The skin under your eyes can say a lot about how you feel: A rough night working late and stressful situations may show on your face in the form of dark under-eye circles, which can cause the area to appear purple, blue, brown or black depending on your skin tone. Though this pigmentation under the eyes is usually associated with being tired, it can form due to several factors that go beyond lack of sleep, including genetics, allergies and age.
“Dark circles result from under-eye puffiness, volume loss, hyperpigmentation and visibility of the blood vessels in the under-eye area,” said Dr. Marisa Garshick, a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York City. She noted that because 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. Our experts noted that recognizing the cause can be a great start to figuring out how to treat them and reduce their appearance. And 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.
What causes dark under-eye circles?
What makes it particularly tricky to treat dark under-eye circles is that there isn’t one reason people develop them and they’re a very common skin care issue that affects patients of all ages and backgrounds, according to Dr. Nkem Ugonabo, a board-certified dermatologist at Union Derm. Our experts noted that a few common causes of under-eye circles include genetics, aging and environmental factors. Some people may also just naturally have darker areas under the eyes, and those may look more severe in fairer skin tones.
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. A lack of TLC in the under-eye area can also play a role, especially since “it can be very easy for people to skip the area when doing their full skin care routine,” according to Ugonabo.
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,” Garshick said.
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,” Garshick said, adding that the eyelid skin is thin and delicate, so the underlying blood vessels may become more visible over time and can contribute to the appearance of dark circles. She also noted hyperpigmentation or a brown discoloration can be either a result of sun damage or genetics and also cause the appearance of dark circles.
The best products for treating dark under-eye circles
Our experts recommended looking for 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). Each of the following products were recommended by our experts and are in-line with their guidance. We also included a few expert-recommended sunscreens, silk pillowcases and cooling under-eye patches that our dermatologists noted can be helpful in reducing dark circles.
Ugonabo recommended the RoC Retinol Correxion eye cream — one of our favorite anti-aging products — because "it contains retinol to help stimulate collagen production, but is also gentle enough that it is non-irritating,” she said. The retinol and mineral complex in this eye cream promotes cell turnover to reduce fine lines and dark under-eye circles, according to the brand. It’s also hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic, which means it won’t block pores and works great for people with sensitive skin. Dr. Heidi Waldorf, a board-certified dermatologist and owner of Waldorf Dermatology Aesthetics, likes that it also has glycerin, which pulls moisture into the skin.
Waldorf recommended Supergoop’s mineral eye cream because it contains 100% zinc oxide and offers SPF 40 protection to protect skin from powerful UV rays and help prevent sun damage. (Dermatologists previously told us that sunscreens should have a minimum SPF 30 to provide an adequate amount of protection.) This sunscreen also has a blend of probiotics and caffeine to brighten skin and alleviate redness, according to the brand.
Cooling products can be helpful to reduce swelling and puffiness as 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 said.
This Charlotte Tilbury eye serum comes with a cooling metal applicator that can provide an instant cooling effect to de-puff the eyes, according to the brand. It also contains a blend of caffeine and peptides, which our experts noted can keep the under-eye area looking smoother, brighter and more refreshed. It can be used up to two times per day.
Made with retinol, hyaluronic acid and dimethicone, Neutrogena’s eye cream is an excellent drugstore option, according to Waldorf. She noted that it not only works to diminish fine lines and dark under-eye circles, but it also keeps the delicate skin under your eyes hydrated.
“Puffiness can be reduced temporarily using topicals with ingredients like green tea polyphenols and caffeine, which helps the fluid shift,” Waldorf told us. 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 — they can be popped into the fridge for a cooling effect that can also help with reducing swelling and de-puffing. 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 cream contains vitamin B3, also known as niacinamide, which experts previously told us can help even out skin tone and reduce hyperpigmentation on the skin to reduce the appearance of dark circles. 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, Pond’s says.
One of our favorite under-eye patches, this option from Peter Thomas Roth contains hyaluronic acid and caffeine that can improve the look of fine lines and under-eye darkness, according to the brand. The patches are fragrance-free, come in a convenient container and can be applied in the morning and at night, the brand says.
L’Oreal’s eye cream provides 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.
Packed with alpha hydroxy acids, hyaluronic acid and peptides, Waldorf said she likes this eye cream for its protective antioxidant benefits. “Fruit stem extract contains antioxidants and other ingredients that may be protective to aging cells. It also has caffeine to reduce puffiness,” she said.
