Plagued by dark circles under your eyes that no amount of make up can disguise? Eye bags are presumed to be the product of poor sleep, but while exhaustion can contribute to dark circles under your eyes, it's a little known fact that allergies, genetics and even dehydration all play a part in deepening the appearance of dark circles, with natural ageing one of the biggest culprits.
The good news? You don’t have to live with dark circles, nor do you have to fork out on expensive medical treatments. It’s possible to reduce the appearance of eye bags by slicking a dedicated eye cream over your lids every morning and night. But with so many products to choose from, which are the best eye creams for dark circles?
We spoke to Miss Elizabeth Hawkes, consultant oculoplastic and ophthalmic surgeon at Cadogan Clinic Chelsea, Dr Dianni Dai, aesthetic doctor at Pulse Light Clinic, and dermatologist and medical director Dr Tatiana Lapa, about the common causes of dark circles – and share our top products for tackling them:
What causes dark circles under the eyes?
Eyelid skin is unique to the rest of the body, Miss Hawkes explains. Where the rest of the face has a ‘subcutaneous’ layer of fat directly underneath the skin, eyelid skin doesn’t. ‘For this reason, eyelid skin is prone to appear darker than the rest of the face,’ she says.
Damage to the already-delicate area can be exacerbated by certain lifestyle factors, health conditions, and family history. As Miss Hawkes explains, the key causes of dark circles include:
• Genetics: The higher the level of melanin in your skin, the more prone you may be to dark circles. Some families also have a family history of dark circles.
• Poor circulation: The blood vessels beneath your eyes can become dilated, making them more visible. This is why smoking can cause dark circles.
• Allergies: Hay fever and eczema also cause dilation of the blood vessels along with swelling and redness, which can make dark circles more prominent.
• Dehydration: When you are dehydrated, the skin beneath your eyes begins to dull and your eyes appear sunken.
• Ageing: Your skin becomes thinner and loses fat and collagen, leading the dark blood vessels beneath your skin become more visible. Your bone structure also degenerates, causing your eyes to sit further back in the socket and appear sunken.
And that’s not all. ‘Dark circles can also be caused by iron deficiency, high levels of sun exposure, thyroid conditions and more,’ says Dr Dai. ‘A range of factors can cause skin to darken around the eye area.’
Can eye creams treat dark circles?
Eye creams can help to treat some dark circles, but it depends on the cause, says Miss Hawkes. ‘Topical creams are good for dehydration and allergy relief, but they will not restore volume,’ she says. ‘They will not cause the blood vessels under the eyes to constrict, nor will they reverse a family history of dark circles.’
To target the dark circles under your eyes and lessen their appearance, consider your personal needs. ‘Dark circles are caused by three main issues: pigmentation, thin translucent skin and tear trough hollowness,’ explains Dr Lapa. ‘In order to find the right cream, you need first understand which of these is your main problem.’
Look for tried-and-tested ingredients like retinol, hyaluronic acid and caffeine.
• Pigmentation: This is more common in Mediterranean and Indian skin types. It is a ring of darker skin, often affecting both upper and lower eyelids. Look for creams that contain vitamin C, liquorice, kojic acid, arbutin and retinol.
• Translucent skin: This is more common in lighter skin types. It is thin skin that permits the purple or greenish-blue blood vessels under the skin to shine through. Look for creams containing caffeine, vitamin C and retinol.
• Tear trough hollowness: This is common in any skin type and is caused by the loss of supportive fat under the eye. It looks like a hollowing of the skin and is visible even with concealer. Look for creams containing hyaluronic acid.
And if you’re looking for a more general all-rounder? ‘When picking the best eye creams for dark circles, look for tried-and-tested ingredients like retinol, hyaluronic acid and caffeine,’ says Miss Hawkes. ‘These are the ones that will effectively hydrate, plump and brighten those dark shadows, while smoothing fine lines.’
How to apply eye cream
The skin around the eyes is extremely delicate, so you should apply eye cream as gently as possible, says Miss Hawkes. ‘You need to use a blob of eye cream approximately the size of a pea,’ she explains. ‘After you’ve dotted it on, use the pad of your finger to pat – rather than rub – the eye cream to help it absorb. Keep patting until the cream is fully absorbed.’
Take care to go all the way around your orbital socket, which is the bone that surrounds your eye, Miss Hawkes continues. ‘You can feel its circular shape,’ she says. ‘Eye cream needs to be applied to this entire area. You can use your sunglasses as a guideline and apply cream to any part of your face that is covered by them.’
Try these creams for pigmentation
1. A’kin Age-Defy Lifting Eye Cream
Vitamin C, echium oil, camu camu and hyaluronic acid come together in one nifty little tube to target everything from fine lines to dark circles and puffiness. During a test conducted by an independent laboratory, more than 80 per cent of women said their skin tone was brighter and more even after using this product.
