What makes it particularly tricky to treat dark circles is that there isn't one reason people develop them.
Dr. Day says lack of sleep, dehydration, drinking too much alcohol and not eating a well-balanced diet are all lifestyle factors that can contribute to the appearance of dark circles, but genetics and aging come into play, too.
"Under-eye hollowing is a broad category and includes everything from genetics, where it's the shape of the eyes and the structures around them that creates a natural hollow, to redness that can also create a shadow-like effect," Day says.
Dr. Evan Rieder, a board-certified dermatologist, assistant professor of dermatology at New York University Langone and member of the American Academy of Dermatology, says that someone's physiology plays a larger role in developing dark circles than we realize.
"Some people just naturally have darker areas under the eyes. They may look more severe in fairer skin tones, but people of South Asian or African ancestry might also notice that they have a sharp cut-off around their eyes," he says.
Aging is also one of the leading causes of dark, under-eye circles. As you get older, the tissue around the eyes weakens, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
This breakdown in collagen can cause fat to shift to the lower eyelids, creating dark shadows and puffiness.
In fact, Dr. Heidi Waldorf, a board-certified dermatologist and owner of Waldorf Dermatology Aesthetics, says that the most common reason dark circles form is hollowing in the under-eye area from the loss of deep fat.
"That's why patients complain that they have tried every cream and none worked," Dr. Waldorf explains.
Unfortunately, aging in the under-eye area happens in layers, which is why you see a gradual sag in your skin from the eyelids to the brows to the forehead.
Deep under the eye area is a framework for bones, muscles, ligaments, fat pads, lymphatics, nerves and blood vessels that hold everything in place, Day explains.
"These elements don't age in a synchronous way, which over time, can lead to hollows, under-eye bags and crepey skin," she says.
Oftentimes, fine lines in the forehead are linked to heaviness in the eyelids and drooping eyebrows.
"Many, if not most, forehead lines, are not due to primary wrinkling of the forehead itself but rather as a secondary effect of heavy eyelids. The normal response to heavy eyelids is to raise the brows and this creates forehead wrinkles," Day says
Another little-known reason you might develop dark circles is from rubbing your eyes.
"Allergies can increase redness and rubbing the eyes will lead to darkening through increased pigment from the irritation," Day says.
"It's one of the worst things you can do to the delicate skin in this sensitive area. Just don't do it."
The best treatments for dark, under-eye circles:
Our experts all agree that the best way to treat dark, under-eye circles is through a combination of cosmetic treatments performed by a dermatologist, healthy lifestyle changes and high-quality skincare products.
"In-office treatments, such as peels, lasers, devices that tighten and fillers are sometimes needed and can have a lasting effect," Day says.
Fillers, for example, help eliminate shadows and hollowness under the eyes by restoring the padding in the lower eyelid and cheek, Day says.
"Doing chemical peels for several weeks can lighten the skin. Botox can be helpful for smoothing out excess crinkling of the skin," Dr. Rieder says.
Rieder also says microneedling, which delivers controlled injury to the skin, shows some promise as an under-eye treatment option because it stimulates collagen production and allows anti-aging serums to penetrate deeper into the skin.
A small August 2018 study in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology suggests that microneedling can help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and improve skin texture.
Waldorf notes that noninvasive skin-tightening procedures, like Thermage or Ultherapy, are also used to treat dark, under-eye circles and provide a natural lift before the issue becomes severe.
"Crepey-textured skin will make it appear worse so resurfacing the skin with a Fraxel laser improves the appearance," Waldorf says.
How to shop for the best eye creams for dark, under-eye circles:
But if cosmetic procedures aren't an option for you, using over-the-counter eye creams and skincare products can help reduce the appearance of dark circles.
Just be aware that you won't get the same results from using skincare products as you would get from in-house cosmetic procedures.
"The same ingredients that help prevent and treat skin aging are helpful for under the eyes," Waldorf says.
To help you choose the best eye creams or skincare products for treating dark circles, here's a quick checklist of important ingredients to look for:
Hyaluronic acid hydrates and plumps up skin, giving you a youthful and radiant glow.
By brightening the skin, it can help mask darkness under the eyes.
"Hyaluronic acid and glycerin help pull moisture into the epidermis from the environment above and dermis below," Waldorf says.
Caffeine works to constrict the blood vessels under the eyes, reducing redness, Rieder says.
