MAC NW or NC ? Six beginners questions about MAC skin shades

by mehak on September 26, 2010

in Face Products, Foundation, MAC

I was at the MAC , Gurgaon store the other day and i saw this girl who was obviously buying her first foundation from MAC, struggle with finding her skin tone. The poor thing was swatching everything from an NC 15 to an NW 45! She was actually the same skin tone as me so i told her which one i wear, and she seemed happy- and then she had a ton of questions about NW and NC which i am listing down below. I’m no MAC expert from any angle, infact im a MAC beginner myself  but i’m a makeup research addict so i did a fair amount of research on MAC skin shades before going in for my first MAC purchase, so thought it might be useful for MAC beginners who are confronted with unfriendly MAC MUA’s.

What is MAC NW and NC:
NW and NC is the shading system of MAC for all their foundation/concealers etc
NW: Neutral Warm
NC: Neutral Cool

Does that mean that if i have warm undertones (Yellow, Golden beige skin) i should use NW and if I have cool undertones (Pinkish beige  skin) i should use NC?
NO. Its the other way round. MAC makes their products according to the colour wheel, so NW (Neutral Warm) is meant for cooler skin tones to neutralize them. NC (Neutral Cool) is meant for Warmer skin tones to neutralize them. So yellow and golden skins need an NC and pinkish skin needs an NW.

If im an NC in a foundation-I will definitely be an NC in a concealer right?
NO  You need to look at the type of dark circles you have. For eg: If you have reddish dark circles like i do then even if you are an NC in foundation, you will need an NW in a concealer to neutralize them.In fact , a lot of people get confused because they blindly purchase the same shade concealer as their foundation and then feel like it doesnt do anything for them. I am an NC in foundation and an NW in concealer.

How do i know if I am a MAC NC or NW?
One quick way is to check the veins on your forearm If they appear greenish- you are likely to have warm skin and likely to need an NC shade. If they appear blue-ish you are likely to have cool skin and need an NW shade. This would be an approximate way. Otherwise go to the MAC MUA and ask them their opinion.

What is the equivalent of an NC 30 in an NW?
There is no equivalent! An NC 30 is very different from an NW30 or any other NW for that matter. The colours that form the base of each foundation differ and cannot strictly be compared though you may find approximate matches.

Are Indian Skin tones MAC NC or NW?
No hard and fast rule as such- but  Indians are mostly likely to be an NC in foundation since we have golden/yellow undertones to our skin, unless you are one of those very fair one’s with pink undertones- then you are an NW in foundations. If it   helps then think Deepika Padukone – she  would probably  be an NC. Kareena Kapoor would probably be an NW.

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{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous September 26, 2010 at 4:20 pm

This has been unbelievably helpful for me..thanks for this..i now know i am an NC not an NW !!


Poohkie September 26, 2010 at 4:26 pm

wow this was very informative. I don't own any mac products but it's good to know this in case i want to buy something from them in the future. great article. it will definitely help people like me, who find the whole nc/nw thing very intimidating.


Sarah@Glossicious September 26, 2010 at 4:49 pm

very helpful post.


BEAUTY♕AMBiTiON★ September 26, 2010 at 5:24 pm

this is very helpful


Cynthia Z September 26, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Great post! Very helpful.

I'm shocked that the SAs didn't help out the poor girl.



G.G.G September 26, 2010 at 6:59 pm

That was an excellent write up Mehak..You really cleared all kindsa doubts which can normally come up with a brand like MAC. And moreover, its always nice to have some basic idea of such things before we even step in to try the brand, esp for a high end one like MAC


bhumika September 26, 2010 at 7:44 pm

very helpful…especially d opposite thg…


indianmakeupways September 27, 2010 at 2:57 am

hey mehak this is a really useful post 'coz when i was new to foundation…I didnt know what nc or nw meant and had to read up numerous stuff to get an idea. u have put up an effective & concise version of it. great!


Tanveer Parmar September 27, 2010 at 5:10 am

Excellent post Mehak! You explained everything very nicely and in a simple manner. :)


Jasmine Lee September 27, 2010 at 5:46 pm

great informative post!! im sure it will be very helpful

xoxo, jaz


Mani September 30, 2010 at 4:54 am

Loved this post! Really helped to clear things up!
Thanks, Mani


pudgy October 1, 2010 at 7:49 pm

wow very informative!


April October 3, 2010 at 8:26 am

This post was sooo soo helpful!!! Thank you so much!


Mehak October 3, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Glad you liked it :)


Anonymous November 24, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Wow !! this is indeed informative.. thanks for sharing this :)


Kejal February 23, 2012 at 2:24 pm

If u ever come to mumbai again..will ya pls help me pick my foundation!!!??? I always hav a horrible time selecting one. Cant figure if I m warm/cool/neutral!! :s


Priya June 15, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Thanks mehak! this is helpful


Garima December 6, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Hi Mehak!

Thanks for the post! But I am confused…. :(

I bought a MAC studio fix powder foundation in NW 30 on the suggestion of MAC MUA. It suits me pretty well, looks really natural etc etc… I like it how the color blends into my skin…and have been appreciated on how real it looks…

and then I wanted to know more about this NC and NW and read this post and others on the internet. I am more of the golden olive undertone rather than the slightly pink undertone (somewhat like yours)…so now I am wondering how can I look “real/natural” with a NW when ideally I am a NC!!!

