Understanding dark circles
Wouldn’t it be nice to find an eye cream that remedies all your skin ailments—especially treating those pesky dark circles?
This semi-circular discoloration of the very sensitive and thin skin under your eye area can result from many factors and is often associated with age, according to Papri Sarkar, MD, a dermatologist in Boston.
You can use makeup tricks to cover dark circles but here’s a look at what causes them and how to use eye creams to try to prevent them from forming in the first place.
What causes dark circles?
There are many factors that cause dark circles under your eyes and they all require slightly different treatments.
Genetics: Anatomic differences due to a person’s anatomy tends to run in families according to Dr. Sarkar.
“Often, these are apparent as an early pre-teen and get worse as the child gets older,” she says. “As people get older the fat pad that provides structure in this area slowly sags downward. That causes a volume loss in the tear trough.” (The tear trough is the area underneath your eyes above your cheek.)
Aging: Since the skin under and around your eyes is thinner, it also makes the area more prone to signs of aging like wrinkles, fine lines, puffiness, and discoloration, explains Marina Peredo, MD, a dermatologist in Smithtown, New York. “As we age, we also produce less collagen which makes our skin thinner, making the appearance of dark circles worse.”
Fatigue: Not getting enough sleep can cause the blood vessels to dilate under the skin, warns Dr. Peredo, causing a darker appearance under the eyes. “It can also cause fluid retention in the under-eye area, resulting in swelling and puffiness,” she adds.
Oversleeping: Believe it or not, getting too much sleep can leave you looking as tired as if you didn’t get enough. “Sleeping for an excessive amount of time, leads to an accumulation of fluid around the face,” says Dr. Peredo. “Fluid imbalances or swelling can result in the appearance of dark circles under the eyes.”
Sun exposure: You know not to spend time in direct sunlight, especially without sunscreen. Doing so not only increases your risk of skin cancer, but also increases the levels of melanin in the skin, which causes the under-eye area to appear darker, warns Dr. Peredo
Allergies: “Allergies can increase your urge to rub and scratch the itchy skin around your eyes. These actions can worsen your symptoms, causing inflammation, swelling, and broken blood vessels, and hyperpigmentation,” says Dr. Peredo. “This can result in dark shadows beneath your eyes.”
The use of eye cream to treat dark circles
Eye creams play a key role in targeting different causes and concerns for dark circles, according to Marisa Garshick, MD, a dermatologist at Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery (MDCS) in New York.
“Because the skin around the eyelid is delicate, it cannot always tolerate the same products and active ingredients used on other parts of the face,” she says. “Some formulations of eye creams are designed specifically for use around the eye, with soothing and hydrating ingredients, as well as a combination of ingredients to address the common causes of dark circles.”
Ingredients to look for in an eye cream for dark circles
There are many powerful skin care ingredients that dermatologists recommend for fighting dark circles. Here are some of their must-haves:
Vitamin C: Using an eye cream that contains vitamin C can help with hyperpigmentation under the eyes, according to Dr. Peredo. “Vitamin C works by strengthening the under-eye skin, boosting collagen, and brightening,” she says.
Caffeine: Caffeine is often found in under-eye products. “It’s an antioxidant that is thought to decrease the signs of skin aging, increase the circulation of blood in small vessels in the skin, and potentially decrease the visibility of blood vessels under the eye,” explains Dr. Sarkar.
“After extended use, I have seen a cosmetic effect of caffeine temporarily decreasing the dark circles caused by blood vessels and hyperpigmentation.”
Alpha hydroxy acids: “AHAs like glycolic acid, mandelic acid, and lactic acid have been shown in studies to decrease hyperpigmentation and in higher concentrations, increase collagen production,” says Dr. Sarkar. “These ingredients can be irritating, however, and should be used carefully in the undereye area.”
Hyaluronic acid: This skin care ingredient, which holds up to 1,000 times its weight in water, can help plump the skin and add the appearance of volume, explains Dr. Sarkar. “This helps the hereditary kind of dark circles that we see that usually need filler to target.”
