MAC Shades Explained

While they are some of the most commonly used products in the bags of make-up artists, MAC foundations can be mighty tricky to get your shade down pat.

With their various number and letter combinations, it’s easy to end up getting brain-fuzz and walking away. However, there is a rhyme to their reason and, if you can get the key factors straight, it will be smooth sailing in your MAC shopping!

The most important thing to understand about MAC base colours is that MAC work the opposite of everyone else.

That is to say, while pink undertones are normally called ‘cool’ and yellow undertones normally called ‘warm’, MAC work backwards. Their pinks are ‘warm’ and their yellows are ‘cool’. Once that is firmly in your mind, all of this will be much clearer to understand.

MAC Shade Explained2

What do those letters mean?

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s time to tackle the meaning behind those letters. It’s actually incredibly simple. MAC work on a spectrum; from warm to neutral to cool. The letters represent where the shade sits on this spectrum, as explained below.

C = cool. This means that the shade is heavily yellow toned.

NC = neutral-cool. This means that the shade is a cool based neutral; a neutral with a yellow lean. It corresponds to golden or olive skin.

N = neutral. This shade is a balance of cool and warm, yellow and pink.

NW = neutral-warm. This shade is neutral with a pink tone. This works for people with a pink or rosey hue to their skin.

W = warm. A pink based shade.


What do the numbers mean?

The numbers are the easiest element of picking your MAC shade. Simply put, the higher the number the darker the shade. If you are finding that your NC25 is just slightly wrong for you but a 20 is too light and a 30 is way to dark, it might be time to consider you’ve matched the wrong colour, not shade. You could try a N25 for a more neutral option and find your perfect match!

How do you feel? Enlightened? Ready to take on the MAC counter? Good. Go now and never question yourself again as you stand holding a NW15 and a NC15 and wonder what on earth you’re doing.

Rachel x


Images Credited to: Sarah Christine Makeup Artistry

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