Dark MAC Foundation Swatches (NC50–NW58, etc) + Why MAC Foundation Isn’t a Guide

Read ALL about my review process including how I take swatches, photos, and more here.

mac studio fix fluid foundation dark skin nc50 nc55 nw45 nw46 nw47 nw48 nw50 nw55 nw58

I’ve been a part of the internet beauty world for AGES it seems. Before the proliferation of YouTube and blogs, there were beauty message boards and LiveJournal. I’m STILL friends with people I used to follow on LiveJournal from back in the early to mid 00s. I was a member in a VERY popular MAC Cosmetics LiveJournal community—this was back when MAC was practically the be-all, end-all in the internet makeup world (my, how things have changed) and practically everything in makeup was MAC-centric especially when it came to describing your skin tone. It was not uncommon, and still not uncommon today to describe yourself as being an NC45 or NW47 or NW58. I even used to use MAC foundations as a reference to help you guys figure out your shades when I would review other brands’ foundations. But then some years ago I stopped comparing foundations to MAC. I even wrote a post about it and link to it every time I do a review. But I still get tons of questions referencing a MAC shade, so I figured let me do this post.

Using MAC as a guide can be helpful to a point, but as more and more brands start to expand their shade range beyond Beyoncé beige, it’s practically impossible to keep comparing to MAC shades. Why? Because there’s no uniform guide anywhere with foundation shades. Some brands are a little heavy handed with the red, some go ham on the yellow, some act like brown doesn’t have variations in undertones at all. We beautiful Black and brown women come in all types of gorgeous shades and undertones—some of us might find a brilliant match in a foundation line that tends to go very yellow-based while others in one that goes very red-based. Then there are those of us with neutral undertones (like me). And then many of us tan in the summer—I say this a lot in reviews and other makeup posts, but I don’t always simply go a shade or two deeper when I tan, many times I get redder in undertone–so I didn’t get “darker” so to speak but my undertones changed (and not every tan is the same). So I typically would go from my usually N110 in Cover FX to the P110. But even that isn’t always going to be an exact science—I can tan a little or tan a lot. Which is why things like powders (I have Cover FX powders in N110, P110, and then I use P125 to contour or bronze) and Pro Foundation Mixers are amazing.

foundations for dark skin

But here’s another reason why I stopped using MAC foundations as a guide (aside from times when brands themselves supply them like SheaMoisture did for their Serum Foundation):

EVERYBODY AND THEIR MAMA IS NC45 OR NW45.

via GIPHY

So my thinking behind this phenomena is a bunch of things 1. Some MAC artists were getting really crafty with shade-matching and trying to make their quotas so they put folks in whatever somewhat closely (or in some cases nowhere near as closely) matched their client 2. MAC was the most popular choice of makeup because it’s EVERYWHERE (there are a lot of folks out there who still haven’t heard of brands like BECCA, Cover FX, or Make Up For Ever) and in some places it’s practically the only choice for women with deeper skin tones—I see this a lot when I’m in Europe 3. People were getting shade-matched back when social media wasn’t as popping as it is now so you weren’t taking a gazillion pictures of yourself and then later looking back on those same pictures like “OMG, my foundation wasn’t matching AT ALL.”

Back when I wore MAC foundation, I wore Select Tint, a tinted moisturizer that made my skin look FAN-FRIGGIN’-TASTIC but I had to buy NW45 and NW50 and mix them together to get my shade. No bother for me because that was my foundation jam back then. Then MAC discontinued it, replaced it with something else that goes nowhere near my shade (as of now—who knows if they’ll extend the shades later on), and I moved onto BECCA foundations and then ultimately added on other brands like Cover FX. I haven’t even worn MAC foundations (aside from the random review) in probably a decade. I hadn’t even had a clue as to what the shade extensions MAC came out with some years ago looked like.

