What's the Most Flattering Light For a Bathroom? 7 Designer Tricks to Give Your Space a Glow-Up

Designers avoid harsh bathroom lighting by only using these types of light for a relaxing and flattering glow

A bathroom lit with a side wall light
(Image credit: Shade Degges. Design: Lindye Galloway Studio + Shop)

Lighting plays a specific role in the bathroom, a role that it doesn't play in any other rooms. For the living room, the right lighting brings coziness and adds that decorative flair that helps a scheme sing. In the kitchen, it's about providing ambiance and illumination for functional tasks. But in the bathroom, lighting must work to illuminate the space around you and the mirror. Bathrooms are spaces where we begin and end our days. Whether it's a quick brushing of teeth before leaving the house or a 10-step morning skincare routine, flattering lighting is needed to give us the confidence to go about our days.

But have you considered that the way you light your space might be completely wrong? We speak to the experts who know how to create a well-lit modern bathroom to find out their top tips for flattering lighting.

1. Light that hits from the side

A bathroom vanity with side wall light

(Image credit: Chango & Co)

Overhead lighting in the bathroom is popular as it brings a modern, clean look to the space. Recessed lighting is a perfect example, widely chosen for its non-intrusive nature.

But contrary to popular belief, overhead lighting isn't the most flattering of lights. It can cast pronounced shadows from above, enhancing those imperfections we'd rather forget about, and it can also feel cold, sterile and far from flattering. 'A lot of unflattering bathrooms have tons of harsh recessed lighting, which I always try and stay away from,' says New York designer, Evelyn Benatar.

Instead, you want lights that hit your face at the side, so go for a layered lighting scheme including fixtures that sit on the side of the mirror or even encircle the mirror. Go for lights at head height that will smooth and soften your appearance.

'Sconces, when strategically positioned, offer task lighting that ensures optimal facial illumination while simultaneously adding a touch of sophistication and balance to the overall interior design scheme,' says designer Marie Flanigan.

'When it comes to the vanity area, lighting should be directed at eye level or there should be continuous uninterrupted light around the perimeter,' says Anna Popov of Interiors by Popov.

'Both of these illuminating solutions will provide the least amount of shadow and allow you to most effectively prep for the day. It is all about functional light.'

2. Try diffused or shaded lighting

A bathroom with wall lights

(Image credit: Nils Timm. Design: Ome Dezin)

When it comes to your bathroom lighting fixtures, the shape and style of the fixture are so much more than decor, they are critically important to a flattering lighting scheme.

Shaded or diffused lights are a great place to start. The simple addition of a lampshade-style hood will hide the glare of a bright bulb, helping to equally distribute light, while a frosted glass bulb can also diffuse the light, creating a flattering scheme and a general soft glow.

A porcelain bulb is another great option in place of frosted glass, bringing a calming and ethereal glow to the bathroom, and creating a soft and flattering light.

3. Warm bulbs

A bathroom with vanity wall light

(Image credit: Austin Leis. Design: Ome Dezin)

Think about the light coloring of the actual bulb too. You don't want something cool, sterile, and icy. Instead, you want a calming glow that is warming and cozy, emitting the same glow as a sunset that flatters your reflection. For that golden hour glow, remember to look at the CCT, which tells you how warm the light appears and is measured on the Kelvin scale.

The higher the Kelvin, the whiter the light. People tend to look better when illuminated by bulbs around 2,700K to 3,000K. If you select bulbs from 3,000k and upwards, the lighting won't be as flattering. Note that kelvin levels aren't standardized across types of bulbs, so a 2,700k in LED lighting won't be the same as a 2,700K in an incandescent bulb, so make sure to look whether the bulb is labeled white or cool light or soft or warm light.

4. Concealed lighting

A bathroom with LED lights behind the mirror

(Image credit: The Stylesmiths. photo credit Fiona Susanto)

If flattering lighting is all about staying away from bright light, concealed lighting that is hidden cleverly in crown molding or even discreetly encircling a mirror could help, particularly in small bathrooms where bold fixtures take up visual space.

Crown molding is a great place to fit strips of LED, creating a general glow in the room without that harsh, overhead effect. The molding provides a natural space for those strips of lighting, shining light upwards and washing the ceiling. It also helps a bathroom feel decluttered and relaxing and isn't harsh on the eye.

Lighting that is hidden behind a mirror creates a tasteful halo look reminiscent of an actor's dressing room, creating a soft glow cast on the face. You can buy a mirror that has the lighting already fixed behind or can DIY the look with an existing mirror, then buying your own LED strips with a motion sensor.

5. Don't forget the dimmers

A bathroom with dimmers fitted for soothing lighting

(Image credit: Corinne Mathern)

Dimmers aren't just appropriate for living room lighting, they are a wonderful option for bathrooms where lighting feels a bit cold and stark. Install dimmers for a glow that isn't too harsh, avoiding that harsh glare from bright light bouncing off white tiles, dazzling chrome hardware and shiny surfaces. Dimmers are great for customizing the intensity of the light in all rooms, and are easy to DIY, as long as you have a compatible bulb.

6. Incorporate natural lighting

A bathroom filled with natural light

(Image credit: Nils Timm. Design: Ome Dezin)

Natural light is your best friend in the bathroom, so be strategic about how you incorporate it into your scheme. 'Try to incorporate as much natural light as possible into the space,' designer Kelly Wearstler said in a post on her Instagram page. 'Skylights are also a nice option. I have a skylight in the center of my bathroom at home, and it creates a beautiful glow over a statement table.'

Marie agrees: 'Natural light not only offers a sense of spaciousness but also contributes to a more inviting and refreshing atmosphere. Further, natural light makes bathroom tasks, like makeup application, much easier,' she says.

Consider your bathroom window treatments and try frosted glass window panes so the light diffuses through without compromising on your privacy levels.

Don't forget the natural flicker of a candle in the bathroom, it can help deliver that warming golden glow that creates a flattering reflection.

7. Embrace mirrors for various angles

A bathroom with a mirror reflecting the natural light

(Image credit: Nicole Franzen. Design: Corinne Mathern)

Finally, a great way to enhance your lighting and bounce light around the room is with the use of a bathroom mirror. Try and place your bathroom mirror in front of your window so the natural light will bounce onto your face and into the mirror. 'Mirrors are everything,' Kelly Wearstler also wrote on Instagram. 'Use large vanity mirrors, including a full-length one. I like placing them on the back of pairs of doors for a three-way look. For hair and make-up area, include a lit magnifying mirror for optimal visibility and functionality.'

Interior designer Kati Curtis agrees: 'Mirrors should be strategically placed to enhance light, with the secondary impact of creating the illusion of space.'

3 Flattering Wall Light Fixtures For a Modern Bathroom

Oonagh Turner
Livingetc content editor and design expert

Oonagh is a content editor at Livingetc.com and an expert at spotting the interior trends that are making waves in the design world. Writing a mix of everything and everything from home tours to news, long-form features to design idea pieces on the website, as well as frequently featured in the monthly print magazine, she's the go-to for design advice in the home. Previously, she worked on a London property title, producing long-read interiors features, style pages and conducting interviews with a range of famous faces from the UK interiors scene, from Kit Kemp to Robert Kime. In doing so, she has developed a keen interest in London's historical architecture and the city's distinct tastemakers paving the way in the world of interiors.