Dark circles plague us all at some point. Here the experts explain the top causes and how to brighten the under-eye area for a more rested look
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A shadowy under-eye paired with smudged out eyeliner may be the epitome of cool French girl beauty. But for the rest of us, it’s a telltale sign of late nights, allergies and even digital fatigue.
What causes dark circles?
Given the skin around the eyes is thinner than elsewhere on the face, prominent blood vessels and hemosiderin deposits (a protein that stores iron in your tissues) can give the area a bruised look – and that’s without accounting for seasonal allergies. “When the tissues and blood vessels in the nose become swollen with excess fluid they congest the small veins under the eyes,” says Martin Lyne, co-founder of Woods Copenhagen. “This leads to ‘allergic shiners’ – dilated veins that become darker if you also rub the area.”
Likewise, loss of volume – fat and collagen – as we age leads to thinner skin and more pronounced tear troughs, which magnifies their appearance. And while we tend to associate hyperpigmentation with the sun damage on our cheeks, it can also have a genetic component for under-eyes. “Some ethnicities, such as Asian and southeast Asians, can have hereditary hyperpigmentation under the eyes,” Dr Maryam Zamani, one of the world’s most renowned oculoplastic surgeons, explains. “This is due to a common genetic trait of thin lower eyelid skin, which allows veins to show through, resulting in a darker appearance.”
Like many other skin issues, dark circles are also exacerbated by lifestyle choices. Long days spent staring at a screen – whether laptop, TV or phone – take their toll as eyes tend to blink less, causing dryness and the blood vessels in the skin to dilate. It doesn’t help that blue light can impact your sleep cycle and suppress the sleep hormone melatonin.
Lack of sleep can cause blood vessels in the lower eyelid to dilate, making dark circles appear worseLars Fredriksson, founder of Verso Skincare
While not getting enough sleep doesn’t cause dark circles, it can exaggerate their appearance by not giving the body the opportunity to detoxify. “When we lack sleep, our body’s circulatory system is comprised,” says Lyne. “This leads to stagnant blood in the vessels as our under eyes haven’t drained properly.” Lars Fredriksson, founder of Verso Skincare in Stockholm, concurs: “Lack of sleep can cause blood vessels in the lower eyelid to dilate, making dark circles appear worse.”
Related: What exactly is the skin barrier?
Expert-led solutions for dark circles
If the perfect night's sleep eludes you, try keeping your phone or tablet on night mode setting and avoid using digital devices after 9pm.
Dark circles are also no match for the cold as low temperatures constrict blood vessels and improve circulation, effectively lightening any dark rings. Store a pair of ice globes in the freezer and sweep them around your eyes at the end of the day; we like the multi-hued options by Fraicheur Paris. Pair with Augustinus Bader's refillable Eye Cream, which is laced with anti-inflammatory niacinamide, for extra slip over the skin and to dial down underlying redness.
If dark shadows are due to pigmentation, use an eye cream that contains active sunscreen ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. SkinCeuticals Mineral Eye UV Defense SPF30 Sunscreen is a dermatologist favourite. Additionally, look for a high concentration of antioxidants – Verso Eye Cream contains Nordic oat lipids to help protect against environmental stressors while Tromborg leans on super oxide dismutase (SOD), a powerful antioxidant found naturally in the skin, for its Anti-Ageing Eye Cream.
When it comes to brightening, Lyne is an AGH (Alpha Glucosyl Hesperidin) acolyte. “Found naturally in various citrus fruits, AGH is composed of glucose and the antioxidant hesperidin,” he says of the star ingredient in his Complex Eye Cream. “AGH boosts the skin’s microcirculation, which aids in brightening the area and flushing out trapped fluids.”
Also offering a brightening boost is vitamin C in Ole Henrikssen's Truth Banana Bright Eye Cream, which additionally has an orange-yellow hue to cancel out greyness under the eyes. If you prefer an eye mask, MZ Skin Hydra-Bright Golden Eye Treatment Mask is a luxe option that leans on nano particles of gold to restore radiance.
Tapped from the inner corner of the eyes to the temples, these are the eye creams that are nothing short of transformative.
Products for Dark Circles
Complex Eye Cream
Mineral Eye UV Defense SPF30 Sunscreen
Anti-Ageing Eye Cream
Truth Banana Bright Eye Cream
Hydra-Bright Golden Eye Treatment Mask
Ice Globes - Coral Glitter