When you go to sleep at night, you expect to wake up to skin that looks rejuvenated and energized — especially if you take your nightly skincare routine seriously. Instead, you wake to find dark circles under the eyes that make you look tired and worn out. So much for beauty sleep.
Darkness and bags under the eyes most often appear due to lack of sleep, dehydration, and genetic predisposition, and eye cream alone is rarely enough to treat them. “Since dark under-eye circles are often due to a combination of causes, we often need more than an eye cream to get notable improvement,” says Amanda Doyle, MD, a New York City-based board certified dermatologist.
So, what are the best treatment options for dark circles and under-eye bags? Here, two dermatologists share their solutions for brighter eyes.
What Causes Dark Circles?
In order to know how to treat dark circles, you need to know what’s causing them. “First, there may be a genetic component,” Dr. Doyle shares. In fact, facial anatomy is the most common cause of dark circles. “The make-up of your face can cause some people to have eyes that are more ‘sunken,’ which then leads to shadowing that appears as dark circles under their eyes,” explains Orit Markowitz, MD, a board certified dermatologist in NYC. The natural aging process can also play a role in the appearance of the under-eye area. As we lose volume in our faces, dark eye circles can become more prominent.
But dark circles aren’t always hereditary. “Fatigue, stress, exhaustion of the muscles around the eye, and aging may also play a significant role,” Dr. Doyle notes. Alcohol consumption, smoking, and excessive intake of caffeinated beverages can exacerbate darkness, too.
Less commonly, certain medical conditions can impact the under eye. “Systemic conditions like wasting syndrome (weakness and wasting of the body due to severe chronic illness), gastrointestinal disease, thyroid dysfunction, vitamin K deficiency, hormonal abnormalities, and heart and kidney disease can also cause this type of dark discoloration,” Dr. Doyle explains. For some patients, culprits include eczema, contact dermatitis, or any airborne or food allergy. Certain medications like oral contraception, hormone therapies, psychiatric medications, iron, gold, and chemotherapy treatments can contribute to dark circles around the eyes.
Even so, “what we see most commonly is a combination of fatigue, volume loss around the eye, and a genetic component,” Dr. Doyle says.
Why Eye Cream Isn’t Enough
Eye creams target common concerns like tightening, brightening, and depuffing, but they often aren’t enough to erase dark circles — particularly the ones caused by genetics or age. “If the dark eye circles result from your facial anatomy, you can't truly ‘get rid’ of them,” Dr. Markowitz notes. But that doesn’t mean you should toss your favorite products. For under-eye bags caused by external factors, eye cream can be beneficial. “If the dark circles are a result of allergies or lack of sleep, you can take some preventative measures and use creams to treat them," she adds.
Treatments for Dark Circles
If you’re looking to minimize the appearance of stubborn dark circles, professional help may be your best bet. “Typically, we treat with fillers, peels, and lasers to reduce pigmentation and make the eye area appear more youthful and awake,” Dr. Doyle explains. “It can really make a huge difference in this area.”
- Fillers & Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP): These injectables “help to smooth out the hollows and fill in areas of volume loss, making under-eye hollows appear less obvious,” Dr. Doyle says.
- Chemical Peels: “We also use delicate chemical peels to lift dark pigmentation and improve the quality of the skin around the eye area,” she notes.
- Laser Treatments: Similarly, gentle lasers can be used to lighten or remove dark pigment under the eye.
More often than not, under eye filler with a hyaluronic acid-based product is going to provide the most dramatic result. “Under eye filler is the most effective way to help with dark eye circles,” Dr. Markowitz says. “They work by filling out the hollowness in the area, and the results are brighter under eye that are free from shadowing and dark circles.” The filler is injected into the tear trough and usually lasts six to 12 months.
Even though eye creams can address a number of eye-related concerns (think: de-puffing, crow’s feet, and fine lines), dark circles often require a bit more attention. Depending on the cause, treatments like fillers, chemical peels, and lasers can lighten the under eye area. Consulting with a board certified dermatologist and plastic surgeon will ensure you receive the best treatment for your needs.
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