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.

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My love/hate relationship with MAC Studio Fix Powder Foundation

[Feb. 2015 Edit: Please see the follow-up post to this one here.)

My absolute favourite product in the entire MAC Cosmetics range is the Mineralize Skinifinish Natural powder. Their lipsticks come in second and the Studio Fix powder foundation is a close third. I’ve tried the liquid Studio Fix before and thought that was horrible, but the powder variant has its uses. It has a rather heavy coverage and it leaves you with a very matte finish, which can look a bit unnatural if caked too heavily onto your face. The compact comes with a sponge, but you can completely chuck that (or just keep it for light touch-ups) and use a large powder brush or a kabuki brush instead. Buffing Studio Fix into your skin will give you a beautiful airbush-like finish that is still heavy, but full coverage is something we all want once in a while anyway. MAC Studio Fix is not my favourite powder foundation (that “award” goes to my Shu Uemura pressed powder), but I like it enough to feel like I need to have it in my make-up collection. The one thing that really irks me about it though is that I do not have an exact shade match.

With the help of a MAC make-up artist, I first bought the shade NC42. It’s about half a shade to a full shade too dark for my coloring depending on the time of year, but even at my darkest I still get comments about being so tan when I wear this. So then I went and ordered NC40 (next to NC42 in the shade range, there is no “41” **EDIT: There is an NC41, but it is not available in the Philippines nor is it listed in the MAC website!), thinking that it should be perfect… but ohmygoodness it is much too light for me. NC 42 on the left, NC40 on the right. Doesn’t that look like a huge jump in colour? :o I would rather go slightly darker in foundation colour than too light, so I’ve barely touched my NC40 compact. If I use it at all, I use it as a highlight on the bridge of my nose and on my brow bone. If I use it all over, I get that slightly grayish tinge on my skin which is so very unflattering. NC 42 also seems to be much warmer and more yellow than NC40, even though both are in the “NC” category, meaning they should both have warm undertones. I want to love this powder. I really do. But it looks like MAC won’t let me. See how much more yellow NC42 is? The yellowness is something that I noticed a lot too when I used the liquid Studio Fix formula, and it’s not something that I like. I tend to favor neutral foundations, because even though I’m Asian, I don’t have very yellow undertones. Sadly, I may someday soon decide that MAC Studio Fix is something not worth sticking with. If/when I do decide that, I will miss the sturdy compact packaging and the smooth texture—but the absence of a perfect colour match for me is something I find very difficult to get over. I’m not so sure if this has been a review or just a rant, so I’ll end with suggestions that might be of use to other people. MAC Studio Fix might be for you, if – you are looking for a powder foundation, – MAC carries a shade that suits you well, – you like the convenience of a compact, and – you are looking for medium to full coverage with a matte finish. p.s. There is no SPF in this product.

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