If you notice that your under-eye area rivals a smoky eye, you may have dark circles. Pulling an all-nighter to watch the latest Netflix release could be to blame, but that’s not the only reason dark circles make an appearance.
Removing or decreasing dark circles calls for an individualized approach that can still present challenges. The good news: There are home remedies, skin care products, and medical treatments to help tackle those pesky under-eye circles.
Dark circles can happen when the blood vessels become fragile and break, causing discoloration in the top two layers of skin. They can also be a result of poor circulation (less oxygenated blood = a dark, bluish tinge).
While some people may be predisposed to dark circles, behavior can also contribute to your under-eye area’s turn to the dark side. Here are the many factors involved:
Your DNA and health
- Age. Older adults are more likely to have dark circles.
- Genetics. It’s just what your mama gave ya. Your genes can cause periorbital hyperpigmentation (aka dark circles).
- Darker skin tone. People of color are more prone to dark under-eye circles.
- Chronic allergies. Dark circles can be a result of swelling or blood vessel dilation due to an allergic reaction (particularly from hay fever). Rubbing those itchy eyes can contribute to the issue too.
- Underlying health issues. Inflammation around the eyes can be a result of an autoimmune disease like dermatomyositis or a thyroid disorder.
- Lack of sleep. Dozing off during the company-wide Zoom meeting doesn’t count toward your necessary 7 to 9 hours of sleep. If you skimp on Zzz’s, your face will punish you with dark circles.
- Eye dryness. Rubbing your eyes can cause further irritation and lead to broken blood vessels, inflammation, and swelling.
- Dehydration. Feeling parched? Consuming too little fluid could result in a sunken appearance around your eyes.
- Too much sun. Spending too much time in the rays could increase pigmentation around your eyes.
- Eyestrain. Looking at a screen for extended periods of time can cause blood vessels around your eyes to enlarge and darken.
- Smoking. Taking even an occasional puff or being around secondhand smoke can cause skin irritation around your eyes.
Before you grab the cucumber slices and concealer, there are a multitude of treatments to help your under-eye area see the light. But keep in mind that the effectiveness of treatments varies from person to person, just like the causes.
Here are some ways to banish those dark under-eye circles at home, through skin care, and at the dermatologist’s office.
1. Get more sleep
Not getting enough shut-eye can cause fluid buildup under your eyes and result in dark circles. To ensure you’re getting enough Zzz’s, you may need to switch up your sleep routine.
Ditch the caffeine 6 hours before going to sleep, and avoid working out or eating too close to bedtime. Your TikTok scrolling will also have to wait. Powering down electronics 1 to 2 hours before hitting the hay can result in more restful sleep.
2. Try a wedge pillow
Your dark circles may not be the result of how much you’re sleeping but the position you’re sleeping in.
Sleeping with your head propped up can counteract any fluid buildup around your eyes. While a stack of pillows may do the trick, a wedge pillow is designed to provide that comfortable elevation.
3. Slice up some cucumbers (spa day optional)
Cucumber may be the produce section’s most well-known beauty crossover. Not only does the cucumber shine on a salad, but its high water content can reduce under-eye swelling and dark circles.
This treatment works best when you can lie down with chilled cucumber slices on your eyes for 15 minutes.
4. Brew some tea
While you’re at the grocery store grabbing your cucumbers, pick up some caffeinated black or green tea.
Start by steeping two tea bags in hot water for 5 minutes, and then chill them in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes. Apply the tea bags on your closed eyes and rest up for 5 to 10 minutes. Rinse with cool water afterward.
This should help increase circulation to your eye area, shrink blood vessels, and reduce fluid retention.
5. Pile on the under-eye concealer
Putting on an under-eye concealer is kinda like throwing a blanket over that pile of clothes you can’t bring yourself to hang up — it won’t really solve the problem, but it will make it less noticeable.
6. Chill with a cold compress
A cold compress like you’d use for a fever might do the trick. Putting a cold compress on your eyes can help constrict the blood vessels that cause dark circles.
7. Skip the salt
This may be bad news for folks with a salt tooth, but excessive sodium in your diet can increase fluid retention, and fluid gathering around your eyes can lead to dark circles.
The American Heart Association suggests consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.
8. Get your antioxidants
Eating certain processed foods can increase oxidative stress, which can lead to inflammation, including in your eye area. Eating antioxidant-rich foods like berries, dark chocolate, and beans can help counteract these effects.
You can also try using an antioxidant-rich eye cream or balm under your eyes.
9. Find almond oil joy
A mixture of almond oil and vitamin E may be a natural remedy for dark circles if used over time. Massage this mixture under your eyes before going to bed. When you wake up, rinse the area with cold water.
10. Power up the potassium
Potassium-rich foods can help reduce excess fluid that causes dark circles and puffiness. Try adding bananas, beans, and leafy greens to your diet to diminish the puff and lighten up.
11. Up the anti(histamines)
When your skin reacts to an allergy, antihistamines are one way to counteract the effects. Over-the-counter (OTC) oral antihistamines like Benadryl or Zyrtec may help.
12. Reduce stress
Eye-rolling doesn’t cause dark circles, but stress could play a role. Research has found that stress intensifies hyperpigmentation. Reducing stress is easier said than done, but getting more sleep and exercising regularly are good places to start.
