Dark under-eye circles are negatively seen as tired, old, and lifeless-looking. This prompts many women (and men) to do all they can to cover up their dark circles.
As an experienced beauty writer on products that work and products that don’t, I highly recommend eye creams that specifically target dark circles. But just using skincare products isn’t enough. As you’ll see later, there are myriad factors that cause dark circles under your eyes.
I’ll help you identify the culprit(s) behind your tired-looking bags. Most importantly, I’ll show you how to search for the best eye creams for dark circles.
But first, our top picks. 🙂
Our top picks for the best eye cream for dark circles
Best Overall: Paula’s Choice RESIST Anti-Aging Eye Gel
From reducing under-eye puffiness to smoothing out pesky crow’s feet, this lightweight eye gel by Paula’s Choice does it all. It’s packed with a potent blend of moisturizing ingredients and antioxidants, such as hyaluronic acid, licorice, niacinamide (read our review on The Ordinary Niacinamide), and peptides. Plus, it goes on smoothly and dries down fast.
Best Budget: Neutrogena HydroBoost
For a budget buy, Neutrogena’s HydroBoost fits the bill. Its gel-cream texture offers the perfect dose of hydration for the under-eye area without being overly greasy. To top it off, its non-comedogenic formula means no more pore-clogging for oilier skin types!
Best Clean Ingredients: Tata Harper Illuminating Eye Cream
If you’re interested in clean beauty, check out this eye cream by Tata Harper. Targeted at signs of aging, the formula boasts a whopping 33 high-performing ingredients. What’s more, it’s infused with real diamond dust for a subtle glow. Talk about luxurious!
Best Splurge: NeoCutis Lumiere Firm Illuminating Eye Cream
Are your under-eye bags in need of some firming action? It’s NeoCutis to the rescue. For starters, it’s enriched with collagen-boosting ingredients like growth factors and proprietary peptides. Topped off with caffeine and vitamin C, this eye cream also tackles under-eye puffiness.
Best for Sensitive Eyes: Avene Soothing Eye Cream
Heads up, sensitive skin types! Avene may have what you need for your dark circles. Made with the brand’s signature ingredient, thermal water, this eye cream hydrates without sensitizing your skin.
Best Caffeinated: The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5%
Sometimes, the skin around your eyes needs a dose of caffeine to perk up. If that’s the case, try The Ordinary’s Caffeine Solution. It features a dynamic duo of caffeine and EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) to banish even the most stubborn dark circles and pigmentation.
What to look for in an eye cream for dark circles
Like many people, you may not be keen on going under the knife to address your under-eye circles. Thankfully, there are far less painful (and cost-effective) solutions. And you’ve guessed right — it’s eye creams for dark circles to the rescue!
Given the plethora of eye cream products on the market, it can be difficult to choose the right one for you. That’s why I created this guide.
I’ll share scientifically proven ingredients that the best eye creams for dark circles have in common.
Vitamin C is a well-known skin-brightening ingredient in the beauty world. So, it comes as no surprise to see it on the ingredient list of many eye creams.
This potent antioxidant primarily works to tamp down your skin’s melanin production. Where vitamin C is effective in fading out sunspots and PIH, it also works to brighten dark circles.
A small-scale 2009 study in the Journal of Skin Research and Technology showed just that. Test subjects were tasked to apply a vitamin C lotion on half of their face for six months. The researchers found that vitamin C helped plump up the under-eye area and evened out discoloration. But, they noted that only ascorbic acid glucoside provided these benefits. No improvements were seen with sodium ascorbate.
One of my favorite vitamin C serums that can be layered under eye cream is Paula’s Choice BOOST C15. It has 15% vitamin C PLUS vitamin E and ferulic acid. All three of which have been shown to lighten and brighten under-eye circles. My favorite part with this particular serum is that you can use it to spot treat discoloration anywhere on your face.
If aging and dehydration are the reasons you have dark circles, vitamin E may help.
Touted as the ultimate anti-aging ingredient, vitamin E is scientifically proven to:
- Increase your skin’s hydration levels
- Improve your skin’s elasticity
- Reduce the appearance of wrinkles
As mentioned earlier, aging and insufficient water intake can lead to a drooping eye contour. The accompanying hollows then give the impression of under-eye circles. In this scenario, applying an eye cream that contains vitamin E may help tackle the root causes. You can then enjoy more youthful-looking peepers.
Vitamin K is present in two forms: vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) and vitamin K2 (menaquinones).
