Since our eyes are the main focal point of our face (meaning that people look at them A LOT), it makes sense for us to pay a lot of attention and want to improve the appearance of the eye area. In particular, dark circles under the eyes is a common skincare concern that many people share, as they can make us look tired, unhealthy and older. But can you actually get rid of dark circles under your eyes with skincare products? Or are you pouring your well-earned money down the drain?
The answer is complicated, as it depends on what the underlying cause of your dark circles is – but generally speaking, skincare products unfortunately cannot get rid of dark circles under the eyes (since they are mostly caused by the visibility of tiny blood vessels through the very thin skin in this area). However, there are some tips which can help to temporarily minimize the appearance of dark areas under the eyes.
What Are Dark Circles Under The Eyes Caused By?
Dark circles are medically known as periorbital dark circles. Many people believe that these dark circles are a result of a lack of sleep.
Although a lack of sleep can definitely worsen the appearance of dark circles under the eyes (see below), it’s not the main culprit. The two main culprits of dark circles under the eyes are:
- Blood vessel fragility: Dark circles begin in the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) just beneath the thin layer of skin under our eyes. These blood vessels can be broken easily if they become fragile, resulting in haemoglobin leaking into the surrounding skin. Pigmented by-products then form and accumulate in the dermis and epidermis as the haemoglobin breaks down – thereby causing a dark discoloration around the eye (that we as dark circles).
- Poor blood circulation under the eyes: Poor circulation results in less oxygenated blood which can cause a blue appearance. Since the skin under our eyes is so thin and translucent, it is easy to see the blue color of the blood vessels.
There are some other factors however, that can cause dark circles or make them appear worse:
- Lack of sleep and other lifestyle factors: Fatigue and poor diet (such as too much salt) can result in the blood vessels under your eyes becoming dilated, which can cause dark circles under the eyes to darken even more or appear more obvious. Also, when we don’t get enough sleep, our eyes can become puffy, which can cast more of a shadow underneath the eye, darkening circles as well.
- Medical conditions and allergies: There are many medical conditions and allergies that can cause dark circles under the eyes. This includes hay fever and congestion, anemia, eczema and asthma. Anything that may cause you to rub your eyes can also result in the blood vessels under your eyes becoming dilated. Menstruation and pregnancy can also cause dark circles under the eyes if your body doesn’t have enough iron. It’s best to seek evaluation by a health care professional to determine what exactly is contributing to the dark circles under your eyes and what the best intervention may be for you (as the cause is very individualistic).
- Age: As we age, the dark circles under our eyes become more prominent (as our skin loses collagen and therefore gets thinner and more translucent). Changes in our underlying bone structure as we age can also increase the appearance of dark circles (due to more shadowing in certain lighting).
- Genetics: The cause of dark circles may be genetic for some people. Usually this is the case if you notice that your parents also have dark circles under their eyes. Some people may have dark circles under their eyes due to their underlying bone structure (which can cast shadows and make the skin appear dark in certain lighting) and others may have very thin skin in this area.
Another cause of dark circles under the eyes may be hyperpigmentation (in particular post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation), which is actually quite different and involves darkening of the skin by melanin instead of the visibility of blood vessels underneath the skin.
If you have hyperpigmentation under your eyes, there are products that would most likely help to brighten the skin in this area. Check out my post on how to fade hyperpigmentation here. I’ve also written a post on how to get rid of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation here.
Can Skincare Products Actually Get Rid Of Dark Circles Under Eyes?
As discussed above, the cause of dark circles is mainly due to the visibility of small blood vessels through the very thin and translucent skin that we have under our eyes.
I have seen countless products that claim to help diminish dark circles under the eyes. Although these products may work to generally brighten your skin, they cannot get rid of dark circles that are the result of blood vessels showing through the skin or shadowing due to the bone structure of your face. As mentioned above, the exception is when dark circles are the result of hyperpigmentation.
I’ve also read many personal stories from people who are frustrated with having tried what seems like every eye cream under the sun (and spending thousands of dollars) – only for nothing to make a difference. This is why it’s so important to see a medical professional and determine what the underlying cause of your dark circles are. It may be the case that all you need is antihistamines or iron supplements to get rid of your dark circles.
