My MAC Foundation Matching Debacle: Am I NW or NC?
MAN, finally! I think I may have, at last, figured out my MAC foundation match. This discovery has literally been years in the making, and finally knowing the truth is – well- I guess it hasn’t really changed my life much, actually, except that I now have a better frame of reference when discussing my foundation color, and I’ve got a couple of new foundations to add to my already massive foundation collection. However, it’s been such an ordeal for me that I thought it would be worth sharing, just in case there’s anyone else out there with a skin tone like mine – one with both yellow and pink undertones – that’s also having trouble finding her MAC match.
Here’s the thing about my skin tone: it’s neutral. It has both warm tones and cool tones, and for a line like MAC’s, which relies on one or the other for most of their foundations, it can be challenging to find the right match. To complicate things even further – I am part Japanese, and my skin reflects that. There’s something about Asian skin that seems to throw some beauty associates off their game – I am often labeled as being either warmer or darker than I actually am.
As many of you may already know, the MAC color system is divided into NW and NC tones. NW (neutral warm) is for cool, pink undertones, while NC (neutral cool) is for warm, yellow undertones. It can be confusing for the unfamiliar – it really seems like the NW and NC should be reversed, but it helps to think of NW as “not warm” and NC as “not cool.”
Years ago, I was matched as an NC25 in MAC’s Studio Fix Fluid Foundation. I was not as knowledgeable about foundation back then, but I do remember feeling that it looked off. I couldn’t quite pinpoint it at the time, and assumed that I must just not like MAC’s foundation formula. It’s too yellow, I thought. But the girl who matched me told me my skin tone was straightforwardly warm, and I believed her. My skin did have plenty of visible yellow in it, after all.
Over the years, I amassed quite the foundation collection, and I’d found my perfect match for nearly all of them. And then one day it occurred to me: most of my foundations were not straightforwardly warm. A lot of them were neutral, and some of them were actually cool. Not long after that epiphany, I went through the arduous process of finding my match in Kat Von D’s Lock-it Tattoo foundation, and it was this process that helped realize that I was definitely not NC25. Determined to know my true match was, I went back to MAC and asked for a rematch. A foundation rematch, that is. I did not, and have never, brawled with a MAC employee.
The first MAC employee I met with matched me as NW20 in MAC Mineralize Moisture Foundation. I was so ecstatic to have finally found my match, I told everyone I knew the exciting (*cough* boring *cough*) news! I posted it on Facebook, on Instagram, I messaged my friends, I told my sister about it – really, any captive audience I could find. Then I tried it on again at home, and it was wrong. Back it went, which is just as well, because as it turns out, I hate the finish of Mineralize Moisture Foundation (too dewy). I went through this routine many times – getting an almost match, and then going back again (NW15 was workable, but had a somewhat dulling effect). And guess what? In the end, I was an NC after all – NC15 in Studio Fix Fluid, to be exact. NW13 works as well, though it’s a titch too light. I kept both.
The point of this story is: If you have a neutral skin tone, and don’t like how you’ve been matched for your MAC foundation in the past, keep trying. You might be surprised and find that there is a color for you. If you really luck out (as I did), you’ll have more options than you think. Instead of being limited by your neutral skin tone, the presence of both pink and yellow undertones might actually broaden your choices – you could have an NW and an NC match out there!
Everyone’s skin is made up of a multitude of colors – it’s all about finding which ones you want to lead with. Neutral skin tones, in particular, have a very wide range of possibilities, as evidenced by my swatch arm below. As different as all those swatches are from one another, all of them are either a perfect or very close to perfect match for my skin tone:
1. MAC Studio Fix Fluid in NW13
2. MAC Studio Fix Fluid in NC15
3. Guerlain Parure de Lumiere in 02 Beige Clair (EDIT 01/09/2014: I’ve recently discovered 01 Beige Pale is a better match)
4. Chanel Perfection Lumiere in Beige 10
5. Urban Decay Naked Skin in 3.5
6. Kat Von D Lock-it Tattoo Foundation in Light 48
7. Kevyn Aucoin Sensual Skin Enhancer in 07
8. Hera CC Cream in 02 Natural Beige
9. Missha Cho Bo Yang BB Cream in 02 Calm Beige
10. Missha M Perfect Cover BB Cream in 21 Light Beige
11. Missha Super Aqua Cell Renew Snail BB Cream
12. Etude House Precious Mineral Cotton Fit BB Cream in W13 Natural Beige
13. Kat Von D Lock-it Powder Foundation in Light 44
14. MAC Studio Fix Powder in NC20 or (wouldn’t you know it?) NC25
That cheat sheet should be helpful for those with a neutral, light skin tone similar to mine. I realize that includes a limited number of people, but the good news is, there are some pretty amazing online resources that can provide anyone a great starting point when looking for a foundation match.
If you know what your perfect match is in at least one foundation, you can try Findation.com, which will give you a list of matches in a huge spectrum of brands. I find that for the most part, Findation gets it pretty close. Many of the matches have been correct for me, though there were also a handful that were off. It’s a great place to start though, and will give you a good idea of what range to search within.
Sephora Color IQ
There’s an in-store Color IQ matching system in a lot of stores, which involves some sort of computerized contraption that “reads” your skin tone and then tells you what your matches are. I’ve heard mixed reviews, but it’s not available in my area yet, so I haven’t tried it. I did try the online version, which asks you to input your foundation match for one brand, and then gives you a list of likely matches for other brands based on that information. I found that most of the matches were accurate, but there were also a couple that weren’t quite right.
Temptalia’s Foundation Matrix
I consider Temptalia’s Foundation Matrix to be the original online foundation matching tool. You’ll need some idea of what your skin tone is to use it, but it works by giving you matches in a multitude of brands based on your answers to a very short list of questions. It’s not as specific as Findation.com, but still a great place to begin!
Have you had a difficult time finding your MAC match, or any other foundation match? Is your skin tone difficult to assess? Do beauty associates often guess your tone incorrectly? I want to hear your tales of foundation woe!
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