causes and best treatments for dark circles

What’s the best treatment for dark circles under eyes? It’s one of the questions that I get more often. One I answer with another question:

What causes dark circles under the eyes for you?

Lack of sleep? Too much sun exposure? Or maybe it’s genetics? You’d better know. Because the symptoms may be the same – dark, black pools under your eyes that make you look always tired and old – but the treatment sure isn’t.

If the sun’s the culprit, a good night’s sleep won’t help. If you’re not getting your beauty sleep, all the retinol in the world won’t lighten those dark circles.

You get the point: if you want to get rid of dark circles, you need to figure out what caused them in the first place. How?

Here’s the best treatment for dark circles under eyes – based on what’s causing them:

Dark Circles Cause #1: Genetics

One of the most common causes of dark circles is simply genetics. Yes, sometimes, you’re just born with it. When your skin is so thin to be almost transparent, the blood vessels underneath show through, casting a shadow onto your undereye area. Or maybe, you’ve just inherited a deep set bone structure from your mother. Both traits make you look tired and older – even if you get your beauty sleep every night. So unfair!

What’s the best treatment for dark circles caused by genetics?

Bad news: you can’t change your genes. No skincare product can do such a miracle (yet). I know some of them promise to (remember Lancome Genefique?), but if they did, they wouldn’t be skincare products. They’d be drugs. Drugs can affect genes and that’s always risky business. You want to do it in a way that doesn’t backfire (like causing cancer…).

Good news: You can cover dark circles with concealer. I know, it’s probably not the answer you wanted to hear. If your dark circles are genetics, you can only mask them, not treat them. But hey, whatever works right? For best results, opt for a peachy hue that can hide any discolouration and brighten the eye area.

Struggling to put together a skincare routine that minimises wrinkles, prevents premature aging, and gives your complexion a youthful glow? Download your FREE “Best Anti-Aging Skincare Routine” to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order):

Dark Circles Cause #2: Aging

You know what else thins skin? Aging. It’s another big cause of dark circles, especially if you’re 40+. As the years pass, your skin loses collagen, elastin, and all that good stuff that keeps your skin in top shape. The older you get, the more transparent your skin becomes. You know where I’m heading with this… Now your blood vessels start to show through and you look like you’re permanently tired and sleep-deprived. Ugh. Can you never catch a break round here?

What’s the best treatment for dark circles caused by aging?

I may start to sound like a broken record, but once your skin gets that thin, you can’t unthin it (is that even a word?). There’s no cure for this – yet (Yes, I know, it’s 2022, what are cosmetic chemists doing?!). Once again, the only cure is mask your dark circles with concealer.

BUT, this is one type of dark circles you can prevent (or at least postpone) with a good skincare routine. How? With these two simple products:

  • Sunscreen: UV rays are responsible for up to 90% of premature aging. When UV rays hit your skin, they destroy collagen, elastin, and cellular DNA so that your skin starts losing elasticity and thickness. Cue wrinkles, dark spots, and yep, dark circles too. The most annoying part? UVA rays (the ones responsible for premature aging) are present from the moment the sun comes top to the moment the sun comes down, can penetrate through windows and clouds, and even get reflected on snow. If you’re serious about preventing dark circles, wear your sunscreen every single day. No exception.
  • Antioxidants-rich serum: Think of antioxidants like the skin’s police and free radicals like thieves. Free radicals initiate a chain reaction that leads to the destruction of elastin, collagen, and cellular DNA. Guess what the main cause of free radicals is? UV rays! When free radicals are left unchecked, you get wrinkles and dark circles. Enter antioxidants, like Vitamin C, green tea, and resveratrol. They patrol your body looking for free radicals. Once they spot one, they neutralise it before they can wreak their damage and give you wrinkles and dark spots. My fave serums contain 15% Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and ferulic acid. This combination can also boost the effectiveness of your sunscreen. For best results, use it in the morning and layer sunscreen on top.

Best Picks:

  • Drunk Elephant Umbra Tinte Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum SPF30 ($36): A tinted mineral sunscreen that provides broad spectrum protection against aging UV rays. It’s most suitable for dry skin. Available at Cult Beauty, Sephora, and SpaceNK.
  • Elta MD UV Pure Broad Spectrum SPF 47 ($25.00): A lightweight sunscreen for oily skin that provides broad spectrum protection without leaving a greasy residue behind. Available at Dermstore and Walmart.
  • Paula’s Choice Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum With Retinol ($34.00): A lightweight serum that contains every antioxidant under the sun to prevent new wrinkles and retinol to minimise those you already have. Available at Paula’s Choice and Skinstore
  • Skinceuticals CE Ferulic ($166.00): This serum features 15% Vitamin C + Vitamin E + ferulic acid, a powerful combination that boosts sun protection, fights free radicals, and brightens the complexion. Available at Skinstore


Related: 5 Antiaging Superstars You Should Add To Your Skincare Routine Now

Dark Circles Cause #3: Saggy Skin

Saggy skin casts shadows underneath your eyes, making dark circles look worse. Ugh.

