NC/NW, Mac Foundations and Why I Had to Get Re-Matched
NC? NW? Cool Undertone? Warm Undertone? Not Cool? Neutral Cool?
I won’t lie and say I had no experience with these phrases before my makeup journey, I did. As a graphic designer and art dilettante, I know my color wheels, warm vs cool shades and the importance of proper matching. With all that, I still managed to get matched to the wrong color foundation the first time I went to a MAC counter. But then – I’m not alone am I? MAC Cosmetics seems keen to confuse the living kittens out of aesthetically aware girls everywhere with their foundation system. In this post I hope to clear some common misconceptions up, as well as ridicule myself and my temporarily yellow face.
A Brief History Of Undertones:
For MOST makeup companies, the use of the terms Warm and Cool refer to the undertone of your skin. These two categories are divided thusly:
But what does that really mean?
So, if you have an Olive undertone you have a Warm undertone. If you have a Warm undertone, your skin is complimented by Warm colors (ie: Gold). Whereas if you have a Pink undertone, you have a Cool undertone and are therefore complimented by Cool colors (ie: Silver.)
Keep in mind that this is not a PERSONAL PREFERENCE thing. You can hate gold jewelry all you want and still be a Warm undertone.
With me so far?
Now, as most of us know – MAC has two primary foundation types. “NW” stands for Neutral Warm. “NC” Stands for Neutral Cool. (Some have reported NW and NC as standing for Not Warm and Not Cool – while this is useful later on, it’s inaccurate.)
“OH!” You’re declaring now. “So, if I have a pink undertone I should get an NC foundation because pink is COOL right?”
Nope. You’re wrong. Go do 50 push ups and come back. …back yet? k.
With MAC, NC foundations tend to have yellow or olive undertones while NW’s are pink and golden. So if you find you have an overall pink tone to your face, stick to NWs. If you have a yellow tone? NC is your friend.
The reasons for this oddness have never really been clear to me. Some suggest that if you have a cool undertone (ie: pink) you need a foundation that is warm (ie: yellow) to get you closer to neutral. I reject this theory on the following:
As you can see; NC25 is pretty damn yellow whereas NW is pink all the way. So according to the theory:
- Girl A has a Pink undertone
- She therefore has a “cool” undertone
- To “balance” her face out she would need a foundation with more “pink”
- So the NC foundation would have to have more pink…
- LOGICAL FALLACY. EXPLODE. DESTROY. DESTRO…
Then there’s the theory that MAC thinks everyone else is wrong and that pink is warm and cool is yellow. When I first learned my color wheels I had a similar reaction to the pink/yellow cool/warm thing, but i’ve made my peace with it. I sincerely doubt MAC is doing this just to mindfuck us all, so I also reject this.
Finally, there’s a similar but reverse theory to the first that claims simply the following: If you have a cool skintone, go with NW BECAUSE it has pink. If you have a warm skintone, go with NC BECAUSE it has yellow. ie: Go NW if you’re “not warm” and go NC if you’re “not cool.” Get it? I also disagree with this because of…
My Hilarious Weeks As Yellow Face:
My first trip to the MAC Counter ended in me walking away from the store with an NC42 Foundation. It was suggested to me by a very stylish but very Caucasian (no offense no offense no offense!) MUA. Despite my own long-held belief that I had a pink undertone, I let this go with little to no complaint.
MUA: You’re an NC42
Me: Wow, really? I’d looked at some of the foundations and I thought I was an NW.
MUA: Well you could go with NW too, but NC looks better.
Basically, I went with Theory #3 and thought maybe the yellow would balance me out. After all, it looked great under the blaringly fluorescent lights at Nordstroms!
Then I got into my boyfriend’s car.
Me: …Does my face look a little too…~searches for a boy-friendly version of “yellow-undertoned”~ pale to you?
Bucket: No bear (shut up) you’re beautiful!
Me: …I don’t know…maybe I should go back.
Bucket: I think you’re pretty
I let it go then and continued trying my NC 42 for several weeks. Each and every time i’d apply it in dimmer lighting than i’d like and would glance at myself in better lighting before heading out. Each time I was hit with a pang of fear that my face looked garishly yellow. Each time I convinced myself the MUA had to know what she was doing. Right? Maybe my lightbulbs were old. Maybe the sun was being filtered through a particularly yellow cloud.
I finally convinced myself to go back to get “re-matched” NOT because I had accepted the MUA had made a mistake. No. I only went back because I convinced myself that I had TANNED a bunch over the last few weeks and THAT was why my foundation suddenly looked off. Oh sweet denial.
So I explained my whole ordeal to a very lovely, and very Hispanic MUA at the same Nordies’ MAC counter. She tsk’d and promptly confirmed my fears. (Though completely confused me about the Warm/Cool thing again! lol.) She guided me over to a mirror where she showed me her yellow-undertone skin versus my pink-undertone skin. Though we were very similar in “color” the difference was obvious and absolute.
“You need NW.” She said, gently guiding me to the seat and bringing out a bunch of stuff (half of which I ended up buying.) “You have a very pink undertone to your face. The NC is way too yellow on you. $115 bucks and one NW 35 later I was out the door and BLISSFUL.I was so self-assured and confident with my new, better matched face. I gloated to Bucket about it as we headed to Sephora.
Me: Do you remember that time, when we went to MAC and I was asking you if you thought my foundation looked right?
Me: When I thought it might have been too pale and I wanted to go back but decided against it?
Bucket: : I dunno. I always think you look pretty, bear!
NC 42 Versus NW 35:
One thing most people notice right away is that NW shades, even if the same NUMBER as an NC appear much “darker.” This is due to the pinkness of NW, which gives a warmer cast. This is the reason that, when I switched from NC to NW I went down several shade-numbers: from 42 to 35. Here’s some comparison shots for you.
And because the color on my hands is not exactly matched to the color of my face…
I did not do a proper application here so don’t think that that this shot reflects the quality of the MAC foundation – it’s just for color comparison purposes.
As you can tell, the NC 42 leaves a yellowish cast on my face whereas the NW 35 blends in considerably more seamlessly. I’m REALLY REALLY glad I got rematched, can you imagine if i’d kept walking around with that horribly off-color face?
I’d like to thank JC from Makeup Diary for giving me the inspiration with her post: MUA’s Don’t Know Everything (Ironically, she was also Mismatched as an NC 42 and it’s one of the shades I’ve seen most people get “matched” to only to find they were NOT that shade.)
I’d like to thank Bucket for taking me makeup shopping several times over the last few weeks as I became increasingly addicted to MAC, Sephora and Ulta.
Mystery MUA #2. I REGRET not getting your name but if you ever read this – you did me a wonderful service and were very helpful.
Trust your gut. Get second opinions from a friend or another MUA. Swatch for yourself. Keep receipts if you’re shopping at the regular MAC store (I switched my NC 42 for NW 35 for FREE with Nordstrom’s liberal return policy.)
Have you had any similar experiences? At MAC? With another cosmetic’s company?