What to Buy from MAC

What to Buy from MAC

I’ve had a lot of conversations with readers and fellow beauty bloggers recently about where MAC fits into a market that is now so saturated with affordable (and not-so-affordable) high-quality makeup. There is no question that the brand was an industry trailblazer for many years and was the first choice for professional makeup artists and amateur beauty buffs alike. However, as the world of makeup and skincare has exploded in recent times, their offering has become less competitive and more expensive, which made me think: well, what is worth buying from MAC? It’s not really a question of quality or product variety (both of which the brand has in spades) but more of value. What cannot be duplicated by other (often cheaper) brands and what is really worth investing in? Here’s my list:

MAC Groundwork Paint Pot | All Dolled Up

Paint Pot in Groundwork

This had to be first on the list because it is my all-time favourite MAC product and definitely on my list of desert island makeup basics. It’s easy to apply because you don’t need any tools (just use your fingers), it sets down completely and doesn’t budge and because of that, it’s also an excellent base for other shadows. It gives the eyes definition without being too obvious or makeup-y, you can keep it sheer or build it up for more impact and it suits a lot of different skin tones. If you’ve never tried it, it’s the one thing I would encourage you to check out – there’s simply nothing else out there quite like it.

Price: R260

MAC 217 Blending Brush | All Dolled Up

217 Blending Brush

There are very few eyeshadow looks I’ve ever done without the use of a blending brush, and the MAC 217 is the ultimate. It’s well made, with just the right combination of softness and density so that it really does all the work for you. You can use it to apply shadow all over the lid but also to blend out the edges or blend multiple shades together so everything looks soft and seamless. It’s not cheap, but if you look after it and wash it regularly, it will last you YEARS (I’ve had mine for about 5 years and showing very little signs of wear). The Sigma E25 is pretty much identical and it used to be cheaper than the MAC 217 but it’s now R355, so not such a good deal anymore. The closest, more affordable alternative I can recommend is the Zoeva 227 Luxe Soft Definer which is $12.50/R175 but that can be tricky to get your hands on in SA.

Price: R340

MAC Lipsticks | All Dolled Up


As much as the drugstore is flooded with good, affordable lipsticks, there are still some classic shades that are worth investing in from MAC. On the whole, the formula is excellent (although I’m not such a fan of their mattes – too drying) and the variety is almost unbeatable. My favourites include Syrup, Patisserie, Viva Galm V and Impassioned, although I’ve also got my eye on some others, like Plumful, Kinda Sexy and Blankety. Whether you’re looking for the perfect nude, a specific shade of red, a bright pink or something weird and wonderful like blue or green lipstick, MAC has you covered.

Price: R240

MAC Fix+ | All Dolled Up

Prep+Prime Fix+

Often referred to as a setting spray (like the Urban Decay ones for example), this product is, in fact, a finishing spray; that is, it’s job is to hydrate the skin and tone down any powderiness – it doesn’t extend the wear of your makeup. It is, however, excellent at the thing it’s designed to do and as someone who often goes a little overboard with bronzer, setting powder, blusher, etc, it saves my makeup from looking too heavy and helps battle dehydration too. It’s also great for spraying onto a brush and then using to apply shimmer shadows for a more foiled effect, or for spraying onto a beauty sponge to help hydrate the skin during foundation application. It comes in a handy travel size for stashing in your handbag and both bottles have a super-fine nozzle so you get a light, even mist over the skin.

Price: R300

MAC Soft & Gentle | All Dolled Up

Mineralize Skinfinish in Soft & Gentle

The highlighting craze is showing no sign of slowing down and I now have about ten in my everyday collection, which is mad considering I had none about three years ago. Strangely, it’s something that the drugstore brands really seem to struggle with so it’s tricky to find a flattering, natural-looking highlight in the aisles of Clicks and Dischem. Long before highlighter became a mainstream beauty product, MAC was making a range of beautiful, glowy powders and among them was Soft & Gentle, a beige-y toned mineral highlighter that leaves a subtle, slightly golden gleam on the skin without any perceivable shimmer or glitter. It is absolutely beautiful and remains one of my favourites even with strong competition from the likes of Colourpop Lunch Money and The Balm Mary-Lou Manizer. I’m not sure I’d ever spend R450 on a highlighter again (I was given S&G as a PR sample a while ago, but I have bought others like Porcelain Pink in the past) but if you’re only ever planning on buying one, you can’t really go wrong with this shade, plus you get a ton of product in the pan.

Price: R450

MAC Cherry Lip Pencil | All Dolled Up

Lip Pencil in Cherry

Do you want to know the trick for keeping red lipstick on your face for as long as possible? Use a good, slightly dry lipliner all over the lips underneath. Also use a matte lipstick formula, apply multiple thin layers and blot in between – it won’t budge. But back to the lipliner: MAC Cherry is a vivid, bright blue-toned red that packs a serious punch and is the perfect partner for my red lipstick of choice, which is L’Oréal Exclusive Collection Pure Reds in Julianne’s Red (infinitely superior to Ruby Woo). I haven’t tried any of the other lip pencils from MAC but I assume that the formula is consistent across all the shades, and the thing I like most about it is that it strikes the right balance between creamy and dry. Very creamy lip liners tend to slip and slide, but very dry formulas drag on the lips and are uncomfortable to apply. MAC’s version is somewhere in between and super long-lasting to boot.