This eye roller from Garnier can serve as a quick fix for under-eye puffiness and dark circles since it contains caffeine, vitamin C and mint to help reduce the appearance of the under-eye bags, according to 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, the brand says.
This eye treatment from Alastin is “very hydrating [and] has brightening ingredients such as niacinamide and green tea,” Ugonabo noted. It 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. The brand says it’s non-comedogenic 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,” Ugonabo said. Designed for dry, cracked skin, the Aquaphor Healing Ointment can go beyond under-eye care: It can be used as a lip moisturizer, facial moisturizer, hydrating mask and more, according to the brand.
Sunscreen can help protect the skin from UV rays that cause sun damage, which can ultimately help diminish the appearance of dark circles in the process, said Dr. David Rayhan, a board-certified dermatologist at Rayhan Dermatology. He recommended this tinted sunscreen from EltaMD — which makes some of our favorite sunscreens, SPF lip balms and tinted moisturizers — because “it contains zinc oxide and iron oxide, which help prevent damage from ultraviolet light.” This tinted sunscreen provides SPF 46 protection and a fragrance-free, non-comedogenic formula. It also contains niacinamide, which experts previously told us has a natural anti-inflammatory effect, and sodium hyaluronate, which the brand says can help keep the skin hydrated.
Experts previously told us that silk pillowcases and bedding can help prevent tugging at the skin that leads to wrinkles. Though they’re not going to fully treat dark circles, chronic friction can still cause pigment production: “If your pillowcase is irritating your eyelids, this could be contributing to the problem,” Rayhan said. Waldorf recommended investing in this silk pillowcase from Slip — which is a Select staff-favorite brand — since 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.
Because rubbing your eyes can cause redness and irritation, Waldorf recommended using gentle makeup-removing pads or towelettes to thoroughly wipe away dirt, oil and waterproof mascara. “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.
How to treat dark under-eye circles
Unfortunately, there are very few instances where you can fully treat under-eye circles — though some causes are tougher than others, most have some room for improvement, according to Rayhan. But since dark circles are multifactorial, they often need multiple treatment modalities.
Both Rayhan and Ugonabo told us that cosmetic procedures are the most effective methods of improving dark circles — if they’re 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. Garshick added that hyperpigmentation or discoloration can often be treated with chemical peels.
But 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.) Ugonabo noted that one of the best ways to reduce the appearance of darkness under the eyes is by hydrating and moisturizing the area, which can be accomplished by using eye creams with ingredients that induce collagen like retinol and vitamin C. “The same ingredients that help prevent and treat skin aging are helpful for under the eyes,” Waldorf said.
To help you choose the best eye creams or skincare products for treating dark circles, we’ve compiled a checklist of important ingredients to look for below.
- Hyaluronic acid hydrates and plumps up skin, giving you a youthful and radiant glow. By brightening the skin, it can help mask darkness under the eyes. “Hyaluronic acid and glycerin help pull moisture into the epidermis from the environment above and dermis below,” Waldorf said. Garshick added that, since hyaluronic acid has a plumping effect, it can be a good option if your dark circles are due to volume loss.
- 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. Similarly, caffeine may also help with under-eye puffiness,” Garshick said.
- Dimethicone and cyclomethicone are emollients that lock in moisture while also acting 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. “Retinols are always good for anti-aging concerns — retinol eye creams can help with fine lines and wrinkles and may help with discoloration,” Garshick said. However, she noted that these creams should be used with care since they can often be drying and irritating,
- Vitamin C and polyphenols help reduce oxidative stress from environmental pollutants, Waldorf said. “Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can also have a brightening effect on the skin,” Ugonabo noted. Keep in mind that eye products with vitamin C have lower concentrations of the active ingredient than those for the rest of the face.
- 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,” Garshick said.
Each of our experts recommended always wearing sunscreen — even around the eyelids — to protect the skin, especially since hyperpigmentation from sun damage can worsen dark circles over time, according to Rayhan. “Regular use of moisturizers and sunscreen can be important to keep the skin under the eyes hydrated and healthy and prevent the appearance of dark circles,” Garshick said. 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,” she added.
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, 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, a board-certified dermatologist with advanced fellowship training in cosmetic dermatology and lasers at Union Derm in New York City.
- Dr. Heidi Waldorf, a board-certified dermatologist and owner of Waldorf Dermatology Aesthetics
- Dr. David Rayhan, a board-certified dermatologist at Rayhan Dermatology in Huntington Beach, California.