NC or NW In MAC??? Which Exactly Are You???


When I first stepped into the world of makeup, life was quite or brown lipsticks, pink blush, lakme foundation which made me look white, SAs selling compacts of a lighter shade and what not. Then one fine day I ‘discovered’ MAC at Blore and nothing was the same. The MUAs intimidated me and as if the plethora of lipsticks in different shades weren’t enough, foundations I realised came in more than 3shades! Well, imagine that! And to boot, other than having numbers like 20, 25, 30, etc, they also came attached with these 2 alphabets: NC and NW…I was perplexed to say the least and my first visit to the store saw me exiting within 10mins with a harassed look on my face. It was 2yrs after this that I truly understood what they meant. I’m sure a lot of us have the same doubts regarding what these 2 mean and we thought of sharing some info with you on this..




What does NC and NW stand for?

NC stands for Neutral Cool and NW stands for Neutral Warm


Avanti’s skin has neutral undertones


Err…So how do I know what’s right for me?

Well, technically warm undertones denotes having a yellowish or beige undertone to the skin and cool denotes having a pinkish undertone. However, at MAC, NW would be advised for cool skintones and NC for warm skin undertones. So as a reference, Shweta whose skin has a yellowish undertone would use an NC whereas someone like Kareena Kapoor (pink undertone) would use NW. Similarly, someone with a neutral skintone like Avanti or myself could go for either one depending on the season and its effects on our skin.


Kareena Kapoor’s skin has pink undertones


I use a MAC foundation in NC25 but the MUA advised me to go for a concealor in NW25. Why this difference?

It isn’t necessary that the foundation and concealor shade be the same. The concealor shade has to neutralize marks and those all important  dark circles which are many a time of a different color. So if your darkies tend to lean towards green, then most likely you would need to go for a NW since the red in it neutralizes the green. If your darkies are more purple or lightly blueish, then the NC would be better since the yellow in it would help neutralize the purple/blue. This may also vary though since the blended effect has to be in tandem with your skintone. So it’s best to ask the MUA and check once more.


Shweta’s skin has Yellow undertones


I’m confused about my skintone. How do I decide if I’m warm toned or cool toned?

We have 2 amazing posts written by Avanti here. This will help you immensely.

MAC has an orange concealor. I’m curious to know how that’s to be used.

Orange concealor work best on skin which is more on the olive side. It also helps conceal extreme blue dark circles. At times your NC concealor may not be enough to keep the darkies at bay and hence, the orange concealor can be mixed with your regular concealor to provide the right coverage.




I hope this answers a few questions and doubts you’ve had about the maze of confusion that is NC and NW…


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Image Sources: 1, 2, 3


  1. Brilliantly explained. People have been confused about their system from the beginning of time.

    Actually , MAC believes that if you are warm toned (yellow-greenish) that is NW (neutral warm ) then you should go for the NC range (Neutral cool ) because that has the undertones that can balance out your skin. Similarly those who have a cool undertone (neutral cool ) , goes for the shade Neutral warm (NW) named so , alternately , to balance out their pinkish-bluish undertone. That was the idea behind the shade names. 😛 Phew. It`s like Neuton`s third law of motion , except with the innovations, every undertone has an equal and opposite name-wise undertone shade in MAC law all over again. 😛 So if you are actually yellow that is warm , you go for Neutral cool , and if you are actually cool , then you go for Neutral warm. Brilliant. just brilliant. 😛

    • Seriously! It’s a law in itself! It took me so long to understand this…I hope our readers find it a bit easier t understand the funda now..

      • Definitely…infact i never understand neutral skin tone..although now i know why you carry almost all the shades.

  2. oh this is nice zee.didnt know about the opposite stuff. i think i have reddish ut to skin. yellow base looks good on me and pinkish ones looks grey n horrible. i always thought i was yellow toned. thankies!
    hows baby zee?

  3. Cool post Zee! But I’ll have to read it a few more times to understand it correctly.
    I never knew there was some NW!!
    Great post. Thank you !!!

  4. very informative Zara 🙂 I can totally relate to what you wrote in first few lines. Life was easy na then!!!
    I was always confused about NC & NW. But I own a MAC Face & Body foundation & the shade is C3 I guess. Can you enlighten me on this??

    • Tha Mac face and body range , instead of having NC (Neutral Cool ) and NW (Neutral warm ) numbering , has N (neutral ) and C (Cool ) numbering. So if you were matched to C (Cool ) , that means you have warm , reddish undertones cancelled by yellow tones.

    • C shades are the old color system the C shades with one digit(C2, C3, C4 etc)
      Are more yellow with a tiny bit of pink. The C shades in the Face & Body are darker than the C shades in the Studio Fix Powder.
      The studio fix powder also has C shades with double digits (C30, C35, C40 etc) and these are yellow with a little bit of green and are for people with true olive skin tones

      NC shades that end in 0 or 5 are yellow based with beige. (Although some shades have more beige than yellow)

      Shades like NC37, NC43 are less golden and a tad more beige.
      (nc37 looks lighter than Nc35 and NC43 is lighter than NC42 since they’re not as golden)

  5. Nice post Zee. :yes: Ive always admired Mac’s skintone grading concept. it’s so useful to use as reference when buying shades (be it foundation or lippies) online. Just wish they’d open up more stores across India

      • i guess i’m nc…but i swear i’m DYING to get to a mac store to find out for sure. My chennai trip got cancelled due to…u know what. N now my son’s school has started n i dono when in the world I’ll get to go next :-(( :struggle:


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