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How To Treat Dark Circles Under The Eyes

How To Treat
Dark Circles
Under The Eyes

Whether you wake up with tired-looking eyes after the occasional late night or notice dark circles every morning, these under-eye shadows are a common skin concern that can affect all skin types and skin tones. Dark under-eye circles can become more visible after a restless night of sleep or a stressful week, but they are also caused by other factors that may be out of your control. Genetics, we’re looking at you. While you may not always be able to prevent dark circles, there are solutions that can help give you a bright-eyed appearance, and we want to fill you in.

What Are Dark Circles?

The name tells you much of what you need to know about dark circles. Under-eye dark circles are pigmented skin or shadows under the eyes, which can cause you to look tired or stressed. They are darker than the rest of your skin and may appear brown or blueish. They’re referred to as under-eye circles because they typically appear in a semi-circle shape beneath the eyes. And as we mentioned, they’re common. The skin around the eye is very delicate and is often one of the first places to show signs of aging. This thin skin can sometimes appear nearly translucent, which may cause dark under-eye circles to become more visible.I

What Causes Dark Circles Under Eyes?

What causes dark circles is an important topic to understand before diving into how to treat them. Dark circles result from many factors, some of which we’ve already touched on, including genetics, sun exposure, and lifestyle.II Some people may notice them when they aren’t well-rested, while others may see them regardless of how much sleep they have gotten. Some of the main factors that can cause dark circles are stress, sleep deprivation, excessive drinking, excessive salt intake, dehydration, and a poor diet.

What Are the Different Types of Dark Circles?

While many people of various ages and skin types have dark circles, they are not all the same. There are two types of dark circles: blue and brown. Here are the differences:

Blue dark circles: This type of dark circle will appear blue to purple, can be related to puffiness and excess fluid under the eyes, and is often seen in lighter skin tones. The purplish hue isn’t caused by blood or your veins, but rather, it’s due to the muscle that closes the eyelids.III Blue or purple dark circles are classified as vascular.IV

Brown dark circles: With this type (also known as the pigmented type IV) dark circles can range in color from light to darker brown. You may notice they darken with sun exposure, and they often appear in those with olive or darker skin tones.

Depending on your skin type, sun exposure, genetics, and other factors, you may be more likely to have one type over the other. It’s also possible to have a combination of both blue and brown circles. It should be easy to identify which you have based on the color of your under-eye circles and whether they’re accompanied by puffiness.

Are Dark Circles a Sign of Aging?

While dark circles are often seen as one of the early signs of aging, they affect a range of ages and may be visible long before you notice a fine line or wrinkle.IV Dark circles can happen to all skin types, skin tones, and ages, but with that said, they do often become more visible over time as skin loses volume and density. They typically accompany other signs of aging around the eye, including puffiness, crow’s feet, fine lines and wrinkles, and eye bags.

Can You Really Get Rid of Dark Circles?

"How to get rid of dark circles" is a top skincare search term, but the real question should be whether they’re possible to get rid of. You can’t make wishes to a genie or cross your fingers and hope to get rid of dark circles in just two days—even if something big is coming up on your social calendar. The truth is, you may not be able to get rid of under-eye circles. What you can do is reduce their appearance with the right skincare tips and products, including Powerful-Strength Dark Circle Reducing Vitamin C Eye Serum, but we’ll get into more about how to do so below.

It’s also important to note that what you may believe are dark circles could actually only be shadows caused by puffy eyelids or sunken eyes.V If this is the case, you can take steps to address what’s creating the shadow (in some cases, dark circle treatment options work for puffiness, too), but you can’t just erase a shadow.

Does Sleep Help With Dark Circles?

Midnight Recovery Eye

Waking up to dark circles and eye puffiness is often a tell-tale sign of a late night. While getting more sleep is not the magic answer to how to get rid of dark circles, it can help with prevention. Getting enough sleep is key to helping skin recover and repair itself. According to research, a lack of sleep can also make your skin look paler, which, in turn, makes dark under-eye circles appear more prominent.V While dark circles can affect all skin tones, they may be extra noticeable if skin is fair (just as veins are more visible on those with light skin). Outside of how prominent they appear, research indicates findings about dark circles are similar among those with different skin tones.VI

Back to the topic of sleep, or in this case, what comes before sleep. Applying an overnight eye cream, like Midnight Recovery Eye, as part of your nighttime skincare routine can help you wake up to brighter-looking eyes.

