Give Now  »

Noon Edition

How Fluorescent Lighting Affects Color

woman putting on pink lipstick

Do I really look like that?

Fluorescent lights in the workplace and in fitting rooms are notorious for making colors look strange; hence the rule that one should apply makeup under sunlight, but why is that? How could the same lipstick look great in one light and ghastly in another?

Seeing Color

The answer is in the way we see color. Sunlight is a white light, which means that it is composed of all the colors of visible light. The visible spectrum of light includes red, orange, green, blue, indigo and violet, and each color has its own particular wavelength.

When sunlight strikes lipstick, some of the wavelengths are absorbed and some are reflected. What we see as the lipstick's color is really the specific wavelengths that are reflected back from the lipstick to our eyes.

White Light

Like sunlight, fluorescent light is also white light, and it is also made up of many different wavelengths. But, the wavelengths in fluorescent light are not exactly the same as those in sunlight. When these wavelengths are reflected to our eyes, we get the feeling that there is something a bit off-color about our clothes and makeup.

Of course, the opposite is sometimes true, too. Makeup that looks wonderful under fluorescent light will look strange under natural light. After all, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About A Moment of Science