13. Tap into an eye massage
Nothing in dark circle treatment is magic, but this 30-second eye massage could help. Using a gentle tapping motion around your eyes can bring blood flow to the area. Unlike a full-on cosmetic facial, a tapping eye massage won’t damage your makeup or drain your wallet.
14. Switch up your eye makeup remover
Got a full 8 hours of sleep but still woke up with dark circles under your eyes? Your dark circles could be nothing more than yesterday’s mascara. Ditch the makeup remover wipes and try a more targeted product to get leftover makeup off for good.
15. Lather on the coconut oil
Coconut oil has a wide range of practical applications, so it’s not surprising that you can also use it to tackle dark circles. After washing your face, massage a teaspoon of room-temperature coconut oil under each eye for 30 seconds.
16. Milk it
Research has shown that applying lactic acid to the skin can tackle skin discoloration.
While there are plenty of OTC products containing lactic acid, you don’t have to look any further than your refrigerator: Milk contains lactic acid and can be used as a compress. Try soaking two cotton balls in cold milk and then holding them under your eyes.
17. Go around the globe
A new take on the cold compress is an ice roller or globe you can move over your under-eye area. These tools go in the freezer at night, so they’re nice and chilly for application after your morning skin care routine. This process can improve circulation and decrease puffiness.
18. Block that UV light
Overexposure to the sun can cause dark under-eye circles. If you don’t want to put sunscreen on your face every day, try a light-activating moisturizer. Moisturizers with SPF can protect you from UV damage while helping to even out your skin tone.
Also, skip the fashion shades and opt for UV-blocking sunglasses.
19. Say OK to vitamin K
A 2015 study found that applying vitamin K with an emu oil base under the eyes reduced dark circles in 4 weeks.
20. Add some java to your eye cream
Part of the reason the tea bag treatment works is that caffeine has anti-inflammatory benefits. Coffee may be your go-to morning jolt, but it can also do your skin some good. When mixed into an eye cream formula, coffee can wake your under-eye circles right up.
21. Rev up the retinoids
Age can contribute to dark circles, and retinoids in skin care are known for reducing the effects of aging. Retinoids target skin discoloration by boosting cell turnover. They can be intense, so start slow to avoid drying out your skin.
22. Get on top of a topical agent
A doctor may recommend using a topical bleaching cream to treat dark circles and hyperpigmentation. These creams contain an agent that inhibits the production of melanin on your skin.
The most prescribed bleaching agent is hydroquinone. Studies show that it can take 5 to 7 months of use to be effective. Hydroquinone is only available as a prescription through your doctor. Previously it had been available over the counter but the status was changed in 2021 following a ruling by the FDA.
23. Keep up with kojic acid
Kojic acid is a naturally occurring fungal derivative. While that may sound like the last thing you want to put near your eyes, kojic acid has been used to treat hyperpigmentation. But it may come with some side effects, including redness and contact dermatitis.
24. Add some azelaic acid
Azelaic acid first came onto the scene as an acne treatment, but it was also found to affect the enzyme tyrosinase, which helps with pigment production. Since azelaic acid actually stops DNA synthesis, it can be used safely for long periods of time.
25. Take some (topical) vitamin C
Here’s another vitamin that can be used to treat dark under-eye circles. Although it doesn’t target melanin, it does promote collagen production and help hide the blood buildup that causes dark circles.
26. (Chemical) peel them off
Don’t let that episode of “Sex and the City” where Samantha gets a chemical peel totally scare you.
Chemical peels containing glycolic acid, retinoic acid, or hydroquinone are often used to treat dark under-eye circles. A peel containing salicylic acid, lactic acid, and resorcinol (aka a Jessner peel) is also an option.
27. Beam me up
Lasers aren’t just for annoying presentations (and teasing your cat). Noninvasive laser treatments such as pulsed dye laser, diode laser, and intensed pulsed light laser can target hyperpigmentation.
28. Fill ’em up
Fillers that target under-eye circles come in the form of hyaluronic acid gel. This treatment creates 3D reshaping under the eyes. This may work best for people whose dark circles are a result of thinning skin or loss of fatty tissue in the area.
29. Get filled in with a fat transplant
If the skin under your eyelids is thin and translucent, a fat transplant to the area may be a possible solution.
The surgery that targets dark circles is called blepharoplasty. This outpatient procedure typically involves the removal of fat from under the eyes. If effective, blepharoplasty needs to be done only once.
While it’s typically just an aesthetic issue, the presence of dark under-eye circles could also be a sign of a health condition such as:
- a thyroid issue
- iron-deficiency anemia
- autoimmune disorders like dermatomyositis
If you notice swelling or discoloration under one eye, it’s time to chat with your doctor.
Also, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, make sure to get your doc’s OK on any new skin care products before you use them.
The appearance of dark circles is typically a cosmetic issue and can affect anyone. Age is a factor, as are skin pigment and genetics. Certain lifestyle changes — like quitting smoking and not staying up all night playing Animal Crossing (you know who you are) — could improve dark circles.
In other cases, medical intervention may be necessary to show your dark circles the light. A dermatologist can give you peace of mind and suggest possible medical treatments.