Whether you wake up with tired-looking eyes after the occasional late night or notice dark circles every morning, purple under-eye shadows are a common skin concern that can affect all skin types and skin tones. While typically associated with sleep deprivation, dark circles aren’t always related to how much shut-eye you get. Though it’s true they may appear more noticeable after a restless night (or a particularly stressful week), dark under-eye circles can also result from factors out of your control, such as your genetics or even your bone structure. In those cases, getting a few extra hours of sleep is unlikely to help improve the appearance of your dark circles in the long term.
Now for the good news. While you may not always be able to prevent dark circles, there are things you can do to help improve the appearance of your under-eye area. Ahead, you’ll learn what dark circles are and discover the common factors that can cause them. We’ll also introduce you to Kiehl’s best eye creams for dark circles. Keep reading for our guide to managing dark circles for brighter, more rested-looking eyes.
What Are Dark Circles?
Dark circles are pretty much exactly what they sound like: dark, usually purplish or brownish, shadows underneath your eyes. They often appear along the line of your orbital bone in a semi-circle shape (hence the name) and may be accompanied by other eye-area concerns like puffiness or sagging. As noted earlier, they’re often associated with sleep deprivation and can result in a tired-looking appearance.
What Causes Dark Circles Under The Eyes?
First, a quick anatomy lesson is in order. The skin around your eyes—specifically, the eyelid and the immediate under-eye area—is the thinnest skin on your entire body, measuring around 0.2 millimeters in thickness. Because the skin is so thin, it’s often somewhat translucent, especially for those with lighter skin tones. This allows the underlying blood and tissue to be partially visible and can result in a purplish-looking under-eye area. Another consequence of the skin’s relative thinness in this area is that it’s highly vulnerable to damage. Stressors, from external aggressors like sun exposure to internal stressors like dehydration, can cause the skin to visibly age at a faster rate, leaving it thinner and less able to bounce back after stress.
As for what factors specifically cause dark circles to form, it ranges immensely. When dark circles are transient—in other words, only appear occasionally—it’s often due to tiredness, stress, or fluid retention. For those with chronic dark circles, genetics are usually the culprit.
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. With that said, under-eye circles 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, wrinkles, and eye bags.
Are There Different Types of Dark Under-Eye Circles?
As noted above, dark circles can be short-lived or chronic, but that’s not the only way in which they can vary. Dark under-eye circles can also vary in appearance. For some, they appear purple or bluish in color, almost like a bruise. Others may notice their dark circles tend to be more brown. Generally speaking, blue and purple dark circles are classified as “vascular” dark circles (meaning the discoloration is caused by the visibility of the underlying tissue), while brownish dark circles are a form of hyperpigmentation. Look for products with vitamin C, like our Powerful-Strength Dark Circle-Reducing Vitamin C Eye Serum (which contains 10% pure vitamin C), to help address both types of dark circles.
Can You Get Rid of Dark Circles?
More times than we can count, we’ve been asked to explain how to get rid of dark circles. It’s a valid question—but the idea of “getting rid” of something is pretty absolute. The truth is, it’s rare for any skin concern to be completely eliminated, and this is especially true for dark circles. The thinness of the skin beneath your eyes means your under-eye area will always be a slightly different shade than the rest of your face, and that’s absolutely normal. With that being said, if your dark circles are especially prominent or you find them distressing, there are things you can do to help improve their appearance.
Does Sleep Help With Dark Circles?
Waking up to dark circles and eye puffiness is often a tell-tale sign of a late night. While getting more sleep is unlikely to get rid of existing discoloration, it may help with prevention. Sleep is key for 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. This holds true for all skin tones—not just those with naturally-fair skin.
3 Of Our Best Eye Creams For Dark Circles
For the best results, the eye cream you use should be tailored to your specific needs. Here, discover three of our favorites for combating dark circles.
