MAC Cosmetics: Brand Review and Iconic Products

MAC Cosmetics powder, concealer, and lipstick on taupe silk.

@maccosmetics / Unsplash

My first memories of makeup all involve MAC Cosmetics. From the lipsticks strewn across my mother's bathroom counter to our trips to the brand's store at our local mall—my mom loved the Back 2 Mac recycling program—I knew MAC products were glamorous and luxe, even if I didn't really know what makeup was yet.

Even all these years later, MAC Cosmetics hasn't become any less relevant (and my mom still swears by her Taupe lipstick shade). Here's what you need to know about MAC, how it's stayed on top all these years, and which products are the best of the best.

MAC Cosmetics

Founded: Frank Toskan & Frank Angelo, 1984

Based In: New York City

Pricing: $$

Best Known For: Providing makeup-artist quality products at reasonable prices.

Most Popular Product: Matte Lipstick, Pro Longwear Concealer, Prep + Prime Fix + Finishing Spray

Fun Fact: "MAC" is an acronym for "Makeup-Art Cosmetics."

Other Brands You'll Love: NARS, Estée Lauder

Makeup artist Frank Angelo and photographer Frank Toskan founded MAC Cosmetics in Toronto in 1984 after finding themselves frustrated by how poorly models' makeup would translate into photographs. So, they began formulating makeup by hand in their kitchens, where the brand's signature black-pots packaging would ultimately be born.

They created the brand specifically for makeup artists and models, but it didn't take long for the rest of the world to notice. "We were manufacturing for models at first, but soon the models wanted our products for their sisters, friends, and so on," Toskan once said.

By the early '90s, MAC Cosmetics sold its products worldwide and gained national recognition when Madonna began publicly repping the brand. Today, it's known as an ultra-inclusive makeup brand with more shades than any other competitor on the market. "To this day, MAC offers more foundation tones than any other brand, with 400+ foundations in different finishes and shades," Drew Elliot, MAC's Global Creative Director, tells Byrdie. This fact aligns with MAC's original mission, too. "The brand has always stood for radical inclusiveness, with the founding credo 'all ages, all races, all genders.'"

In 1994, the MAC AIDS Fund was established to spread awareness, help those affected by HIV/AIDS, and globally address the link between poverty and the disease. Through the sale of its Viva Glam Collection, the fund has since raised over $400 million that's been 100% donated to fight HIV/AIDS and has collaborated with the likes of Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, and more to raise money by selling exclusive Viva Glam products.

What makes MAC Cosmetics so unique isn't just its commitment to making makeup better—but its commitment to making the world better, too.

Read on for our favorite MAC Cosmetics products and what we really think of them.

01 of 09

Retro Matte Lipstick

MAC Cosmetics Ruby Woo Lipstick
MAC Cosmetics Retro Matte Lipstick in Ruby Woo $19
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MAC's Retro Matte Lipstick has become a quick cult classic—and "Ruby Woo" is, by far, one of the most popular shades it comes in. I tried for myself, and it definitely lived up to the hype—the lipstick was ultra-pigmented, went on smoothly, and the matte finish didn't dry out my lips. (It even lasted through martinis and chips and dip, which is how you know when lipstick is actually "long-lasting.")

"Every minute, MAC sells almost three Ruby Woo lipsticks around the world," Elliot says. "It's been one of our bestselling lip colors since it launched in 1999."

02 of 09

Pro Longwear Concealer

MAC Cosmetics Pro Longwear Concealer
MAC Cosmetics Pro Longwear Concealer $26
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MAC Cosmetics' most popular concealer is supermodel-approved—and it's no wonder why. When I gave it a go, it corrected any discoloration, under-eye bags, and blemishes on my face—but most importantly, it didn't settle in my wrinkles or pores. I've dealt with concealers with cakey finishes before, and the Pro Longwear Concealer has a lightweight, smooth texture while also providing plenty of coverage.

03 of 09

Prep + Prime Fix Plus Finishing Spray

MAC Cosmetics Prep + Prime Fix Plus Finishing Spray
MAC Cosmetics Prep + Prime Fix + $29
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One of the brand's biggest bestsellers ever is the Prep + Prime Fix Plus Finishing Spray, which locks your makeup in place while hydrating your skin with vitamins and minerals. Finishing spray is one of the most important tools in a professional artist's box—and you definitely feel like you're getting the VIP treatment with MAC's luxe iteration. I apply it at the end of my makeup routine, and it's refreshing, smells delicious, and gives my skin a major boost of glow.

