When it comes to beauty maladies, there are a few standouts that seem to plague us all at some point: acne, wrinkles, and of course, dark circles under our eyes. Whether you’re in a daily struggle against this panda-like pigment or only suffer from dark circles occasionally, sometimes maintaining clear, bright, “I slept 8 hours” awake eyes can feel impossible. But your quest against dark circles doesn’t need to feel so dire. We’ve spoken with skincare experts on the essential secrets to keeping those shadows at bay.
Like most skincare issues, there’s no one single cause of dark circles. They’re common, in part, because the skin under the eyes in naturally thinner than on the rest of the face, making the blood and veins under the skin more visible. Pale types in particular tend to suffer from more pronounced dark circles, but there are other factors at play too.
Age, for example, can really give you a black eye thanks to its one-two punch of thinning skin and the loss of the subtly-plumping layer of fat that help make the undereye area more opaque. â€śThe shadows caused by the hollowness where there was once more fat can also appear as dark circles,â€ť adds dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman.
Genetic factors also play a role, as well as skin conditions like periorbital hyperpigmentation which causes the skin in the eye area to darken with naturally produced pigment. Even seasonal annoyances like allergies can exacerbate the problem. “The nasal congestion can dilate the blood vessels that drain from the area around your eyes,” explains dermatologist Howard Sobel.
Far and away, though, our experts said that the most common cause of dark circles is that old classic your mother always warned you aboutâ€”not getting enough sleep. “During deep sleep, the rise in growth hormones allows damaged cells to become repaired,” says Engelman. “Without the deeper phases of sleep, this won’t occur, allowing daily small breakdowns to accumulate instead of being reversed overnight.”
“Unfortunately, there is no miracle cure for dark under eye circles,” says Sobel. “Even the most expensive procedures and topical products can’t completely eliminate them.” But while you might not be able to completely banish uneven pigment under your eyes, there are lifestyle switchups that you can make to avoid making them worse.
“The first thing I recommend doesnâ€™t cost you a cent!” says Dr. Lamees Hamdan, founder of skincare brand Shiffa. “Try sleeping for at least 8 hours a day for 3 weeks and see if that makes a difference.”
Beyond giving your skin a chance to heal itself, getting a good night’s sleep might have an additional dark circle benefitâ€”it could help you cut out another culprit: coffee. “Coffee, even two cups a day, can make dark circles more pronounced,” says celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas. “Caffeine is bad for the circulation around your eyes. Switch to green juice that will help to oxygenate the skin, which means the skin will be better able to rid itself of impurities and bring in nutrients.”
Some other classic health sins hold equally true for the skin under your eyes as well: Smoking, sun exposure, bloat-causers like excessive salt and alcohol, and that be-all end-all, stress, can all encourage dark circles to make an appearance. Cut back on your vices, try a touch of meditation or a good old fashioned gym session and you might find your undereyes developing a brighter outlook.
To help eliminate puffiness that can push blood closer to the surface of your skin, Hamdan also recommends using a jade facial roller, which can provide puff-busting cooling power and also gentle massaging action to encourage retained moisture to disperse. And make sure that’s the only thing that’s applying pressure to your eye area throughtout the day, she warns. “If you have a tendency to constantly rub your eyesâ€”donâ€™t! This could make dark circles worse.”
If youâ€™re looking to take a more proactive approach against dark circles, there are plenty of products that can make a difference to darkened undereyes.
“Look for eye creams that contain anti-aging actives such as niacinamide (to fade dark spots), vitamin E (to defend against environmental aggressors), and an anti-wrinkle peptide (to smooth creases and crowâ€™s-feet),â€ť advises Sobel. â€śCaffeine is another great ingredient as it works to help constrict blood vessels.”
Dermatologist Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank also suggests keeping an eye out for products with antioxidants like green tea and resveratrol as well as arnica, a compound that helps increase bloodflow to reduce darkness-causing swelling. (His personal trick to beat dark circles? MDNA Skin Eye Masks followed by ice cubes made from green tea.)
Retinols and retinoids can be a good choice for minimizing the appearance of dark circles as they can help thicken the skin and address pigmentation issues by increasing cell turnover, but it’s best to check in with your doctor first, as some users can find retinoids to be too harsh around the eye area. For further pigmentation help, you can also seek out products that help break down heme, a component of blood that can build up under the eye as we age. Hamdan recommends her own Shiffa Rejuvenating Eye Remedy which is designed to break down excess heme in the skin and help it be reabsorbed over time.
But the most overlooked dark circle treatment of all is probably already sitting in your medicine cabinet: sunscreen. Just like the rest of your skin, the undereyes produce more melanin when exposed to UV rays, so what turns into a tan line on your body becomes a dark circle under your eyes. Luckily, you can combat this effect with SPF, just like on the rest of your body. Since the eyes tend to be more sensitive than the rest of the face, seek out versions with physical blockers like zinc oxide, which are often better tolerated around itch- or tear-prone eyes.
For undereyes that need an extra boost, more intensive options for banishing dark spots may be available through a little professional intervention.
Vargas is a fan of LED light therapy, which uses specific wavelengths of light to, â€śbuild collagen in quantifiable percentages and correct surface damage,â€ť she says, adding, â€śIt thickens the skin to hide darkness.”
Fillers, like hyaluronic acid-based Restylane of Belotero, are also an option to detract from the appearance of dark circles. “Filler under the eyes help camouflage dark circles and offset small bags by filling the under-eye hollows that can make one appear tired,” says Frank. However, he warns that due to the sensitivity of the under eye area you should only ever get fillers in this area from an experienced healthcare provider.
Laser treatments are also an option of long-lasting results. Engelman suggests CO2 fractional laser treatments, which can help tighten skin under the eyes to help light reflect more evenly across the skinâ€™s surface or vasoconstricting lasers like BBL treatment which can reduce the appearance of blood vessels beneath the skin.
While you may not be able to make your dark circles pull a disappearing act with skincare alone, a touch of cosmetic intervention can go a long way to helping you look bright eyed.
Though your first impulse might be to slather on the heftiest concealer you can find, a layerable version with light reflecting pigments is actually a safer betâ€”the effect blends more naturally with your skin and you can add just the right amount of pigment to subdue the shadows under your eyes without risking the dreaded reverse-racoon effect. We’re fans of Yves Saint Laurent Touche Ă‰clat for its smooth, subtly highlighting formula and its easy brush-on pen application. For a more intense pigment punch, try cult favorite It Cosmetics Bye Bye Undereye, which contains hyaluronic acid and peptides to help moisturize and soften the appearance of under-eye skin.