2. Frénésies Ultra-Light Eye Contour Cream
This fast-absorbing gel is rich in vitamin K, which helps fade dark circles and strengthen capillaries, vitamin C, which stimulates the production of collagen in the skin and promotes cell reproduction and repair, and vitamin A, which softens fine lines. The result? A super-hydrated, smoother, fresher eye area.
3. Goldmaden MD Bright Eyes
This potent eye cream is a targeted treatment that has been designed to give dark circles a one-two punch. Light-reflective mica particles immediately detract from dark circles upon application, while soy peptide, rice bran extract, organic red tea and arnica cumulatively lift the area over time for a luminous glow.
4. Murad Vita-C Eyes Dark Circle Corrector
This gold-stabilised serum has been formulated to target multiple types of dark circles: brown circles due to genetics or sun damage, purple circles caused by thin skin, and red circles triggered by allergies. It’s been proven to reduce their appearance in as little as two weeks.
Try these creams for translucent skin
5. Drunk Elephant C-Tango Multivitamin Eye Cream
This restorative eye cream is a firm favourite with beauty bloggers, and it’s easy to see why. Eight peptides, five forms of vitamin C and cucumber extract work to visibly rejuvenate the under-eye area, while antioxidants nourish the skin. Plus, it’s vegan and cruelty-free.
6. Superfacialist Vitamin C+ Dark Circles Eye Cream
A healthy glow in bottle form, this cost-effective cream combines vitamin C, caffeine and a proven anti-dark circle peptide to tackle dark circles and reenergise tired peepers as a priority. Smoother, retexturised eyes can be yours for less than a tenner.
7. Origins Ginzing Refreshing Eye Cream
Like a morning coffee in cream form, this potent formula combines coffee beans, panax ginseng, magnolia extract and natural optic brighteners to rapidly neutralise dark circles, unsightly bags, and puffiness. It’s dubbed ‘morning-after eye cream’ for a reason.
8. Kiehl’s Eye Fuel
This cooling, refreshing under-eye formula uses a combination of stimulating caffeine and illuminating vitamin B3 to visibly reduce the appearance of puffiness and dark circles and restore radiance. It’s hydrating, gentle enough to use daily, and powerful enough to provide next-level results.
Try these creams for tear trough hollowness
9. Payot Clarté Des Yeux Lightening Eye Contour Cream
Hyaluronic acid, vitamin C and saxifrage extract come together to even the skin’s tone, minimise dark circles and perk up the entire area. Not only does it noticeably brighten the eye, but a little of this bathroom cabinet staple goes a long way, so it offers especially good value for money too.
10. Proto-col Collagen Eye Filler
This formula combines plant-derived collagen biospheres with hyaluronic acid – which is able to hold 1,000 times its own weight in water – to plump, hydrate and fortify the skin’s barrier, leaving a matte finish. The addition of vitamin E and sweet almond oil conditions the skin.
11. Lavera Illuminating Eye Cream
This serum is packed with illuminating organic ingredients, including mother of pearl extract, light reflecting pigments – which provide an iridescent shimmer – hyaluronic acid, caffeine, and aloe vera leaf to combat fatigued skin, dark circles and signs of ageing with near-instant results.
12. La Roche-Posay Hydraphase Intense Eyes
Quench thirsty eyes with this intensely-hydrating, lightweight eye gel, which is specifically formulated with hyaluronic acid, caffeine and spring water to target dark circles and sooth puffiness. Rigorous dermatological testing ensures it’s safe for even the most sensitive skin
Try these all-natural organic eye creams
13. Age Defy+ Line Eraser Serum
When it comes to ageing-induced dark circles, it’s all about hydration, hydration, hydration. This concentrated formula utilises baicalin, argan and sea holly to regenerate the skin, restore elasticity and promote cell renewal. Bonus: you can use it on your lips, too.
14. Burt’s Bees Intense Hydration Eye Cream
This lightweight, non-greasy formula offers maximum cover to help your skin trap moisture, plumping up your tear trough area to reduce the appearance of dark circles. It’s infused with clary sage, a hardy moisture-retaining Mediterranean botanical.
15. Feather Canyon, Echium & Argan Eye Cream
This ultra-gentle cream is rich in essential fatty acids omegas 3 and 6, which smooth and plump the skin to dissolve fine lines. Argan oil and vitamin E soften and protect, leaving even easily-irritated eyes bright, dewy and dark circle-free.
16. The Organic Pharmacy Lifting Eye Gel
The vegan eye gel combines antioxidant-rich bilberry, soothing eyebright and firming kigelia to plump and revitalise dark circles. An antibacterial stainless steel applicator ensures a cooling delivery, perking up dehydrated, tired eyes in a flash.
Last updated: 07-01-21
Dr Louise Wiseman MBBS, BSc (Hons), DRCOG, MRCGPDr Louise Wisemanis a former GP, now health writer.