Dark circles are a huge issue for many of us. While it can be triggered by stress — mine were never worse than when I was trying to accomplish the trifecta of being a full-time medical student, part-time manager at a vitamin store, and a blogger — stress isn’t the only factor. Conditions like heredity, sleeping conditions, nutritional deficiencies, and skin care can make a huge difference in the appearance of dark circles. Here are six major ways to treat dark circles:
#1. DERMATOLOGICAL: USE INGREDIENTS WITH RETINOL AND VITAMIN K.
According to the textbook Cosmetic Dermatology, a study has demonstrated that use of vitamin K (phytonadione) combined with 0.15% retinol resulted in improving under-eye circles in 93 percent of the patients studied.
There are dermatologists and aestheticians out there who will tell you not to apply full-strength retinol creams and serums to the undereye area. However, I have done it for years with 0.5-1.0% retinol serums, and my undereye area has never looked better! I’m not alone in recommending this: As suggested by Dr. Audrey Kunin, M.D. in The DermaDoctor SkinStruction Manual, you can apply a stronger retinol cream to the undereye area, such as the 0.9% retinol favorite Green Cream Level 9 ($49.95, Amazon.com). Start with use every third night, gradually working up to every other night, and eventually every night.
I then recommend a vitamin K-rich eye cream, like Peter Thomas Roth Power K Eye Rescue or Nevonia Bio-Restorative Eye Cream. Unlike a full-strength retinol serum, you can use either of these vitamin K-rich eye creams nightly from the get-go.
If you are looking for at-home remedies, it is true that the natural enzymes in cucumber slices reduce tissue inflammation, which may reduce the appearance of dark circles somewhat. Personally, I prefer full-strength manufactured treatments, so I go with Green Cream Level 9 and then Peter Thomas Roth Power K Eye Rescue.
#2. USE YELLOW- AND GREEN-BASED CONCEALER.
Most of the time, we use a concealer that matches our skin tone. That means we tend to use concealers that are yellow (if we have warm undertones), green (if we have neutral undertones), or blue (if we have cool undertones).Unfortunately, most of us have dark circles that are caused by hyperpigmentation, blood pooling, or some combination of both. Hyperpigmentation tends to be a purplish-blue shade, whereas blood pooling tends to be like a bruise, either dark purplish-blue or even reddish in nature.
To counterbalance this, look at the color wheel. Rather than trying to counteract purple or blue shades with a blue or green-undertoned concealer, make sure that you are using a concealer with its yellow-orange opposite. Similarly, rather than trying to disguise reddish dark circles with a yellow or blue-undertoned concealer, use a concealer that is its green opposite. For best results, keep both a yellow and green concealer available, and blend accordingly.
#3. MEDICAL: CONSIDER YOU MIGHT HAVE A DEEP TEAR TROUGH.
Medically-speaking, the underlying physiology of dark circles is not entirely understood. At this time, the most likely causes are either excessive melanin production (hyperpigmentation), or blood pooling under the eyes as a result of inflammation or vasodilation (Cosmetic Dermatology).
To find out what the cause of yours is, do the following test, from Dr. Heidi Waldorf:
- If you apply pressure to the circle or shadow and it disappears, your problem is due to blood pooling under the eyes.
- If the color doesn’t disappear, the darkness is caused by excess pigment.
- If the shadow forms at the inside corner of your eye, where a tear would flow, it’s probably due to a deep tear trough.
As for the treatments:
- If you have blood pooling, ingredients like Haloxyl, found in Maybelline Instant Rewind Eraser Dark Circles Treatment, may help.
- If you have excess pigment (hyperpigmentation), try the Retinol-Vitamin K combo mentioned above.
- If you have a deep tear trough, an injectable filler or implant from a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon is your best bet. Visit RealSelf for more information.
#4. NUTRITIONAL: ADD MORE ANTI-INFLAMMATORY INGREDIENTS TO YOUR DIET.
As Hippocrates once said, “Let food by thy medicine, and let thy medicine be thy food.”
While I’m still 100% in favor of using proven skin care ingredients in optimized concentrations, I’ve also noticed a clear link between food and the clarity of my skin.
That said, I recommend the following:
- Cut dairy. Dairy products contain the inflammatory protein casein. In fact, casein makes up a giant portion — 87% — of cow’s milk (The China Study). While there is casein present in human breast milk, but there is three times more casein in cow’s milk (The Beauty Detox Diet). This means that you may notice more puffiness, redness, and water retention — all signs of inflammation — when you ingest dairy products. My best advice is to reduce or eliminate dairy completely for three days and see if your dark circles improve. [Read more: Should I Reduce Dairy or Not?: Weigh In!]