It happens with age. When you’re young, your body produces all the collagen and elastin (the proteins that keep your skin firm and elastic) that your skin desires. But as you get older, it starts producing less and less. Heck, your skin starts losing 1% of collagen a year after you turn 21! Once you reach menopause, the process speeds up.Next thing you know, your skin starts to sag.

To add insult to injury, there are many things that can speed up the sagging process. Unprotected sun exposure. A diet rich in sugar. Pollution. Smoking. All the usual culprits.

What’s the best treatment for dark circles caused by saggy skin?

Bad news: once your skin has sagged, you can’t unsag it. Your best bet here is to make your dark circles with concealer. Yes, again.

Good news: you can slow down the sagging process. How?

  • Sunscreen: Wear it every day, even in winter. UV rays can penetrate through the darkest clouds. You’re not safe just because you can’t see the sun. For my fave sunscreen picks, see point 2.
  • Antioxidant serums: Vitamin C and other antioxidants help boost the production of collagen and brighten the eye area. For my fave picks, see point 2.
  • Vitamin A: Retinol and other retinoids fight free radicals, brighten the skin tone, and boost the production of collagen. My fave picks are below. But be careful! The eye area is very delicate. Use the smallest concentration of retinol you can find twice a week and build up dose and frequency from there. I personally apply retinol all over my face first and then pat what’s left on my fingers on my dark circles. If you apply it straight from the top, expect dryness and stinging! And don’t forget to moisturise well afterwards!

Best Picks:

  • La Roche Posay Redermic Anti-Aging Dermatological Treatment ($56.99): A medium strength, 0.1% retinol cream to boost collagen and reduce wrinkles. It has a moisturising base to prevent dryness. But you still need to moistures well afterwards. Available at Dermstore and Feel Unique
  • Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum With Retinol ($34.00): A low-strength 0.03%retinol serums for beginners with oily skin. Plus, it has plenty of antioxidants to prevent premature wrinkles too. Available at Paula’s Choice
  • Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM ($65.00): A high strength 1.5% retinol serum for women who have built tolerance to retinol and are ready to go to the next level. It brightens skin and minimises wrinkles. Available at Beauty BayCult BeautyDermstoreSephora and Ulta


Related: 4 Ways To Prevent Saggy Skin (That Really Work)

Dark Circles Cause #4: Lack of sleep

I know you know that a poor night’s sleep is a sure recipe for dark circles. But do you know why? Believe it or not, lack of sleep causes skin to be paler. You guessed it, that makes those blood vessels under your eyes more visible, too. *sighs*

What’s the best treatment for dark circles caused by lack of sleep?

Get your beauty sleep. At least 8 hours a night. I’m not joking. You can buy all the eye creams in the world but if you don’t get some proper rest, your dark circles are never going to disappear. If you struggle with getting a good night’s sleep, here are a few things you can try:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time. This tells your brain when it’s time to sleep so it can fall asleep!
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine in the evening. Take it from this Italian, coffee after dinner is a no-no. It’s a morning drink, not an evening one.
  • Eat light meals for dinner.
  • Keep your bedroom cool and dark. 18º is the perfect temperature.
  • Ban TV and computers for the bedroom. The living room is the entertainment area. The bedroom is for sleep.
  • Establish a bedtime routine. I like to meditate and read a book before sleep.

Related: Why Beauty Sleep Isn’t A Myth (+ Easy Tips To Get Yours)

Dark Circles Cause #5: Sun Exposure

Unprotected sun exposure is at the root of all skin evils. It gives you wrinkles. Dries out your skin. And it leaves dark circles under your eyes.

Dark circles caused by UV exposure are called hyperpigmentation. When UV rays hit your skin, they damage the cells that produce melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its natural colour. Now your skin’s producing too much melanin in your under eye area, giving you those pesky dark circles that make you look tired and older.

What’s the best treatment for dark circles caused by sun exposure?

Yes, you can hide dark circles and hyperpigmentation with concealer. But this time, skincare products can actually help in reduce the darkness. Yay!

