If you have overhead lighting, find fixtures that can be angled so light bounces off the walls and hits people at a side angle. Also effective are so-called wall washers — fixtures designed so light bounces off baffles or reflectors inside the housing, which then directs the light out more horizontally than vertically. “You get a very nice, broad wash of light, like mist from an aerosol can,” said Ms. Muto. “You are spraying the wall with light.”
To look your most attractive in the bathroom, you want lights that flank or encircle the mirror, as you might find in a backstage dressing room. Shaded or covered sconces positioned at head height about the room will further smooth and soften your appearance. But perhaps the best light sources are those you cannot see, said Doreen Le May Madden, a certified lighting architect in Belmont, Mass. She likes to hide lighting behind mirrors or within molding, or have it shining up from baseboards. Such features are why you look so much better in dressing rooms at higher-end stores like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. “Diffusion and control of the light source are key to looking good and feeling good,” Ms. Madden said.
The quality of the lighting matters too. When buying light bulbs, you want to look for two key indicators. The first is the correlated color temperature, or CCT, which tells you how warm the light appears. It is measured on the Kelvin scale and denotes the temperature required for a black object (think charcoal) to emit a certain color. You know how the hottest part of the flame is the blue part at the bottom, and the orangey-yellow part toward the top is cooler? It’s the same with CCT. The higher the Kelvin, the bluer or whiter the light.
People tend to look the best when illuminated by light bulbs that measure around 2700 kelvins. Most bulbs, whether incandescent, LED, compact fluorescent or halogen, are labeled “soft white/warm white” (2,700-3,000 kelvins), “bright white/cool white” (3,500-4,100 kelvins) or “daylight” (5,000-6,500 kelvins). However, Ms. Muto said those labels aren’t standard across types of light bulbs and can also vary depending upon the manufacturer. “A 2,700 K in a LED doesn’t look the same as a 2,700 K in an incandescent,” she said. But you might find an LED at a higher or lower CCT that approximates the incandescent bulb’s look. Do some experimenting by taking home a few different bulbs to find out what kind of light, at which CCT and by which manufacturer, you find most appealing.