Have you ever wondered how to get rid of dark circles? You’re not alone. One study revealed that 89% of American women are using an eye cream, a popular product that contributes to the multi-billion dollar beauty industry. It’s interesting to note that men spend just as much money on cosmetic and skincare products, so dark circles aren’t only a concern amongst the female population.
However, are you seeing dark circles under your eyes or shadows when you look in the mirror? If you’ve had a restless night of little sleep, it’s possible that you only have shadows caused by puffy eyelids. On the other hand, if you’re older, there’s a greater chance you’ve developed dark eye circles due to a loss of collagen, which thins the skin, making reddish-blue blood vessels in the eye area more noticeable. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s explore the various causes and treatment options to help minimize the appearance of dark circles.
What Causes Dark Circles Under the Eyes?
Several factors cause infraorbital dark circles, so they are a common challenge in dermatology and aesthetic medicine. Regardless, it’s essential to understand facial anatomy and aging and lifestyle factors to diagnose the root of the cause correctly.
- Intrinsic Aging: While it’s probably not too often that you’re pontificating about your ligament and bone structure, these anatomic influences can contribute to dark circles. As we get older, bone volume, collagen, and facial fat decrease leading to a hollowed-out appearance that worsens the darkness’s appearance. This is what’s known as intrinsic (aka chronological) aging. A genetically determined process influenced by fluctuating hormones, the deteriorating effects of free radicals such as sun exposure and pollution, the body’s inability to repair damaged skin, lower levels of hyaluronic acids within the skin, and the loss of collagen and elastin that gives our skin tone. As the skin becomes thinner, the blood vessels underneath the eyes make circles appear even darker.
- Poor Diet: A diet primarily made up of salty, high-processed foods and excessive alcohol can contribute to circles because you’re retaining water. Salt and alcohol are dehydrating, leading to eyelid oedema — an accumulation of fluid that typically appears purplish because of the orbicularis muscle (responsible for the closing of your eyelids) located in the lower eyelid.Second, your skin — around your eyes included — has a way of telling you whether or not you’re eating a balanced diet filled with nutritious foods or three courses of junk. Perhaps you have an iron (or another vitamin and/or mineral) deficiency because you’re not consuming enough leafy greens, meat, and legumes. If you’re loading up on caffeinated beverages, adrenal exhaustion could be the root of your dark circles. Another possible cause is eating too little or too much as this behavior causes the body and its internal systems to work overtime.
- Too Much Time in the Sun: Sun exposure, in general, is the leading cause of wrinkles and premature aging, but since the skin under the eyes is especially thin and fragile, it’s more susceptible to dehydration and sun damage. The sun triggers melanin production, which can accelerate the appearance of dark circles.
- Cigarette Smoking: The nicotine in cigarettes causes the blood vessels to constrict in the skin’s outer layers, which impairs blood flow. Decreased blood flow means your skin doesn’t get as much oxygen or vital nutrients like vitamin A or C. A smoker’s skin tends to be dehydrated, which can also make dark circles more prominent. It’s also interesting to point out that a study revealed smokers are four times more likely than non-smokers to feel groggy in the morning because of nocturnal nicotine withdrawal symptoms that could be interfering with a good night’s rest. As mentioned, a lack of sleep can contribute to dark circles.
- Allergies: Whether you have seasonal allergies or are allergic to dust or mold, either type can prompt a release of histamines, which triggers an inflammatory response. When blood vessels under the eyes become irritated and inflamed, dark circles can ensue.
- Hormonal Changes: As if dealing with the emotional baggage that comes with fluctuating hormones wasn’t enough, the hormonal rollercoaster ride associated with menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause can cause dark circles.
- Certain Medications: Certain medications such as calcium-channel blockers, anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, and even birth control pills can cause blood vessels to dilate, contributing to dark circles.
- Genetics and Ethnicity: While aging skin is a combination of intrinsic (chronological) and extrinsic (sun exposure and lifestyle) factors, genes also play a role. Perhaps you’ve inherited your mom’s fair skin that makes the capillaries under your eyes more prominent. Ethnicity also plays a role. Research suggests dark circles are prevalent on all skin colors and types, but even more so in African-Americans, Southeast Asians, and Southern Italians.
- Always Being in Front of a Computer: Staring at a computer screen causes eye strain as the blood vessels are forced to work overtime. As with allergies, when blood vessels become inflamed due to an overproduction of cortisol, it makes the area under the eyes appear darker.