If you’re new to the ingredient, vitamin K plays an essential role in blood clotting. It also promotes blood circulation. This antioxidant may help reduce the look of under-eye discoloration.
Research shows that when vitamin K is used alone or with other skincare ingredients (like retinol and caffeine), it:
- Lightens dark under-eye circles
- Reduces redness
- Improves skin color
- Enhances skin elasticity
- Strengthens blood vessels
- Stimulate collagen production in the skin
- Improve the appearance of wrinkles
Without a doubt, vitamin K is the do-it-all ingredient your under-eye circles need.
Just like the other vitamins on this list, ferulic acid is another formidable antioxidant. Scientifically known as hydroxycinnamic acid, ferulic acid is widely known for its anti-aging prowess.
So, how does ferulic acid help with dark circles under your eyes?
For starters, ferulic acid protects your skin from damaging free radicals. These substances speed up the skin-aging process. You can credit your unwanted fine lines, forehead furrows, and crow’s feet to them.
Applying ferulic acid can help diminish the look of crepey-looking, lined skin. With firmer, smoother skin, this helps improve the darkened hollows under your eyes. What’s more, the benefits of ferulic acid aren’t limited to your skin’s structure.
Shielding your skin from free radicals also protects it from their harmful pigment-depositing effects. On top of that, ferulic acid has anti-inflammatory properties. This can help clear up any lingering PIH for a more even skin tone.
If your eye cream contains vitamin C, look out for ferulic acid on the ingredient list, too. Science explains that ferulic acid helps stabilize vitamin C. As you may have heard, vitamin C is easily oxidized when exposed to sunlight. An eye cream formulation that blends both vitamin C and ferulic acid is thus far more stable than vitamin C alone. This translates to greater effectiveness in lightening your dark circles.
Did you know that your skin naturally produces ceramides?
But before you rejoice, aging depletes your natural ceramide reserves. These lipids make up a significant portion of your skin’s protective barrier. So, a loss of ceramides equals sagging skin and increased dryness. As predicted, this spells trouble for your under-eye area.
But all is not lost. That’s because you can replenish your skin’s ceramides levels with the right skincare products. Case in point: a hydrating eye cream that’s specially formulated with ceramides. Adding it to your routine can help strengthen your skin’s barrier and rejuvenate the under-eye area.
Retinol and Retinoids
Retinol and retinoids often sound like interchangeable terms for the same thing. Sure, they are both derivatives of vitamin A. But they are also different ingredients.
Retinol is actually a form of retinoid but contains a lower concentration of the active ingredient. For that reason, retinol is often available in OTC skincare products.
Meanwhile, retinoid, being a more potent form, usually requires a prescription for purchase. (Unless you’re looking at Adapalene, who goes by the brand name, Differin.)
Now that you’re clear on the differences between retinol and retinoid, let’s talk about how they can help with your dark circles.
Many people swear by retinol and retinoids for their effectiveness in tackling under-eye discoloration. Of course, retinol, being of a lower-strength retinoic formula, may take more time to show results. But the upside is that it’s less likely to irritate sensitive skin types.
Research shows that retinoids lower melanin content in the skin.
If you recall, melanin is the pigment-depositing substance that gives rise to hyperpigmentation. These vitamin A derivatives also boost your skin’s collagen production. This may then help to fill out hollowed-out eye contours.
With plumped-up skin, your dark circles become less noticeable.
Niacinamide is another well-loved skin-brightening agent. It directly addresses hyperpigmentation issues, such as blotchiness, yellow-looking skin, and redness. Besides that, it helps reduce the skin’s moisture loss to diminish fine lines.
One study in the Journal of Dermatology showed the effectiveness of niacinamide for dark under-eye circles. Thirty female participants applied a 4% niacinamide product on one-half of their faces. At the end of eight weeks, the side treated with niacinamide visibly improved wrinkles. As such, the researchers suggested that niacinamide may help tackle fine lines in the eye area.
One of my favorites is The Ordinary’s Niacinamide serum because of its super affordable price tag and the fact that it actually works!
Kojic acid is a lightning agent that evens out discolored skin. This makes it perfect for brown circles under the eyes.
Take note that there’s limited clinical evidence on kojic acid for under-eye hyperpigmentation.
That said, many people personally vouched for this natural ingredient to help lighten their dark circles. What’s more, it’s a safer alternative to the otherwise controversial hydroquinone.