Dimethicone and cyclomethicone are emollients that lock in moisture while also acting as a spackle between cells to make skin look smoother and silkier, Waldorf says.
Retinol is a vitamin A derivative and the over-the-counter version of prescription retinoids.
Retinols help prevent fine lines and wrinkles from forming by promoting cell turnover in the skin.
"Topical retinol and alpha hydroxy acid products that are specially designed for the delicate eyelid skin and can help improve the texture and color of the skin," Waldorf says.
"But they must be used with care because they can be irritating."
Vitamin C and polyphenols help reduce oxidative stress from environmental pollutants, Waldorf says.
Note that eye products with vitamin C have lower concentrations of the active ingredient than those for the rest of the face.
Peptides are the building blocks of collagen, which helps keep your skin firm and smooth.
As you age, the rate of collagen your skin produces slows down, so using eye creams with peptides helps stimulate their growth.
Natural remedies for dark circles:
1. Cold Compress
In the morning or evening – or better yet, in the morning AND the evening – apply a cold compress for about 10 minutes. If you have a mask you can keep in your fridge and pull out twice a day, that's the easiest way to try this dark circle reducing method. Just make sure to keep it clean and give it a good soapy scrub a few times a week!
We've all seen cucumbers used as cold compresses on television and in films – but do they really work?
In fact, cucumbers have skin-lightening and mild astringent properties, so you can use cucumber slices to fix raccoon eyes naturally.
To try this method twice a day, chop a fresh cucumber into thick slices and then refrigerate for 30 minutes. Then, leave the slices on your eyes for 10 minutes. Rinse your eye area with warm (but not hot) water after using.
3. Cucumber Juice + Lemon Juice
If cucumber slices don't work for you, try mixing equal parts cucumber and lemon juice and then use a cotton ball to apply to your under-eye circles. (DO NOT get lemon juice in your eye!) Leave the solution on your skin for 15 minutes and then rinse with warm water.
4. Rose Water
Rose water doesn't just smell fantastic – it can also soothe and rejuvenate tired skin. Like cucumber, it's a mild astringent, so it can work as a skin toner. Just soak cotton makeup remover pads in rose water for a few minutes, and then let the soaked makeup pads sit on your CLOSED eyelids. Leave them for about 15 minutes twice daily.
Tomatoes are high in lycopene, a substance that's excellent for your cardiovascular health, vision and your skin. Lycopene can help create softer, more supple skin, as well as decrease the appearance of dark under eye circles.
To gain the medical benefits of the lycopene found in tomatoes, mix equal parts tomato juice with lemon juice and then use a cotton ball or makeup remover pad to apply it to your under eye area. (Again, PLEASE do not get lemon juice in your eyes.) Leave the solution for 10 minutes and then rinse with warm water, twice daily.
A tasty concoction of tomato juice, lemon juice and mint leaves to drink daily will also help improve your overall health as well as your skin.
6. Cold tea bags
If you don't have a cold compress or mask to use, substitute with tea bags. Many teas like green tea have the added benefit of antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory properties that help soothe strained capillaries in your under eye area.
To use cold tea bags as a compress, soak a tea bag in clean water and then place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Then, place the tea bags on your eyes. Leave for 10 minutes or so twice daily before removing and rinsing the area with warm water.
Potatoes are a surprising source of lots of vitamin C, which among other things is great for the synthesis of collagen to promote healthier, younger-looking skin.
To harness the power of vitamin C to treat your under eye bags, grate some potatoes. Extract the juice from the potato and soak some cotton makeup remover pads in the juice. Place the pads on your eyes for about 10 minutes and then rinse with warm water.
8. Cold Milk
Dairy products like milk are a great source of vitamin A, which contains retinoids that are great for keeping skin looking bright and young.
To gain the benefits of milk's vitamin A, soak a cotton makeup remover pad in a bowl of cold milk for a while. Use the pad to apply the milk to your under eye bags and let it sit for about 10 minutes, twice daily. Rinse with warm water.
9. Orange Juice
Since orange juice is high in both vitamin A and C content, it can help remove dark circles from under your eyes. Add a few drops of glycerin to orange juice and then soak a cotton makeup remover pad to apply to your under-eye skin. You'll reap the benefits of orange's vitamins as well as the natural glow glycerin gives to your skin.
10. Vitamin E Oil
Vitamin E helps fight the effect of free radicals that cause signs of aging like wrinkles. Before bed at night, apply a drop of oil (a little goes a long way) to your dark under eye circles, gently massaging it into the skin. Leave this on your skin overnight and in the morning, rinse with warm water.