1. Powerful-Strength Dark Circle-Reducing Vitamin C Eye Serum
If stubborn under-eye circles have you reaching for the concealer on a daily basis, try adding Powerful-Strength Dark Circle-Reducing Vitamin C Eye Serum to your daily skincare routine. The dermatologist-tested formula with vitamin C and hyaluronic acid instantly smooths and hydrates the under-eye area to help refresh the appearance of tired-looking eyes. With consistent use, the powerful serum is clinically-demonstrated to help decrease the appearance of dark circles (both blue and brown).* Used morning and night, it also helps improve other visible concerns, including crow’s feet and under-eye wrinkles.
*Clinical grading of the full panel tested in an eight-week study.
Kiehl’s Tip: For even more hydration, try layering your eye serum under a richer eye cream, like Avocado Eye Cream. Made with avocado oil and shea butter, the cult-classic formula provides all-day hydration and helps improve the appearance of your under-eye area. It also helps de-puff and brighten tired-looking eyes, and it’s suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin.
2. Super Multi-Corrective Eye-Zone Treatment
For those with dark eye circles accompanied by other eye-area concerns, such as sagging eyelids, crepey-looking skin, and under-eye bags, we recommend Super Multi-Corrective Eye-Zone Treatment. Made to target four key areas of concern—the under-eye, the eyelid, the brow bone, and the eye’s outer corners—this powerful eye cream with collagen peptide and niacinamide is a must in your anti-aging skincare routine. The formula helps brighten and de-puff the under-eye area while helping to firm the skin around the eyes for a smoother appearance over time.
3. Eye Fuel
Caffeine isn’t just for waking your brain up—it can also help refresh tired-looking eyes. This invigorating ingredient can be found in Eye Fuel, a men’s eye cream designed to help diminish the appearance of dark circles and puffiness with consistent use. The under-eye cream for dark circles also provides weightless hydration to help keep your eye area feeling fresh. It’s suitable for all skin types and can be used morning and night in your regular men’s skincare routine.
4 Tips For Preventing Dark Under-Eye Circles
Though we can’t make any promises, the right habits may help keep dark circles at bay. Follow these tips to help keep your eye area looking (and feeling) its best.
Get Enough Sleep (Every Night)
While we’ve established that sleep deprivation isn’t the sole cause of under-eye circles, it’s true that skipping sleep can have a detrimental effect on the appearance of your under-eye area. To help prevent your sleep schedule from wreaking havoc on your eyes, aim to get between seven and nine hours of (uninterrupted) sleep each night. Try propping your head up while you snooze to help keep puffiness at bay.
Wear UV-Filtering Sunglasses
If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a million times: Sun exposure is the number one factor associated with premature aging. As the skin around your eyes is thin and delicate, it’s especially important to protect it from the sun. Obviously, daily SPF is a must—but if you’re headed outdoors, we recommend taking it a step further and investing in UV-filtering sunglasses to keep your eyes shielded from those harsh rays.
Remove Your Makeup Gently
Rubbing and pulling at your eyes—when you’re removing makeup, for example—can stretch the already-thin skin, leaving it saggy and worsening the appearance of dark circles. If you wear eye makeup, remove it gently with an eye-area specific makeup remover or a cleansing oil (we’re partial to Midnight Recovery Botanical Cleansing Oil). When all of your makeup is removed, blot the area dry (again, don’t rub) with a clean tissue or soft towel.
Try a Cold Compress
Often, dark under-eye circles and puffiness go hand-in-hand. For a quick pick-me-up, hold a cold compress or chilled spoons over your under-eye area for about five minutes. The cold can help temporarily shrink the area’s blood vessels, resulting in a more-awake appearance. You can also store your eye care products in a mini skincare fridge before use to achieve a similarly refreshing effect.
I. Pilkington, Stacey J et al. “The Tricky Tear Trough: A Review of Topical Cosmeceuticals for Periorbital Skin Rejuvenation.” The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology vol. 8,9 (2015): 39-47.
II. Sundelin, Tina et al. “Cues of fatigue: effects of sleep deprivation on facial appearance.” Sleep vol. 36,9 1355-60. 1 Sep. 2013.