For many of us, make-up can be transformative – it can mimic a fresh-from-holiday complexion and arm us with the confidence to face the day or venture into the night. But keeping up with Instagram’s constantly evolving beauty trends, from highlighting to contouring, can be exhausting – not to mention expensive and unsustainable.

With so many options, consumers often feel overwhelmed with choice. So we asked leading Sydney make-up artist Filomena Natoli for some advice to help us make savvier choices. Natoli has worked with everyone from Lara Worthington to Elle Macpherson to Poppy Delevingne and is best-known for her “French-girl” aesthetic – think healthy, radiant and effortless skin. But even Natoli has affordable products hidden away in her kit, which she’s not afraid to use on celebrity faces around the world. Now she’s sharing her tips with Broadsheet for the first time.

Be selective
Natoli’s golden rule for smart beauty buying is simple: focus serious investments on your favourite facial features, rather than getting distracted by every possible product. “Be selective. Play up your best asset with the best-quality product you can afford,” she says. “For example, if lashes are your thing, this is where you spend your money.”

Another trick Natoli often recommends to clients is to look for versatile products that offer value beyond their prescribed use. This way you’re getting more mileage out of your purchase. For example, lip and cheek tints can be used as lid tints, bronzer can double-up as a light and natural eyeshadow and clear lip gloss can be used as an eye gloss, too.

Invest in good skincare and save in the long term
Natoli believes great make-up starts with good skin. “Cosmetics can only get you so far, it’s what’s underneath that will get you the best results,” she explains. Focusing on improving skin health can save you money in the long run. “Invest in good skincare that does most of the work,” she advises. She emphasises commonsense practices, like committing to a consistent skincare regimen, wearing sun protection, “giving your skin a minute” by going make-up free when it’s acting up, and always, always cleansing twice before bed to remove grime and improve your complexion.

She recommends the Sensibio Toner ($32.99) from Bioderma (a French pharmacy brand stocked at Priceline) to get rid of stubborn grease and grime at the end of the day. While Natoli loves to treat herself to the odd facial at a Rationale clinic, for those looking to curb their beauty spend, she recommends the moisturiser from clean-beauty brand Weleda Skin Food ($22.95). “It’s all-natural, restorative and repairs,” she says. “And it gets the skin where it needs to be for make-up. Use sparingly, because it gives you a super-dewy result … use a pea-sized amount, rub in hands and press into skin.”

Forget primer
When it comes to prepping the skin before foundation, Natoli says a thrifty hack is to do away with primer altogether. “Being well prepped – cleansed and moisturised with a good quality moisturiser – is a great alternative to a top-shelf primer,” she says. “Bioderma’s Sensibio Light Soothing Cream ($37.99) is a great, affordable option that will allow make-up to really grip onto the skin and give that seamless finish. Make sure to let it marinate on the skin for a couple of minutes before applying foundation.”

Invest in a good-quality foundation
If you’re someone who wears foundation every day, Natoli says it’s worth spending more money on this step. “You don’t want to congest your skin,” she says. “Nobody needs skin drama, which can become expensive to manage.” The Your Skin But Better CC+ Cream from It Cosmetics ($61) offers full-matte coverage and a seamless finish. “A little goes a long way,” she says. “For a daytime look it goes on in a sheer fashion, but you can ramp up the coverage for night-time. It’s also SPF 40 and it colour-corrects.” Natoli adds that depending on your skin tone, it can double as an under-eye concealer. “As far as reasonably priced foundations go, it’s a product that keeps on giving. As a rule, whatever foundation you’re using, start lightly and build gradually – it’s always easier to add than subtract.”

Go for a double-duty illuminating concealer
When it comes to covering blemishes, Natoli reaches for the RMS “Un” Cover-Up ($55). “It’s an amazing illuminating concealer, as the coconut-oil base means you that get pop of light in dark, tired areas,” she explains. In addition to giving a dewy, real-skin finish, RMS is a clean-beauty line free of chemicals, synthetic preservatives and fragrances. “And if you want something that won’t budge,” she says, “Tarte Amazonian Clay Waterproof Concealer for $42 is also a great option.” When it comes to application, Natoli says it’s as easy as gently patting product into the skin with your fingers.

Freshen up with a cream blush that doubles as cheek or lip tint
“Blush is definitely a staple as it really freshens up the face,” says Natoli. “I particularly love the $29.95 Just A Touch Lip and Cheek Tint cream blush from Australian model Jess Hart’s line Luma as it gives that real-skin finish at a great pricepoint. This one is designed to be versatile, but I have always been known to play around with cheek tints on lips and vice versa – it just gives extra bang for your buck.” Natoli proceeds to check her makeup kit for the name of her preferred shade, only to discover her daughter has taken it – the proof is in the theft.

Avoid strobe highlighters
To create a natural highlight on the skin, Natoli swears by Luma’s On The Glow Highlighter Stick ($29.95): “It’s a great product because it’s not too frosty or strobe and gives the skin that brightness – a balmy highlight that real skin is capable of.” (Strobe highlighters can be glittery and bright.) Application tip: swipe it across the high points of your face and blend with your fingers for a real-skin glow. Natoli also recommends taking the product beyond the face. “I always say the face doesn’t end at the face, it ends at the décolletage,” she says. “You want that radiance to go everywhere to give an all-around healthy glow, so pop it on collarbones and the balls of your shoulder for sensual summer skin.”

Invest in body make-up over spray tans
If you’re showing some skin, Natali recommends an alternative to chemical spray tans: Luma’s Beach Beauty Body Oil ($39.95). “The formula includes crushed pearl, which gives a dreamy pearlescent sheen that highlights skin and goes on dry so you can get dressed right away,” she says.

Use your hands instead of a brush
For a natural glow, Natoli will often use Mecca Max’s Sunlit Skin Bronzing Powder ($22) on clients. “This is a great formulation to add warmth to the skin that’s not too flat,” she says. While you’re there, pick up the Mecca Powder Brush ($60), which really goes the distance. “If you look after them, brushes last forever. I like to use Sard Wonder Soap for just $2.65 from Woolworths to clean mine.”

A cost-effective tip? “The heat from your hands allows you to push the product and blend into the skin, which can be just as effective as the best brushes from Japan.”