What’s Causing Your Dark Under-Eye Circles (and What Experts Swear Will Help)
You've got to hand it to dark circles: Unlike many other skin issues, they don’t discriminate. You could start your day with a green juice and a facial and still end up with a serious case of the under-eye blues.
"They're ubiquitous," admits Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, a dermatologist with Connecticut Dermatology Group. "You can find different aspects of [dark circles] in people from their early twenties, onward."
The bad news is that genetics plays a big role (thanks, Dad!), plus the thinnest skin on your face is around the eyes, so you can often see blood vessels beneath it. But many of the other causes—sun damage, allergies, lack of sleep, cocktails, and salty snacks—are within your control.
Since pulling a Victoria Beckham and wearing oversized sunglasses for the entirety of your week isn't a realistic option, we spoke with four top beauty experts who share 12 ways that you can take on dark under-eye circles—and win. —Rachel Brown
Originally posted December 13, 2015, updated June 15, 2016.
1. Pinpoint your problem
Tackling dark circles is easier when you get a handle on what you’re dealing with. Certainly, if you just pulled an all-nighter, it isn’t hard to determine the culprit. Most of the time, it won’t be that clear, but there are signs that can direct you to possible offenders.
Sun damage and visible blood vessels are greater problems for lighter-skinned people, explains Dr. Mraz Robinson, while those with darker skin are prone to inflammation-induced hyper-pigmentation. No matter your skin tone, there's one thing you can't stop and that's aging; as you get older, your skin thins and, in the process, reveals the capillaries and plumbing underneath. But you also get wiser, so... trade-off?
2. Eat well, sleep well, repeat
Heart health, cancer prevention, stress reduction... There are many reasons to chug water in place of alcohol, get at least seven hours of sleep a night, and include as many anti-inflammatory fruits and vegetables into your diet as possible. And you can add eye de-puffing to that list.
“Under-eye circles are a symptom of internal issues in the body,” says Laurel Shaffer, herbalist and founder of skin-care brand Laurel Whole Plant Organics. If you're going for an extra-big wine pour at your next dinner out, make sure your water glass is constantly being refilled, too.
3. Don’t be so thin skinned
Collagen boosters such as retinols, which are a form of vitamin A, increase cell turnover and generate firmer, thicker skin below the eyes. “The thicker the skin, the less visible those vessels will be,” says Dr. Mraz Robinson.
Natural skin-care products often use carrot oil, rosehip seed oil, or tamanu oil, which Shaffer loves for being super-packed with vitamin A. (Laurel Whole Plant Organics’ Eye Serum and Eye Balm, which both include rosehip seed oil, are a good place to start.)
4. Get your buzz on
Turns out, caffeine might perk up your skin, too. “It functions as a vasoconstrictor. Constricting the blood vessels around the eye area, in turn makes the dark circle and puffiness less visible,” says Lauren Hoffman, co-founder of eye-focused beauty brand Onomie (whose Bright Concealing Elixir features caffeine as one of its main ingredients). She also points out that, because of its antioxidant properties, the stimulant also excels at “protecting your skin from free radical damage and thus protecting against potential future aging."
5. Address your allergies
Onomie's Hoffman and Dr. Mraz Robinson note that allergies trigger inflammation, which does no favors for your under-eye area. So it goes without saying that, when you've got something you'd like to look bright-eyed for—a date, a wedding, a New Year's Eve party—your best bet is to steer clear of known allergens altogether. When that’s not possible (because you are human), you can give over-the-counter antihistamines a shot, they say.
6. Be gentle
Abrasive cleansers and makeup removers can further aggravate dark circles. "If you're using something that isn’t taking [product] off very well, then you're irritating the eye and making the darkness worse,” says Christy Coleman, a makeup artist and head of creative design at non-toxic cosmetics brand Beautycounter.
She recommends the brand's Routine Clean because "you don’t have to rub, and it removes makeup very well." (These nine cleansers also get the Well+Good stamp of approval.)
7. Pile on the pillows
It's not just how much you sleep that impacts dark circles, but how you sleep. Ditch those old, scratchy pillows you've been meaning to throw out anyway, and make a pillow pile with the ones you've got left to prop up your head. According to Dr. Mraz Robinson, “If you sleep a little elevated, it helps drain the swelling. When you lie flat, it’s more likely to pool."
8. Massages are not just for your back
Natural beauty maven Laurel Shaffer advises compressing your face daily with a towel soaked in warm water, salt water, or herbal tea. “Compressing will absolutely reduce under-eye puffiness and improve darkness immediately,” she notes.
To achieve similar ends, Beautycounter's Coleman favors light massages around the eyes with your fingers, with jade rollers, or stones. (New to DIY jade rolling? Here's everything you need to know.)
9. Choose your concealer wisely
The wrong cover-up shade can be particularly problematic when you’re coping with dark circles. “It might actually make that dark circle more pronounced and stand out on your face in a way that isn’t going to seem natural,” says Hoffman.
Coleman’s tip? Select a concealer a shade lighter than your foundation, to help brighten the area around your eyes. It always helps to go with an all-natural option, too.
10. Banish heavy eye shadow to your bathroom drawer
We're not saying you should break up with smoky eyes for life... but maybe put down the kohl and the dark shadows for a little trick of the eye. “You want to keep [your eye makeup] brighter; that deflects from the dark circles underneath,” reasons Coleman.
She opts for shadows with shimmer or sheen for those occasions when a diversion tactic is necessary, and singled out Beautycounter’s pearl and champagne duo as a good option. “If you use a neutral peach-y beige to line the inner rim of your eye, that also helps,” Coleman adds.
11. The bold and the beautiful
Distraction can be a dark circle sufferer’s biggest ally. “If you wear a brighter or a darker lip, people are going to notice that before the dark circles,” promises Coleman. Besides, who doesn't love an excuse to grab your go-to red lipstick on a Monday morning?
12. And, of course, don’t skimp on the sun protection
Grab a hat whenever you're spending time in the sun, and Dr. Mraz Robinson recommends finding a delicate sunblock that you feel comfortable wearing regularly. “Sun protection is very important because pigmentation can become darker with sun exposure,” she says, noting skin-care products with vitamin C and licorice extract can be applied to combat hyperpigmentation.
Ready to tackle under-eye circles—but also need a quick-fix in the meantime? Here are more of our favorite all-natural concealers...and 9 foods for amazing skin.
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