Caffeine not only wakes you up in the morning. When applied to the skin, it can perk up tired eyes, too. It’s the reason why some people use chilled tea bags to banish their dark circles and puffiness. Turns out this old wives’ remedy to instantly brighten your peepers actually has some truth to it.
How it works: Caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors to constrict blood vessels. Remember, dilated vessels (either due to allergies or sleep deprivation) heighten blood flow in the under-eye area. Applying a caffeine-based eye cream may then help improve the appearance of dark circles.
A 2015 study is scientific proof that caffeine works for dark circles under the eyes. Participants used a vitamin K-infused caffeine pad in Emu oil for four weeks. The results showed:
- Reduced dark under-eye circles
- Diminished appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
- Improved skin elasticity
In other words, caffeine is your new BFF in tackling under-eye pigmentation.
My favorite pic for this is definitely The Ordinary’s Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG. This serum is loaded with caffeine and antioxidants known as Epigallocatechin from green tea leaves. The caffeine delivers a vascular shrinking jolt and the EGCGs deliver powerful anti-inflammatory effects.
Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) are an integral part of your skin barrier. They primarily support collagen and elastin, which make up the skin structure.
What’s more, GAGs are powerful humectants that supercharge your skin’s moisture levels. GAGs bind to growth factors to promote skin growth.
For all these reasons, GAGs are widely popular in eye creams. They focus on slowing down skin aging, a major contributor to dark circles. By improving skin elasticity, GAGs help promote a more youthful-looking appearance around the eyes.
What causes dark circles under the eyes?
From genetics to lifestyle, various factors leave behind unwanted pigmentation under the eyes. While this list isn’t exhaustive, it’s a good starting place to find out the root cause(s) of your problem.
Note: Dark under-eye circles may not be aesthetically pleasing. But the good news is, they are usually not a cause for medical concern. The right skincare products and positive lifestyle changes may help minimize the dark circles under your eyes.
Fatigue is, more often than not, the no. 1 cause of dark circles under the eyes. You may be a high-powered executive tied to a busy work schedule. Or perhaps you’re a 24/7 housewife-and-mom chauffeuring your kids between soccer practice and ballet classes. Either way, not getting enough sleep will show up in the area under your eyes.
The reason is that when you’re sleep-deprived, your blood vessels expand. This causes more blood to flow to the skin around your eyes. Keep in mind that this area is quite delicate. As such, the increased blood flow shows up prominently as dark smudges.
Voila! You now have dark circles under your eyes.
If you aren’t drinking eight glasses of water every day, chances are you are dehydrated.
One symptom of dehydration is the bags under your eyes. Insufficient water intake can hollow out the surrounding skin. This makes pigmentation in the vicinity even more obvious than usual.
As we all know, ultraviolet (UV) rays do a serious number on our skin. An unwanted side effect is dark under-eye circles. That’s because too much sun exposure causes melanin overproduction in the cells.
If you haven’t heard, melanin is a color-depositing pigment. When melanin builds up in the skin under your eyes, it causes the area to darken. The end result is panda-like eyes.
Not many people realize that allergies can lead to dark circles under the eyes, too.
During an allergic reaction, your body’s immune system activates the production of histamines. These are chemicals that cause your blood vessels to dilate. If you recall, this leads to more blood circulating in the area under your eyes. As the skin around your eyes is thinner, this intensifies the appearance of dark circles.
Ever experience itching and flaking after using a product your skin doesn’t agree with? That’s medically known as contact dermatitis, a type of eczema.
Unfortunately, contact dermatitis can also lead to dark under-eye circles. When you scratch the affected area, your skin turns red and inflamed. Vigorous rubbing may even burst the fragile blood vessels near the skin’s surface. The duo of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) and bruising then shows up as unwanted dark circles.
Sometimes, dark hues can appear under your eyes even if you follow a healthy lifestyle. Perhaps you get enough sleep, apply sunscreen, and don’t have any allergies. Yet, you still struggle with dark under-eye circles. If that sounds like you, the problem is likely hereditary.
Genetic dark circles under the eyes mean you’ve inherited them from your parents.
This type of dark circle may present itself as early as childhood. Because they are the most persistent form of under-eye pigmentation, they are also the most challenging to treat. Fear not, as you can still resolve them with the right beauty ingredients (more on that later).
Almost everyone is at risk of age-related dark circles. Over the years, your skin loses its elasticity and sags. Zeroing in on the area under your eyes, the facial fats in this vicinity shrink. Reduced volume, coupled with loosened ligaments, leads to a hollowed-out appearance.