11. Coconut Oil
As a powerful natural and gentle anti-inflammatory, coconut oil is an effective method for lightening dark under eye circles.
It also moisturizes while it lightens to help prevent wrinkles and fine lines under the eyes. Use coconut oil like vitamin E oil: rub it into your under eye area, leave it on overnight and then rinse it off in the morning.
As yet another powerful, natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, turmeric minimizes dark circles. Mix some turmeric powder with pineapple juice to create a thick paste. Apply this mixture to your under eye circles and leave for about 10 minutes before using a soft, warm and damp cloth to gently remove the paste. Practice this routine once a day.
13. Eat More Dark Chocolate
Here's your excuse to indulge: Flavonol-rich foods like dark chocolate protect against the harmful effects of UV radiation, thereby slowing down the aging process caused by too much time in the sun – a delightful little fact after hearing for so long that chocolate is bad for our skin!
14. Eat More Salmon
Omega 3's can be found in foods like salmon and walnuts. These fatty acids improve blood flow to the skin, moving blood out and away from your eyes instead of allowing it to pool there and cause dark under eye circles.
15. Curb Salt Consumption + Drink More Water
If you remember studying osmosis in high school biology, then you'll recall that water in your body moves from places with the most water to those with the least. The parts of your body that are low in sodium (salt) contain more water, while the parts of your body with more sodium contain less water.
When your body doesn't have enough water but too much salt, you can look and feel puffy and bloated. The skin around your eyes is especially thin and vulnerable to dehydration. When you eat a salty meal but don't drink enough water, your body will literally "look" dehydrated – i.e., red, puffy eyes. So if you plan to enjoy a salty meal, counter the effects with plenty of water.
16. Curb Your Alcohol Consumption
Salt is bad but nothing dehydrates you like alcohol. Remember your last hangover? That's why your eyes look red and puffy the morning after. Whenever possible, keep yourself to a two-drink maximum, drink plenty of water before you go to bed, and apply a night cream or heavy moisturizer around your eyes after a night out.
17. Eye Massager
Regular eye massage promotes blood flow to the under eye area and helps prevent blood from pooling in the capillaries under the eyes. FOREO's IRIS is a spa-quality eye massager that you can use yourself at home. First, apply your favorite eye cream or serum. Turn on the IRIS and adjust to your desired intensity.
Next, move the IRIS from the inner corner to outer corner of the eye for 30 seconds (insider tip: make sure the button side is facing towards you).
18. Get 8 hours of sleep
Nothing keeps under eye bags away like a full 8 hours' of sleep. Get a good night's rest – every night – and enjoy reduced under eye circles.
19. Sleep on your back
Since sleeping on your side or stomach allows gravity to work its magic, meaning fluid can collect under your eyes, try sleeping on your back with an extra pillow under your head.
20. Exercise + Meditation
Regular exercise enhances circulation, bringing blood flow to the skin to transform an aging, dull complexion into brighter, younger-looking skin – including the sensitive skin around your eyes. Moreover, the daily release of endorphins into your bloodstream keeps away depression and anxiety, keeping you happier, calmer and more balanced.
Meditation – whether it's a mindfulness exercise after a yoga practice or the peace of mind you find on a long, quiet run or swim – also keeps stress (and the wrinkles and fine lines caused by stress) at bay.
21. Allergy Medicines
If your dark circles are at least in part due to allergies, taking antihistamines regularly can help reduce under eye bags and puffiness. Furthermore, allergies can also cause itchy eyes – and rubbing your eyes only makes under eye circles worse.
22. Apply Moisturizers Twice Daily
Don't forget the most fundamental good habit – apply moisturizer twice daily. Use a lighter moisturizer for daytime with an SPF, and be sure to use a heavier moisturizer and eye cream before going to bed every night.
23. Use Retinoid Eye Cream
Many love to use retinoid eye creams, but it's not for every skin type. Use sparingly – no more than twice a week – otherwise you risk causing red, flaky, dry skin.
24. Remove Makeup Correctly
Do not go to sleep with your makeup still on or rub your mascara and eyeliner off. Use a professional makeup removing solution – only a few dollars at your local drugstore or Sephora – to blot, not rub.
25. Wash Your Face Correctly
Wash with warm – not hot – water. Water that's too hot acts as an inflammatory agent and will only make your eyes redder and puffier.