Anyone who isn’t a MAC makeup artist is going to be slightly overwhelmed when first faced with the Studio Fix Powder Plus shade range. The naming system involves a combination of letters and numbers that denote undertone and depth respectively. While most popular brands stick with relatively simple descriptive shade names, MAC, being a pro brand, uses a system that allows them to be precise in their description of a wide selection of shades. The numbers increase with depth and that’s about the easiest part to explain. When you get to the letter designations for undertones, it gets slightly more confusing:
C- “Cool ” – best for yellow/golden/olive skin
NC- “Neutral Cool” – best for golden beige skin
N- “Neutral” – beige skin
NW- “Neutral Warm” – pinky beige skin
W- “Warm” – best for pinkish skin
Looks pretty straightforward, but you may have noticed that although “NC” stands for “Neutral Cool” the NC shades are geared toward women with warm, golden skin tones. The same goes for the “NW” shades applying to cool skin instead of warm. The reason behind that has something to do with the colour wheel and colour theory. I don’t fully understand it so I won’t attempt an explanation, but I read on someone else’s blog that it helps to think of NC as “not cool” and NW as “not warm.” A former MAC makeup artist, Sharon Farrel, explains it all much more clearly in this useful post.
This little chart is also from Sharon’s blog. I take no credit for it and it’s missing some shades, but wanted to include it here to give you a visual of the Studio Fix Powder Plus range. It is one of MACs most well-known and loved products, so most people who take an interest in makeup will probably check it out at least once in their lives. Many also use their MAC shade match from the Studio Fix range to describe their foundation colour in casual conversation.
Note that the shades don’t translate exactly across formulas–even the Studio Fix Fluid foundation (which is meant to simply be the liquid version of this) behaves differently. Other foundations from MAC (Matchmaster, Face and Body, Studio Sculpt, etc.) make use of different naming systems altogether, which can make finding a good match a dizzying affair. This post will solely be about the Studio Fix Powder Plus foundation and my experience finding a shade match.
You’re meant to find your shade by matching up your undertone + skin depth combination to a shade somewhere in the range. NC35 is quite common in the Philippines as it’s a light-medium with warm undertones. Shades like NW30 on the other hand, although similar to NC35 in depth, clash with most Pinay skin because of the pink in it. It sounds simple, but it’s not. And In a perfect world, none of this would be your problem. MAC artists should be able to match you with relative ease; it is their job, after all. But the reality of it is that skin is a complex thing: a mix of browns (which are in turn a mix of red, yellow, purple, blue…) that are incredibly difficult to read. We’re not even talking about other factors like lighting, mixed heritage, skin acidity, and the colour of the shirt you were wearing while visiting a MAC counter. It’s no wonder sometimes even the Pros get it wrong.
I will emphasise again that while I can give you a general overview of the range and how the naming system works, I can only talk about my own personal journey to finding a shade match. There does seem to be quite a number of people who have similar colouring as mine who have found themselves in the same quandary, so hopefully this will be of help to someone else. Without further ado: This, is my Studio Fix Powder Plus story. (Not to be confused with my E! True Hollywood Story, which will never come into existence.)
I wrote a post titled “My love/hate relationship with MAC Studio Fix Powder Foundation” explaining the matter way back in 2012. In it I essentially lamented the lack of a shade in between NC40 and N42 that would presumably match my skin perfectly. NC42 (the first shade I was matched to) is very warm–almost orange– and only suits me when I have an extreme tan. Even then, it brings me closer to looking like an Oompa Loompa than I would ever want. NC40 on the other hand is just too light for me. As it still has a warm undertone, I can use it for matte highlighting (i.e. on the brow bone, bridge of the nose, or sometimes even under my eyes) but it can never be used as an all-over foundation for my face.
You must be thinking– big deal, some formula doesn’t have a match for you, just find others and leave it be. And that is precisely what I did for a long time. I felt a tiny bit sad because Studio Fix is such an iconic formula and a staple for so many, but it’s just foundation. Whatevs, right? Other foundations worked for me too and came in shades that actually suited me. But, as it turns out, a lot of other women had encountered the same issue with Studio Fix as I had. My “love/hate” post gathered comments and suggestions and I discovered the “C” shades, which aren’t as commonly recommended by MAC artists and were as a consequence previously out of my realm of thought.
Getting to Know “C40”
Bringing back the handy-dandy table here to remind you where the “Cs” come in in relation to everything else. The C shades paired with a single digit number are the older C shades that are “yellow-olive” in tone. The newer C shades with double digit numbers are still yellow in tone but incorporate a little more beige than olive. Many people say this isn’t consistent–and I can see a green tinge in C40 for sure, so that is possibly true. But just coming to the knowledge that such options existed was more than helpful for me. C40 was precisely the shade I had been looking for.
Side by side, you can see just how C40 falls perfectly in between NC40 and 42 in terms of depth. The undertone itself has a slight yellow-green tinge compared to the warmer yellow in the NCs. Perfect, because I have olive skin (a discovery I made only recently, which shall be the topic of an entirely different post).
When I bought C40, I didn’t bother asking a sales assistant for help. I just asked for a new compact and when they showed me the powder (to confirm it hadn’t been touched), I knew in an instant that it was the right shade for me. That was experience speaking. After years of being the makeup obsessed person that I am, I can see tones much more easily now. Still, I would not even have known of C40 if not for online discussions of the nuances of MAC shades. I feel like my personal search has brought me to a comfortable place (never an “end” because factors can still change), but I know that seeing comparison photos would have helped me a lot.
A Match, At Last!
On my arm you can best see the little bit of green that C40 has in it and just how light NC40 is for my skin. While the inner side of my arm isn’t the same shade depth as my face, it obviously has the same undertones as the rest of the skin on my body. NC42 seems a decent match as well, but is much more beige and warm than C40 is.
Again– what was I thinking when I picked up NC40? Haha.
I don’t use this foundation full-on very often because the coverage is insane, but I do enjoy using it as a setting powder when I wear liquid bases. Having the proper shade makes all the difference and I am just now discovering how versatile the formula really is because I don’t have to worry about the shade being off.
Bear in mind that this is all relative to my experience. I wish I could help people across all skin depth and tones, but no one’s skin is the same. Even if you have predominantly yellow or pink tones in your skin, a lot of other things come into play when searching for a foundation match. I suppose the moral of this story is to try to keep your eyes open and if something looks or feels off, then it probably is.
If you have similar stories and/or observations about MAC shades, leave them in the comments section! There are also loads of forums out there on this subject, so use the internet to help you out if this post hasn’t done anything for you. :) Oh and do I have any C40 sisters out there? Give me a shout!
MAC Studio Fix Powder Plus Foundation – 1,900.00 Php as of 2015
15g/ 0.52 US OZ
Available at Rustan’s Department Store and independent MAC Outlets