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The best eye cream for dark circles 2024 — all under $50

From a $10 caffeine serum to a French pharmacy staple, these eye creams will brighten even the darkest orbital day.

a trio of eye creams on a bright background
The best eye creams for dark circles are not the ones that cost a week's pay. (Amazon)

No one likes dark circles. Even with the best concealers, they're a pain to hide. When left bare, they can make us look more tired and downtrodden than we may feel. However, as a journalist, writing about the best eye cream for dark-circle reduction is tricky. The truth is, there's no one product in all the land that will disappear your under-eye pigmentation for good, no matter if said eye cream is literally made of caviar and costs more than your monthly grocery bill. Still, while no serum or lotion (or witchy potion) will ever completely banish the shadows under your eyes, there are formulas — specifically those containing peptides, retinol, caffeine or vitamin C and, to a lesser extent, niacinamide, ceramides and vitamin E — that have been clinically proven to constrict blood vessels while brightening pigment and/or softening fine lines, all of which makes the area look more youthful and awake.

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With that in mind, over the past few months I've tested many of the most popular treatments for dark circles. And, while several of the top eye cream brands — like SkinCeuticals A.G.E Advanced Eye Cream and La Mer's Eye Concentrate — are so fancy and expensive they should arrive with a monocle, they're also, from my experience, only moderately more effective at decreasing discoloration than the best drugstore finds. Some of the pricier items toss in ingredients that may be nice to have (looking at you, U beauty and your "diamond dust") but — truly — you do not need. When it comes to skincare, it's easy to equate luxury with quality, but most often what you're paying for is hope. I cannot interfere in the relationship between you and your own personal budget god but, for my money, these are the most effective eye creams for dark circles you can find.

If you're looking for a low-cost retinol treatment to help with dark pigmentation, this is for you. RoC is the premier name in over-the-counter retinol, and its eye cream is highly rated, with more than 19,000 5-star Amazon reviews. It's excellent for improving the appearance of both fine lines and dark circles, and it's dermatologist recommended too. I only wish it contained more antioxidant, nourishing ingredients. But for the price, it honestly cannot be beat.

  • Targets dark circles along with crow’s-feet, fine lines and puffiness
  • Stimulates collagen production
  • Lightweight texture
  • Absorbs easily
  • Affordable
  • Contains hyaluronic acid to keep eye area hydrated
  • Does not contain antioxidants
  • Formula is a bit harsh, may not be appropriate for ultra-sensitive skin
$22 at Amazon

This French Pharmacy brand staple is the best of almost all worlds and my favorite eye cream for the problem at hand: it contains two dark-circle-disintegrating star ingredients — caffeine and retinol. It's also ophthalmologist and dermatologist tested, fragrance-free, paraben free and free of most common allergens, making it ideal for sensitive skin. It also absorbs easily with a silky-smooth texture that just feels nice on your face. Best of all, the metal applicator is meant to soothe and bring blood flow to your undereye area, helping it decongest and depuff. 

  • Fragrance-free and paraben-free
  • Ophthalmologist and dermatologist tested
  • Innovative applicator
  • Good for sensitive skin
  • Contains both retinol and caffeine
  • Trusted French pharmacy brand
  • Formula may irritate sensitive skin
  • Pricey for a .5 ounce tube
$50 at Amazon
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$50 at Ulta Beauty$50 at CVS Pharmacy

The Ordinary is known for making potent skin-care formulations at a fraction of the cost you'd pay for luxury brands — its high-octane caffeine serum is as effective for treating the undereye area as any I've tried. It works to temporarily constrict the blood vessels in the hollow directly beneath your lash line, making the area look smoother and brighter. My only complaint is the product is a bit thick and not particularly hydrating, which makes it difficult to layer under makeup. 

  • Ultra affordable
  • Contains 5% caffeine for potent depuffing and pigment minimizing
  • Works quickly to improve the appearance of undereye bags
  • Tightens skin
  • Thick consistency means it doesn't absorb as well as you may like
  • Doesn't layer well under makeup
$9 at Amazon
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$9 at Kohl's$9 at Ulta Beauty

It's hard to find a better quality eye serum than this vitamin C version from Paula's Choice (it's clinically formulated to brighten undereye discoloration while smoothing and firming the delicate skin in this area). The texture is lightweight, supple and extra-emollient and, while it doesn't contain retinol, for the ideal mix of antioxidants and actives, this is a cream I'd use in tandem with RoC.  

  • Clinically proven to brighten and lighten dark circles
  • Lightweight
  • Moisturizing
  • Highly concentrated ingredients
  • Potent formula may not work for sensitive skin
  • Without retinol, is not the best for building collagen and softening fine lines
$39 at Dermstore

Though I'm not sure that any of The Inkey's three eye creams is better than my four best picks, you really can't go wrong with these low-cost, high-quality formulations, which absorb into skin fast and are perfect for layering under makeup. 

$13 at Amazon

This TikTok-famous eye cream worked just fine for me — it was definitely hydrating — but wasn't quite the wonder lightening product some users say their mothers, aunts and grandmothers have used for generations to revolutionary effect. 

$34 at Walmart

The purple-blue-red bruised appearance of the undereye is a complex problem to solve, in part because its causes are far-ranging. Dark circles may be the result of allergies or genetics (thanks, Mom!), literal exhaustion, poor diet, hyperpigmentation and — often — simply the loss of collagen and skin thinning that happens to most of us as we age. "We have to be mindful of the fact that after age 40, you're losing 1% of your collagen production per year," says Los Angeles facial plastic surgeon Dr. Kay Durairaj. "And by menopause, women could be losing 25% of the collagen they make — the factory shuts down production by 25%!"

For the eye area, Dr. Kay Durairaj first and foremost recommends high-quality products containing retinol or Retin A: "Eyes are unique in that the skin is so thin there so many people do not use retinol or Retin A products on their eyes and eyelids because they think their skin can't tolerate it. That's the number-one fallacy [in finding a quality eye cream]."

Most experts I spoke with agreed with Durairaj's assessment, though some did so with stipulations. "Yes, you need retinol in an eye cream, but also enzymes, peptides and antioxidants," says Kimberly Austin, an aesthetician at the popular 7QSpa.

Use your ring finger to apply a pea-sized amount to the area, starting from the corner and gently patting along until you reach the far corner of the eye. Remember to go slow and be careful not to pull or drag the skin, while still moving the product around: "You want to improve circulation and oxygenation in this area the best you can," explains cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Ava Shamban.