However, there are tips I’m going to share with you that can help to minimize the appearance of dark circles under your eyes. These tips include lifestyle changes, products and ingredients that work to either hydrate and plump the skin or decrease the dilation of blood vessels (therefore making them less visible), and of course, makeup.
Lifestyle Changes That Can Help To Minimize The Appearance Of Dark Circles
I feel a bit annoying even writing this because I’m sure you already know that a lack of sleep or poor diet (as well as drinking and smoking) can worsen the appearance of dark circles. So, I won’t go into much detail here, but just remember that improving your sleep hygiene and diet may make a big difference alone to how dark the circles under your eyes appear.
Hydrating Skincare Products Can Help Minimize The Appearance Of Dark Circles
The skin under our eyes is naturally very fragile and thin, and therefore can dry out much easier – making dark circles appear worse than they are.
Luckily, since Korean skincare is so heavily-focused on skin hydration, there are endless products available to keep the skin around your eyes hydrated and plump. My favorite hydrating ingredients to include are hyaluronic acid and snail mucin.
The Best Korean Eye Creams To Help Minimize Dark Circles:
- Mizon Snail Repair Eye Cream: This is the best selling Korean eye cream. It contains a whopping 80% snail mucin as well as sodium hyaluronate, making it intensely moisturizing for the delicate skin under the eyes. Available at Yesstyle and Amazon.
- Innisfree Jeju Orchid Eye Cream: I’ve been using this eye cream for a while now and I love it! It’s made such a huge difference to how tired my eyes look and I find it works well at plumping the skin around my eyes and reducing fine lines and wrinkles. Its a lightweight formula (so perfect for oily skin) and it contains Jeju-grown orchid extract which is high in antioxidants. It also contains hyaluronic acid and caffeine (which I discuss further below). Available at Yesstyle and Amazon.
- Etude House Moistfull Collagen Eye Cream: This eye cream is so light and refreshing. It’s formulated with baobab seed oil and collagen water and really plumps up the skin under the eyes without feeling greasy. Available at SokoGlam, and Yesstyle.
The Best Korean Hydrogel Patches To Help Minimize Dark Circles:
As well as using an eye cream, you may consider trying some hydrogel patches for under the eyes. These are very easy to use (just place them under your eyes for the recommended amount of time) for intense hydration. I highly recommend keeping your hydrogel patches in the fridge and applying them in the morning to help your eyes look and feel less tired.
There are so many Korean hydrogel patches to choose from, each with it’s own hydrating formula and ingredients. Here are my top recommendations for Korean hydrogel patches for under the eyes:
- Secret Key Gold Racoony Hydrogel Eye & Spot Patch Set (90 pcs): I’ve read so many positive reviews about these hydrogel patches that I’m going to actually order some for myself. These hydrogel patches contain lots of natural plant extracts including aloe vera extract, honeysuckle flower extract, tea tree extract, Eucalyptus leaf extract. They are also formulated with diamond powder, gold, mica and pearl powder (which help to minimize the appearance of dark circles by scattering light). Available at Yesstyle and Amazon.
- PETITFEE – Gold & Snail Hydrogel Eye Patches (60 pcs): Another hydrogel patch that is highly recommended by people who have experienced dark circles. These are formulated with gold and snail mucin extract. The gold in these eye patches reinforces the skin’s natural protective barrier (by intensely nourishing damaged skin) whilst increasing cell activity and blood circulation to boost healing and protect against cellular ageing. And of course, one of my favorite ingredients – snail mucin – intensely moisturizes the skin. Available at Yesstyle & Amazon.
- PETITFEE Koelf Ruby & Bulgarian Rose Eye Patches (60pcs): I love the Koelf line of eye patches from PETITFEE. They are just so refreshing and soothing and make my tired eyes look and feel so much better instantly. I especially like these Bulgarian rose ones – as the name suggests, they are formulated with Bulgarian rose water (for hydration) and ruby powder (for brightening). It also contains green tea and yuja extracts. Available at Yesstyle and Amazon.
Caffeine Can Help To Minimize Dark Circles
I’m not talking about drinking lots of coffee – in fact drinking too much caffeine can actually worsen your dark circles. But, did you know that caffeine is being increasingly used in skincare products due to its high biological activity and ability to penetrate the skin barrier?
Skincare products usually are formulated with 3% caffeine, where it acts as an active compound. It’s been shown to have the abilities to decrease the appearance of cellulite, protect cells against UV radiation and increase the micro-circulation of blood.