Lifestyle Changes for Dark Circles Around Eyes
Hey, nobody’s perfect — but if you want to improve dark eye circles’ appearance, you must make applicable lifestyle changes. Which of the following improvements are on your goal list?
- Wear Sun Protection: As mentioned, sun exposure encourages collagen and elastin fibers to break down at an expedited rate, so wear sunscreen every day (even when it’s cloudy) and toss on a hat and a pair of sunnies for additional protection.
- Get Ample Sleep: The National Sleep Foundation suggests that healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. Babies, young children, and teens need even more rest to enable their growth and development. People over 65 should also get seven to eight hours per night.To ensure you get your quota, turn off all electronics 30-60 minutes before sleep, avoid drinking fluids before bed, make sure your bedroom is clutter-free, keep the room around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, invest in blackout sheets and a noise machine, and try spritzing an essential oil-based pillow spray to make it easier to drift into dreamland. Another great tip: sleep with your head slightly propped up to prevent fluid from setting in.
- Drink Enough Water: Drinking water simply helps every organ within your body work more efficiently. In terms of osmosis, water gravitates towards places in your body with the most water (low in salt) to the least, and the thin skin around the eye area is extremely susceptible to dehydration, which can lead to dark, puffy, red eyes.
- Get a Hold of Your Allergies: Avoid the triggers that set off your sniffles, sneezes, runny nose, and itchy eyes as best as possible, but speak to your doctor about taking the right allergy medicine for you to help keep your allergies — and dark circles — at bay.
- Quit Smoking: Studies show the first year after an attempt to quit smoking is the most probable for a relapse — above 50% — so this lifestyle change is easier said than done. Get the support you need to start making healthier choices you can stick with.
- Take Breaks From the Computer: Desk job? Take several breaks from your computer screen throughout the day (20-20-20 — every 20 minutes for 20 seconds looking at something 20 feet away) to give your eyes a rest. Also, check the lighting to reduce any glare on your screen, make sure your eyewear prescription is up-to-date, and adjust your screen settings to set everything from the typeface to the contrast.
- Eat a Healthier Diet: Have you heard of the 80/20 rule? It means that you eat healthfully 80% of the time and allow yourself to enjoy some occasional indulgences the remaining 20%. This rule can help you steer clear of the sodium-laden artificial or fatty foods that cause water retention. When cooking your own meals, sub an overabundance of salt for fresh or dried herbs and spices. Opt for healthy Omega-3 fatty acids found in foods like avocado, walnuts, and salmon. These nutritional powerhouses can improve blood flow, which means it has less of a chance of harboring around your eye area, causing dark circles.
- Drink Alcohol in Moderation: Remember how you looked when you woke up the morning after your last hangover? Exactly. Nothing is more dehydrating than alcohol, and consuming too much will only lead to dehydrated skin and dark, puffy eyes the next day. For every alcoholic beverage you consume, follow it with a glass of water — and try to retain a two-drink minimum.
Topical Treatments for Dark Circles Around Eyes
The best eye cream for dark eye circles? Is there really such a thing? One of the most significant issues is that while there is a large abundance of products to choose from, it can be challenging to find one that can genuinely treat excess pigmentation or dilated blood vessels. Regardless, here are some notable treatments that are known to make a moderate improvement in under dark eye circles. Look for products with ingredients such as vitamins A, C, E, and K; peptides, amino acids, hyaluronic acid, and caffeine for starters.
Just remember that there’s no such thing as a quick fix. As with any product in your skincare routine, patience is a virtue, so you may need anywhere from four to six weeks to start to see an improvement. If you do not see the results you want, book an appointment with a skincare professional such as a dermatologist or an esthetician.
- Formulyst Anti-Dark Circle Eye Cream
High in concentration and lightweight in texture, this powerful formula contains three naturally-derived ingredients — chenopodium quinoa seed extract, caffeine, and butcher’s broom extract — that work together to visibly energize and enhance, leaving the skin around your eyes looking and feeling brighter, smoother and more youthful.
- Neocutis Illuminating Eye Cream
This multi-award-winning eye cream is formulated with glycyrrhetinic acid to help lighten dark circles’ appearance while caffeine reduces puffiness. Growth factors lessen the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and bisabolol soothes and banishes signs of fatigue, which is good news for those who are always staring at the computer screen.