- Enhance your intake of fruits and vegetables. It may sound boring, but regular ol’ fruits and vegetables may be your best guard against dark circles. For instance, cucumbers have been used in ethnic medicine when ingested as a diuretic, treatment for hypertension, and to reduce swelling and inflammation (Mosby’s Handbook of Herbs and Natural Supplements). In one study, a cucumber concentrate was shown to be good for skin brightening and anti-acne purposes (African Journal of Biotechnology, 2011). Future studies will need to determine how well cucumber and other fruits/vegetables work on dark circles in particular, but their infusion of the system with vitamins, nutrients, and micronutrients certainly can’t hurt!
- Cook with coconut oil. Coconut oil has been shown to have hydrating potential more significant than mineral oil (Dermatitis, 2004). Coconut oil has also been shown to contain compounds that may slightly stimulate the thyroid, which may help metabolize compounds faster and lead to less inflammation and stagnation. This is not a replacement for thyroid hormone therapy or a treatment for hypothyroidism, but a “boost” for otherwise healthy individuals.
- Eat anti-inflammatory grains like oatmeal. Oatmeal has been shown in studies to relieve pain and itching by inhibiting prostaglandin synthesis. Also, studies published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology suggest using colloidal oatmeal as a first-line treatment to alleviate the symptoms of psoriasis, eczema, and atopic dermatitis. It is suggested that use of colloidal oatmeal to treat these conditions may allow for reduced need of topical drugs like corticosteroids or calcineurin inhibitors, which have more known potential side effects than colloidal oatmeal.
- Avoid fried, fatty, fast, and frozen foods. Each of these four “F” foods can cause inflammation within the skin. Fried, fatty, and fast foods tend to contain a higher composition of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids than anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. On the other hand, frozen foods often contain antimicrobial compounds that prevent or stop the growth of healthy bacteria within your system. This may contribute to inflammation, as well as digestive upset. Gross! So be sure to limit your consumption of these foods as much as possible.
While improving your diet isn’t necessarily as easy as slapping on a cream, just adding one or two anti-inflammatory foods and decreasing consumption of one or two servings per day of fried, fatty, fast, and frozen food can help!
#5. PSYCHOLOGICAL. USE POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS.
I’m a huge fan of Louise Hay. I have turned around several negative beliefs and habits in my life using her system of regular reading, positive affirmations, and journaling.
For dark circles and other eye troubles, Louise recommends telling yourself, “It is safe for me to take care of myself.” In what ways do you believe that it is not safe for you to take care of yourself? Is there something that you are not facing, or are afraid of “seeing”?
While it may sound hokey to some practitioners of western medicine, there is a mind-body connection. In my case, my dark circles years ago were connected to an inner belief that I should work every minute I could to earn money, both to prove myself to my peers (“I was smart in school, and I have to make something of my life”) as well as to afford my bills. It took time and experience to learn that it was safe to take time out of my schedule to take care of myself. I needed to take time to rest, relax, recharge, and rejuvenate. I was worth it, but I wasn’t ready to see life that way.Some would say the psychological treatment wasn’t the cure — but, ultimately, taking the time to research the best ingredients and foods, purchase the right products, select healthy foods, and repeat this behavior regularly stemmed from the belief it was OK for me to do so. I was worth spending the time and money on the right foods and treatments.
We are all busy. Whether with work, home, family, friends, community, relationships, or other commitments, we need to know that it is safe for us to take time to care for ourselves properly. This was huge in eliminating my own beauty issues, such as dark circles.
#6. BEHAVIORAL: NIX CAFFEINE IN FOOD, BUT USE IT IN SKIN CARE.
Caffeine is interesting: To reduce dark circles, you should drink less caffeine, but apply more skin care products with caffeine!
I’ll explain. Caffeine is a drug. An approved-by-the-FDA-in-
On the other hand, topically applying caffeine has been shown by Lu et. al to do amazing things for skin care: It may have a sunscreen effect and even help to prevent skin cancer. The exact mechanism by which caffeine achieves these aims is not yet known, but it may be related to the fact that the caffeic acid found in caffeine has been found to have some antioxidant activity. Topical application of caffeine additionally dehydrates skin cells, making the skin temporarily appear smoother. a diuretic (making the skin temporarily appear smoother).
Topically applying caffeine also vasoconstricts. But when you constrict blood vessels on the surface, rather than those deeper within skin, this reduces under-eye puffiness and dark circles. Strange, isn’t it?!
One final tip: Sleep on more than one pillow. This helps to reduce dark circles by decreasing blood flow accumulation.
Dark circles can be treated in many ways, including dermatologically, cosmetically, medically, nutritionally, psychologically, and behaviorally. Use the tips above to see which works for you and your dark circles! Let me know what works for you in Comments!