Shed Some Light on Dark Circles


In This Article:

Hundreds of eye creams are sold and new ones launched every year, all claiming they get rid of dark circles, among other problems around the eyes. Yet after more than three decades of analyzing products and ingredients, we’ve never received feedback from anyone saying their dark circles went away from the eye creams they were using.

There are reasons for this you need to understand so you stop chasing the proverbial carrot, hoping the next product, especially if it’s pricy, will finally be the one that works. Please don’t take this to mean there aren’t things you can do to help dark circles because there are. It’s just very important to be realistic about what skincare products can and can’t do.

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Recommended for Dark Circles

What Causes Dark Circles?

Dark circles are caused by several factors, and each one needs to be dealt with differently. Unfortunately, there aren't any skincare products in the world that can tackle all or even most of the causes of dark circles. That's why product after product you've used to eliminate dark circles hasn't given you the results you were hoping for.

These are the major reasons why dark circles persist under the eye area:

  • Sun damage from years of unprotected sun exposure (tanning indoors or out is the worst)
  • Blood flow showing through the thin skin around the eye
  • Using harsh or skin-aggravating ingredients around the eye area
  • Allergies
  • Inherited traits that create the tendency to have dark areas around or just under the eye area
  • Natural shadows resulting from having deep-set eyes, sagging skin, or lost facial volume
  • Buildup of dry, dehydrated skin around the eyes, causing dullness and a loss of radiance
  • A habit of rubbing skin around the eyes, which over time can damage delicate eye-area skin

How to Diminish Dark Circles

Using great skincare products from cleanser to exfoliant, serum, and sunscreen (each type of product is indispensable for the eye area) along with a well-formulated eye cream or eye gel will give you consistent, incremental improvements. Along with our other recommendations, the difference can be noticeable, possibly dramatic!

  • Apply a lightweight moisturizer with broad spectrum sunscreen (SPF 30 or greater) under the eye area every day. If you don't wear sunscreen, you can't reduce the early signs of aging and the age-related appearance of dark circles around the eye. This is a fundamental step, as essential as brushing your teeth!
  • Use an SPF 30 sunscreen around the eye that only contains zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as the active ingredients. Most other sunscreen ingredients, although effective for sun protection, aren’t even remotely as gentle as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, and not being gentle will worsen the look of dark circles.
  • Always wear sunglasses outdoors. As effective as using sunscreen around the eye area is, the delicate skin around the eyes needs more. Sunglasses rated with UV400 will make all the difference, plus the right pair can look stunning on you.
  • Consider using an over-the-counter antihistamine. As mentioned above, allergies can be a major cause of or contributor to dark circles (and puffy eyes). If you’re unsure of which one to use, consult your health care provider and follow their advice.
  • Use a more emollient moisturizer or eye cream at night. During the day, you need a sunscreen around the eye and it shouldn’t be too emollient, as this can cause foundation and concealer slip in to lines, making the under-eye area look older. But the overnight hydration and skin-smoothing benefits a more emollient eye cream provides will keep the eye area softer and younger-looking throughout the day.
  • Consider twice-daily use of a brightening product. A well-formulated skin brightener can help brighten dark circles as it improves the luminosity and vibrancy under the eyes. A good example is our Paula’s Choice Skincare RESIST Pure Radiance Skin Brightening Treatment. This works beautifully underneath or mixed with your concealer for correction plus coverage.
  • Shop smart. There’s NO research showing there are special ingredients needed for the eye area that the rest of the face doesn’t also need. Brilliant ingredients that fight dry skin, visible signs of aging, dark circles, and environmental damage for the face work for the eye area, too. An eye cream does work well when it’s extra emollient, because the eye area tends to be drier than the face—especially as we age.
  • Find a great concealer. A concealer with a soft matte finish (rather than one that's too creamy or greasy) is best because they tend to last longer and don't crease. The color of the concealer must be light enough to cover the dark circles convincingly, but not so light that it looks like a white mask around the eyes. After concealer, you can dab on a sheer layer of liquid highlighter to help reflect light away from naturally shadowed areas. Avoid concealers that makes the undereye area look ashen, orange, or unnaturally yellow.
  • Skin-lightening products: Traditional skin-lightening products can provide significant improvement on dark circles. Consistent use is needed and a commitment to daily sun protection is a must or you won’t see the results you expect. Skin-lightening products can be applied at the same time as brightening products, a combination that can provide even better results.

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth scientific research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! See Paula's Choice Eye Creams.

References for this information:

The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, January 2016, pages 49-55
Indian Journal of Dermatology, March-April 2014, pages 151-157
Dermatologic Surgery, August 2009, pages 1163–1171
Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, September 2007, pages 211–215
Aesthetic Surgery Journal, November–December 2005, pages 618–624
Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, April 2004, pages 73–75
Dermatologic Surgery, June 1998, pages 615–616

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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