- Clinique All About Eyes Rich Cream
This eye cream isn’t as expensive as some others on the market, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack a powerful punch. It works immediately and over time to reduce under-eye circles, fine lines, and puffiness, thanks to key ingredients such as magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (a derivative of vitamin C that’s more stable), shea butter, green tea extract, and caffeine.
- Shiseido White Lucent Brightening Eye Treatment
While many eye creams target several issues, Shiseido’s intense formula works specifically to target dark circles and dryness. Even better, a proprietary “dark circle diminisher” works over time to correct circles caused by pigmentation and poor microcirculation.
- Supergoop Bright-Eyed 100% Mineral Eye Cream SPF 40
As noted, sun damage triggers melanin production, which can increase the look of dark circles. Whether you’re on a beach vacation, going outside for a run, or simply plan on spending a lot of time outdoors, this 100% mineral eye cream will protect your peepers from UV rays — bonus points for the addition of caffeine and probiotics that brighten and soothe.
- SkinBetter InterFuse Eye Cream
A potent blend of vitamin C, caffeine, and peptides work synergistically to brighten, de-puff, and hydrate the delicate eye area. This eye cream needs to be ordered through a physician, so it’s an excellent option for those who are already seeing a dermatologist or are planning to visit one soon.
- RoC Retinol Correxion Eye Cream
Your eyes will benefit from the circle- and fine line-banishing powers of retinol and minerals without the irritation as this formula is hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic. It’s proven to make eyes look ten years younger and visibly brighten and depuff eyes in four weeks and reduce the appearance of lines by 50% in twelve.
- SkinMedica TNS Illuminating Eye Cream
A combination of hydroxysuccinimide and chrysin reduces circles’ appearance over time, while boron nitride immediately diffuses darkness. Palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7 (a synthetic peptide) and hyaluronic help hydrate and improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, so it’s truly an all-in-one eye cream.
- Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Eye Supercharged Complex
This cult eye cream is truly all that it’s cracked up to be. It’s formulated with 10X “concentrated repair technology” to restore the adverse effects of a lack of sleep, UV rays, and pollution. It’s been clinically proven to reduce dark circles’ appearance in just three weeks and keeps the eye area hydrated for 24 hours, thanks to a hydration booster. Caffeine reduces puffiness to boot.
Dermatological Treatments for Dark Circles Around Eyes
If you do not see any progress from topical products, you can consider seeing a dermatologist so you can discuss more intense forms of treatment.
- Laser Resurfacing
Vascular lasers constrict visible blood vessels, which reduces the appearance of bluish dark under-eye circles. Ablative lasers remove the outer layers of skin that contain a surplus of melanin and stimulate the blood vessels underneath the delicate skin by the eyes. There’s little downtime, but at least three treatments (between $300-$600 each) are needed depending on the severity of the circles and the type of laser used.
- Radio Frequency (Non-Surgical Skin Tightening) Treatments
Noninvasive skin-tightening procedures such as Thermage or Ultherapy are used to treat dark, under-eye circles and provide a natural lift before the issue becomes severe. Only one treatment is needed (and maintenance yearly), but results aren’t typically visible for about three-to-six months. The cost is approximately $1,500 depending on severity, where you live, the doctor, etc.
- Chemical Peels
Light chemical peels such as glycolic acid and Jessner’s peels will help lighten dark pigmentation under the eye area. However, ever since lasers came into the scene, they’re not as popular. Approximately 15 sessions (around $150-$250 each) are required depending upon the circles’ severity.
By transferring blood and nutrients to the dilated blood vessels, a microcurrent treatment helps eliminate the dark circles and puffiness around the eyes. The microcurrent is accompanied by vibration to reach deeper layers of the skin, promoting collagen production. About ten treatments are needed at the cost of approximately $100-$200 each.
- Prescription-Strength Skin Brightener
If over-the-counter eye creams aren’t doing the trick, speak to a dermatologist about prescribing you a prescription-strength product made with a retinoid or hydroquinone. As they are more potent formulas, be sure to conduct a patch test first.
Natural Remedies for Dark Circles Around Eyes
While you can’t expect miracles from the following natural remedies, they have been known to help reduce dark circles’ appearance when used regularly — especially in conjunction with a more robust eye treatment.
Rose Water: Refreshing and fragrant, soothes tired eyes. Soak cotton rounds with all-natural rose water and place them on your (closed) eyes for 15 minutes daily.
