The skin under your eyes can say a lot about how you feel — a long night working late or stressful situations can sometimes show up on your face in the form of dark under-eye circles. But what makes dark circles particularly tricky to treat is there isn’t one reason why people develop them: The causes can go far beyond lack of sleep, and may involve genetics, allergies and age, according to our experts.
“Dark circles result from under-eye puffiness, volume loss, hyperpigmentation and visibility of the blood vessels in the under-eye area,” says Dr. Marisa Garshick, a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York City. Though cosmetic procedures like injectable fillers can offer a more effective long-term treatment, there are plenty of over-the-counter skin care products that can help remedy discoloration over time.
To help you determine the best way to treat your dark under-eye circles, we spoke to dermatologists about potential causes and the most effective ingredients and cosmetic treatments to invest in. We also compiled expert-recommended products that can help reduce the appearance of under-eye circles.
Our top picks
- Best eye cream with retinol: RoC Retinol Correxion Eye Cream
- Best de-puffing eye cream: Charlotte Tilbury Cryo-Recovery Eye Serum
- Best brightening eye cream: Pond’s Rejuveness Lifting and Brightening Eye Cream
- Best eye patches: Skyn Iceland HydroCool Firming Eye Gel Pads
How we picked the best dark circles treatments
When shopping for treatments for dark under-eye circles, the dermatologists we spoke to recommend considering the following factors:
- Ingredients: Consider products that contain key ingredients like hyaluronic acid, retinol, caffeine, peptides and vitamin C to help treat and reduce the appearance of dark under-eye circles. We go more in-depth about these ingredients below.
- Type of product: In addition to eye creams and face moisturizers, silk pillowcases and cooling under-eye patches can also help reduce the appearance of dark circles over time. Applying sunscreen around the eyes and eyelids can also protect the skin from sun damage that may worsen the appearance of dark circles.
The best products for treating dark under-eye circles in 2023
Each of the following products was recommended by our experts and/or include ingredients that align with their guidance.
This eye cream has retinol to help stimulate collagen production but is also gentle enough that it doesn’t irritate the delicate under-eye skin, says Dr. Nkem Ugonabo, a board-certified dermatologist at Union Derm. It also has glycerin, which pulls moisture into the skin, says Dr. Heidi Waldorf, a board-certified dermatologist and owner of Waldorf Dermatology Aesthetics.
L’Oreal’s Revitalift eye cream includes a combination of retinol, vitamin C and hyaluronic acid to de-puff under eyes and brighten dark circles. It also gets top marks from Waldorf for having skin-plumping glycerin and dimethicone, as well as caffeine for reducing redness.
Cooling products are helpful for reducing swelling and puffiness since the cold causes the blood vessels to constrict, according to Garshick. “This is why I often recommend putting eye cream in the refrigerator to get the added cooling benefit or using eye creams that contain a cold metal applicator for the added de-puffing benefit,” she says.
This Charlotte Tilbury eye serum comes with a cooling metal applicator that has an instant cooling effect to de-puff the eyes, according to the brand. It also has a blend of caffeine and peptides, which our experts say can keep the under-eye area looking smoother, brighter and more refreshed.
Made with retinol, hyaluronic acid and dimethicone, Neutrogena’s eye cream is an excellent drugstore option, according to Waldorf. It not only works to decrease the appearance of fine lines and dark circles but also keeps the delicate skin under your eyes hydrated, she says.
One of our favorite under-eye patches, this option from Peter Thomas Roth contains hyaluronic acid and caffeine that can help improve the look of fine lines and under-eye darkness, according to the brand. The patches are fragrance-free, and you can apply them in the morning and at night, according to Peter Thomas Roth.
“Puffiness can be reduced temporarily by using topicals with ingredients like green tea polyphenols and caffeine, which helps the fluid shift,” says Waldorf. She likes using these topical cooling pads from Skyn Iceland before a special occasion, presentation or photo shoot to help de-puff and brighten up skin in the under-eye area. You can pop them into the fridge for a cooling effect that also helps reduce swelling and puffiness, says Waldorf. Free of parabens and silicones, these pads can help seal moisture and plump the skin in just 10 minutes, according to the brand.
This eye roller from Garnier can serve as a quick fix for under-eye puffiness and dark circles because it has caffeine, vitamin C and mint to help reduce the appearance of the under-eye bags, says Garshick. It comes with a convenient roll-on applicator that has a cooling effect and can help you easily apply the gel cream to the under-eye area, according to the brand.
