How many times have you looked in a bathroom mirror and the lighting made you look haggard and horrible? Or maybe it was too dark to see the razor cuts on your face or the blemish you meant to hide?
I found this excellent article from THIS OLD HOUSE magazine in the US with great tips for designing the lighting in your bathroom. Here is an edited version of the story:
A Lesson in Bathroom Lighting
Your bathroom's becoming a refuge, so why not light it adequately?
By SUSAN ARNOLD, THIS OLD HOUSE MAGAZINE
When it comes to interior lighting, bathrooms are probably given the least consideration of all the rooms in the house. The average client I meet doesn't think to invest there — save it for the living room or kitchen, they say. I see a lot of baths with inadequate lighting at the mirror. Often there's just a single ceiling fixture that's supposed to do it all.
But as the bathroom increasingly becomes a place to relax and recharge, complete with steam shower and spa tub, the lighting requires extra thought. And when it's done right, the payoff is great. After all, this is the room where you start and end your day.
A good lighting plan is a series of layers — placing ample light where it is needed for showers, shaving, or putting on makeup, for instance, while other light sources enhance the overall mood of the room.
Decoding the Layers of Light
Task Lighting Vanity lighting gets top consideration because these fixtures work the hardest to illuminate the head and face for grooming. The most common mistake people make is putting recessed ceiling fixtures directly over the mirror. These cast shadows on the face, making daily grooming rituals more difficult.
Vertical fixtures or sconces mounted on either side of the mirror are best for casting an even light across the face. But given the size and positioning of some vanity mirrors, sidelights can be impractical (mounting them directly to the mirror is always an option, but at greater planning and cost). Only then do I suggest a fixture for over the mirror. It should be placed 75 to 80 inches above the floor and, like all vanity lighting, contain at least 150 watts — ideally spread over a fixture that's at least 24 inches long so that the light will wash evenly over the hair and face.
The shower is a secondary area of task lighting. In smaller bathrooms, if the stall has a clear glass door, a dedicated fixture may not be necessary. Otherwise, I recommend a recessed light with a glass lens (plastic will yellow). Similar recessed fixtures work well over a freestanding tub or the toilet.
Ambient Lighting This "fill-in" light serves as a substitute for natural light. It is most often supplied by a central fixture, usually a surface-mounted ceiling light. I encourage clients to think more creatively in their choices, suggesting they consider a pendant lamp or chandelier instead. Another option is "cove lighting" — rope lights hidden behind a molding dropped several inches below ceiling height — which adds a soft glow around the perimeter of the room.
Accent Lighting A small recessed spotlight directed at a piece of decorative art or a beautiful powder room basin creates another layer of light in the bathroom. Similarly, a recessed shower fixture can be angled (most can be tilted up to 35 degrees at installation) to highlight nice tilework or fixtures and make them sparkle.
Lighting the Vanity Right To eliminate shadows under the chin, eyes, and cheeks, fixtures should be mounted on either side of the vanity mirror (or on the mirror's surface, if it's large), 36 to 40 inches apart.
The center of each fixture should be roughly at eye level, or about 66 inches above the floor. This will guarantee even illumination across the face for grooming.
Safety First Attention to aesthetics in the bathroom doesn't diminish the importance of safety. Electricity and water are still lethal companions, and nowhere do they mingle more closely than in the bathroom. Always consult a certified electrician before tackling even the simplest lighting project.