup artists say well-crafted mixed-fiber brushes like Laura Mercier's Finishing Eye Brush ($32; lauramercier.com) are a necessary expense. Stiffer synthetic hair deposits color, the rounded top lets you hit that crease, and softer fibers work "like a windshield wiper to spread and blend the color," says L. A. makeup artist Fiona Stiles.
3. Best for Blush
A smaller head of natural bristles-like the ones on Marc Jacobs' Angled Blush Brush ($38; sephora.com)-that aren't too densely packed lets you "target where color goes and blends for a natural finish," says L.A. makeup pro Rachel Goodwin. You can also use the slanted edge for contouring, giving you more bang for your buck.
4. Best for Concealer
Mixed bristles easily blend creams and liquids. They also minimize the risk of smearing product off the target like your digits tend to do. A small, flat head like the one on NYX's Concealer Corrector Brush ($5; nyxcosmetics.com) offers more control than your fingers for getting into tight or small spaces, say, around the nose.
5. Best for Foundation
Our pros love the ability of Sonia Kashuk's Flat Top Multipurpose Brush ($16; Target stores nationwide), with its grip-and-glide synthetic bristles, to both deposit and spread cream as well as liquid formulas. "It literally erases imperfections, and the flat top prevents a streaky application," says Surratt.
6. Best for Lips
Sure, straight from the tube often works just fine. But an inexpensive synthetic brush like Revlon's version ($6; CVS stores nationwide) will seriously elevate your efforts at trickier bold and matte pouts. An angled tip allows for "precision around the edges of the mouth, creating a crisp finish," says Surratt.
7. Best for Sparkly Eye Shadows
The silicone tapered tip on the Stila Eye Shadow Applicator No. 37 ($18; sephora.com) helps you pack on and blend some intense color from cream or powder shadows for an ultrasmooth finish.
8. Best for Contouring and Mascara
Super-multipurpose, the large Make Up For Ever Brush No. 120 ($31; makeupforever.com) has a flat shape that enables you to layer on light dustings of highlighter or sweeps of powder under the eye area. The fan design can also create soft contours with bronzer. We've spied makeup pros using a baby-size version, like MUD's Mini Mascara Fan Brush ($14; mudshop.com) backstage at fashion shows to lightly coat lashes with mascara.
9. Best for Defining Your Crease
Do you have a hard time getting into the fold of your lid to create definition and blend shadows perfectly? The angled wand (150 degrees, to be exact) on Japonesque's Eye Shadow Crease Brush ($15; beauty.com) adds dimension without any telltale lines.
10. Best for Blending
It may look a little weird, but the elongated oval shape and soft synthetic fibers on MAC's Masterclass Oval No. 6 Brush ($42; maccosmetics.com) work surprisingly well to buff in powder or blush. Its easy-grip handle gives you lots of control as you layer on just the coverage you want.
11. Best for Self-Tanner
Speed is everything when you're trying to avoid blotches from bronzing lotions or self-tanner. This large body brush by Eco Tools ($12; ecotools.com) "allows you to cover a lot of area quickly," says Goodwin.