Waldorf recommends Supergoop’s mineral eye cream because it contains 100% zinc oxide and has SPF 40 to protect the skin from powerful UV rays. (You should look for a sunscreen with a minimum SPF 30 to provide an adequate amount of protection, experts told us in our guide to face sunscreens.) This sunscreen also has a blend of probiotics and caffeine to brighten skin and alleviate redness, according to the brand..
This eye cream has vitamin B3, also known as niacinamide, that helps even out your skin tone and reduce hyperpigmentation on the skin, reducing the appearance of dark circles, according to our experts. It can also help strengthen the moisture barrier, so it won’t leave the skin feeling dry or irritated, and it contains retinol to help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, according to Pond’s.
Packed with alpha hydroxy acids, hyaluronic acid and peptides, this eye cream has protective antioxidant benefits, according to Waldorf. “Fruit stem extract contains antioxidants and other ingredients that may be protective to aging cells. It also has caffeine to reduce puffiness,” she says.
This eye treatment from Alastin is hydrating and has brightening ingredients such as niacinamide and green tea, says Ugonabo. It also has a blend of active peptides that helps firm up the skin and even out the skin tone under the eyes, according to the brand. It’s noncomedogenic and hypoallergenic, which also makes it a good option for those with sensitive skin.
“I often recommend patients apply a tiny amount of Aquaphor healing ointment under the eye at night to help seal in moisture,” says Ugonabo. Designed for dry, cracked skin, the Aquaphor Healing Ointment can go beyond under-eye care: You can use it as a lip moisturizer, facial moisturizer, hydrating mask and more, according to the brand.
Sunscreen helps protect the skin from UV rays that cause sun damage, which can ultimately help diminish the appearance of dark circles in the process, says Dr. David Rayhan, a board-certified dermatologist at Rayhan Dermatology. He recommends this tinted sunscreen from EltaMD — which makes some of our favorite SPF lip balms and tinted moisturizers — because “it contains zinc oxide and iron oxide, which help prevent damage from ultraviolet light,” he says.
Silk sheets and pillowcases can help prevent tugging at the skin, which can ultimately reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, experts explained in our guide to silk bedding. Though they’re not going to fully treat dark circles, chronic friction can cause pigment production: “If your pillowcase is irritating your eyelids, this could be contributing to the problem,” says Rayhan. Waldorf recommends investing in this silk pillowcase from Slip because it’s machine-washable and designed to reduce friction on your face. The pillowcase is available in both Queen and King sizes and comes in multiple colorways, including pink, silver and plum.
Some harsh makeup-removing wipes, especially those that require rubbing the under-eye area, may cause redness, irritation and worsen hyperpigmentation, according to our experts. Farmacy makes some of our favorite acne scar treatments and editor-favorite lip masks, and this balm from the brand is one I use daily to double cleanse. It has a smooth, silky consistency and melts easily into my skin, so I don’t have to rub my eyes with a coarse wipe to remove my eye makeup. The cleansing balm has sunflower and ginger root oils to remove eye makeup without stripping or drying out the skin, and it has papaya extract to gently exfoliate, according to the brand.
Waldorf recommends using gentle pads or towelettes to thoroughly wipe away dirt, oil and waterproof mascara if double cleansing isn’t an option. “Always be gentle when cleansing skin to avoid stripping the important lipids and proteins that form the skin barrier. I find that most eye makeup can be removed using a pre-moistened makeup remover towelette like Neutrogena,” she says. These alcohol-free wipes are also safe for contact lens wearers, according to the brand.
What causes dark under-eye circles?
Dark under-eye circles are a very common skin concern that affects people of all ages. Since the skin under the eyes is very thin and delicate, the underlying blood vessels may become more visible over time, which can contribute to the appearance of dark circles. Recognizing the cause can be a great start to figuring out how to treat them and reduce their appearance, our experts say.
A few common causes of under-eye circles include genetics, aging and environmental factors. Some people may also naturally have darkness or hyperpigmentation under the eyes, and those may look more severe for people with fairer skin tones, according to our experts.
One of the most common causes associated with dark under-eye circles are lifestyle factors, including drinking too much alcohol, not eating a well-balanced diet and lack of sleep, which can significantly contribute to puffiness under the eyes, says Ugonabo. Not properly caring for the under-eye area can also play a role, especially since it can be very easy for people to skip that step when doing their full skin care routine, she says.