It’s this last property that makes caffeine a really good ingredient for minimizing dark circles, as the increase in micro-circulation of blood results in the vasoconstriction of blood vessels just under the skin – resulting in less puffiness and a reduction in dark circles.
Caffeine would therefore work well for you if your dark circles are caused (or worsened) by dehydration, congestion (such as from allergies), circulation and lymphatic drainage problems or capillary fragility.
However, research has found that caffeine can have an inhibitory effect on the biosynthesis of collagen, which could make dark circles worse if used long-term. I’d therefore recommend using caffeine-containing products only temporarily, perhaps on days when your eyes look extra tired (the affect that caffeine has is only temporary anyway).
I’ve read some really positive reviews about the following eye products containing caffeine:
- The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG (Western Brand): This lightweight formula contains a huge 5% caffeine and is supplemented with highly-purified Epigallocatechin Gallatyl Glucoside (EGCG) from green tea leaves. This solution is gentle enough to use twice a day. Available at Sephora and Amazon.
- 100% Pure Coffee Bean Caffeine Eye Cream (Western Brand): A very soothing eye cream, which is formulated with organic green coffee, coffee cherry extract and organic green tea to reduce puffiness and promote circulation. This cream also contains vitamin E, vitamin C (ascorbyl palmitate) and organic rosehip oil, which nourish and deliver antioxidant protection. Available at Dermstore and Amazon.
Vitamin K Can Help Diminish Dark Circles Caused By Broken Capillaries
As I mentioned at the start of this post, the skin beneath our eyes is very thin, which makes the capillaries underneath the skin very susceptible to becoming fragile and breaking (perhaps due to stress from rubbing the eyes, sleeping on our face or overexposure to sunlight). When these capillaries break, they leak haemoglobin into the surrounding skin, resulting in the dark circles we love to hate so much.
However, there is something that can help to repair these tiny blood vessels – thereby minimising the appearance of dark circles: vitamin K.
This study found that vitamin K (at a concentration of 1%) can help to reduce the appearance of dark circles under the eyes by strengthening the walls of the capillaries under the skin.
If you suspect that your dark circles are the result of fragile and broken capillaries under the surface of the skin, then you might benefit from using a cream formulated with Vitamin K.
Since products are only formulated with tiny amounts of vitamin K, it makes sense to look for products that contain many other beneficial ingredients.
The one vitamin K-containing eye cream that really stands out to me is the Wild Plum Eye Cream by Eminence Organic Skincare (available at Dermstore). Not only does this eye cream contain vitamin K, but it’s also formulated with so many antioxidant and hydrating ingredients, including wild plum juice, green tea extract, horse chestnut, calendula extract, vitamin E, goji berry extract and grape seed oil.
Using Vitamin C and Vitamin A (Retinoids) To Boost Collagen Production
As we age, the cross-links that fuse individual collagen molecules into a stable fiber break down, which gives the dermis layer of the skin less structure. This can contribute to dark circles as the skin underneath the eyes consequently sags and becomes thinner.
However, vitamin C and vitamin A (retinol and other retinoids) have been shown to boost the formation of collagen and help reverse the signs of both chronological and photo-aging (see studies here and here). Therefore, if your dark circles are caused by a decrease in collagen and thinning of the skin, you may benefit from incorporating these two antioxidants into your skincare routine.
Since vitamin C and vitamin A are both active ingredients (and the skin under your eyes is quite sensitive), it’s best to use gentle formulations or ease into using products containing these ingredients slowly.
Here are my top recommendations for gentle eye creams containing either vitamin C or retinol (or both!). You’ll notice that I’ve only listed Western products here. The reason is because Korean skincare focuses so much on skin hydration that brands tend to shy away from using actives such as vitamin C and retinoids in their products (although I think this is slowly changing as more brands are selling internationally).
- Drunk Elephant C-Tango Multivitamin Eye Cream (Western Brand): This is such a powerful, yet gentle anti-aging eye cream. It contains 5 different forms (derivatives) of vitamin C, as well as vitamin E, 8 peptides, ubiquinone (which supplies coenzyme q10) and superoxide dismutase (one of the most powerful neutralizers of aging free radicals). Available at Sephora and Amazon.