But because I do know how hard it is for us women with deeper shades to find a good foundation can be and because I still get people asking what shade would be an NW46 or whatever in another brand’s foundations, I figured I’d put this post together. I wanted to somewhat familiarize myself with the MAC shades again (and get to know the “newest” ones) and also help more people understand why there can’t always be a MAC equivalent to another brand’s foundation shade. Especially since I’m going to be swatching a lot of new foundation shades from brands like Hourglass and Anastasia Beverly Hills this month for #SwatchesInSeptember.

mac dark foundations

Side note: This is also why highlighting and contouring is important for women of color (which I really explained in my Why One Foundation May Not Cut it for Women of Color post) because of the way so many of us are naturally colored. Many of us are lighter in color in the center of our faces and darker around the perimeter—highlighting and contouring is a way to mimic that—and no, it doesn’t have to be super dramatic all the time. Because if you were to just put one foundation shade over all those beautiful natural shade variations, it can make you look very flat and in some cases unnatural. It’s not about being all one shade when it comes to doing makeup for women of color—it’s all about harmony and balance. You’ll get a more natural look.

OK so enough rambling—but I hope you did read above and didn’t just scroll down to the pics…lol.

mac studio fix fluid nc50 nc55 nw45 nw46 nw47 swatches dark skin

mac studio fix fluid nw48 nw50 nw55 nw58 swatches on dark skin

Mac studio fix fluid nc50 nc55 nw45 nw46 nw47 swatches on dark skin

mac studio fix fluid nw48 nw50 nw55 nw58 swatches dark skin

(I have no idea why NW50 looks lighter than NW48—unless my NW50 bottle was mislabeled. I do know that NW50 came first before NW48 and maybe they didn’t want to name NW48 NW51? I dunno)

I remember wearing NW45 in some MAC foundations and NW47 in others. It’s not uncommon to wear a different shade depending on the foundation formula because water content can affect the shade. I don’t like Studio Fix Fluid foundation (it breaks me out, I don’t like the smell, and I don’t love the finish) but I first tried NW45. Way too light. Then I tried NW46. Too light. I tried NW47. A touch too light and off in undertone (NW45 and NW46 were probably off in undertone as well but them being too light was the first dealbreaker). NW48 was the closest match but it still was off in undertone.

To drive the point home about MAC equivalents, I swatched a NW47 and NW48 in MAC alongside some other brand shades that are somewhat close in shade (essentially dark brown colors) but as you can see in the pics, they’re far from being good matches for each other.

foundations dark skin mac nw47 nw48 anastasia beverly hills stick foundation truffle hourglass vanish foundation chestnut cover fx n110 cover fx p110 swatches on dark skin

foundation for dark skin nw47 nw48 anastasia truffle

foundations dark skin hourglass vanish foundation chestnut cover fx n110 cover fx p110

So how do you make sure your foundation is a good match??!?!

I got you! Check out my Foundation 101 video:

ADDITIONAL READING/VIEWING:

Foundation 101

Makeup 101 Video Series

Skincare Posts

What I’m Using on My Skin Right Now

New Cover FX Deeper Shades

Why One Foundation May Not Cut It For Women of Color

Foundation Reviews

BECCA Ultimate Cover Concealing Creme (full coverage foundation that is pretty undetectable but covers well)

Milani 2-in-1 Foundation & Concealer (another fuller coverage foundation that is pretty undetectable but covers well)

NYX Pro Foundation Mixer Demo + Review

How to Buy the Right Foundation Shade Both Online and In-Store

How to Shop Drugstore Makeup When You Have Dark Skin

Don’t Forget Balance in Your Makeup Looks

Updated Foundation Routine

Covering Bases: My Foundation Stash

This post isn’t meant to bash MAC foundations—if you have a great match and formula from the brand, of course continue to rock it. No foundation-shaming here ;)

Like this post and found it helpful? Please share it! You can use the social media share buttons at the top and bottom of this post.

See more Foundation review and swatch posts here

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About Danielle

A former finance girl, Danielle is a New York City based freelance writer and fashion and beauty expert. She's a Hofstra University and Fashion Institute of Technology grad with an obsession with fashion and beauty which she loves to tell you all about every weekday on her award-winning blog. Think of her as your style and beauty entourage all wrapped up into one bubbly brown package. Danielle's work and expertise can be found in print and across the web in Cosmopolitan for Latinas, StyleBlazer.com, and more! She's also appeared as an on-air style expert on CBS New York's "The Couch" and WPIX11's Savvy Shopper segment.
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10 Responses to Dark MAC Foundation Swatches (NC50–NW58, etc) + Why MAC Foundation Isn’t a Guide

