As beauty editors, our most asked question by a long shot is “How do you get rid of dark circles under your eyes?” Whether it's at a family function or in our hundreds of Instagram DMs, we can always count on someone asking us how to avoid tired-looking eyes. Obviously, we get it. Despite how hard we try to hide them with concealer or distract with a bright lipstick, dark circles will betray us time and time again by telling the world how little we actually managed to sleep.
While most people are hoping for a simple answer consisting of a stellar eye cream recommendation, the reality is there's no magic undereye eraser outside of Facetune. There are definitely eye creams that can help, but ultimately dark circles come down to a complicated combination of genetics, hydration, and—yes—sleep. Still, we do have some advice.
What causes dark circles under eyes?
The skin under your eyes is thinner than the rest of your face, so dark circles are caused by a combination of excess pigment and veins peeking through. As we get older, we lose even more volume under our eyes, creating what Dr. Loretta Ciraldo calls a “trough.” While darkness under your eyes is something most of us deal with, you could also be prone to more extreme circles for two reasons.
“A common cause of dark circles from pigment is irritation,” says Ciraldo. “This leads to melanin pigment deposit, so-called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation—dermatologists call these dark circles allergic shiners.” She notes that if you've had dark circles for as long as you remember or have allergies or asthma, your circles could be due to lingering irritation. If you think that's the case, she recommends using a 1% hydrocortisone cream twice a day, avoid fragranced skin care, and wear blue light glasses in front of screens to reduce hyperpigmentation. She also recommends an undereye treatment that helps fade pigmentation and protect from blue light.
$60.00, Dr. Loretta
You could also be dealing with vascular dark circles, or circles caused by poor blood circulation and lymph around your eye (don't worry, it's nothing serious). “Vascular dark circles look a bit more purple than brown, but this isn’t easy to distinguish, especially if you’ve got a good amount of pigment in your skin to start,” she says. “To test this, lightly press on the dark circles. If this makes them fade, you have vascular dark circles.” She recommends an Aricna supplement or vitamin K cream to lighten these.
Oh, and another thing? Put the jade roller and cold compress down. Most home remedy hacks you read about will only help with de-puffing, not circles.
The Best Methods for Getting Rid of Dark Circles Under Your Eyes
So what actually makes difference on dark circles and undereye bags? We challenged four women with varying concerns to put the top methods to the test. Read on for their personal accounts.
When I was a junior in college, I went to New York City to visit my best friend William. I can’t remember how it came up, but I’ll never forget turning to him and asking whether I fit in. “No, you’re too fresh; you don’t have the eyes,” he said, pointing to the area half an inch below his pupils. “If you lived here, this would be all dark.” Oh.
Six-plus years after moving to my dream city, I have the eyes…and then some. If I’m being honest, I haven’t looked fully rested since my first month in Manhattan. So when I got engaged and started planning my West Coast wedding (usually between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.), I went from looking like I needed a nap to looking like I needed a vitamin B infusion. I tried an arsenal of serums and creams; I tried exercising regularly. It helped a bit, but my dark circles still progressed from pale lavender to eggplant, and I developed forehead furrows and daylong “puffy eyes.” So I decided to pull out the big guns.
On a solo trip to Paris, after a few nights of jet-lag-induced insomnia and a very balanced diet of pastries and savory crepes, I took my tired face to the Joëlle Ciocco Beauty Center, an iconic institution where very chic ladies like Carla Bruni Sarkozy go to get refreshed. For me, a good facial has always included thorough extractions and some kind of heavy-hitting exfoliant. At Joëlle Ciocco I received nothing of the sort (in fact, I was told that I, like most Americans, exfoliate too much). Instead my aesthetician, Farnaz, gave my face the most intense deep-tissue massage of my life. Unlike most facials, which focus on the skin’s surface, this one aimed to stimulate my muscles and keep my skin from drooping. And it worked: Two hours later (I guess I really needed it) I emerged with face contours I didn’t know existed, and the darkness under my eyes was less dramatic. The best part? My cheekbones were still a B-plus for weeks.