"It's packed with vitamins and minerals, infused with a blend of green tea, chamomile, and cucumber, so it gives an instant boost of hydration," says Elliot.

04 of 09

Prep + Prime Skin Refined Zone Primer

MAC Cosmetics Prep + Prime Skin Refined Zone
MAC Cosmetics Prep + Prime Skin Refined Zone $23
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One of MAC's biggest contributions to the beauty world is its primers—eyes, lips; you name it. And MAC's popular face primer has everything you could want in one: pore minimization, shine control, texture blurring, and more. I use this after my moisturizer and before my foundation—aka, between my skin care and makeup routines. I have combination skin, and the lightweight, oil-free formula leaves my T-zone matte instead of shiny. Yes, please.

05 of 09

Studio Fix Perfecting Powder

MAC Cosmetics Studio Fix Perfecting Powder
MAC Cosmetics Studio Fix Perfecting Powder $29
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Whether you're a beauty beginner or an actual pro, MAC's Studio Fix Perfecting Powder is pretty much a must-have. It has a matte-yet-luminous finish, sheer coverage and leaves my skin looking like it has an Instagram filter on it. Plus, it's easy to apply with spill-proof packaging. "It's a universal makeup must-have for beginners and buffs alike," says Elliot.

06 of 09

Extended Play Lash Mascara

MAC Cosmetics Extended Play Lash Mascara
MAC Cosmetics Extended Play Lash Mascara $21
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Waterproof mascara sometimes sounds stressful, but MAC's Extended Play Lash Mascara washes right off at the end of the day—while lasting more than 16 hours when I want it to. It gives defined, voluminous lashes in a jet-black "Gigablack" hue, with a feathery, full, and flake-proof finish. No wonder the pros love it.

"It's our #1 mascara, and it has a lightweight whipped carbon black formula that—together with a large molded brush—creates extreme volume, length, and curl in a single swipe," says Elliot. "The brush has over 538 bristle stores that separate lashes while building volume, so you don't have to worry about smudges, clumps, or flakiness."

07 of 09

Lip Glass

MAC Cosmetics Lip Glass
MAC Cosmetics Lip Glass $18
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For a high-gloss finish, you can't get much better than MAC's Lip Glass. I love the warm pink "Impassioned" hue on its own for a bold, pigmented look—or I'll dab a touch on top of another lip color for a little extra sheen. Either way, it's ultra-glossy and shiny and leaves lips moisturized with jojoba oil, too.

"It's designed to be worn on its own, or over a lip pencil or lipstick," says Elliot. "It's the perfect product for creating shine that lasts—it's pigmented, super-shiny, and the jojoba oil helps soften and condition the lips."

08 of 09

Prep + Prime Lip Primer

MAC Cosmetics Prep + Prime Lip Primer
MAC Cosmetics Prep + Prime Lip Primer $19
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You can't talk lip products without mentioning lip primers—because why bother putting on a red lip if it'll just fade and feather after a few hours? Enter: MAC Prep + Prime Lip Primer, which sticks to lip color like glue. It extends lipstick wear while also conditioning lips and making your pout look smoother and more refined—aka, no fading or feathering here.

09 of 09

Strobe Cream

MAC Cosmetics Strobe Cream
MAC Cosmetics Strobe Cream $35
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MAC's Strobe Cream is a radiant moisturizer with iridescent particles made to make you glow and give your skin a boost. "When we launched Strobe Cream in 2000, it was one of the first highlighters on the market," says Elliot.

It's like a liquid highlighter you can wear all over—I use it not only on my face but also on my shoulders, neck, and décolletage in the winter to get some radiance. (You know, for those days when I look like I haven't seen the sun in months—because I haven't.) "It's a luminous moisturizer that doubles as a liquid highlighter, brightening and clarifying skin with potent botanicals and vitamins like green tea," Elliot says.

It also works on legs too. So consider it your new glow-getting companion.

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