  1. Cassy says:

    This was really helpful, thank you. And I did read it all before checking put the swatches! ; )

  2. Jennifer says:

    Bravo! I can totally understand why many Black and Brown women still reference MAC foundations. I think MAC is still at a price point that many are comfortable with AT FIRST. Its like all those back in the day who refused to let Fashion Fair go lol. After awhile you realize ( hopefully) that there are other brands out there who have not only better shades but better undertones to suit you. MAC skews a too Orange/ red for me. NC 45 or 44 is the closest match but the undertones are too off for my more neutral skin tones. Being brown and Neutral is tough when it comes to base shopping. Certain brands like Bobbi Brown and NARS are too yellow for me so I have to go to the less popular brands like Cover FX, Laura Mercier or Estee Lauder for a good foundation match. Gotta step outside the MAC box. I still like some stuff from them but powders and foundations are a NO.

    • Danielle says:

      Hey Jennifer!

      Yup, I get it, too and it makes things more difficult because folks are soooo stuck on MAC foundation even in some cases where it’s not their best match. And yasssss for stepping outside the MAC box!

  3. Sherrie says:

    This article should be in all beauty magazines! I haven’t purchased MAC in over ten years also. I also no longer let the beauty advisors shade match me. They always try to sell me a foundation or powder darker than my complexion. Anyone else have/had that happen to them before?

    • Shars says:

      This happens to me ALL the time. They all match me darker than I am and insist on testing against my jawline. I’m like no. I need to be matched to the centre of my face because my face is slightly darker than my neck. So if I match to my jawline, I look like I’ve played in makeup that isn’t my shade. It’s so annoying but thankfully now I can spot my correct shade just by seeing it swatched on the back of my hand.

      • Danielle says:

        Hey Shars!!

        Ughhh—that sucks because then because folks get matched incorrectly, they start to not trust the people at the counter/stores and then sometimes there are really great people who know their stuff at the counter/stores but folks were burned before so they ignore them :/ Vicious cycle…lol. But yassss at you now being able to spot your correct shade :)

    • Danielle says:

      Haha—thank you, Sherrie!

      That seems to happen pretty often, BUT that shade may match the perimeter of your face—you just might need to also get a shade to match the inside of your face (which on WOC can typically be lighter than the perimeter). Check out the Highlight/Contour posts I have linked here if you haven’t already :)

  4. Ashley says:

    Hi Danielle!

    Thanks as always for such informative data. This was a great post.. I started out on MAC as well, and I am a true NC45 according to MAC studio fix powder foundation. So I would always ask for something comparable in color. What I am dying to know is, what is my undertone or rather what does the “NC” and “NW” in MAC mean? I have researched online and even asked MAC makeup artists and they all have different answers. Since I am really a true NC45, do i have yellow undertones or am I cool under toned? Does “NC” mean naturally cool or not cool? Other foundations I match pretty well with are Lancome Tient Idole Ultra 24 hour wear, in color 430 Bisque C – For medium-deep skin with cool/red undertones (but I don’t think I’m cool, I think I’m golden). Also for Kat Von D Lock-It Tattoo, I am Deep 71 Warm – deep copper with warm undertone. Please help!

    • Danielle says:

      Hey Ashley!!!

      NC means neutralizes cool—there is (or at least there used to be) something on the MAC site that explains what the NC and NW mean (if it’s not on the site, then I’m sure if you google someone has to have reposted it). If you’re a true NC45, then you’d have yellow or golden undertones. Where the confusion comes in is that some brands may classify colors differently—some may call red cool while others may call red warm (which if you look into color theory, you’ll understand that the same hue can be warm or cool) and there is no uniform classification in labeling undertones/shades in cosmetics. From my background in Image Consulting, I learned that yellow/golden is warm and blue is cool. (See how confusing it can be without an understanding of color theory?)

      But I’d say that knowing that you’re golden/warm will help you figure out which colors look best on you for makeup colors and wardrobe. When it comes to foundation, again since there’s no uniform description code amongst brands, you’ll have to try the shades out when you venture to brands you haven’t tried before.

      • Ashley says:

        Thanks Danielle :) thank you for your response, it is very difficult understanding undertones and such but thats why I’m thankful you have your blog which enlightens us on the topic.

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