Two months later, though, back in New York, my face was back to its water-retaining self. Some wear their heart on their sleeve; I wear my bedtime around my eyes. So before my engagement photos, I made an appointment to see one of the most storied facialists around, Tracie Martyn. Her roster of clients reads like a nomination list for the Oscars. (While I was there, I legit saw a queen.) Maybe she could restore me to my fresh-faced college self? The main course of Martyn’s Red Carpet facial is a microcurrent machine, which does to your face what a Pilates class does to your butt. In the same way that Farnaz massaged my face into order, Martyn used her tools to jolt my muscles into formation, working the microcurrent wand along my brows while electronic patches gently pulsed along my neck, jawline, and cheeks.
Every 15 minutes she showed me the progress as my face tightened up. After, I stood in the white-and-amethyst-color room and stared in the mirror. My face had never looked so sculpted, my brows were more arched (the lifting!), and my eyelids were mysteriously smooth. I left feeling nothing but gratitude. Kate Winslet once had three facials in a week before the Oscars. I get it.
2. Faking Sleep With Makeup
Hi, I’m Tia, and I have devastating, deep, dark circles under my eyes. I’m not exaggerating. I’m dangerously close to Hamburglar territory. In my 20s I embraced them, smudging on kohl liner and skipping concealer (“I’m goth chic!”). But I caught myself in the mirror on my 40th birthday and realized I no longer looked goth chic. I looked like I had mono. And no wonder: I’m an insomniac, a migraine sufferer, a single mom with a full-time job—and a novelist. I wake up at 3:30 a.m. most days to write, and even though I’m pretty skilled at pretending to have it all together, my hollowed-out eyes tell my true story.
After illuminating creams and cucumber masks failed, I needed a more instant fix, and I turned to celebrity makeup artist Andrew Sotomayor. As he masterfully camouflaged, blurred, and brightened my undereye circles, I got it—makeup is my answer. (Fine. Sleep would be my real answer. Baby steps.) Here’s what I learned:
1. Start your undereye regimen with a brightening primer.
2. Layer on concealer that’s a few shades lighter than your skin tone, followed by foundation that matches your complexion. “Painters whitewash walls before they add color to erase imperfections and give the effect of light bursting from underneath,” Sotomayor says. Same idea here. First he tapped the paler color under my eyes with the pad of his ring finger. Then he tapped on the truer shade “to warm up the skin and bring it back to life.”
$22.00, Benefit Cosmetics
3. Apply concealer and foundation in a large triangle shape, never a crescent. “Half moons look unnatural,” he says. He covered my entire undereye area from the tear duct straight down the nose to the nostril, and then back up to the outer corner of my eye. Then he blurred fine lines by buffing with a concealer brush and set the whole area with translucent powder. Brighten eyes with a shadow that mimics your skin color. For my golden-brown skin, Sotomayor used soft copper shades. They seemed to make my eyes whiter, and they added to my overall glow.
4. Skip heavy highlighters on lids, or anywhere within an inch of your nose area. “The closer shimmer is to undereye circles, the darker they’ll appear in comparison,” says Sotomayor. “Shift the focus away from dark circles by applying highlighter far out on the cheekbone.”
5. Finally, give your brows and lashes some love. To quote the master: “Full brows and curled lashes work in your favor because they distract the eye.”
3. Undereye Filler
My six-year-old son has been waking up at 5:30 a.m. for several weeks. This is often just after his little brother, who’s 20 months, has finally gone back to sleep since wanting to hang out and party at 3:30 in the morning. And it might be on the heels of my being up till 1 a.m., editing fashion content or, admittedly, binge-watching a show—because that’s my me time these days.
This is not to complain about my kids or my life. It’s just to say that I’m often very tired! And I look it. I need to preface this by admitting that I’m pretty low-maintenance when it comes to beauty; I don’t have a derm on speed dial. I don’t exfoliate much. The eye creams in my bathroom cabinet are pretty full. Hell, some days I forget to even moisturize. But mostly I just don’t have the damn time.
