The Best Lighting for Your Makeup Vanity – Tips From the Experts

Lighting for makeup application is the key to your ultimate beauty success. Many things go into achieving a #flawless look, such as the right makeup products and lots of practice. But lighting can mean the difference between too much and too little, between clown-face and Plain Jane. 

You need the best lighting for makeup

Finding the best lighting for your makeup vanity can make a significant difference in your daily routine, so it’s crucial that you know exactly what to look for before diving into the first product you see. 

Today we’ll discuss the best intensity, types of bulbs, color temperature, and more to help you find the best light for putting on makeup. (If you’re looking for the best lighted magnifying makeup mirror, check my reviews here instead.)

Color Temperature

Based on its color temperature, light can be divided into warm and cool groups. You have likely seen these words printed on the box of your standard household light bulb. Let’s explore how that relates to getting the best lighting for makeup vanity?

Understanding Color Temperature

Color temperature is measured in Kelvins (K), where Kelvin represents absolute temperature. The higher the Kelvin measurement, the more bluish/white the light will be. The best way to understand this is to follow the scale: 






Blue Sky

Cloudy Sky

Direct Sunlight



It’s also helpful to note that most household fixtures range right around 2,700K, which is a warm incandescent, 3,000K, a warm white halogen, and 3,500K, a household fluorescent. 

Lighting above 3,500K is often used for commercial purposes, as well as hospital settings, as it generates bright and bluish daylight. This is great for clinical and detailed task work, but feels harsh, cold and unwelcoming.

The Best Light Temperature for Makeup

Now that we have a better understanding of what color spectrum means and what it looks like, we can apply this to the best makeup lights for your vanity. 

The color temperature of sunlight above the atmosphere is around 5,900K, meaning it falls in the cool range of color temperature. If possible, one of the best things you can do for your makeup is to position yourself in natural lighting. If you can arrange your vanity in front of a window, you’re good to go. 

Unfortunately, that’s not always the most convenient place to do your makeup. If you don’t have a vanity or your bathroom doesn’t have a window, it may be impossible to capture that natural light in the best way.

However, knowing what we know about light temperature and the temperature of sunlight, we can now choose the best artificial lighting to try to match what we see when we step outside our front door. 

The best lighting for your cosmetic mirror falls between 4,800K and 5,000K. Within this range, you can achieve lighting that’s not so warm that it makes you appear jaundiced, but also not so white that it washes you out completely. Instead, lights in this range will evenly illuminate your face and give you a good idea of your appearance when you step outside.

Color Temperatures to Avoid

There are individual light settings that many makeup artists recommend avoiding when putting on your makeup, and that includes: 

  • Fluorescents
  • Yellow Light
  • Pink Light

Fluorescent lighting looks good on no one. It’s an absolute “no” when it comes to putting on your makeup, because it will never show what you how colors will appear in more natural lighting.

Likewise, yellow light can simply make you look sick and tired. The result: too much powder and foundation that you think you need, but really don’t.

Pink light is flattering, but only for as long as you’re in it. When you do your makeup under pink light, you run the risk of avoiding bronzer, missing blemishes, and forgetting to fill in dark spots.

Light Direction for Makeup Application

It’s not enough just to have good light; it also needs to be positioned correctly, especially if you’re using a magnifying mirror. And the best position is in front of and surrounding your face.

Many people make the mistake of only using lights on the ceiling or above a mirror. This downlighting casts small shadows which make it so much more challenging to put your makeup on correctly. (Bathroom lighting with fluorescent lights above the sink is particularly bad). Rather than fighting with the shadows and constantly changing your angle of view, it’s best to just avoid downlighting altogether. (And clean your mirror properly too – downlighting shows up all the dust!)

The best way to set up your lighting is to look in the mirror and aim the most light at eye level. If this is possible, you’ll be glowing (literally). 

Lighted mirrors give the best illumination for makeup

Another option is to go for all-around ring lights or side lighting. Your bathroom likely already has a light source from above. You can enhance your makeup lighting by adding lamps at the sides of the mirror. If you really want to light up your face, you can even put some lighting at the base, too. 

Round illuminated mirrors are perfect for circle lighting, creating a “ring light” to evenly show all the angles of your face. You’ll never miss a blemish again. Read my review of the simplehuman sensor, the best lighted makeup mirror.

Types of Light Bulbs 

In addition to the warmth and coolness of your lighting, you should also pay attention to the wattage or lumens (brightness) you get on your light bulb as well. Anything from 75 to 100 watts should be more than enough. Many people make the mistake of getting a higher power because they think it will help them see more. In reality, brighter wattages just wash you out, which can cause the error of too much makeup. They’re also uncomfortably bright and hot when placed directly in front of your eyes.

