You may have binge-watched TV shows or spent all night out on the town. But nobody wants to look like they haven’t got a full night’s sleep— dark circles can blow your cover. You might be slathering on every eye cream in an effort to massage them out of existence, but it might not work like you’re hoping. Here’s what you need to know about dark circles, and what you can do to try and mitigate them. 

What are the causes of dark circles?

You can thank genetics— if your parents have dark circles, you’re more likely to get them. The under-eye area looks blue or purple because the skin is very thin and translucent. So much so that you can see the underlying superficial blood vessels before. As you age, collagen breaks down and the fat pads under the eye get thinner, causing even more of the visible exposure of the dark blood cells right under the skin. Plus,  If you have a prominent tear trough (thanks to your inherent bone structure), it can actually cause shadowing, which can make your dark circles more apparent.  

Notice that your dark circles are worse when you haven’t slept? Lack of sleep can stimulate venous congestion, so you can see pooled up blood on the surface. Have you been sick lately? Poor circulation in the lower eyelid, which can be caused by nasal congestion can also cause the veins under the eye to dilate. This can also make the area look darker. 

For people with deeper skin tones, discoloration could be due to hyperpigmentation in the under-eye and eyelid area due to extra melanin production. You can tell which kind you have by pinching the under-eye skin and lifting it back and forth. If the bluish tint disappears, you can blame thinner skin and a lack of fat in the area. If the tint doesn’t budge, it is likely pigmentation.

Do you need eye cream?

Where do you stand on eye cream? Most skincare enthusiasts will fall into one of these two categories: non-believer or #1 fan. Essentially, eye cream is a super concentrated formula of humectants, occlusives and emollients. It helps to balance, soothe and moisturise a very dry, thin area. This area does not have its own sebaceous glands. It also has the least collagen and elastin fibres compared to the rest of your face, so treating it with TLC is important. 

But are you obligated to add it to your routine? Derms suggest you only add it if you have a specific issue you want to fix. If lines, dark circles or puffiness don’t bother you (and they don’t have to—they’re a natural ageing process), then you can just bring your non-comedogenic moisturiser upto the area below the eyes to moisturise. But it’s also entirely valid to want to prevent and treat dark circles and eye bags. It all comes down to your personal preference. In that case, look for ingredients that’ll really work. 

Eye cream ingredients to try now

Caffeine: If your dark circles are punctuated with puffiness, a caffeine-based eye cream (especially with a cooling applicator tip) can really bring it down. As a vasoconstrictor, it constricts blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the area and reducing the appearance of inflammation there.

Retinol: Vitamin A is a powerful skincare ingredient that is considered the gold standard treatment for anti-ageing and acne. But it’s strong—a traditional retinol shouldn’t be used near the thin under-eye area. Instead, look to a specially formulated retinol formula that’ll pair Vitamin B3, ceramides and fatty acids to increase cell turnover and improve collagen production. This will plump and tighten the skin. 

Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a collagen boosting ingredient too, so it can help make the skin under the eye more elastic and resilient. This effect also strengthens the capillaries, preventing bruising, further reducing the appearance of dark circles.

Peptides: Newer studies show that peptides are the proteins that hold together collagen strands. When applied topically, they are able to signal to the body that collagen must be produced, so it stimulates and strengthens the area. 

So an eye cream can brighten, moisturise and soften, but can it actually get rid of dark circles? Likely not. While some ingredients can deflect and disguise the look of dark circles, there aren’t any magic formulas that’ll get rid of it completely, so beware of tall claims.

What lifestyle changes can you make to reduce the look of dark circles?

Sleep! Getting a full 7-8 hours of Zzz’s is important because it helps make the skin look less pale, which’ll make dark circles slightly less noticeable. It won’t fix the issue entirely, but it’ll help. Sleeping position matters too—try to prop your head on a few pillows, because sleeping on your side or stomach can cause fluid to pool under the eyes, worsening puffiness. Doctors say that eating iron-rich foods is a good idea, because an iron deficiency can lead to darkening in the area. Cutting down smoking and nicotine intake is super important too, because they increase free radicals (which reduces collagen production). Another thing you can do? Apply your eye cream (or regular, fragrance-free moisturiser) with a tapping motion in an upwards direction on the periorbital bone to improve lymphatic drainage in the area and smoothe it. 

While lifestyle changes and good skincare can help, cosmetic treatments can go a long way too. Tear trough filler, for example, can create a cushion between the skin and blood vessels, which can hide darkness and boost volume in the area. Microneedling has been shown to help too—the micro injuries help to stimulate collagen production in the area.