More than almost any other room in the home, bathroom lighting has a tendency to go wrong. On the surface, it seems simple – just mount a three-light fixture to the wall above your vanity and call it a day, right? But the most ubiquitous bathroom lights are also the exact kinds that set you up for failure. Any bright lights placed directly over your mirror will cast shadows on your face, obscuring your reflection. Relying on that one light for your whole space (no matter how big or small your bathroom) also means having shadowy corners and a too-bright light right in your face first thing in the morning. How do you do it right? Here are a few ways to get started.
Maybe the simplest way to get good lighting in your bathroom is to throw out that over-vanity light entirely and replace it instead with two sconces, one placed to either side of your mirror. Rather than having a bright top-down light, sconces hung at eye level will cast light over your whole face, making it easy to see while you’re applying makeup or shaving, and giving you an all-over natural coloration so you’ll know what you’ll actually look like when you walk outside.
Of course, those two sconces shouldn’t be left to carry the bathroom on their own. The real key to good bathroom lighting is to install multiple fixtures – not just a functional light in front of your vanity, but enough to chase away the corners in all parts of your bathroom, including your shower. At the very least that means having a central overhead light, and in a larger bathroom can mean more matching sconces, recessed lights, shower lights, or even a decorative chandelier. The more sources of light you have, the fewer unsightly shadows you’ll be stuck with, and often it’s easy to find multiple types of fixtures designed to match, so it’s easy to coordinate a whole room.
What About Wattage?
Even the bulbs you choose are important, particularly in a smaller bathroom that does rely on fewer lighting fixtures. Bulbs that produce a harsh, bright blue-white light are always going to be unflattering, while yellow or amber light can make your space feel dark and dingy. Crisp, soft white lights are your best bet, and while you want enough wattage to illuminate your space (and your face), you want it spread out a little rather than concentrated in a single high-wattage bulb. If you absolutely have to have an above-mirror bathroom light, look for one that’s longer and has more, gentler bulbs. Not only will this give you more lighting coverage, but it’ll save you from excess glare.
Build A Buffer
Anything that can soften or diffuse your lights will also help cut down on both shadows and that too-bright, washed-out feeling. So again if you’re in a bathroom where a vanity light is the only practical option, you want to ditch the classic Hollywood glam globe lights. Bare bulbs only work when they’re on both sides or all the way around a mirror, movie-star style; a single bar up top is actually one of the worst shadow-casting offenders. Instead, look for fixtures that have glass shades on the bulbs, particularly upward-facing ones, or ones that otherwise shield the bulb from shining directly down on your face. It makes a bigger difference than you might think!
Buy A Better Mirror
If you’re really struggling to find a lighting fixture that won’t cast shadows on your face, what you really need might actually be a new mirror. Now, swapping out one piece of glass for another isn’t going to fix your lighting problem. But many modern manufacturers are starting to produce backlit mirrors. These have LED lights built directly into the surface of the mirror and radiate light out either through it or around it, giving you 360 degree lighting around your reflection. These are obviously a bit pricier than your standard mirrors and won’t light up your whole bathroom, but if your biggest problem is being able to see your reflection first thing in the morning, a backlit mirror might be your best option.
…Or An Extra Mirror
Backlit mirrors also come in smaller sizes, and backlit magnifying mirrors are a particularly popular accessory. Again, these won’t fix a whole-bathroom lighting problem, but they’re far and away the simplest solution for your vanity area. Magnifying mirrors are specifically designed to be used when applying makeup and shaving; they mount to your wall, but are attached to long, folding arms and pivoting heads that let you place them where you need them to get a good look at (and a close-up view of) your reflection. The added LED lights are automatically angled directly at your face, so you’re getting the best view possible of the part of your face you’re trying to look at.
Sub-par bathroom lighting is an easy trap to fall into, and a problem that might not occur to you until it’s too late. But the good news is, most of the best solutions to bad bathroom lighting are relatively simple and affordable ones. At worse, you might need a little electrical work, but in most cases you won’t need a major renovation to see some serious improvements in your lighting quality!