- Dr Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Triple Correction Eye Serum (Western Brand): An anti-aging eye serum that contains retinol, plus ferulic acid, hyaluronic acid, coenzyme q10, panthenol, peptides, vitamin E and willow bark extract. This is a great eye cream for anyone wanting to reduce the appearance of dark circles while improving the tone and texture of the skin around your eyes. Available at Dermstore, Sephora and Amazon.
- Paula’s Choice Clinical Ceramide-Enriched Firming Eye Cream (Western Brand): Paula’s Choice is a brand that puts so much research into their products. They really are a leader when it comes to skincare science. This eye cream is exceptional as it contains four forms of vitamin C AND retinol, as well as a concentrated blend of five replenishing ceramides. Available at Dermstore and Amazon.
Makeup Tips For Under Eye Dark Circles
So I’ve gone over some skincare products that you can try to help minimize the appearance of your dark circles. I’d also like to quickly go over a few simple makeup tips that can help you to reduce visibility of your dark circles.
It can be difficult to cover up dark circles with concealer (if you don’t do it the right way), so here are some tips to get better results:
TIP #1: Neutralise The Undertones Of Your Dark Circles Using A Color Corrector
I’ve been there. I’ve tried covering up blemishes and dark circles with a skin-colored concealer, only to make it worse (by making the dark circles or blemish appear even darker). The trick here is to use a separate color-corrector or a concealer in a shade that counteracts your dark circles.
What do I mean by this? Well, concealers come in many different shades not just skin-toned shades, including green, purple, pink, yellow, and white. Depending on what color your dark circles are, you would choose a color corrector or concealer in the shade opposite on the color wheel (yes, the same color wheel you learned about in school).
Here’s a quick color-correcting guideline for you:
- For purple-toned dark circles, use a yellow-toned color corrector or concealer
- For blue-toned dark circles, use an orange-toned color corrector or concealer. Note that orange-colored concealers are better for people with darker skin tones. If you have fairer skin, it’s best to use a salmon-toned color corrector.
- For brown-toned dark circles, use a peach or yellow-toned color corrector or concealer (as brown is a mix of red, blue and yellow).
My absolute favorite concealer to use is the Skinfood Salmon Dark Circle Concealer Cream (available at Yesstyle and Amazon). Since salmon (or peach) is a mixture of red, orange, and yellow hues, it does well to neutralize blue, purple, and green tones. The reason why I love this concealer so much is because it doesn’t cause obvious lines underneath my eyes or look cakey. It’s a beautiful cream that emulsifies really well and doesn’t give you that obvious concealer under the eye look.
If the tone of your dark circles changes from time to time (or you’d like a color corrector to cover blemishes and hyperpigmentation too), I highly recommend the Stila Correct & Perfect All-In-One Color Correcting Palette (available at Sephora). It features five sheer-to-medium color-correcting creams as well as two finishing powders to even out the skin tone and set the color-correcting creams.
TIP #2: Pick A Concealer One Shade Lighter Than Your Foundation Or Natural Skin Tone
It’s best to use a concealer that is a shade lighter than your foundation or natural skin tone for the area under your eyes. This will reflect more light, making your dark circles less visible. My favorite concealers to use after a color-corrector are either The Saem Cover Perfection Tip Concealer (available in 5 shades at Yesstyle) or the A’pieu Moist Creamy Concealer (also available in 5 shades at Yesstyle).
Both of these Korean concealers have nice lightweight formulas that don’t feel cakey or cause cracking, however I’d say the A’pieu concealer is more moisturizing and looks a bit more natural.
However, on most days I’m in a hurry since I have a toddler, so I simply just use the Skinfood Salmon Dark Circle Concealer Cream (that I mentioned above) on it’s own.
There are so many skincare products that promise to get rid of dark circles permanently, although this is unfortunately not possible as the cause of dark circles is often anatomical (and mostly not due to hyperpigmentation of the skin).
But as you can see, there are some really good ingredients and products that you can include in your skincare routine that can help to minimize the appearance of your dark circles (depending on what the cause of your dark circles is).
I really hope that I’ve provided you with some valuable information and that after reading this post you feel a bit more confident about what types of products you can include in your routine.
Let me know in the comments if you have tried any of the products I’ve mentioned. Did they work for you? Have you had success with any products I haven’t mentioned?