It’s the same dilemma every time: You look a certain way in your bathroom mirror and then completely different everywhere else. But the problem isn’t your makeup skills; it’s your lighting, which, when done wrong, seriously affects your makeup routine. Fluorescents can make us put too much makeup on, and pink-tinted lights can make us miss spots. Our makeup studios (aka bathrooms) deserve better illumination, and so do our faces.
We talked to the experts and did a little research to figure out how to trick out your bathroom lighting. Fortunately, with just a few tweaks and products, you can improve your light situation to be much more flattering.
Meet the Expert
Keep scrolling to find out how to achieve the best lighting for applying makeup.
Lighting Mistakes to Avoid
Both experts agree that white light is the best for makeup application because the colors will be true to tone. If white light isn't an option, do your best to steer clear of the below kinds of lighting to avoid potential beauty blunders.
Cool, fluorescent white light can be unforgiving and overly bright and is perhaps the furthest from natural light. This may cause you to overdo it with foundation, bronzer, or blush to compensate for the lack of color on your face.
"While it's great after you are finished with makeup, you might think you look great while applying and come out and with everything looking different," says Riddle. Illuminate your area where you can get a clear picture of your face, without the accent lights.
Golden Hour Light
It's great for photography, but not the best when it comes to doing your makeup. According to Riddle, golden hour lighting will make everything seem warmer and not give you an accurate sense of color.
Yellow light can sometimes make us look a bit weary, which may cause a heavy hand with powder and concealer in an effort to neutralize the face and hide dark spots. "A slight yellow hue is okay, but avoid anything too warm. Warm lighting is amazing, but not to get ready in," says Riddle.
Rosy light may sound great in theory, but pink lighting can actually be a mirage while getting ready. Due to our radiant appearance in this lighting, we tend to slack on the concealer, only to realize that we missed a blemish or dark spot after setting our makeup.
Remember when you were a kid and used to hold a flashlight under your chin to look scary? Well, this is the same thing but in reverse. Downlighting (and overhead lighting) tends to cast shadows under the eyes. If you're limited, a blend of both uplighting and downlighting is your best bet for application.
The Best Way to Light Your Bathroom
The best condition for applying makeup is a warm or natural light source. Natural sunlight provides the most accurate reflection of your face, but for those cloudy days when fresh rays aren't an option, white light is closest to daylight and is best for all types of content, according to Kaiser as it closely resembles the color spectrum of natural light while evenly distributing light across the entire face.
"You can also play around with cool lighting as well, but LED lights are more efficient due to less heat, more light, and better quality," says Kaiser.
When installing lights in your bathroom, you want to create cross illumination or side lighting to ensure that the light evenly diffuses across your whole face. Be aware of setting up lights solely above the mirror. They'll illuminate the forehead, forcing you to tilt your head too far up and making it difficult to apply makeup with precision.
"Soft lights are going to be the most flattering and give the skin a smooth and airbrushed look," says Riddle. "I always use soft lights when taking any video or photo content with clients."
A trick to setting up your lights is to check the mirror; the most illuminated section of the mirror should be at eye level.
Buy the Right Bulbs
Buying the right bulb is essential to creating the perfect atmosphere for makeup application. The GE Energy Efficient Reveal bulb ($10) in 75 or 100 watts is great, and so is anything LED.
Installing dimmers in your bathroom is also a fantastic way to customize and tailor your lighting environment.
"Usually I like to stick with one tone of light when I am doing makeup but I travel with lighting everywhere, so I will switch it to warm and cool and natural light settings as well to see how the makeup would look in different lighting," says Riddle. "If you did your skin in natural lighting and then switch to something more yellow or warm, colors may appear lighter than they actually are, so when you step back into natural light it could go darker than you wanted.
If you don't want to commit to changing the lighting wherever you do your makeup, consider investing in a quality makeup mirror instead.
“Find a mirror that will mimic daylight color lighting, is high-definition (that provides the best clarity), and is easy to travel with,” says Kaiser.
Use Natural Light to Your Advantage
“Applying makeup with proper lighting is key. If you don’t have good light, there is a chance your makeup won’t turn out as well as it could have (no matter the talent),” says Kaiser. “Natural light is the most ideal as that's how you would be seen in real life.” She recommends sitting behind a window with natural light is an optimal spot for applying makeup.
Riddle agrees. "Natural light is going to be the most accurate sense of how you will look. So many times you hear 'I got ready in my bathroom and I walked outside and my foundation was too dark or too light,' so if you get ready in natural light or in front of a window you know it’s going to look exactly the same."
Take advantage of natural light when shopping for makeup, too. Department store lighting doesn't always provide you with the most accurate perception of your face, which is why the foundation that you thought was perfect in the store doesn't match your skin color as perfectly when you put it on at home.
The fix? Shop during the day and take a mirror with you. When trying out a new foundation, bronzer, or any makeup, take out your mirror and walk over to a window with natural light. This will allow you to view the makeup in the right lighting before you buy, and prevent future purchases from ending up in the pile of mismatched makeup under your sink.
Shop good makeup lighting and mirrors below.
We like Conair's makeup mirror for its double-sided lighting that gets the job done. Since it's a plug-in, you may be limited in where you can rest the mirror to do your makeup.
Micro-reflection technology and surgical-grade LED lights make this mirror from Simplehuman a must for your bathroom. Dual light settings and touch-control brightness are just some of the reasons it's worth the splurge.
Perhaps one of the most high-tech LED vanity mirrors out there, this travel-sized mirror from Riki Loves Riki checks off all the boxes. Streaming technology, Bluetooth capabilities, and a smartphone holder take it to the next level. And with five dimming stages and a super sleek design to enhance any vanity, to that, we say wow.
Style your vanity with this tri-fold mirror in fashionable rose gold. Wide-angle viewing and a 180-degree rotational swivel allow for the most precise makeup application. The touch sensor screen for light adjustment is a bonus.
Riddle recommends this panel lighting kit for those who don’t have a lot of light in their living space. It's lightweight and provides adjustable brightness thanks to 192 LED beads.
Up your selfie game with this raised light panel phone case (with rechargeable battery) that works better than any phone light.