Price: R230

MAC Prep+Prime Transparent Finishing Powder | All Dolled Up

Prep+Prime Transparent Finishing Powder

By far the most boring product on this list but the only one that I use every. single. day. is this very finely milled mattifying face powder. It comes in both pressed and loose versions (I use the loose powder to set and pressed powder for touch-ups) and is completely transparent. I’ve never experienced any caking on application and it never looks too heavy – just a fine, smooth veil that keeps my oily T-zone in check for most of the day. It’s quite pricey but it lasts FOREVER – I’ve had this one for a year at least and, like I said, I use it every day. I recently bought an L.A. Girl version of this powder which I’m saving for a First Impressions video so let’s see if that works as well, but until then, this is the single best thing for setting makeup and managing shine.

Price: R420

There are tons of classic products that I specifically haven’t included here for various reasons (Ruby Woo – too drying, eyeshadows – expensive for what you get, eyebrow pencils and Strobe Cream – easily duped at the drugstore) or I just haven’t tried them before (most foundations, their skincare and eyelashes) but I’d be interested to hear what your favourite products are from MAC… What would you specifically buy there that you think is amazing or unique?

10 comments on What to Buy from MAC

  • Svetlana

    I have so much love for MAC. It was the first higher end brand that I dived into when I started working… To your list, I would add Face&Body Foundation. F&B is quite incredible at looking exactly like skin. I haven’t found anything similar at its price point in South Africa. I also think the limited ed collections are one of the reasons why MAC remains popular, they are so fun. I’ve tried all the items on your list and the only one I disagree on is the lipsticks. I think they are now like the eyeshadows – unique once upon a time but no longer competitive. Having said that, I never turn down a free one when I have enough empties for Back2Mac 🙂

    • Jules (author)

      Agree with you about the limited edition collections – they definitely create lots of interest and are often highly covetable although I do think they’re a little too frequent. Loses the magic if you release a new collection every five minutes! F&B is the only MAC foundation I’ve ever tried (inherited it from Camilla) and I really like it but it wasn’t the right shade for me so I never wore it.

  • Gina

    I totally agree with this post- MAC used to be the holy grail brand, but in the past few years the offering in SA has just exploded, and drugstore brand quality is getting more impressive, like that L’Oreal Julianne lipstick- it’s just the best. The MAC products I do use constantly is the lipstick in Rebel – a berry tone that suits everyone (Refinery29 recently did an article about it being the ultimate all-rounder shade), and the eyeliner pencil in Teddy – a golden-y brown (although it smudges a lot after a few hours, which is super irritating). I also love the lipstick shade Heroine – a very bright fuschia-purple that is fun to wear.

    • Jules (author)

      I’ve never owned Rebel or Teddy but yes, total classics. I also love the eye kohl in “Powersurge” but I didn’t include it because you can easily find cheaper eye pencils in a similar colour that are just as good quality at a lower price point.

  • Kelly

    I think I own everything on this list except the setting spray, and probably ALL on recommendation from All Dolled Up. MAC Patisserie is a total staple, and can always be found banging around in the bottom of my handbag.

    • Jules (author)

      MAC Patisserie + Nyx Butter Gloss in Tiramisu = best nude lip combo ever!

  • Helen

    Ohhhh I loved this post! I am obsessed with Fix+ and Viva Glam V. The lip pencils as well. Also, I have tried to replace the eyebrow pencil in lingering with something more affordable, but I find nothing is quite the same, so I continue to splurge on that 🙂

  • Lize

    I *do* love Ruby Woo, and I get a ton of compliments every time I wear Russian Red. Kinda Sexy is such a cool shade – makes me feel very ’70s. Patina is my favourite eye shadow of all time. ALL TIME, you hear me? And their gel eyeliner is good, but I’ve since switched to the Bobbi Brown one.

    Ditto on Fix+ (I find if I apply it *before* makeup, it does make it last longer), lip pencils (also like He Said She Said and Beet), and Prep & Prime.

  • Bianca

    Love everything on that list! Love Ruby Woo and all the classics but I agree they are majorly drying. But worth it for a few hours 😉 The cream colour in shell or hush are beautiful cream highlighters that last a long time – can definitely recommend those.

  • Kati

    100% with you on Groundwork. I’ve juuuuust started cheating on MAC with Bobbi Brown – seems to be a similar level of quality at the price point, and it’s getting a little hard to justify animal testing in 2017. Other than that, I find that MAC products – like the gel liner and some of the Paint Pots – dry out after a month or two. For that price, I’m expecting to get a lot more wear out of a product!

    Quick question as someone who has to justify *every* time I don’t go to Clicks: it would be so helpful to have a guide on what you should / shouldn’t splurge on – in a South African context. Is it worthwhile to save up and get, say, fancy concealer, or are there drugstore dupes that are just as good? If you’re only going to have three luxury products in your arsenal, should it be foundation, mascara and highlighter or whatnow? Just an idea 🙂

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