Also consider the color rendering index (CRI). This technical term simply means the ability to show colors as they truly are. Professional lighted mirrors will have a high CRI and show your skin tones accurately..

LED light bulbs are extremely popular for applying makeup because they ensure the utmost accuracy. Unlike incandescent bulbs, they give off very little heat so are comfortable to work next to. Their bright, white light is the perfect choice for illuminating your entire face without making things warm or yellow. Additionally, LED lighting that can be dimmed can help you find the perfect setting to mimic daylight. 

As a bonus, LED lights are also more energy-efficient, long lasting, and better for the environment

Shapes and Arrangements

There are all kinds of different shapes and arrangements that you can purchase your LED lights in: 

  • Round 
  • Strips
  • Bar lights

Regular, round LED bulbs at the correct temperature and wattage can be super effective for putting on your makeup. You can even find bulbs that will stick to your mirror (see my review of stick-on lighting options: how to add lights to a mirror). You can place them on a standalone makeup vanity in your bedroom without a major installation process. 

Many companies sell LED lights in strips so you can place them on your mirror wherever you need them. You can adhere them to the perimeter of a square mirror or a round mirror, giving you a full lighting effect with little effort. 

Add a home lighting kit to your makeup mirror

Bar lights are also among the best lighting for makeup. If you can install a light bar across the top and the bottom of your vanity mirror, you’ll be all set for the beauty business. 

Other Tips From Makeup Artists

Aside from using natural lighting (or as close to it as you can get), professional makeup artists have a lot of other useful tips when it comes to using lighting to your advantage. Check out a few of these ideas from the experts.  

Flash Photography

If you know you’re going to be photographed in flash light, say for prom or wedding photos, you should consider some subtle changes to your usual makeup. 

The flash from a camera has a way of lighting up your face way more than it would look in person. Therefore, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this flash has a way of highlighting the dark circles under your eyes. You can combat this extreme change by adding a little extra concealer to the area. Some people will even go a couple shades lighter, just in case. 

And if you don’t usually contour, now would be the time to do it. Adding a little contouring can help your face look a little more life-like in photos with flash, highlighting your features and adding depth. 

Finally, use moisturizer, lipstick, and add just a little bit more of everything, as flash photography tends to dull down your look. 

Buy Your Makeup During the Day 

It’s not good enough to use lighting the right way when you’re applying it for a night on the town; it’s also critical to utilize as much natural light as possible when you’re buying your makeup. 

Many department stores have unflattering fluorescent lighting that might alter the way you actually look in the sunlight. 

If possible, try to take a portable mirror with you when you go shopping for makeup. When you find a product you’re interested in, pull out your compact mirror and try to stand by a window. That way, you can see what the makeup will look like against your skin tone under the right lighting before you buy it.

Adjustable Lighting

While in most cases, makeup artists recommend avoiding certain warm lighting, there are instances when it can actually be helpful to do your makeup under warm bulbs. 

Some mirror lights are adjustable in both temperature and brightness, letting you set them at a range of warmer lighting to brighter lighting. 

This might seem a little confusing, but warmer settings can be useful for when you know you’ll be in an environment with low, warm lighting. For example, if you’re going out on a romantic dinner date under low light and with a classic candlelit atmosphere, then you might consider doing your makeup in that same lighting at home to make sure it looks good. 

You can use adjustable lighting to your advantage to mimic whatever environment you’re going to be in. If you’re going to an outdoor concert, use a higher Kelvin setting for sunlight. If you’re going to church where you know the fluorescent lighting isn’t very flattering, you can use a similar setting to make the most of it. 

Turn Off Overhead Lighting

Whether you’re using an expensive Hollywood mirror or LED lights attached to your bathroom mirror, you will get the best results if you turn off any overhead ceiling lighting beforehand. 

You should only be working with the lighting in front of you—the lighting that has the proper temperature, direction, and overall illumination. Any other light in the room will discolor your reflection, giving you an unrealistic view of what your face will look like in the sunlight. 

The Best Light for Makeup

With so many color temperatures and lighting mistakes to avoid, finding the best lighting solution for vanity mirror lights can feel a little overwhelming. Certain types of lighting can create illusions that make you miss the tiny details or use more makeup than you should. 

Although it’s not always convenient to find yourself in the “right” light, the tips and tricks above can help you achieve better lighting in most places you go.

The single best thing you can do for a #FlawlessReflexion is to buy a quality lighted makeup mirror – read about my favourite here.

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