Understanding MAC Lingo – Face

NC? NW? Full Coverage? Satin Finish? What does it all mean? I started learning it all about two years ago and I’m just now fully understanding it. If I had someone to break it all down for me, it would make my MAC experience that much easier! This post is all about face products:


First, decide what type of coverage you want. Determine how much of your natural skin you want to show through. For example:

  • Sheer – Gives enough coverage to balance skin tone and would allow freckles or sunspots to show through.
  • Medium – Gives enough coverage to conceal redness and minor blemishes and/or minor skin discoloration.
  • Full – Gives enough coverage to give a flawless finish to the skin; great for major blemishes and/or major skin discoloration.


Next, decide what kind of finish you desire. For example:

  • Satin – Gives a luminous, dewy finish to the skin.
  • Natural – Applies smoothly and gives a nice balance between Satin and Full coverage. Gives a slightly more luminous glow than a Matte finish, but more matte than Satin. If that makes sense. 🙂
  • Full – Gives a flawless, airbrushed finish.

Find Your Foundation:

Sheer Coverage, Satin Finish: Mineralize Satinfinish SPF 15 Foundation
Sheer Coverage, Natural Finish: Studio Moisture Tint SPF 15, Face and Body Foundation
Medium Coverage, Satin Finish: Mineralize Foundation SPF 15
Medium Coverage, Natural Finish: Studio Tech, Pro Longwear SPF 10 Foundation, Mineralize SPF 15 Loose
Medium Coverage, Matte Finish: Select SPF 15 Foundation
Full Coverage, Natural Finish: Studio Sculpt SPF 15 Foundation
Full Coverage, Matte Finish: Studio Fix Powder Plus Foundation, Studio Fix Fluid SPF 15

Now that you’ve determined what kind of foundation you want, it’s time to find your color!


For MAC’s concealers, foundations and powders, there’s a code that will tell you the undertone of the product.

N – Neutral: Beige Skin
C – Cool: Yellow-Golden, Olive Skin
NC – Neutral Cool: Golden-Beige Skin
NW – Neutral Warm: Pink-Beige Skin
W – Warm: Pink Skin

You’ll notice that the “warm” and “cool” tones may seem backward. My MAC lady explained that the idea is to balance out the skin. If you look on the underside of your wrist, you can determine your undertone:

If you have Purple-Blue veins, you have Cool skin.
If you have Green-Blue veins, you have Warm skin.

Also, if you tan, you’re most likely Golden-Olive = Cool Skin. If you burn, you’re most likely Pink = Warm Skin.


The shade number will measure the hue (lightness and darkness) of the foundation. The higher the number, the deeper the color. So NC25 is going to be much lighter than NC42.


MAC Select Sheer in Loose and Pressed forms use the Undertone/Shade system. Whereas MAC Mineralize Skinfinish uses Shade names (Light, Light-Medium, Medium, Medium-Plus, Deep, etc.) to determine color. MAC Mineralize Loose Foundation and Studio Moisture Tint Foundation are named this way as well. Find your shade here:

Cool Tones

NW10: Light
NW15 – NW20: Light – Light Medium
NW25: Light Medium – Medium
NW30: Medium
NW35: Medium Plus – Medium Dark
NW40: Medium Dark – Dark
NW43NW44: Dark – Deep Dark
NW45NW55: Deep Dark

Warm Tones

NC10: Light
NC15NC20: Light – Light Medium – Medium
NC25: Light Medium – Medium
NC30: Light Medium – Medium – Medium Plus
NC35NC37: Medium Plus – Medium Dark
NC40NC42: Medium Dark
NC43NC44: Medium Deep
NC45: Medium Deep – Deep Dark – Dark
NC47NC55: Deep Dark

Whew! Hard part is over with!

Hope this helped you all! Eyes and Lips breakdowns soon to follow. If you have any questions, post them in a comment below!

-Court 🙂


Photo: blog.glossmenagerie.com

About the author
  1. Hello, if I use an NC44 STUDIO FIX liquid foundation what powder would you recommend for al over coverage over the liquid to give me a matt finish overall?

  2. “Also, if you tan, you’re most likely Golden-Olive = Cool Skin. If you burn, you’re most likely Pink = Warm Skin.”

    Hi, this is wrong. It should be:

    Also, if you tan, you’re most likely Golden-Olive = WARM Skin. If you burn, you’re most likely Pink = COOL Skin.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

8 − 5 =

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.