How Do You Treat Dark Circles and Eye Puffiness?

In addition to getting enough sleep, there are steps you can take to help care for the delicate eye area and visibly diminish dark circles.

1. Remove Makeup Gently

When you remove makeup, use a mild formulation and carefully wipe away eye makeup without pulling or rubbing. A makeup-removing cleansing oil can help remove mascara and eyeliner while also cleansing your entire face. To take off hard-to-remove eye makeup, dispense your cleanser onto a cotton pad and press onto your eye area for 10 seconds before gently wiping outward.

2. Avoid Rubbing or Pulling

When cleansing your face or applying or removing makeup, be extra gentle with your eye area. Excessive pulling can be a cause of hyperpigmentation and make dark circles appear more visible.VII

3. Smooth on a Targeted Dark Circle Treatment

Use an eye serum or cream (or both) to help visibly diminish under-eye circles. When applying your eye cream, gently tap the formula under the eye and along the orbital bone. Keep patting, but don’t rub, until the eye cream absorbs. As for what makes for the best eye cream for dark circles, we’re breaking it down and making recommendations below.

Kiehl's Expert Tip: Another way to keep cool is to store your eye cream in your refrigerator or, better yet, a mini skin fridge.

4. Protect Your Eyes From The Sun

Exposure to UV rays is one of the main causes of early signs of aging and can cause skin discoloration, which can worsen dark circles. Studies also show sun exposure is a risk factor for dark circles.VIII Protect your eyes by wearing SPF and sunglasses with polarized, UV-protected lenses. And no, this tip isn’t just for the summer.

5. Cool Off With a Cold Compress

If you’ve ever had a facial that included putting cold cucumbers over your eyes, this is why: The blood vessels under your eyes can dilate and contribute to dark circles. Research shows that there’s something you can do about this; hold a cold compress or an icy-cold spoon over your under-eye area to make the vessels contract.V

Kiehl's Expert Tip: An under-eye roller tool can help stimulate blood flow to make the eye area look brighter and more energized. Pop it in the freezer for a few minutes before using for an extra refreshing boost.

6. Prop Up Your Head

Your pillow game could use an upgrade. Sleeping on that single, super-flat pillow isn’t working anymore, and it could be impacting your skin. Use two or more pillows at night to elevate your head and help prevent puffiness (which, as you know, often goes hand in hand with dark circles).V

What Are The Best Products For Dark Circles?

Using an eye cream is an essential step in your skincare routine—whether you have under-eye dark circles or not. When selecting an eye treatment for dark circles, you can look for formulas with ingredients like:

1. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a trusted skincare ingredient often used in formulas to help visibly diminish dark spots and discolorations. Applying a vitamin C eye serum can help brighten the appearance of dark circles while also improving the look of lines and wrinkles around the eye.VIII Add Powerful-Strength Dark Circle Reducing Vitamin C Eye Serum to your cart and apply it morning and night to start reducing the appearance of dark circles in one week.

2. Pro-Retinol

Pro-Retinol is a gentle derivative of retinol, which is known to help visibly even skin tone.XI An eye cream with Pro-Retinol can help visibly reduce dark circles while instantly smoothing, brightening, and de-puffing the eye area. Pro-Retinol is a gentle and stable form of retinol that serves as an effective ingredient for the delicate eye area.

3. Caffeine

While drinking a cup of coffee can make you feel more awake, it’s applying an eye cream formulated with caffeine—not consuming it—that may make you look less tired. That’s right; there is research suggesting topical use of caffeine is effective for treating dark circles.III Eye Fuel is an eye cream that contains caffeine and niacinamide for a formula that comes together to visibly correct dark circles and tired, puffy eyes.

