I've had dark circles under my eyes for as long as I can remember. I started resenting them in first grade when I begged my mom to get me a cream that would magically make them disappear. It didn't work. Probably because dark circles are genetic to a certain extent and also because I was a 7-year-old who couldn't stick to a teeth brushing routine without adult supervision, let alone a skincare routine. Luckily my concerns shifted elsewhere as little as a week later, and over the years, I've simply gotten used to them.
While I haven't necessarily embraced them as my favorite feature, I don't really notice them on a day-to-day basis. I am, however, quite curious about what makes them worse and how I can prevent them from worsening with age. I've also noticed that my dark circles coincide with puffiness, which can make me look more tired than I really am. So I turned to two leading skincare specialists, Nina Patino, an esthetician in the office Plastic Surgeon Adam Kolker, and Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, MD, a dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology, to discover possible solutions.
With their guidance and advice, I tried a ton of things to get rid of the dark circles and puffiness. It's also worth noting that they both advised laser treatment to help with the discoloration, but since it's summer and I'm currently a little too tan to do a laser treatment, we agreed to focus mostly on lifestyle changes and topical solutions (stay tuned for the laser results this fall, though). The good news is that these solutions are all really easy to try at home. Read on to hear about the six expert-approved tricks I tried to help get rid of dark circles and then choose which ones you want to try.
Oral Antihistamines and Allergy Control
When Levin mentioned that "allergies and sinus congestion can cause dark under-eye circles," I had a serious aha moment. I've always had allergies, so I shouldn't have been too surprised that they could be contributing to the puffiness and dark circles. She suggested "taking an antihistamine such as Zyrtec or Allegra to help control allergy symptoms but also dark circles."
This has been the most effective so far, which tells me a few things: I have an allergy I am not aware of, and I have been lumping antihistamines in the same category as painkillers. According to Levin, it's okay to take them regularly if you suffer from allergies. She also told me that "patients with chronic allergies tend to rub their eyes frequently, which can result in darkening of the skin called hyperpigmentation." So try to avoid rubbing and itching as best you can.
If you'd rather avoid taking a pill daily, it's worth getting an allergy test so you know what to avoid and how to adjust your lifestyle accordingly, ranging from dietary habits to air quality in your bedroom and environment.
Jade Roller and Cold Therapy
Patino suggested trying an at home "cold-therapy," which is "very effective at reducing puffiness and thereby eliminating darkness around the eyes. A cold-eye mask kept in the refrigerator or freezer is a great remedy." Though it doesn't necessarily change the way they look, a cold jade roller on my puffy eyes is super soothing and makes me feel more awake and ready to conquer the day. It's a nice addition to the routine if you're someone who doesn't mind the extra step and wants to focus on wellness.
As Levin also explains, "A mild massage with a jade roller or any massage device can help reduce puffiness or redness temporarily." It's especially helpful when "there is swelling or sluggish circulation on the face." She explains that it works because "the jade stone is cool to touch, which may feel soothing to the skin, but using a jade roller will not increase collagen production or improve dark circles over time."
Patino suggests "green tea or coffee ice cubes" as well, as "each have antioxidant properties that can improve skin tone and texture and caffeine that can shrink the small blood vessels in the region, brightening and smoothing the skin while reducing puffiness and evening color." If you want to try it, she says to "brew green tea or organic coffee, pour into ice cube trays, wrap a cube in gauze or muslin cloth, and dab the lower eyelid area before bedtime."
Patino also suggested giving myself a "gentle lymphatic massage to help tackle water retention and drain toxic build up around the eyes that lead to dark, puffy circles beneath the eyes." If you're like me and you don't really know what you're doing when it comes to effective facial massages at home, consider booking an appointment with an aesthetician who does who can give you a manual lifting massage.
Eye Creams With Effective Ingredients
And now, for the most obvious at-home treatments for dark circles and puffiness: eye cream. Levin says she looks out for certain ingredients when choosing an eye cream. For example, "Caffeine, since it narrows blood vessels, which in turn reduces redness, swelling, and also has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties as well. Other ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, ceramides, glycerin, and other humectants moisturize the skin around the eyes. It's important to keep the skin barrier around the eyes healthy and well moisturized. Lightening ingredients such as vitamin C, antioxidants, kojic acid, and vitamin B3 not only reduce redness and inflammation but also further boosts hydration and free fatty acid production."
