Shed Some Light on Dark Circles


In This Article:

Hundreds of eye creams are being sold, all making claims they get rid of dark circles among other problems around the eye area, and yet we have never received feedback from anyone saying their dark circles went away from the products they were using. Even the cosmetics companies don’t believe their own claims about the eye creams they sell or they wouldn’t launch new ones year after year after year. If the last ones worked as claimed, what are the new ones for?
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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 skin-care 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 made much, if any, difference.

After exhaustive research and discussions with medical experts, the Paula's Choice Research Team knows that while there are definitely things you can do to improve dark circles, your solution won't be found in a specialty product labeled with miraculous claims or a miracle ingredient. Below, you'll find a hype-free guide to the causes and treatments for this common cosmetic problem. Numerous factors can cause or worsen dark circles, including:

  • Sun damage
  • Veins and capillaries that show through thin skin
  • Irritation
  • Allergies
  • Genetic trait for having darker color around or under the eye area
  • Natural shadows resulting from having deep-set eyes or sagging skin
  • Buildup of dry, damaged skin cells around the eyes, causing light to reflect poorly

How Do I Reduce Dark Circles?

Although the solutions below are worth exploring, keep in mind that for some people, getting rid of dark circles entirely just isn't possible. That's where a great concealer and highlighter come into play, not to mention the incremental improvements you'll notice from taking good care of your skin.

  • Use a lightweight moisturizer with sunscreen (SPF 25 or greater) under the eye area every day. If you don't wear sunscreen you can't defend against wrinkles or the overproduction of melanin that can make dark circles worse. This is a hugely important step that shouldn't be ignored!
  • Use a sunscreen around the eye with only zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as the active ingredients. For some, sunscreen ingredients other than zinc oxide and titanium dioxide can cause irritation around the eye and that can make dark circles worse.
  • Always wear sunglasses outdoors. Sun damage increases melanin production (the brown coloring cells in skin) and that will absolutely make dark circles worse. Sunglasses rated with UV400 and using a well-formulated sunscreen is the perfect combination to prevent dark circles, wrinkles, and sagging! This applies even to those with dark eyes not normally sensitive to bright, sunny days.
  • Consider using an antihistamine. If you have allergies they can be a major cause of dark circles and puffy eyes. Talk to your doctor about over-the-counter and prescription options.
  • Use a more emollient moisturizer at night. During the day, an extremely emollient moisturizer around the eye can make foundation and concealer slip in to lines, making the under-eye area look older.
  • Consider twice-daily use of a brightening treatment. A well-formulated skin brightener can help lighten dark circles as it also brightens the shadowed undereye area. Those that contain both niacinamide and vitamin C are worth trying.
  • Shop smart. Remember, for many of us, our under eye moisturizer doesn't have to be labeled "eye cream." There is NO research showing there are special ingredients needed for the eye area. Brilliant ingredients that fight dry skin, wrinkles, discolorations, and environmental damage for the face work for the eye area, too. Plus, most eye creams come packaged in a jar, yet this allows air in, causing ingredients such as antioxidants to break down.
  • Find a great concealer. A concealer with a 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 gives the appearance of 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. See our current favorite concealers here.
  • Keep your expectations reasonable. Traditional skin-lightening products do not have any effect on dark circles unless they are caused by sun damage. If sun damage is the culprit, you can consider a well-formulated vitamin C product or a skin-lightening product whose active ingredient is hydroquinone.
  • Medical options. You can talk to a cosmetic dermatologist about options, such as dermal injections (such as Radiesse), lasers, light treatments, radio frequency treatments, and chemical peels for lightening dark circles and reducing wrinkles. A dermatologist experienced with the various skin treatment lasers will be able to tell you which one is best for dark circles and your skin color. The Q-switched ruby laser is the most common choice for treating dark circles.

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 Treatments.

(Additional sources: 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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