The top five questions about MAC foundations – answered!

When I was a makeup noob and had just discovered the wonders of beauty blogs, I saw that many foundation reviews and mentions had the initials NC and NW followed by a number. I didn’t understand what they were so I did a quick online search, and that was how I first learned about the MAC foundation shade coding system!

If you’ve ever tried to shop for foundation, you’d know how hard it can be to find a product that matches perfectly with your skin tone. Shade names like Caramel and Golden Beige aren’t helpful either as they often look different from brand to brand, or even with different products of the same brand. The MAC foundation system makes finding your exact match a lot easier because it’s developed to match varying degrees of skin tones as well as differences in undertone. Basically, if there’s one makeup brand that you’re absolutely certain to get a match of your skin, it would be MAC! To find out more about why their system works so well (and to help me find my MAC shade), I talked to MAC events artist Ryan Wong and MAC product specialist and makeup artist Beny Reginaldo about the products that set their brand apart from the rest.

What is the difference between NC and NW? Which one is right for me?

“At MAC Philippines, foundations and concealers are mostly categorized into NC and NW. NC stands for Neutral-Cool and has yellow undertone, while NW is Neutral-Warm which has pink undertone,” Ryan explains. “An easy way to determine if you are yellow or pink toned is to see whether your skin has a rosy or golden tone. If your skin is naturally rosy, then your skin has a pink undertone. Likewise, if your skin has a naturally golden tone, then your skin has yellow undertone.”

If you’re still not sure which group you fall under, a MAC specialist will help you out. Beny tells me that part of a MAC artist’s training includes being able to quickly figure out what a person’s skin tone is, just from one look! Even though I was experiencing some redness and looked flushed from my commute, he immediately pinpointed me as having an NC shade.

Which shades are the most common or popular among Filipinos?

Locally, the most popularly worn MAC shades are NC30 to NC40. Beny explains that most Asians have NC undertones because of our warm coloring, and that in countries like Thailand, the people are so yellow-toned that MAC had to create a purely C line for them! There are about 20 shades (including NW options) available in the PH to suit most Pinoy skin tones, but the actual number of all available MAC foundation shades is past 30. Aside from the C shades, there are pure N and pure W shades, too. That’s why beauty gurus and lovers alike usually reference MAC shades when describing foundations and skin tones.

Editor's note: These are swatched on NC35 skin. I use NC35 comfortably, NC30 is too light on me when blended. - Liz

Editor's note: These are swatched on NC35 skin. I use NC35 comfortably, NC30 is too light on me when blended. - Liz

What formulations are available? Which one is right for me?

You know what’s harder than finding your shade match? Choosing the right formula to get! MAC has so many liquid, powder, and gel foundations that I felt a bit intimidated. I counted about 11 different formulas in the store! Ryan explains that MAC has so many product options because they’re dedicated to making sure that foundation looks like real skin. So here’s a tip to keep you from getting confused: just match the formula to your skin type! If you have combination to oily skin, the non-hassle option would be to get a powder formulation while those with dry skin might want to get a liquid formulation.

MAC doesn’t limit the options there though. If you’re oily-skinned but prefer a liquid foundation, you can go for Studio Fix Fluid (P1,900) and just set it with a finishing powder like Mineralize Skinfinish Natural (P1,800). If you have dry skin and want to keep things matte, Studio Fix Sculpt Foundation (P2,150) is a gel-type formula that dries to a powder finish. To cop the Korean dewy skin trend, get the new Studio Waterweight Foundation (P2,200), which is designed to work for any skin type. For heavy coverage, try the Pro Longwear Foundation (P2,150) or Pro Longwear Nourishing Waterproof Foundation (P2,200).

How does a foundation-matching happen in a MAC store?

It all starts with the MAC makeup artist getting to know your skin. They usually ask about your skin type, how much coverage you want or feel comfortable wearing, the kind of formulation you want to try, and the type of finish you prefer. Based on your answers, the artist can recommend the product that they think will suit you best but you can also request to try any product that strikes your fancy.

When you’ve decided on a product to try, the artist will get three shades of your preferred formulation: one that looks closest to your skin tone, a shade that’s a step darker, and a shade that’s a step lighter. In my case, Beny figured that my skin looked closest to NC37, so he got NC35 and NC40 (there was no NC39 for the particular foundation I chose) to compare.

All three shades are swatched on your jaw line to see how they blend with the color of your (bare) face and that of your neck. This is very important because the two can actually have different skin tones! If your neck is much darker than your face, the artist will find a shade that lies between the two so that it blends more seamlessly. It’s never a good idea to base your foundation matching on swatches made on your hand or arm! Unless you’re lucky enough to have a completely even skin tone all over your body, chances are they’ll end up looking quite different when applied to your face.

After giving the swatches a minute or two to settle on my skin, Beny’s first pick proved to be my exact match. To be absolutely sure that it was right for me and so I could see how it would look when worn, he applied NC37 all over my face with a stippling brush.

Should my concealer be the same as my foundation shade?

It depends on what you’re trying to conceal. Ryan says that because concealers are used to cancel discolorations like dark circles and pimple marks, you have to use a concealer shade that will make the area blend better with the rest of your skin.

Beny used the Studio Finish Concealer Duo (P1100~) to cover up the remaining imperfections. He neutralized the bluish tones of my under eye area with an NW30 cream concealer that was lighter and pinker than my skin to give it a brightening effect. For my acne, he applied a slightly lighter NC35 concealer because the marks looked dark. 

After my MAC shade matching session with artist Beny Reginaldo

After my MAC shade matching session with artist Beny Reginaldo

It was really fun finding out my MAC foundation shade, and the experience is just worlds away from going to a department store stall and having to figure out what shade would suit me amid poorly-managed testers and unflattering store lights. The MAC store had well-lit mirrors, clean brushes, and a knowledgeable professional to help me out! You can also find out what your MAC shade is simply by going to any of their stores and requesting for a free consultation. If you want to get actual makeup lessons though, they offer paid classes wherein the fee is consumable with MAC products. Sounds like a great deal!

Have you found your MAC foundation shade? Which formulation is your favorite? Share your own MAC-matching experience in the comments!

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