How to Get Rid of Dark Under-Eye Circles, According to Dermatologists

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How to Get Rid of Dark Under-Eye Circles, According to Dermatologists
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Let's be honest: Even though we firmly believe dark under-eye circles are not the devil, they're a big deal for women across the board. In our state of skin survey, 605 of women ranked under-eye circles as a top five skin concern — beating out cellulite, fine lines, and wrinkles.

However, there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution for dark eye circles. In some cases, your genetics will overrule even the best under-eye cream. Womp, womp.

Since there are plenty of myths about dark under-eye circles and how to treat them, we asked three dermatologists to weigh in on the ins and outs, including what really causes them. (Hint: it's more than just lack of sleep.)

What causes dark circles?

Even though sleep is often pointed at as the root cause of dark circles, that's really only one of the reasons dark circles occur — and it's not the main factor, says California-based dermatologist Caren Campbell, M.D. Here, the most common culprits.

  1. Aging. "Dark circles around the eyes are a part of the normal aging process of the face," Dr. Campbell says. As we age, she explains, we naturally lose fat under the eye. This contributes to dark circles because the under-eye area becomes sunken in and "can't reflect evenly off the skin, leading to a shadow or darkness."
  2. Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation. Another reason you might have dark circles? Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, aka darkness that is left behind after inflammation, notes Dr. Campbell, adding that patients with these types of dark circles usually suffer from itchy eczema or allergies that cause them to frequently rub their eyes.
  3. Lifestyle Factors. Dr. Campbell confirms that how you live your life plays a part in causing dull, aged skin. "This includes sun exposure, which breaks down collagen and elastin and causes increased broken blood vessels in the skin — all of which contribute to dark circles," she says. "Lack of sleep, stress, alcohol, caffeine, and smoking can also contribute." And about sleep: As you know from pulling one too many all-nighters in college, exhaustion can play a part, says Ranella Hirsch, M.D., a Boston-based dermatologist. "If you are overtired, then it can cause an increase in the venous congestion of your under-eye vessels," she says. "This then leads to more blood volume and the appearance of darker circles."
  4. Genetics. This is what takes the cake when it comes to dark circles, Dr. Campbell says. And your genetics can come into play in a multitude of ways. For example, genetics play a role in both your likelihood of developing the aforementioned eczema — and in how quickly your skin shows signs of aging. Genetics, of course, also determines skin type and tone, which plays a role in how prone you may be to developing dark circles, Dr. Campbell says. While anyone can experience dark circles, as InStyle previously reported, dark circles are known to affect people with higher levels of melanin in their skin (anyone olive-toned and darker). On the other hand, people with a naturally fair complexion might also more readily notice dark circles, says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "Because the skin in this area is thin, you can easily see blood vessels under the skin," he notes, adding that these dark circles will typically have a purple-ish hue.

How to prevent dark circles

For starters, stay on top of your sunscreen game and choose a formula of SPF 30 or higher and broad-spectrum or opt for an SPF-based under-eye concealer, which will not only help cover up eye circles but also prevent future damage. (Dr. Campbell likes Colorescience's Total Eye 3-in-1 Renewal Therapy SPF 35.) She also suggests wearing sunglasses with UV protection, which can help prevent the worsening of dark circles caused by post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

In addition to that, Dr. Cambell says to add an under-eye cream that can help rebuild collagen and elastin (or keep it from breaking down in the first place) to your nightly skincare. Her favorite is Replenix Retinol Eye Repair Cream, which is made with key ingredients like retinol, green tea polyphenols, vitamins A, C, E and K, and hyaluronic acid.

How to get rid of dark circles

If you're deciding how to treat existing under-eye circles, know that there are concealers, creams, and in-office procedures that can all help, depending on the type of dark circles you're dealing with. Here, four experts break down the best ways to treat dark circles.

How to get rid of dark circles with makeup:

Before we break down the different techniques, we must talk about how to pick the correct shade. YSL Beauty’s National Makeup Artist, J. Brandon Correa, suggests opting for a shade with a peach undertone as it will "correct any grayness under the eye." Then, Alexis Smith, tarte's Global Makeup Artist, says to look for a concealer that's one shade lighter than your foundation, but that if you want a more highlighted look, to opt for a shade two shades lighter than your go-to complexion product.

And while skin type is always a factor when using makeup, it helps to consider yours when thinking of eye products. Smith says that people with normal and oily skin can often use standard formulas, whereas those with dry or mature skin should opt for hydrating ones to prevent irritation and creasing. (Tarte's best-selling Shape Tape comes in both varieties: Its OG formula and an ultra-creamy one.)

Both experts suggest only treating the areas of discoloration rather than the full under-eye area. "If you apply too much, you will end up having a circle of just a different color," explains Correa. Instead, he suggests adding concealer, such as YSL's Touche Éclat which has an illuminating effect, to the upper and inner corner of the eye and the upper sides of the nose, then gently tapping the product into the skin with either your clean fingertips or a small makeup brush. Another alternative is using what Smith calls the "check mark technique," which involves dabbing concealer into the inner and outer eye corners, always blending upwards into the temple to create a more lifted” effect.

How to get rid of dark circles with skincare:

As there are many reasons you could be experiencing dark under-eye circles, it's important to first identify what is causing them in order to best treat them, says Dr. Zeichner.

For dark circles caused by loose or crepey skin, he suggests a topical cream with retinol as it stimulates collagen and strengthens the skin's foundation. And Dr. Hirsch agrees, adding that creams, lotions, and gel products derived from vitamin A "work to increase cell turnover," and therefore diminish the appearance of dark circles. "PONDS Rejuveness Brightening Eye Cream contains a stabilized form of retinol in a non-irritating formula that can be used daily," Dr. Zeichner says. "The product also contains niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3 that soothes and brightens the skin."

When it comes to reducing the look of pigmentation, he leans on under-eye creams that boast vitamin C, a potent antioxidant that interferes with abnormal pigment production. "This a potent antioxidant that blocks production of abnormal pigmentation to brighten the under-eye area," he explains. (We recommend BeautyStat's Universal C Eye Perfector.)

Some people have hollowness under the eye that creates a shadow, giving a dark appearance. "Here the issue is a lack of volume, so look for a hydrating product that contains an ingredient like hyaluronic acid," suggests Dr. Zeichner. "Hyaluronic acid can also help plump the skin to hide any blood vessels that may be giving a bluish appearance to the under-eye area." He recommends the RoC Multi-Correxion Hydrate and Plump Eye Cream as it contains hyaluronic acid to plump, hydrate and smooth under eye cream. 

How to get rid of dark circles with in-office treatments:

For dark circles caused by aging or from hollow eyes that cast shadows, Dr. Campbell says her go-to in-office procedure for these types of dark circles is a filler — such as Restylane or Juvéderm. "Despite the videos you may see on social media, the best way to treat this area is to improve the under-eye and cheek junction rather than just filling the under-eye, so make sure you see a board-certified dermatologist with experience in treating this area," says Dr. Zeichner, adding that the downside to only treating the under-eyes can lead to an unnatural and puffy appearance. 

Both dermatologists agree that the best in-office treatment for dark circles caused by hyperpigmentation likely involves a chemical peel or lasers. Dr. Zeichner emphasizes the importance of speaking to a board-certified dermatologist to discuss which treatment is best for you, as different peels and lasers tackle different concerns and therefore provide different results. "Resurfacing lasers can strengthen the skin, while other lasers can help eliminate pigmentation or extra blood vessels that may give a bluish appearance," he explains.

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