Ask any facialist which beauty bugbear they are asked about most frequently and chances are that dark circles under eyes will feature at the top of the list. Whether the result of a sleepless night, long-haul flight or simply a stressful week, visibly tired eyes have long been a universal beauty woe.
What causes dark circles under the eyes?
Dark circles under our eyes don’t only make us look tired; they’re seen as a tell-tale sign of high stress, a poor diet, and often full-blown exhaustion. And while we often tend to blame fatigue, ocuplastic surgeon and aesthetic doctor Dr Maryam Zamani says otherwise: “There are a variety of different reasons that dark circles appear but, contrary to popular belief, fatigue isn’t actually one of the main causes.”
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Then there are seasonal allergies and nasal congestion, which can contribute to poor circulation to the lower eyelid, leading to dilated veins. “When veins under the eye dilate, they become bigger and darker,” points out dermatologist Dr Dennis Gross. In addition, loss of volume – fat and collagen – under the eyes (which naturally happens as we age) is a big contributor to dark circles, leading to a sunken look and thinner skin, which can magnify their appearance.
In our digital world, we’re also spending long days staring at a screen – whether laptop, phone or television – and that’s doing our eyes some harm, too. The more screen time we rack up, the more likely we are to strain our eyes, which can prompt blood vessels around them to get bigger and create dark shadows.
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The best way to ascertain the cause of your dark circles is with a pinch test, according to Dr Gross. “If you pinch the skin and lift it off the surface and it stays brown, this means you have a pigment problem. On the other hand, if the colour looks better when you do this, you likely have an issue with dilated veins.” So, the question on everyone’s minds: how to reduce dark circles? We spoke to the experts to reveal exactly what will – and what won’t – get rid of dark circles for good.
What is the best way to banish dark circles under the eyes?
“Not getting enough sleep doesn’t cause dark circles; rather, it exaggerates their appearance,” explains Begoun. Dr Zamani recommends between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, an ample amount to avoid looking pale and sleepless the following morning. Sleeping on your back with your head slightly elevated will also help to minimise the chance of added puffiness. “Your number one priority is to enable the night mode setting on your phone and tablet, all day long. This reduces blue light, which is proven to disrupt our natural sleep cycle," says Begoun.
If you’re a smoker, Begoun’s advice is clear: “Do whatever you can to quit. Research has shown that smoking cigarettes and inhaling second-hand smoke worsens dark circles, as does being overweight and having high cholesterol or triglycerides – both of which can be reduced via dietary changes, medication and exercise. Essentially, anything you do to make yourself healthier will make some amount of difference in the appearance of dark circles.”
To avoid hyperpigmentation, a daily sunscreen is essential. “You should try and reduce exposure to the sun. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection all the way to the lash line, and wear sunglasses,” advises Zamani. If you want to protect and cover simultaneously, look for an under-eye concealer that contains a broad-spectrum SPF such as Sarah Chapman’s Eye Insurance SPF 30.
To help shrink dilated blood vessels, anything cold is your friend. For this, the experts use ice globes or cryo balls, which can be kept in the freezer and run over the skin to de-puff and oyxgenate while lightening dark circles – it’s also an invigorating way to start the day. We love Fraîcheur’s Facial Ice Globes.
The skincare world is full of different lotions and potions to help tackle dark circles. “Look for ingredients like caffeine, hyaluronic acid, tri-peptides, and moisture-locking ceramides,” says Dr Zamani. Meanwhile, Dr Gross is a big fan of potent vitamin C combined with hyaluronic acid: “Vitamin C helps build collagen so there’s separation between the vein and skin, and hyaluronic acid plumps the skin to decrease transparency.” Both Dr Dennis Gross’s C+ Collagen Brighten & Firm eye cream and MZ Skin’s Soothe & Smooth Collagen Activating Eye Complex work brilliantly for this.
To remove dark circles in an instant, consider a little make-up trickery. The key? “It’s all about colour correction,” says Claire Mulleady, global senior make-up artist for MAC Cosmetics. “Firstly, take a look at the colours that you are trying to conceal. It’s common to see dark, blue/grey colours, which means you need the warmth of a peachy concealer to counteract the undertones. If you see more pinky/red tones you need to neutralise them with a concealer that has more of a yellow base,” she advises. And when it comes to application, it pays to go lightly. “Using just a thin veil of the right tone has much more of an impact than trying to eradicate dark circles completely with lots of coverage,” says Mulleady.
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If a neutralising concealer isn’t quite doing the job, you can try this clever trick of the light. “Subtle light-reflective products, such as the MAC Prep + Prime Highlighter Pen, can help to bounce the light out from under the eye and are especially good on the inner corner of the eye,” says Mulleady. “Just be sure to use a lightweight powder on top, so as not overemphasise the under-eye area.”
What treatments tackle dark circles?
For those whose eye bags are a result of hyperpigmentation, a chemical peels could help. “Chemical peels are often used to treat a variety of facial pigmentation problems, including melasma and age spots,” explains Dr Anjali Mahto, dermatologist at Skin 55. “Deep peels should be avoided in the eye area due to the risk of scarring and worsening of pigmentation, but a course of light peels can help to some degree over time.” Common peels used are lactic, mandelic and glycolic acid, and you can expect some mild skin shedding post-treatment.
“Lasers which target pigment, such as the QS-Ruby, QS-Alexandrite and 1064 Nd: YAG, and the 1550nm Fraxel can be used in the eye area, but since the eye is vulnerable to laser injury it's crucial that treatments are carried out by an experienced practitioner," says Mahto. A few courses of treatment are required to treat the area.
A minimally-invasive skin procedure, microneedling involves small needles making tiny punctures in the skin. These tiny punctures prompt skin cells to kick into repair mode, prompting a lightening of dark circles. “This can often be combined with chemical peels, as microneedling will increase the penetration and therefore activity of the peel,” says Mahto. “There will be redness and swelling after the procedure which can take a few days to settle, as the skin around the eye area is thin.” It’s not as painful as it sounds, and numbing cream can help to minimise any discomfort.
When skincare and make-up won't do the trick, there are injectables and other innovative treatments available to help minimise the appearance of dark circles. They’re often caused by loss of volume, with the eye socket’s orbital bone becoming more prominent and creating a shallow tear trough. For that, you can get filler. “Tear trough filler is a well-established and popular non-surgical treatment to help improve the appearance of lower eyelid dark circles,” says Dr Zamani. “Tear troughs are treated with an injection of hyaluronic acid fillers (like Restylane or Juvederm), to re-plump the area and push the skin up and away from the blood vessels.” Zamani also recommends Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP), another type of injectable that helps diminish the appearance of dark circles.
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