This Is How a Dermatologist Combats Dark Under-Eye Circles
It’s a skin-care issue we all face: You wake up, look in the mirror, and notice those dark, droopy circles under your eyes.
Well, guess what? From time to time, even dermatologists start their days this way. We talked to Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, M.D., a board-certified NYC dermatologist and a clinical instructor at both New York University Langone Medical Center and Mount Sinai Hospital, who walks us through why pesky dark spots pop up in the first place—and what she does (and suggests patients do) to make them a little less noticeable.
What causes dark eye circles?
Credit: Dark Circles Guide
First things first: While we often hear that not getting enough sleep leads to raccoon eyes, there’s more than one reason people suffer from the circles, Levin says. It’s a combination of factors, including genetics, excess pigmentation around the eyes, dilated blood vessels, dry, irritated skin, bone loss, and aging, says Levin. What you’re actually seeing is a shadow effect that exposes the underlying blue veins and your orbital bone, she notes. The result is that hollowed-out look ubiquitous with dark circles.
Because there are so many causes for dark circles, treatment isn’t always as straight forward as we’d like it to be, says Levin. But one thing that's consistently true: You can't always rely on just an eye cream to fix your dark circles. “Many cosmeceuticals creams and gels on the market do little for dilated veins, volume loss, and excess pigmentation,” says Levin. Most provide temporary and mild to moderate benefits at best, she adds.
How to treat dark eye circles
That said, a robust skin-care routine (hello, moisturizers and SPF!) is super important in keeping your skin healthy, which, in turn, fends off issues like dehydration and irritation (which can play into dark circles). And fortunately, some ingredients prove more potent than others. Look for products with vitamin C—it can brighten the skin and protect it against free radicals, says Levin.
You can also look for products with niacinamide, which stimulates collagen production and increases ceramides while being soothing and hydrating. “I often compare skin cells to bricks and ceramides as the mortar,” Levin says. She also likes retinoids—the tried-and-true vitamin A molecule that produces collagen, exfoliates, increases hyaluronic acid, brightens the skin, and repairs the skin. Just consider trying a "test" spot somewhere else on your body before using a retinol around your eyes, since it can. “Not all retinols are made equal and there are certain retinols that are appropriate for the gentle and thinner skin around the eye," Levin says.
What about those DIY treatments? As it turns out, there *is* something to the idea of holding a tea bag to puffy eyes, too. The magic boils down to the caffeine. “Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, which in turns reduces redness, swelling, and extensive fluid from pooling around the eyes,” says Levin. “This will give a tightened appearance around the eyes.” Caffeine’s also been shown to neutralize groups of atoms called free radicals from DNA damage—plus, it has anti-inflammatory properties. As for cold cucumbers or a chilled spoon? “When it comes to swelling, the temporary improvements are from the cool temperature effect rather than anything intrinsic to the cucumber itself,” she says. (But hey, it’s at least temporary relief.)
Since OTC products and at-home remedies can only get you so far, Levin often suggests talking with your dermatologist about certain skin-care procedures that address the root cause of your dark circles. If your issue is excess pigmentation around the eyes, she likes chemical peels or glycolic acid peels and light devices such as intense pulsed light (IPL) or broadband light (BBL), which work to lighten the area. Just note that these procedures do have side effects (redness, dryness, peeling). So make sure you’re going to a pro—a.k.a. a board-certified dermatologist who has a good understanding of what settings should be employed for different skin types, she notes.
How to cover dark eye circles
Credit: A Model Recommends
If the appearance of your dark circles is really bothering you on the daily, Levin says you should consider a color-correcting palette that has green hues to combat redness, pink to add brightness, and skin-colored tones. She likes the CoverFX Correct Click Color Corrector, which comes in a variety of hues. After applying the color corrector, top with a foundation or concealer that exactly matches your skin tone (otherwise, your circles might look more prominent). Levin likes the DermaBlend Quick-Fix Concealer. Gently dot on the creamy concealer around the eye with your ring finger to blend.
No matter what you do, be sure to always wear your SPF 30. Sun damage can lead to increased pigment and skin damage that can pave the path for dark circles. “I love physical blockers as a final step in the morning to protect aging around the eye,” says Levin.
The bottom line: There are so many causes of and treatments for dark circles—and because in-office treatments tend to be more effective than topical eye-cream products—it’s best to consult with your doctor to ID what strategy might work best for you. “Your dermatologist will be able to help you determine your causes and then tailor your treatment accordingly,” says Levin.