The Best Lighting for Applying Makeup

Have you ever headed out into the day feeling completely self-assured, only to cringe later when you glance in the mirror and catch an obvious foundation streak or zit you totally missed covering up?

The problem may not be your makeup skills—it could be the lighting in your bathroom. We’ve asked top interior experts how to get the perfect illumination to see and apply your makeup so you can walk out that door confidently.

At Home, Where Lighting Is In Your Contol:

Photo: Dennis AndersonLighting design by Randall Whitehead
Lighting design by Katie Anderson

Cross illumination is key in bathrooms.

Referred to as side lighting, picture a pair of fixtures ideally mounted 36 inches apart and 18 inches from the centerline of the sink, says architectural lighting designer Randall Whitehead. Look for sconces, pendants or mirrors with backlit sections of frosted glass. The most luminous part should be mounted at eye level—about 5’6” off the floor—and if two people sharing the mirror have a height difference, a good solution is a long vertical design. Adding a center ceiling piece will complement the vanity lighting. Beware of lights fixed only above the mirror which illuminates your forehead and makes you tilt your head too far up to apply makeup with precision, warns Whitehead.

Buy the right bulbs.

Warm light at 75 to 100 watts per side bathroom fixture will provide the bright, even illumination you need for grooming tasks at hand. “Even though I’m all about energy-efficient lighting in 98 percent of my light sources, the one place I’ve stuck with incandescent light is at the bathroom mirror—I love that warm golden color,” says Whitehead. A dimmer gives you the option to customize brightness as needed with changing factors like sunlight and seasons, and to create ambiance when you’re not grooming.

Bulb hues can influence what makeup you apply.

Cool fluorescent white can look harsh, and overly bright white can look unflattering—both can cause you to overdo it on the blush or bronzer to compensate for lack of color on your face.

Which lightbulb is best for beauty?

Warm white—which interior designer Katie Anderson clarifies as 3200 kelvin—is generally the most beautiful on everyone.

Yellow light in bathrooms creates a sallow skin appearance that can make you look tired and ill, not to mention the tendency to use too much powder to neutralize it, or you might reach for a tinted primer in the wrong color.Rosy bulbs make complexions look healthy and vibrant, though you might slack a bit on the concealer because your skin looks so good in the mirror, only to go in natural daylight and realize you missed a spot.

It’s true: Natural light is best.

Nothing will give you a more accurate glimpse than light from the sun, but it needs to brighten your face evenly. “For makeup application, you need diffused, ambient light so that there are no shadows highlighted on the face,” explains Katie Anderson, Principal at Katie Anderson Interior Design Consultants. So if you’re near a window, look straight into the light instead of letting it hit one angle of your face, and use a handheld mirror if necessary.

 

Try a lighted makeup mirror.Back in the day, big, boxy makeup lights that flipped to settings like “daylight,” “office” and “evening” were an iconic part of the primping ritual, and the concept is still a solid one that has become more streamlined today. While incandescent makeup mirrors remain most flattering, modern options are rapidly closing the gap between ideal illumination and energy savings. “LED lighting has come a long way and has a much better color-rendering index that expresses a more complete spectrum similar to sunlight,” says Anderson. If you’re short on space, consider a lighted travel mirror that is easy to tote and move around. Shown here: Simple Human Sensor Mirror, $200, is cordless and the LED light won’t burn out for years.

Out in the World, Where Lighting Is NOT in Your Control:

Recessed down lighting is the worst!

“Remember when you would hold a flashlight under your face at Halloween? It’s like holding that flashlight over the top of your head—it’s just as frightening!” says Whitehead. This lighting setup that is common in elevators seeks out wrinkles, pigmentation and shadows under the eyes, making you look 10 years older instantly. So the next time you look in an elevator mirror and gasp—it’s not you, it’s the lighting.

Bring your own light when makeup shopping.

It’s an age-old question: Why does department store makeup lighting suck so badly? Whitehead says the light in store mirrors is usually halogen, which isn’t the color of normal incandescent light nor the color of natural light, so when you get the makeup home, it looks totally different. The solution? Shop during the day and take a hand mirror with you. Try on the makeup shade and go take a look in natural light before you decide to buy, lest that lipgloss or shadow pot end up in the beauty product graveyard under your sink.

Cher and Dionne understood the importance of lighting concepts.

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