Allergies are also a major cause of dark circles, and you may have even heard the term “allergic shiners,” which refers to darkness under the eyes that appear due to blood pooling from allergies. “Those with allergies or those who frequently rub their eyes may notice discoloration as a result of chronic rubbing of the skin,” says Garshick.
Aging is also one of the leading causes of dark under-eye circles. Over time, the tissue around the eyes weakens, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “As we get older, we lose collagen and volume. This volume loss can lead to changes that appear as dark circles as a result of the increased shadow effect,” says Garshick, adding that the eyelid skin is so thin and delicate that the underlying blood vessels may become more visible over time and can make dark circles appear worse.
Hyperpigmentation or a brown discoloration can be either a result of sun damage or genetics and also cause dark circles, says Garshick.
How to treat dark under-eye circles
There are very few instances where you can fully treat under-eye circles. But even though some causes are tougher to treat than others, most of the time there are products that can provide some improvement, according to Rayhan. Since there are many factors that cause dark circles, you usually need to treat them using a few different methods, he says.
Cosmetic procedures are the most effective way to treat dark circles, according to our experts. If the discoloration is caused by volume loss creating shadows, injectable fillers (typically hyaluronic acid-based) or a lower eyelift (called lower blepharoplasty) are most effective, while laser skin resurfacing with a CO2 laser can help with thinning of the skin and blood pooling, says Rayhan. Chemical peels performed in-office by a dermatologist or skin care professional can also help treat hyperpigmentation or discoloration, according to Garshick.
If cosmetic procedures aren’t for you, using over-the-counter eye creams and skin care products can still help reduce the appearance of dark circles. (Keep in mind that you won’t get the same results as you would get from in-house cosmetic procedures.) One of the best ways to reduce the appearance of darkness under the eyes is by hydrating and moisturizing the area using eye creams with ingredients that induce collagen, like retinol and vitamin C.
Best ingredients to treat dark under-eye circles
To help you choose the best skin care products to treat dark circles, we’ve compiled a checklist of important ingredients to look for.
- Hyaluronic acid hydrates, plumps and brightens the skin, which can help mask darkness under the eyes, says Garshick. Since hyaluronic acid has a plumping effect, it can also be a good option if your dark circles are due to volume loss, she says.
- Caffeine works to constrict the blood vessels under the eyes, reducing redness. “Those with dark circles that result from thin skin around the eyes making underlying blood vessels more visible should look for a caffeine-containing eye cream, which may also help with under-eye puffiness,” says Garshick.
- Dimethicone and cyclomethicone are emollients that lock in moisture and act as a spackle between cells to make skin look smoother and silkier, according to Waldorf.
- Retinol is a vitamin A derivative and the over-the-counter version of prescription retinoids. Retinols help prevent fine lines and wrinkles from forming by promoting cell turnover in the skin. “Retinol eye creams can help with fine lines and wrinkles and may help with discoloration,” says Garshick. However, these creams should be used with care since they can often be drying and irritating, she says.
- Vitamin C and polyphenols help reduce oxidative stress from environmental pollutants, according to Waldorf. “Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can also have a brightening effect on the skin,” says Ugonabo.
- Peptides are the building blocks of collagen, which helps keep your skin firm and smooth. As you age, the rate of collagen your skin produces slows down, so using eye creams with peptides helps stimulate their growth. “Because the skin around the eye is thin, eye creams containing peptides can help strengthen and thicken the skin around the eye,” says Garshick.
You should always wear sunscreen during the day — even around the eyelids — to protect the skin, especially since hyperpigmentation from sun damage can worsen dark circles over time, according to Rayhan. While some factors may be out of your control, “using sunscreen helps prevent UV damage that can contribute to volume loss and hyperpigmentation which can otherwise lead to dark circles,” Garshick says.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Dr. Marisa Garshick is a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York City and an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
- Dr. Nkem Ugonabo is a board-certified dermatologist with advanced fellowship training in cosmetic dermatology and lasers at Union Derm in New York City.
- Dr. Heidi Waldorf is a board-certified dermatologist and owner of Waldorf Dermatology Aesthetics
- Dr. David Rayhan is a board-certified dermatologist at Rayhan Dermatology in Huntington Beach, California.
Why trust Select?
Mili Godio is an editor at Select who has covered a variety of skin care topics, including products for rosacea, keratosis pilaris and cystic acne. For this article, Godio spoke to four dermatologists to narrow down the best treatments for dark under-eye circles, and highlighted their recommendations for the best products to consider.