Retinol: This topical ingredient, which is a derivative of vitamin A, is hailed by dermatologists for its wrinkle-smoothing abilities. It is also a hero ingredient for dark circles, according to Dr. Sarkar, because it builds collagen, evens out skin tone, and decreases pigmentation.
The best eye creams for dark circles
Here are the best eye creams that dermatologists recommend for treating dark circles.
SkinCeuticals A.G.E. Eye Complex
Blair Murphy-Rose, MD, New York City-based dermatologist and clinical assistant professor at NY Presbyterian Hospital–Weill Cornell Medical Center is a big fan of this nourishing eye cream from SkinCeuticals, which is packed with powerful ingredients including a unique combination of peptides, flavonoids (antioxidants), and caffeine to firm and tone skin. This is particularly effective at minimizing the appearance of dark circles thanks to the addition of blueberry extract, another antioxidant, and a skin-care ingredient called proxylane, which helps the delicate under-eye skin retain water.
Alastin Restorative Eye Treatment
Utilizing a formula that contains green tea and oak leaf extracts, this Alastin eye treatment helps decrease the appearance of dark circles, explains Dr. Murphy-Rose. Their patented TriHex Technology utilizes a blend of active peptides that help promote collagen production, as well as a mix of tree extracts (Mimosa Tree and Oak Leaf Tree), which lighten the appearance of dark circles. The addition of the skin-lightening agent, niacinamide helps ensure an even skin tone.
SkinMedica TNS Illuminating Eye Cream
This brightening eye cream for dark circles from SkinMedica for under the eyes is one of Dr. Peredo’s go-to’s. “I love the unique ingredients it contains like hydroxysuccinimide and chrysin, which help to improve circulation and eliminate blood pigmentation that causes discoloration,” she says. A plus: it’s best for all skin types, from normal to sensitive skin.
RoC Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Retinol Eye Cream
For the price, you can’t go wrong with this retinol-containing eye cream from RoC. “It has a slow-release retinol so it’s much less irritating than your average retinol which is important in the undereye area,” says Dr. Sarkar. Along with dark circles, the product also addresses wrinkles and puffiness in the eye area, which are known to contribute to eye aging.
Neocutis Lumière Illuminating Eye Cream
“With hyaluronic acid, caffeine, antioxidants, and peptides, this eye cream helps thwart damage from pollution and minimize the damage from UV rays,” says Dr. Sarkar. “My patients also happen to love the feel of this one.” This opthalmologist- and dermatologist-tested eye cream can be used on the skin surrounding the eyes and should be applied in a circular dabbing or patting motion for best results. A bonus: This product is not tested on animals.
(Be sure to replace your eye cream and other cosmetics. This is what happens if you use expired makeup.)
It Cosmetics Confidence In An Eye Cream
If you’re looking for a cream that will yield fast results, Dr. Sarkar recommends this eye cream by It Cosmetics, which has a slight peach tint that camouflages dark circles. “While it’s camouflaging ingredients like niacinamide, licorice root, peptides, and ceramides [they help lock moisture into skin] work together behind the scenes to lighten and reportedly plump,” she adds. Also, as one reviewer puts it, “A little goes a long way.” It’s a budget-friendly option for long-term skin care use.
Pond’s Rejuveness Anti-Wrinkle Eye Cream
“This affordable and easy-to-find [Pond’s] eye cream contains a blend of vitamin B3, also known as niacinamide, and retinol and works to boost hydration, improve elasticity and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” says Dr. Garshick.
She adds, “The vitamin B3 helps with moisturizing and strengthening the skin barrier but also helps with brightening and discoloration, making it a great option for those with dark circles.”
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-Cream Eye
This drug-store find from Neutrogena contains hyaluronic acid to help lock in moisture. “Hyaluronic acid acts as a humectant to draw in water and provides long-lasting hydration benefits,” says Dr. Garshick. “Given its gel texture, it absorbs easily and won’t leave the skin feeling greasy and can be used twice daily.”
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