4. Blurring Minerals

The best eye cream for dark circles can reduce the blue or brown hue around your eyes with time, but some options can immediately make dark circles appear less prominent. One way for formulas to do so is to use blurring minerals that reflect light for a brightening effect. For men looking to disguise their dark circles—no concealer necessary—turn to a formula like Age Defender Eye Repair. The eye cream contains blurring minerals that help reduce the appearance of dark circles under eyes.

5. GAGs

Unless you’re completely skincare-obsessed, we will wager you aren’t familiar with GAGs. Glycosaminoglycans are a complex carbohydrate that has been found useful in regards to improving skin’s healthy appearance. In one study, low molecular weight heparan sulfate, a glycosaminoglycan designed for skin penetration, was used in an eye cream formula and researched for its impact on dark circles and puffiness. Swelling around the eyes can be linked to impaired circulation, which the test product improved. While this type of ingredient isn’t everywhere just yet, you may see more products formulated with them in the future.X

What Are The Best Men’s Products For Dark Circles?

Dark circles under the eyes can be just as much of a concern for men as they are for women. Kiehl’s products are unisex, and any product we’ve recommended here will work for men with dark circles. Men looking to refresh tired-looking eyes and combat dark circles can try Eye Fuel and experience instant cooling and refreshing relief. If lines and wrinkles around the eye are more of a concern, try multi-action anti-aging eye cream for men like Age Defender Eye Repair to help reduce dark circles and smooth skin for a recharged appearance.

Keep in mind, even if dark circles are your only standout concern, you’ll want to incorporate your eye cream pick into a complete skincare routine. Men can start curating the perfect routine with help from The Ultimate Men’s Skincare Routine.

I. Park, S.R., Kim, H.J.and Park, H.K., et al. "Classification by causes of dark circles and appropriate evaluation method of dark circles." Skin Research & Technology 22.3 (2016):276-283.
II. Talkoub, L, MD and Naissan Wesley, MD. "Dark circles under the eyes." Dermatology News™. 2015. Web. 2 Feb. 2019.
III. Nakra, Tanuj, et al. "Infraorbital Dark Circles: A Review of the Pathogenesis, Evaluation and Treatment." Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery, vol. 9, no. 2, 2016, pp. 65–72., doi:10.4103/0974-2077.184046.
IV. Roberts, W. "Periorbital Hyperpigmentation: Review of Etiology, Medical Evaluation, and Aesthetic Treatment." Journal of Drugs in Dermatology: JDD.13.4 (2014): 472-482.
V. Mayo Clinic Staff. "Dark Circles under Eyes: When to See a Doctor." Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 8 Oct. 2019,
VI. Mac-Mary, Sophie, et al. "Identification Of Three Key Factors Contributing To The Aetiology Of Dark Circles By Clinical And Instrumental Assessments Of The Infraorbital Region." Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, Dove, 18 Dec. 2019,
VII. Verschoore, Michèle, et al. "Determination of Melanin and Haemoglobin in the Skin of Idiopathic Cutaneous Hyperchromia of the Orbital Region (ICHOR): A Study of Indian Patients." Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery, 2012, pp. 176–182., doi:10.4103/0974-2077.101371.
VIII. Oshima, H., Mizukoshi, K., Oyobikawa, M., Matsumoto, K., Takiwaki, H., Kanto, H. and Masatoshi Itoh. "Effects of Vitamin c on dark circles of the lower eyelids: quantitative evaluation using image analysis and echogram." Skin Research & Technology. 15 (2009): 214-217.
IX. Mitsuishi, T., Shimoda, T., Mitsui, Y., Kuriyama, Y. and S. Kawana. "The effects of topical application of phytonadione, retinol and vitamins C and E on infraorbital dark circles and wrinkles of the lower eyelids." Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology.Apr: 3.2 (2004): 73-5.
X. Colvan, Lora, et al. "Global Periorbital Skin Rejuvenation by a Topical Eye Cream Containing Low Molecular Weight Heparan Sulfate (LMW‐HS) and a Blend of Naturally Derived Extracts." Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, vol. 18, no. 2, 2019, pp. 530–538., doi:10.1111/jocd.12857.

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