You're not alone: a preoccupation with dark circles is growing across the board, with a recent study by skincare brand Strivectin finding that 25 per cent of us count dark under-eye shadows as our top beauty issue, far surpassing pigmentation and even fine lines.
It’s hardly surprising we’re all so concerned with removing dark circles: we often associate sullen shadows with looking tired, run-down or unwell, which isn’t exactly a welcome aesthetic in the age of outward health-signalling.
So, what is one to do? As with most things in beauty, there are options, and plenty of them – but some are much more effective than others. Here, we delve into the details to help you weed out the treatments and topicals really worth placing your trust (and beauty budget) in.
What causes dark circles?
The first port of call when looking to tackle your dark circles is to ascertain exactly what you’re dealing with: this is no one-size-fits-all operation.
“Dark circles don’t discriminate when it comes to age, gender or ethnicity, although some people are genetically born with a predisposition to them,” explains Dr Charlene DeHaven, clinical director at iS Clinical.
The appearance of a sallow under-eye can be exacerbated by multiple factors. First, the not-so-welcome news: dark circles are often caused by your bone structure, and no amount of eye cream will alter this. The skin around your eyes is essentially sitting over a hollow structure, so the shape of your periorbital bone will influence the degree of shadowing you have.
There’s also age. As Dr Sam Bunting points out, “as we get older, the thinnest skin on our body gets thinner. In the eye area that means the darker structures lurking underneath, like blood vessels and muscle, become more visible – and voilà, 'you look tired'."
External factors can play a hand in dark-circle development too. Sun exposure and smoking can lead to post-inflammatory pigmentation on the surface of the skin (rather than showing through from beneath) which often manifests as a brownish shadow.
A lack of sleep (and that last glass of Champagne) can lead to dilated blood vessels, which create bluish shadows, and poor circulation that sparks puffiness and bags.
And of course, the root of your under-eye woes could lie in your diet. “Most people don’t realise, for example, that a diet high in salt can exacerbate the problem by causing more under-eye puffiness and inflammation,” says DeHaven.
Here, see seven ways to leave your baggage behind and rid those dark circles for good.
How to remove dark circles
1. Increase your vitamin C
While buzzy skincare ingredients may come and go, vitamin C has remained a key focus for so many skincare brands, thanks to the wealth of supporting research on its brightening effects when applied to the skin.
“There are reasons why scientists and dermatologists recommend vitamin C in skincare, and its use around the periorbital area is well-justified,” says DeHaven. “Vitamin C inhibits the skin's melanin (pigment) production, slowing down the cellular process which cause skin discolouration, all whilst stimulating collagen synthesis.” Even better, it also has strong antioxidant properties, so will ward off damaging free radicals that may contribute to dark circles in the long term.
But with so many vitamin C-based eye creams on the market, how do you decide which is best for you? As DeHaven warns, heading straight for the bottle with the strongest percentage claim may not always be the wisest tactic. “As with all active ingredients, the highest concentration isn't necessarily the most efficacious. The blend of other ingredients in optimal concentrations will ensure the delicate skin isn’t irritated or over-exfoliated, therefore achieving the best result possible.” Look for a cream or gel that contains nourishing ingredients – think centella asiatica or vitamin E – to bolster the effects of an active dose of vitamin C.
2. Get to grips with retinol
Another great ingredient to try in an eye cream is retinol – especially if you're hoping to slow the development of fine lines while removing dark circles. “Retinol (vitamin A) and its derivatives such as retinyl palmitate help stimulate collagen synthesis, speeding up the metabolic function of older skin cells and naturally assisting the cell turnover,” explains DeHaven.
Clearly, retinol derivatives are a helpful ally in fading dark circles (along with myriad other skin demands), but they must be used correctly. DeHaven recommends looking for a formulation balanced with other hydrating, antioxidant or circulation-boosting ingredients. It's also important to use a retinol product formulated especially for the under-eye area, as other may be too strong for this delicate skin. If you're wondering where it sits alongside your vitamin C eye cream go for the retinol at night, and vitamin C by day.
3. Try polynucleotides
It’s an exciting time for innovation in the aesthetics arena right now, with several promising treatments coming to the UK market, each boasting remarkable results with minimal downtime.
Polynucleotides is the injectable on many a doctor’s mind right now – and it boasts particular benefits for those hoping to treat stubborn dark circles.
“Polynucleotides are anti-inflammatory biostimulators that have become increasingly popular for the treatment of dark circles,” says oculoplastic surgeon Dr Daniel Ezra. “The treatment itself is simple, quick, and relatively painless, where the polynucleotides are injected very superficially around the targeted area. The treatment boosts both collagen and elastin, while enhancing hydration. The result is a brighter, firmer eye area without any puffiness”.
4. Rethink concealer
While a good skincare routine will lay the foundations for brighter eyes, skilful make-up application offers instant gratification.
According to Jamie Coombes, Dior Makeup international pro artist, the biggest mistake we make when it comes to concealer is selecting a shade that’s too light. “Many people try to mask the concern using too much concealer and powder in a lighter shade than their skin tone – the reverse panda.” As he explains, this approach actually makes your sallowness more obvious, creating an unnatural look.
5. Master your technique
Selecting the right shade of concealer to cover dark circles is only half the battle – application is equally key.
Coombes always preps the skin with ample hydration, via an eye serum or cream, to ensure any product applied on top remains radiant rather than cakey. He recommends applying your concealer with a brush to avoid overload (“adding more is easier than removing”), before ‘rolling’ it in with your ring finger: the warmth from your skin will help it to settle seamlessly. Finally, fix your concealer with a sheer application of talc-fee powder: Coombes uses Dior’s Forever Cushion Powder, as “the water-based pigment offers additional hydration,” he says.
And a few pro tips to take your application into truly seamless territory: “make sure not to take your concealer right up to the lash line, as this can make the final result look cakey,” advises Coombes. “You can mix in a touch of your foundation with your concealer to avoid the ‘reverse panda’ look. And blending is critical: to finish, I like to use a soft blending brush to smooth out the application for a seamless result.”
6. Consider a colour corrector
If a regular concealer really isn’t cutting it, consider a colour-correcting base: these products work to neutralise the shadow, rather than simply covering it up. Remember Coombe’s golden rule: “Use colour to correct and concealer to perfect.”
As renowned make-up artist and founder of beauty brand Jones Road, Bobbi Brown explains, the trick is to know the undertone of your discolouration. “It will either be blue/purple/red in undertone, or green/grey/brown.” Once you know what you’re working with, you’ll be able to identify the shade of corrector you need. “Use pink if you fall into the former category, and peach if you are the latter. This layering of colour will help even out and correct the pigment under the eye area.” Apply your corrector with a light hand around the orbital bone, following up with your traditional concealer for amplified brightening.
7. Switch your eyeshadow
According to Warren Dowdall, senior pro artist at Bobbi Brown and skincare educator at Darphin, the colour of your eyeshadow could also help dark circles fade into the background. “Purples, mauves and darker shades can tend to pull through under-eye darkness and make it more apparent, so they are best avoided,” he says. So, if you’re partial to a smoky eye, it might be worth experimenting with some other looks.
“I tend to reach for slightly light reflective cream shadows (rather than powders, which can look flat) in soft neutrals to add lift and brightness to the eyes,” says Dowdall, who highlights Bobbi Brown’s Long-Wear Cream Shadow Stick in Golden Bronze, Truffle and Sand Dune in particular.
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