Understanding NC, NW, C and N in MAC foundations

[Understanding NC, NW, C and N in MAC foundations is not a paid post, but it does include affiliate links which are marked with a *]

Choosing a foundation can be really daunting, but it’s often a key part to our makeup and can make or break a flawless face. Many of my clients ask me about the labelling of foundations, particularly when it comes to MAC! I hope that today’s post will help you in understanding NC, NW, C and N in MAC foundations.*

The very basics of Colour Theory

In colour theory, we’re taught that cool undertones are reds, pinks and blues and that warm undertones are yellow, peaches and golds. However, in MAC labelling, the undertones are the opposite.

Understanding NC, NW, C and N in MAC foundations

NC: Neutral Cool – golden beige undertones.

NW: Neutral Warm – red, pink or blue undertones.

N: Neutral – beige undertones.

C: Cool – Yellow, golden or olive undertones

So a person with yellow, peach or golden undertones would be suited well to an NC foundation whereas a person with red, pink or blue undertones would be better suited to an NW foundation. A person with a beige undertone would be perfectly suited to an N foundation.

Annie has a mixture of cool undertones (yellow in MAC terms) and slight warm undertones (red). She has a fair skin tone, so I used MAC Studio Fix in NC15 to complement her skin tone.

You might have heard that some people use an ‘NC’ foundation but have been given an ‘NW’ concealer, this is because the pink undertone of an NW concealer helps to cancel out dark green under eye circles.

For blue tinged under eye circles, you could cancel them out with an ‘NC’ concealer.

Understanding NC, NW, C and N in MAC foundations

Nina has warm undertones (reds in MAC terms) with cool under eye circles (yellow). I used MAC Studio Fix in NC20 over her face to even out and correct the redness and NW10 concealer to correct the dark circles

What do the numbers on MAC foundations mean?

The number that follows each NC, NW, N or C is simply the colour of each foundation. Sharon, from explains this perfectly:

“…there are some odd numbers peppered along the way in some of the foundations. For example there is an NC27 or an NW18 in Studio Fix Fluid . These colours don’t have quite as strong an undertone as those that end in 5 or 0. These odd numbers have more of a  neutral undertone. So an NC27 is not as yellow as an NC25 but it is a little bit darker.

Conversely there are also plain C’s and plain N’s. These have a stronger yellow or pink undertone than their NC/NW counterparts. Very few of the foundations in the range now have these strong undertones, it’s mostly the old school formulas like Face and Body, or Studio Fix Powder.”

My personal preference

The shade I wear myself is NC15. This is much more flattering to my skin tone and helps to cancel out any unwanted redness over my cheek area.

I find that with the majority of my clients, an NC foundation always looks more flattering and evens the skin tone beautifully.

I love MAC Studio Fix Fluid in NC15 (if I’ve got a slight hint of light fake tan) or N5 (if my skin is at its natural colour). It gives me flawless coverage without feeling cakey

How to colour match your foundation

The most important thing when colour matching a foundation is to make sure that the foundation matches with your chest and looks natural. You can get a good match in three simple steps.

Step 1: Test on your jawline or neck
Test a small amount on your jawline or just at the top of your neck, and give the foundation time to settle.

Step 2: Give it time
Sometimes foundations can oxidize, which means they can appear darker once they’ve settled into your skin and mixed with your natural oils. Give your foundation 10-20 minutes to settle to get a true feel for the colour.

Step 3: Find natural lighting
Department stores often have bright or yellow artificial lighting that will change the appearance of your foundation.
Find the best natural lighting that you can to check out your colour match (I’ve often stood in the car park with my compact mirror having a good look at my foundation before committing to buy!)

If you’re still struggling, don’t be afraid to ask a counter makeup artist for advice and a colour match. If you’re buying online, there’s so many websites now that offer colour matching services.

Makeup is all about having fun so there’s no wrong or right way to wear your foundation, as long as you have a good match and avoid the dreaded ‘tideline’ around the neck, you’re good to go!

Before and after makeover

Georgia’s overall skin tone is cool (yellow) with warm (red) undertones across her cheeks. Because her skin tone is a little deeper and cooler, I decided on MAC’s Studio Fix Fluid in NC20 to complement her cool tones, cancel out the reds and add the depth of colour needed

Shop my favourite MAC foundations

MAC Studio Fix Fluid Foundation*
This is my holy grail of foundations! Great for oily to normal skin types, this medium, buildable coverage foundation gives flawless results. It’s special because it helps to reduce the appearance of sweat and excess shine throughout the day, so it’s my go-to for TV and studio clients. This foundation also contains SPF 15, but doesn’t tend to give much flashback (the white cast that can be seen on the face when flash photography is used – usually caused by zinc oxide and titanium oxide in foundations that have SPF).

MAC Studio Fix Powder Plus Foundation*
Perfect if you prefer a powder compact, and amazing for on-the-go touch-ups. This non-cakey powder helps to absorb excess oils to eliminate shine throughout the dat without drying out the skin. It gives medium coverage and helps to reduce the appearance of pores and blemishes.

MAC Studio Face and Body Foundation*
MAC Studio Face and Body has been around for many years and has long been adored by professional makeup artists.

Extremely lightweight, the foundation gives a satin finish with buildable coverage. Once it’s set, it’ll stay put for up to eight hours. With conditioning agents, emollients and antioxidants, it helps to prevent drying or caking, and can be used all over the face and body.

This foundation is best suited to those who love a low to medium coverage. If you prefer medium to full coverage, stick with MAC Studio Fix Fluid Foundation.*


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