The kids on TikTok might be deliberately shading in their under-eyes to make them appear darker, but we find this trend as appealing as their crusade to bring back low-rise jeans. It’s a hard no from us.
Whether you’ve been fighting dark circles for ages, or have only just noticed them, there are a number of reasons why you might be dealing with them – no matter how much sleep you try to get.
We asked an expert for their take on the age-old ‘nature vs. nurture’ debate – have your genes condemned you to a lifetime of pesky shadows or can you fix them? Plus, we tested over 70 of the best eye creams to find out which ones can really deliver results when it comes to brightening up stubborn dark circles.
Brighter peepers are just a scroll away…
What causes dark under-eye circles?
Maybe you’re born with them, or maybe one too many Netflix serial killer marathons have got the best of you (hey, no judgement here). Late nights and screen strain certainly don’t help, but it turns out you can blame your dark circles – and the number of concealer sticks you plough through – on many things.
Over to dermatologist Dr Zena Willsmore to break down the four main contributory categories:
Bone structure: The natural hollow of the eye socket – designed to protect the eyeball – contributes to sagging and shadowing, as does the skin loosening and thinning with age. The bone structure and fat distribution in our faces changes as we get older; facial fat pads shrink, along with our skeleton, which manifests as volume loss.
Skin translucency: The skin around the eyes is naturally thin and designed to be very dynamic. This can mean that underlying blood vessels and muscles become visible, giving it a purplish hue. Though largely genetically determined, skin tends to become more translucent with age, with sun exposure, smoking and pollution also worsening the problem.
Pigmentation: Pigmentation, when certain patches of your skin are darker than the rest, has multiple causes, including sun exposure (the biggest culprit), genetics, medical conditions and scars, for example due to acne, eczema or rubbing your eyes during an allergy attack. It can sit in the superficial layers of the skin or deeper down in the dermis, where it is more challenging to treat.
Puffiness: Swelling under the eyes can be caused by a combination of skin thinning, loosening and retaining fluid. Some medications can make this worse, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen.
While you can’t change your genes, you can help fight those contributory environmental factors by making small lifestyle changes.
“There is some merit to the phrase ‘beauty sleep’, but it’s more about your longer-term sleep quality than a one-off early night,” says Dr Willsmore. “Other important environmental factors that will affect our skin quality and the way we age are sun exposure, smoking and alcohol. A well-balanced diet will contribute to improving your skin’s health.”
Basically, put down that margarita and make sleep a priority (most of the time, anyway). Oh, and keep slapping on that SPF every day.
Can you get rid of dark circles permanently?
It’s not all gloom and doom; there are several ways to banish your dark circles for good.
First off, invest in a good moisturiser. “Dry skin emphasises the appearance of wrinkles, but well hydrated skin will appear smoother, more plump and reflect light for that sought-after ‘glow’,” says Dr Willsmore. “Look for ingredients like glycerin, squalene, ceramides, fatty acids, cholesterol, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, panthenol and peptides.”
Make sure you’re also including the likes of retinol, vitamin C, azelaic acid, AHAs and kojic acid (to name but a few) in your skincare routine. These goodies all contribute to boosting collagen levels and tackling pigmentation.
Eye cream, essentially a targeted moisturiser, might seem like yet another skincare step, but you’ll be glad you used one in the long run. The eye area is more delicate and thinner than other areas of the face, so you’ll need a specific product targeted to address the area.
For example, a high-powered retinol might work wonders for your face, but may leave your eye area looking like it’s hay fever season – not ideal. However, an eye cream will factor this into account and use a lower percentage of an active ingredient.
“The right skincare can absolutely help improve the quality of skin in the eye area by targeting thinning and pigmentation,” says Dr Willsmore. “I must emphasise, however, that skincare products will not help with sagging or volume loss, as these relate to the underlying facial structures.”
To make sure you have the most potent formula for your skin, look for an eye cream containing the ingredients mentioned above.
Dr Willsmore recommends facial massage and cool compress for temporarily soothing puffiness as they aid lymphatic drainage. “You can invest in tools or simply use the back of a spoon popped in the fridge.”
We know we sound like a broken record, but stay out of the sun. It not only causes pigmentation, but also messes with your skin in other ways.
“Both collagen (the scaffolding of your skin) and elastin (which gives skin its springiness) plummet with UV damage,” says Dr Willsmore. “UV light is also the biggest driver for pigmentation as it ‘switches on’ your pigment-making cells. Choose sunscreen with SPF 50 but also good UVA cover; look for a 5* UVA rating or PA++++.”
There are also a few in-office treatments you can splurge on, but seek the help of an experienced health professional to diagnose the root cause of your dark circles first.
“Chemical peels and lasers can help improve pigmentation and skin quality,” says Dr Willsmore. “Fillers can help correct volume loss but, in some cases, surgical procedures such as blepharoplasty and fat transfer are needed to treat sagging.”
How we test
To find the best dark circle-busting formula, we asked our panel of over 1,000 beauty testers to try 79 different brightening eye creams for a month.
They judged the products on their brightening effects, while also noting any visible improvements to puffiness, dryness, roughness and wrinkles and fine lines.
Meanwhile, our expert testers used a VISIA complexion analyser to measure the number of wrinkles and fine lines before and after the trial period. Below are the eye creams that passed our tests with flying colours.
Illuminating Eye Cream
The brand may be well known for its make-up, but this little pot is jam-packed with invigorating green coffee seed oil and light-reflecting violet pearl to help give those peepers a wake-up call.
It did such a great brightening job that many testers found they could pare back their usual make-up. Dark circles and fine lines? Reduced, with most saying their eye area appeared plumper and more hydrated.
Keep Young And Beautiful Firm And Lift Eye Cream
REN Clean Skincare
Claiming to produce much-needed firming collagen, this lightweight cream aims to brighten and plump your under-eyes. It smoothed and brightened successfully, with many testers seeing an instant improvement to dark circles. They appreciated that only a small amount was needed to enjoy fast, noticeable results.
Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing and Dark Circle-Diminishing Vitamin C Eye Serum
Kiehl’s Since 1851
This gentle, vitamin C-rich formula did wonders for our panel’s dark shadows, leaving almost all with brighter eyes. Everybody found it easy to apply and irritation-free. It was ace at tackling dehydration, with the majority also enjoying added smoothness and reduced puffiness.
Garnier Organic Soothing Lavandin Anti Age Eye Cream
This bargain vegan option left nearly all testers with more illuminated under-eyes, successfully keeping dark circles at bay. The lightweight texture didn’t leave anyone’s lids looking greasy, while most said their eyes looked smoother, more hydrated and de-puffed.
Redermic [R] Eyes
Retinol in an eye cream is a rarity, but this contains a low enough dosage (0.1%) that it can still give you all those smoothing, collagen-stimulating benefits, without any redness.
Impressively, nearly all our panel found this tackled dark circles perfectly, with the majority seeing fine lines reduced too. Everyone agreed that their eyes felt more hydrated and most thought their eyes appeared less puffy.
For more of the best eye cream recommendations, check out our team picks here.