Levin uses SkinBetter eye cream because it "targets hydration and dark circles but focuses on anti-aging as well since it is elegantly formulated with a number of active ingredients peptides, neuro-calming peptides, vitamin C, humectants, antioxidants, moisturizing ingredients, and caffeine." For an affordable price point, she also loves "Cetaphil Hydrating Eye Cream as a gateway eye cream that doesn't break your wallet. This eye cream focuses on hydration and brightening since a primary concern is dryness and dark circles. It's chock-full of hydrating ingredients including vitamin E, vitamin B3, and her favorite, hyaluronic acid, providing 24-hour hydration. It also has brightening ingredients licorice root and grape extract and is gentle enough to be used under the eyes and eyelids."
Personally, finding an eye cream I like has been the most dramatic change in my skincare routine since researching for this story. Believe it or not, I didn't consistently use an eye cream before. When I was in college, I remember trying one and feeling like it made my eyes even puffier in the morning. It was a high-end brand that I splurged on, too, so I was disillusioned. I also remembered my first-grade self not having much luck. But I tried again anyway, and I have to say my eyes are feeling a lot much more alert and fresh in the morning. It also makes a huge difference when applying concealer under my eyes—it's so much easier to blend and looks smoother, in my opinion.
Patino has a pro tip as well: "Keeping eye cream in the refrigerator is a great tool as well." Ingredients she looks out for include "ferulic acid, which is a strong antioxidant, naturally derived from apple seeds, oranges, and other botanical sources, that binds free radicals and promotes healthy, radiant skin in the under-eye area. Ferulic acid can be used alone, or in conjunction with other topical antioxidants or retinol, stimulating collagen production and brightening the under-eye area."
Preparation H and Hemorrhoid Creams
And now for a rather unexpected remedy for the face: hemorrhoid cream. As Levin tells me, "There are different types of hemorrhoid creams, however, Preparation H is an over-the-counter hemorrhoid cream that has ingredients that can constrict and narrow blood vessels, which can help reduce puffiness." So I decided to give it a try. Admittedly, it took me a while to get over the fact that Preparation H is intended for your butt, not the delicate skin under your eyes. And honestly, I'm still not really over it. But I did work up the nerve to put it on after a shower and let it sit for a little while. I didn't really notice a difference, but maybe I was too caught up in the hilarity of it to take it seriously.
Also, Levin definitely doesn't "recommend it as a regular eye cream, as it can cause irritation as well as clogging of pores." If you do decide you want to give it a try, keep in mind that some "hemorrhoid creams can contain ingredients such as topical steroids, which can thin out the skin and cause more blood vessels if used for long periods of time." She says that "makeup artists use this for special occasions for a quick fix, but I do not recommend this as a dermatologist."
She mentioned that it's more often a remedy for dry and irritated skin, which I don't have. But if you have eczema or a similar condition, it's worth trying out. You could ask your dermatologist about giving it a shot since it's a pretty affordable treatment option.
Dermarolling and microneedling seem to be the most controversial remedy for dark circles, as they can be hard to execute properly for the average person. At the same time, a ton of people swore that it cured their dark circles. Basically, microneedling works by "causing tiny micro-injuries in the skin that can create collagen production. By pushing collagen production, the skin can thicken, which can make blood vessels under the skin less noticeable," Levin explains. When done correctly, it's effective.
However, she also says, "I caution my patients around microneedling at home with dermarollers" because "the standard dermaroller can range from 0.25 to 2.5 millimeters, but at-home microneedling devices are difficult to clean and maintain. The needles for at home dermarollers also dull quickly. Complications can happen when microneedling is not performed correctly with prolonged redness, discoloration, cold sores, worsening acne, and scarring. If you're considering microneedling, see a board-certified dermatologist."
I tried it at home and have noticed a slight improvement in my undereye area, especially the following morning, but considering the above information, I'm a little hesitant to make it a staple in my routine. It's also slightly painful, which makes it my least favorite trick for getting rid of dark circles, even though it does seem to work. It's all about personal preference.
Hydration, Sleep, and Diet
As Patino reminds me, "The best remedy for under-eye circles, but most difficult for us to incorporate into our super-busy lifestyles, is plenty of sleep, hydration, sun protection, and a healthy diet rich in antioxidants." This one is still definitely a work in progress. I started keeping a little log each morning, and I can absolutely 100% see the difference in the appearance of my eyes when I get enough quality sleep and when I don't. But she is definitely correct that this is the hardest adjustment to make.
In terms of diet, I made an interesting discovery: Forgoing ramen has changed my life, for better or for worse. It may sound like a menial adjustment to some, but for me, it was a massive transition that meant scarier Sundays but better Mondays. Until I get properly tested for allergies, it'll be a no-go for me on bone broth, as my eyes are practically sealed shut the next morning and I'm foggier-headed than I am from a severe hangover.
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