Navigating MAC’s Studio Fix Powder Plus Foundation Shade Range: My Personal Journey

MACSF6The Range

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. 
Studio-Fix-Powder-Plus (1)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.

The Dilemma

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”

Studio-Fix-Powder-PlusBringing 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.

MACSF2Side 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!

MACSF4On 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.
MACSF5Again– 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.

MACSF3Bear 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!

Product Information: 

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

30 responses to Navigating MAC’s Studio Fix Powder Plus Foundation Shade Range: My Personal Journey

  1. As much as I love MAC, they sometimes confuse me too. I didnt know they have N range and the C range for this product – will check it out, might have my real match there! :P

  2. Wow, a great post. I don’t even know what my MAC shade is. I’ve got the mac msf medium dark, which I think is the perfect powder match for me.

  3. I thought the non-5 and 0 shades were made up! Like people thought they fell in between NC 40 and 45 so they’d just make up NC 42, hahahaha omgggggg

  4. Shoma

    Thank you so much for your post , really helped me to understand a few nuances , the girl at the counter insisted that nc 42 is the shade for me but it just looks so orangish ? So I went and got myself a bobby brown skin weightless powder foundation in honey 5
    Needless to say it disappears in to my skin
    Thank god for small mercies 😊


  5. Susanne

    Hi! I am looking to buy this foundation. I have NC20 in the concealer which fits me perfectly. But on the website the powder foundation looks SO light in comparison. Do you have to go darker with it? Thank you for this informative post though :D helped a lot!

    • Mariana – Author

      I would visit a store and look at them in person… Because MAC really seems to be inconsistent with the naming system for different products. Haha but generally no, the concealer should be the slightly lighter shade (at least for under the eyes).

      Good luck finding the perfect shade! I would really suggest going to the store multiple times and just being thorough about testing the shade. :)

      • Lucero

        Yay!! So happy I found your blog ! We share the same situation ,and now I know that c40 is my shade at last ! I would love to follow you on social media , do you happen to have an Instagram ?

  6. Retno Lestari

    Thank you so much for your review. I think this is the best review of Mac Studio Fix that I could find. It helps me to get the right shade for my skintone. After reading your comprehensive explanation, I decided to order C40 online. And it is exactly the correct shade. Once again, thank you very much. I love your blog.

  7. Christine Joy Luikuo

    Hi, Ms. Mariana! Your post is very helpful. I just have a question. Will MAC artists still do shade matching for me even if I will not be buying their foundation? I just want to know my MAC shade since their shading/color system is the standard when it comes to makeup. Plus, I seldomly use foundation; I’m good with BB creams.

  8. GM

    I have the exact same problem as you! I wear a NC42, but its too orange and somehow makes me look darker coz of the orange tint… I have now switched to Too Faced – born this way – warm beige liquid foundation, but i will soon check out C40 from MAC. Thanks heaps for such a detailed blog! :)

  9. Maha

    Thanks so much for this extremely helpful review! I am a brown biscuit with very yellow undertones and I was never able to find my correct shade until now. As much as I disliked using Mac foundations in the past (partly due to not finding my correct shade), I LOVE it as much if not more now.

    The C range of shades seems to match my undertones just perfectly and I had no clue that the C range even existed! Lord, am I late to the game!

  10. I found your blog because I have some problems navigating the SF powder shade range too. What I’ve actually found myself is that NC35 is darker and yellower than NC40 in this line. In foundations I’m about NC30-35 and the NC40 works for me. I would say that the NC40 shade in this line is a little off – way lighter than what NC40 should be.

    • Ren

      Ur comment actually helped me a loy regarding the shade nc35 and nc40…I’ve been meaning to buy nc40 coz I felt 40 would mean the shade wud be deeper but looking at pictures online nc35 did look a bit darker but i wasnt sure as ive never been colour matchedat the store. .

  11. Sue

    Thank you so much, I must have the same skin color than you because I had exactly the same dilema, I am just going to buy C40, the MUA sometimes dont help at all!

  12. nal Journey:

    Thanks sooo much!:) I couldn’t remember the perfect studio fix powder shade for me so i got an nc42 instead of bc40 but still feel like it’s too brown(thank God it’s summer and i’d be dark enough for nc42 lol), should definitely try c40 next time i drop by Mac. Hopefully, it will be the perfect shade for me :) Thanks again!!!:)

  13. Thanks sooo much!:) I couldn’t remember the perfect studio fix powder shade for me so i got an nc42 instead of bc40 but still feel like it’s too brown(thank God it’s summer and i’d be dark enough for nc42 lol), should definitely try c40 next time i drop by Mac. Hopefully, it will be the perfect shade for me :) Thanks again!!!:)

  14. Angela

    Hi I currently use nc40 studio fix fluid but I feel it’s to yellow what’s an alternative color please?

  15. Linda

    Wow! You just help me a lot! I was having the same problem As you with nc 42 was way to orange, and I was wondering if I should buy NC40. But definitely my next purchase will be C40 it just seem perfectly.

    Grettings from Honduras, C.A.

  16. Melany

    WoW! I read a lot of beauty blogs for several years now. But i’ve never came across this information, that I feel the need to leave a reply. Thank you so much!! I’m also nc42 in mac in the summer. And after summer….no foundations to fit my Skintone. Mac here I come

  17. Shivana

    Really helpful post especially where the NC 40 & 42 are concerned. I have both colours but neither is the perfect match. I’ll surely be investing in a C40 which I now know will match perfectly to my skin tone.

  18. Rains

    Buying the wrong shade of this foundation is a total pain. Jst think about your 2k going to waste because you can’t use the product!

  19. pssth0y

    Hey Ateh and fellow morenas in the struggle,

    I’ve been on the search for a foundation that would allow me to just be quick in the morning and go, but still look *very* natural. I work with children and children are a bit too honest and parents can be judgmental kasi! Haha.

    So I always struggled with NC42 making my skin look orange, and when I tried C40 and C5, I still felt it a bit off for my skintone, but I dealt, because I would rather the slight gray tinge than the orange tinge.

    I also noticed that when I wear popular pink blushes such as Orgasm, Luminoso, and Springsheen, my skin looked *too* gray! I did love the look of fuschia blushes on me, like Sonia Kashuk flamingo.

    I found that Becca Papaya is the best corrector for my dark circles, so I figured I probably had green tones.

    The only foundation that worked for me was the Skin79 Bronze BB, but ever since that has been discontinued, I’ve been lost.

    Thank you, Ateh, for your thorough post, I have come closer to understanding my skin tone.


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