Cucumber Rounds: You’ve seen it in the movies, but yes, cucumbers actually serve a purpose when placed on the eyes. Along with the depuffing action of cold cukes (30 minutes in the fridge will do), they also have skin-lightening and mild astringent properties. Leave on for around 10-15 minutes.
Cold Milk: Milk is an accessible and effective natural source of vitamin A — an ingredient used in many over-the-counter eye creams. Simply soak cotton pads in a bowl of cold milk, squeeze out the excess milk (you don’t want it dripping down your face), and place over eyes for 10-15 minutes morning and before bedtime. Rinse with tepid water.
Turmeric: This golden-colored spice is a powerful antioxidant boasting anti-inflammatory properties that work to minimize dark circles’ appearance. Mix enough turmeric powder with pineapple juice (a natural enzymatic exfoliant) to make a paste and carefully apply under eyes — you don’t want any of that acidic juice to get in your eye.) Leave on for about 10-15 minutes before removing with a warm, damp cloth. Repeat daily.
Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is all the rage because it can be used from head to toe — and the eyes are no exception. As it’s a natural anti-inflammatory oil, it can effectively reduce the appearance of dark circles. Gently apply a drop under each eye before bed each night.
Cold Tea Bags: Choose an anti-inflammatory tea such as green that’s chock-full of antioxidants to soothe strained eyes. Simply soak two tea bags and place them in the fridge for 30 minutes. Next, put them on your eyes for 15 minutes.
Best Color Corrector for Dark Circles Around Eyes
On average, a woman in the United States spends $15,000 in her lifetime on cosmetics and makeup, a large percentage of which is spent on under-eye concealers. While makeup can help cover up dark circles, it can also worsen the condition if sensitive eyes have a bad reaction to the product. Not to mention, people tend to tug at the eye area too much, which in turn makes circles more prominent. While there’s nothing wrong with investing in a good concealer for your skin type, here are three color correctors that also work to illuminate, hydrate, and soothe.
- Colorescience Total Eye 3-in-1 Renewal Therapy SPF 35
This three-in-one dream cream immediately conceals dark circles and de-puff while working long-term to improve the appearance of darkness, fine lines, and wrinkles. The added benefit of a mineral sunscreen protects the delicate eye area from damaging UV rays.
- Ole Henriksen Banana Bright Eye Crème
This cult favorite and makeup artist must immediately color-corrects dark eye circles and brightens the eye area. The addition of vitamin collagen supports the skin’s elasticity. While the product can be used alone, if you wish to use an actual makeup-type concealer, this creme serves as a beautiful canvas for a smooth application.
- Tatcha The Pearl Tinted Eye Illuminating Treatment
This tinted cream is available in three shades. It illuminates the eye area (light-reflecting pearl pigments) while reducing the appearance of under-eye circles and wrinkles immediately and over time. Along with smoothing silk power, there’s Hadasei-3, Tatcha’s proprietary blend of Japanese anti-aging superfoods and skin-plumping hyaluronic acid.
It’s essential to understand facial anatomy and aging and lifestyle factors to diagnose the root of the cause correctly. Intrinsic aging, poor sleep habits, an unhealthy diet, alcohol, smoking, and sun exposure are just a few of the reasons we develop dark circles. One of the most significant issues with treating this skin condition is the large abundance of products to choose from. Look for formulas with ingredients such as vitamins A, C, E, and K; peptides, amino acids, hyaluronic acid, and caffeine for starters.
Just remember that there’s no such thing as a quick fix. As with any product in your skincare routine, patience is a virtue, so you may need anywhere from four to six weeks to start to see an improvement. If you do not see the results you want, book an appointment with a skincare professional such as a dermatologist as an esthetician to discuss potential treatment options such as laser resurfacing, chemical peels, radio frequency, microcurrent, or a prescription-strength skin brightener.
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“Infraorbital Dark Circles: A Review of the Pathogenesis, Evaluation, and Treatment,” U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, April-June 2016.
“Is It True That Smoking Causes Wrinkles?,” Mayo Clinic.
“Periorbital Hyperpigmentation: A Study of its Prevalence, Common Causative Factors and its Association with Personal Habits and Other Disorders,” U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, March-April 2014.
“How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?,” SleepFoundation.org, July 2020.
“Eyestrain,” Mayo Clinic.