Thanks to this optical illusion, you appear to have panda-like eyes. If you already have dark circles under your eyes, the skin hollowing can make them more visible.
To worsen the issue, aging also causes pigmentation changes in the surrounding skin and may make your under-eye circles glaringly obvious.
Does anything really work for dark circles under eyes?
Dark circles under the eyes may seem like a challenging skincare issue. But the good news is, there are solutions for it.
Depending on your budget, techniques to address dark under-eye circles range from non-invasive to invasive. For the latter, make-up products like concealer and foundation are common go-to’s. Keep in mind, though, that they only hide the appearance of under-eye pigmentation.
To clear up your dark shadows, try over-the-counter (OTC) products like eye creams targeted at dark circles under the eyes. Or you can consider laser therapy like IPL (intense pulsed light) to brighten up the area.
There are also superficially invasive treatments for dark circles under the eyes like chemical peels that are used to correct pigmentation and plump up the skin. Hyaluronic acid fillers are another favorite for age-related dark circles.
In more serious cases of dark circles under the eyes, deeply invasive treatments are recommended. They usually involve lower eyelid surgery, fat transfer, and/or surgical implants.
How to apply eye cream?
Okay, you’ve learned what the best eye creams for dark circles should have. Now, let’s talk about how to apply your eye cream to get the most out of it.
First up, always remember that less is more when it comes to eye cream. This is especially so if your skin type is oily. Putting too much cream in the eye area can cause milia. They are commonly known as oil seeds that look like white little bumps. Definitely not what you had in mind when you bought your eye cream!
My advice is to use a small amount, roughly the size of a pea. I recommend using your ring finger to apply the eye cream. That’s because the ring finger exerts the least pressure to avoid tugging too harshly on your skin.
Next, gently tap the cream on the under-eye area. Begin from the inner corner of your eyes before extending outward. If you notice crow’s feet at the outer edges of your eyes, apply a little more on this area.
On top of that, let your skin type dictate how often you should apply your eye cream. If you have dry skin, use it twice a day, morning and night.
Oilier complexions may do best once a day at night. Remember, you don’t want milia forming around your eyes. But if you want to see faster results, use a lightweight eye cream two times every day.
Last but not least, follow the right order to apply your eye cream. The general rule in skincare is to layer from the lightest to the heaviest texture.
Because eye creams are on the richer side, they are usually applied toward the end of your routine. But what if you’re using eye cream in the daytime? Simple, apply it beneath your sunscreen and makeup.
How fast do eye creams work?
As with everything in life, good things take time. As much as you wish to, even the best eye creams for dark circles don’t work overnight. Until a miracle cure exists, it will take a while to see improvements in your under-eye circles.
As seen in the clinical studies, the expected timeframe ranges from a few weeks to half a year. Keep in mind that steadfast commitment is key. Don’t use your eye cream on and off, or whenever you remember to apply it. For visible results, you have to use it every single day at the frequency that’s right for your skin type.
If you often forget to put on your eye cream, find ways to keep it at the top of your mind. For example, put your eye cream at your vanity table where you check your reflection. Or place it on your bedside table where you put your smartphone at night. These simple tweaks can mean a world of difference in how regularly you use your eye cream.
Another great tip is to layer in some eye serum. Eye serums are the perfect complement to eye creams because they contain higher concentrations of active ingredients to target specific concerns before applying a cream. For more on the pros and cons of each, check out my article on Eye Serum Vs Eye Cream.
Key takeaways on the best eye creams for dark circles
Various factors trigger dark circles under your eyes. Whether it’s genetic, lifestyle, or aging-related, it’s important to pinpoint the exact causes. Doing so can help you formulate an effective plan to tackle your under-eye pigmentation.
For example, if sleep deprivation is to blame, prioritize a full night’s sleep every day. Or perhaps sun damage is the cause for your concern. In which case, it’s time to bring in the SPF 30+.
On top of healthy lifestyle changes, the best eye cream for dark circles can do wonders, too. The trick is to read the ingredient list and determine if they contain the right actives. The list mentioned above will probably come in handy when you go shopping for a new eye cream.
Once you’ve incorporated an eye cream into your routine, that’s not the end yet. Learn how to apply it correctly to maximize its benefits. Above all, practice patience and commitment. Remember, good things are worth waiting for!
Felicia is a Singapore-based freelance writer specializing in beauty, health & wellness, and lifestyle. When she isn’t crafting exceptional beauty content, you can usually find her reading up on the latest skincare trends, indulging in good books and baked goods, and going on long walks.