So lately I’ve been considering something quick and cosmetic. Something at the derm’s office. Something like Botox or maybe undereye filler. I’ve never really been for or against them; I thought I’d maybe try them someday. Then my husband mentioned casually one day that he had tried Brotox (a version of the wrinkle relaxer marketed to men). I looked closer at his face. His brow furrow crease was gone, and I was jealous.
Which is why I find myself one day in Grand Central Terminal, catching a train to Norwalk, Connecticut, to see my sister-in-law Deanne Mraz Robinson, M.D., of the Connecticut Dermatology Group. (She was also chief resident of dermatology at Yale.) If I’m going for this, I want to be in her hands.
“To help you look more awake, there are a couple of things we can do,” Deanne says as I recline in a comfy chair in her office. “Soften these lines that form on the side of and between your eyes when you smile with a bit of Botox”—which relaxes muscles and smooths out lines—“here, here, and here, and in between the eyebrows.” (Yes, please!) “And blend the lines under them, the tear troughs, with filler.” For me, she picks Belotero Balance, a dermal filler that unfolds wrinkles and plumps thinning skin.
I’m nervous and excited. I have no fear of needles, but I’m worried about looking, well, weird, in that waxy, plastic, Hollywood-red-carpet way. The injections take 10 minutes, and it’ll be two weeks before the filler all settles in. At first my face does feel odd. When I laugh, my face feels a little stuck, which makes me laugh even harder. But in exactly 14 days, the funny sensations end. The crease between my brows barely remains—same with the wrinkles around my eyes when I smile. People are noticing (“You look amaaazing,” says one colleague), but more important, I feel better. I get why people spend all this money (sessions start at $450) and make it a regular thing. And I have no guilt—I am a feminist and I think modern feminism means you have the choice to age how you like. My joy is completely unapologetic. Who knows? Maybe by the time my first visit wears off, I might actually be getting some real sleep.
4. Actual Sleep—Eight Whole Hours of It!
“Are you feeling okay? Do you have allergies?” This is Mary, the lovely woman who runs the shop where I take my dry cleaning. I swear, a kinder, more considerate person doesn’t exist in the world, so if she’s commenting on my bloodshot eyes and haggard face, you know the issue is real. The issue on the day in question isn’t allergies; it’s simply a lack of sleep. I’m a chronically tired mother of a three-year-old, and I average six to seven hours a night—sometimes dipping down to five, with an occasional 2 a.m. screaming interlude, followed by a half-hour spent scrunched into a four-foot-long toddler bed, reassuring the worried party that, no, there is no wolf lurking in the corner. What I’m saying is: Those six hours do not qualify as beauty sleep.
So when the instructions for this assignment came my way—get significantly more sleep for a week or more—it took about 0.5 seconds to agree to it. My goal: a minimum of eight hours every night, and if I got less, I had to integrate a nap the next day, no excuses.
I got to work immediately.
Week one: I loved those damn naps. I realize that’s akin to saying I like eating ice cream or I enjoy breathing oxygen. I also realize that naps are easy for me because I work from home—not every woman can just, like, curl up under her desk midafternoon. But seriously: Naps work. A one-hour nap was eerily similar to getting one of those big-night-out facials. I swear you could see the rest in my face for a few hours after. But by week two, when I’d started to pay off my sleep debt, I was dealing with the vexing consequence of naps: I’d been exhausted for so long that I’d forgotten what well-rested people do to go to sleep, and getting my brain to turn off at 10 p.m. felt like a Jedi mind trick I couldn’t master. Keeping the naps to an hour helped, as did nighttime aromatherapy. I’d dab H. Gillerman Organics Sleep Remedy essential oil blend on a tissue and take 10 deep breaths: The zoning-out effect was pretty much immediate.
$50.00, H. Gillerman Organics
And after a couple of weeks on my rigorous napping schedule, my skin was good: I was bright-eyed (really); my sporadic hormonal breakouts faded away; random little red bits and inflammation calmed down. Mary noticed (“You must be feeling better!”). But to be honest, I felt kind of invincible—my eyes, my skin, my mood, the whole package. Because you want the ultimate, most effective tip of all time for how to look less tired? Ready for it? Here it is: Be less tired.
Originally Appeared on Glamour