Makeup lighting that will make you look good

Q: With incandescent lights disappearing, how do I now light my make-up area?

A: If you had asked me this just a few years ago I would have joined you lamenting the demise of the beloved, warm, flattering incandescent lamp. And I would have thrown in some ranting over why on Earth this had to be forced upon us before there was a decent alternative on the market.

BUT, things have changed drastically. The LED lighting revolution is finally offering us some really exciting alternatives.

No matter if you are just exchanging your incandescent lamps (lighting industry lingo for light bulbs,) or your entire fixture, go with LED. Look for the highest quality you can find. (Usually reflected in the price, unfortunately.) Bt if there is one place in the house where you don’t want to skimp on quality, this is it.

On the box of the LED lamp you’ll still see the amount of watts it uses. Probably not what you are looking for right now (unless you are dying to know how much you are saving every morning.)

Then you’ll see the amount of lumens. More interesting. It tells you how much light you get. If your lights are on a dimmer, go with the highest amounts of lumens you can find. Do keep two things in mind regarding dimming and LEDs: Even if it says on the box that the LED is dimmable it usually doesn’t tell you how much it dims. Some LEDs only dim to 50%, others only to 20%.

Difference #2: Incandescent lamps turn a warmer color temperature when they are dimmed, LEDs don’t. Incandescent lamps have a color temperature around 2700 degrees Kelvin. That is a nice warm, flattering tone, and when dimmed it goes down to an even warmer 2400K. Most restaurants and bars use warmer color temperatures, since it makes people linger and feel comfortable just like a roaring fire in the fireplace or candlelight do. Next on the box is the number for the CRI (Color Rendering Index)

You want a high CRI . 100 is the highest, and this is what the incandescent lamp gave you. You won’t quite find that, but definitely stay away from anything in the 80-range. It won’t make you look good. Period. Choose as high a CRI as you can find. If Mona Lisa gets to be illuminated with 90+ CRI you should, too!

I am actually not at all opposed to fluorescent lighting. I have seen a lot of beautifully lit hotel bathrooms, where the lamping was fluorescent and I was amazed with the quality of the light. But in general CFLs have not quite measured up to the quality you’d want for your make-up area.

We still see a lot of vanity lights with halogen lamps, but almost everything new on the market is LED. Halogen has a lot of great qualities, but what puts most off is the heat they generate. Not so bad in the cold of winter, but on a sweltering summer evening it's another story.

Aside from figuring out which replacement lamps to choose, all general lighting design principles have stayed the same in vanity area lighting.

Don’t use lights that illuminate you from above. It’ll age you at least 5 years. Do I need to say more? Instead frame your face with light from the sides. No room for wall lights? - I have lived with pendant lights at my vanity mirror for decades and love it.


Repeat after me: Layers of light. (Sorry, I know I say that a lot, but it is just SUCH an  important technique.) Multiple light sources are so much more flattering than light coming from just one or two light fixtures. The less light sources you use, the more you tend to crank up the brightness of each light, causing glare and harsh shadows. With several light sources combined, each doesn’t have to be as bright, but they can all work together on making you see well – and look good.