Pro Makeup Lighting Tips from Top Hollywood Makeup Artists

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Nine times out of ten, an overly made-up face that looks like it’s been applied with a heavy hand is most likely due to a run-in with bad lighting. What may look like a lack of basic blending can also be caused by a mirror inadvertently placed in a dimly lit room. To help shed some light (pun intended) on the need for brightness to achieve a flawless look, we talked to two of the hardest working makeup artists in show business. 

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Keep It Natural
“The best place to do your makeup at home to avoid leaving your house looking too severe is under natural light,” says Bruce Grayson, head makeup artist for The Academy Awards.

“Find a place indoors where natural light shines through from the outdoors or where enough light from the outside can bounce into a room.”

Mirror In The Bathroom
“Bathroom lighting is notoriously bad,” says Eldo Ray Estes, makeup artist for Younger and Kim Cattrall’s upcoming series Filthy Rich. “Light coming from above will cast shadows on your face. The most important key to good lighting is to have the light come directly towards the face. Lights coming vertically down the sides of the mirror will make an enormous difference in how you see yourself to do your makeup.”

Grayson agrees lightbulbs in the bathroom aren’t usually set up for glam sessions: “Bathrooms lacking in natural light that rely on light bulbs are always misleading. If you need to apply makeup in your bathroom, choosing the right lightbulbs will help. Color temperature is based on a ratio scale. So bright, vibrant light is like 3100 to 4500 kelvins. Very, very sharp light is 4600K-6500K and warm light is 2000K to 3000K. While that ‘warm white’ lighting, which falls in the 2000k to 3000k category, will give you the kind of warmth that looks great in the restaurant, when you do makeup under it, it might be a little too warm when you walk outside.”

The Right Lights
“As I think about lighting fails, I can’t help but remember my mother’s Clairol True to Light makeup mirror,” says Estes. “It had a lever across the bottom to change the color of the light to replicate daytime, evening, office and home. I’m not so sure that was really the best light for doing one’s makeup.”

While our makeup mirrors have come a long way, so have our lighting options. “I’m a huge fan of ‘The Eyelight’ by The Makeup Light," says Estes. "It’s an easy way to get the perfect natural light for doing makeup and it’s also portable.” 

Today's professional-grade lighting options are more accessible to the average person because they're easy to incorporate into your home, adds Grayson. “There are many great makeup lights that you can buy now, and you don’t even have to install them as an auxiliary in your house. I have two of them, I use Glamcor, which is really good. I carry the Glamcor Kit or The Makeup Light, which is another one I use, to all of my jobs. In my line of work, especially, I need something that travels well. For instance, if I'm working on a client at the Four Seasons in New York in the fall, I know I'm going to need to bring my own lighting because the natural light is lost after 2:30 or 3 P.M. when the sun is hiding behind the buildings.”

If you can't seem to find your light and are constantly a victim of bad lighting, don’t fret, a good mirror is still your best friend. “I always recommend having a magnifying mirror handy to give yourself a quick check to make sure your own personal work is as close to perfect as it can be,” says Estes.