More weird is that I bought MAC face and body foundation too but thats a NC, and that also suits me well (while i feel i look just a tiny bit dark, friends say it looks just perfect)…

I am really confused right now coz I dunno what shade I really am!!! :-o


mehak December 6, 2012 at 7:20 pm

Hey theres no hard and gfast rule like that. Most Indians ae actually just “Neutral” -they have an equal blend of pink and yellow so a lot of times nw and nc both work. So i use an nc foundation but an nw concealer!


grace January 10, 2013 at 4:29 am

This was very helpful!

Thank you so much :D


Crown Princess January 21, 2013 at 11:37 am

Such a brilliant post! I am pretty similar to your coloring and the Mac MUA suggested that I go in for NC 41 instead of NC 40 since the former has a pink undertone like my natural color. So I guess even NC has a few shades with a touch of pink but is for warmer skinned people overall.


saloni May 11, 2013 at 1:34 pm

thanks for kareena and deeps example now my thoughts r clear


saloni May 11, 2013 at 1:36 pm

thanks for kareena and deeps example now my thoughts r clear
plz tell katrina kaif is nc or nw… i think she is nw as i have same complexion


saloni May 11, 2013 at 1:38 pm

thanks for kareena and deeps example now my thoughts r clear
plz tell katrina kaif is nc or nw… i think she is nw as i have same complexion and always remain confuse


mehak May 11, 2013 at 7:25 pm

Yeah i think she will be NW..because she is cool tned


saloni May 16, 2013 at 1:47 pm



Tahmina May 21, 2013 at 3:14 am

Im an NC and have really dark eye circles. What would i use for that? Right now im using an nc concealer but darkness still shows through!


Anvesha May 21, 2013 at 4:43 pm

hey this was a grt article …very useful


liz May 27, 2013 at 7:56 am

Hi! this is so informative. I was actually confused with what the MAC girl is saying about the other way around, NC for warm and NW for cool. but this helped me understand it. thank you so much ^^


Prajakta September 17, 2013 at 9:00 pm


This blog post of yours, been very helpful. MAC store(shopper’s stop) just opened near my house & I was planning on visiting it. This will be the first time ever, I’ll be visiting MAC store(unbelievable, i know). I was planning on buying foundation & concealer from there, but I was bit confused. But luckily, when I was googling(as usual) I came across your blog & I am so thankful. You really did clear up some points for me.

Thanks once again Mehak.


mehak September 17, 2013 at 9:52 pm

Thanks Prajakta.
Glad i could help!


Celine Aramouni November 26, 2013 at 10:29 pm

Hi, i have a question
i have warm undertones so my foundation should be NW
i have purple-ish dark circles so my concealer should be NC
i have dark scars on my face so i should use a concealer that is NC
am i right? thannkkss


mehak November 26, 2013 at 11:01 pm

Hi Celine.
Warm skin uses NC…so warm undertones uses NC to neutralise the warmness….
concealer- NW..


Karen January 1, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Thank you!


Neha February 19, 2014 at 8:55 pm

Omg this was really helpful! I bought NC … The girl at MAC suggested me NC … But i am really fair and ended up looking tanned! :( now i know i am an NW :) thank you soo much!


dottydorothy April 24, 2014 at 10:52 am

Hey! Really, really helpful post! This cleared up so much! But just as a correction. Being fair or dark has nothing to do with being cool-toned (needing NW) or being warm-toned (needing NC). The veins test is the best and correct method of judging. I am medium fair yellowish looking but extremely cool-toned while my Caucasion White green-eyed blonde friend is extremely warm-toned! Another way to judge is, what looks worse or better on you? A bright orange or a bright pink? Does peach based nude lipstick suit you better or a pink based nude? I looked completely washed out and actually ill if I wear any form of orange or peach near my face but gimme the brightest of pink and I am in “pink-of-health”. Over the years I have bought a lot of peach colored clothes cause they just look sooo adorable but somehow it seemed like the clothes came to die in my closet! So I suggest checking based on the pink-peach rather than skin color!


jess May 22, 2014 at 2:39 pm

iv ben onto several different websites trying to figure this out – thanks for being so straight forward and easy to understand!!!


Sarah August 5, 2014 at 1:10 pm



PLEASE HELP ME MY LIFE DEPENDS ON IT! September 10, 2014 at 5:21 pm


I’m an NC 37 in foundations but not sure what concealer shade to pick! My dark circles are severe due to allergies and the ointments i use to treat them, they are medium dark brown and as far as i’m aware do not have a reddish, nor purple tint/undertone to them. What shade do you recommend, so far the MAC makeup artists have not been helpful at all!

Nish :)


R.s.rathore August 25, 2015 at 11:06 am

Ok…I m on NC… but which one is best NC 15 or NC 20 or NC 25???how I decide?? I’m not so fair ..means normal….could U suggest??


pranjali April 15, 2016 at 2:12 pm

Hey Mehek, i’m a first time user of Mac product. i only use concealer and avoid foundation. As per your information, i have a Warmer skin tone, which needs NC. So what can i use for only Concealer. Please suggest.


Srishty November 14, 2016 at 1:41 pm

Oh god ! I cant tell you how confused i was between NC and NW. I know that i am a warm tone but the MAC mua wont tell me funda of why i was an NC in mac! Thanks for making lives easier . :)


Dawn June 7, 2017 at 1:09 am

I have cool undertones, but what if I want to play up the pink of my skin instead of making myself look more warm? Should I still use an NW?


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