Use skin-lightening products that can inhibit the production of melanin. Here are the ingredients you need to look out for:

  • Glycolic acid: An exfoliant that dissolves the glue that holds skin cells together so they can slough off. As the older, dark cells get off your skin, they’re replaced by younger, lighter ones. This is the first thing to try BUT only if you have dry skin.
  • Vitamin C: This powerful antioxidant has brightening properties that reduce darkness. For best results, use 15% Ascorbic Acid. This is something that everyone (unless you have very sensitive skin) should use in the morning under your sunscreen.
  • Niacinamide: A form of Vitamin B3, niacinamide helps fade away dark spots too. It also has other skincare benefits, like fighting acne, preventing wrinkles, and hydrating skin. In my humble opinion, everyone should use a moisturiser or booster with niacinamide.
  • Retinol: A form of Vitamin A, retinol fights free radicals, boosts collagen production, and fades away dark spots. Retinol can be irritating when you first start using it, so pick a small concentration and work your way up. Start with a couple of times a week, alternating it with Glycolic acid or other exfoliant (never use retinol and exfoliating products on the same day). Again, this is something that everyone should use for anti-aging anyway – unless your skin is so sensitive, it can’t tolerate it.
  • Azelaic Acid: Azelaic acid is a powerful exfoliant that reduces both acne and dark spots. Use it only if you’ve tried everything above without success, are also dealing with acne, AND have sensitive skin that can’t tolerate harsher treatments.
  • Alpha Arbutin: A derivative of Hydroquinone, it’s one of the most powerful treatments for dark hyperpigmentation. If you’ve tried all of the above, you don’t have acne, and your skin isn’t sensitive, this is a good alternative to Azelaic Acid for you.
  • Hydroquinone: This is the gold standard to treat dark spots, but it’s so harsh, in most countries it’s prescription-only. It’s safe for most people, unless you’re pregnant or have dark skin. Hydroquinone can cause bluish discolourations on darker skin tones – and the side effect is permanent. Use it only as a last resort – and only under medical supervision.

Don’t forget to wear sunscreen every single day. Those dark circles will come back if you don’t!

Best picks:

  • Paula’s Choice Resist 10% Niacinamide Booster ($42.00): This booster has 10% niacinamide to fade away dark spots and minimise pores and Vitamin C to prevent premature aging. Available at DermstoreLook FantasticNordstrom and Paula’s Choice
  • The Ordinary Ascorbic Acid 8% + Alpha Arbutin 2% (£10.00): Ascorbic Acid is a form of Vitamin C that brightens the complexion while Alpha Arbutin a powerful skin-lightener that inhibits melanin production to fade away dark spots. Available at Beauty BayCult BeautySephora, and Ulta
  • The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% (£5.50): Although it has an unpleasant texture, 10% Azelaic Acid to speed up cellular turnover, even out the texture of your skin, and brighten its tone. Available at Beauty BayCult BeautySephora, and Ulta


Related: Battle Of The Skin-Lighteners: Which Is The Best Treatment For Hyperpigmentation? 

Dark Circle Cause #6: Medications

Some medications make blood vessels dilate. This makes dark circles look worse. If you’ve started getting dark circles after going on a new med, it may be worth it to talk to your doctor about it.

What’s the best treatment for dark circles caused by medication?

You can ask your physician if you could switch to a different medication. But, this isn’t always possible. Often, the only remedy is a good concealer. Again.

Dark Circles Cause #7: Diet

An unbalanced diet causes all sorts of havoc on your body: it gives you metabolic diseases, robs you of your energy, speeds up premature aging… Like that weren’t enough, it can give you dark circles, too. Here’s how:

  • Allergy: Allergies to specific foods are associated with dark circles.
  • Drinking too much alcohol/caffeine: It dehydrates skin. When this happens, your blood circulation slows down and the vessels under your eyes become larger and darker.
  • Lack of iron: It gives you anemia, which is associated with dark circles under your eyes.
  • Not drinking enough water: It increases dehydration, too.
  • Too little Vitamin K: This vitamin helps your blood to clot. Without it, your capillaries can leak blood that pools underneath your skin, giving it a purplish, bruise-like look.
  • Too much salt: It makes your body retain fluids, which in turn makes your undereye area puffy and darker.

What’s the best treatment for dark circles caused by diet?

Eat a healthy diet:

  • Lots of fruits and vegetables
  • A moderate amount of protein and healthy fats (think omega-3 in salmon and avocado)
  • Little sugar and bad fats
  • Plenty of water
  • Alcohol and coffee only as a treat

Easier said than done, I know. But, you’ll look and feel so much better, I promise! If you’re struggling with, I recommend the low glycemic diet. Unlike other diets, it doesn’t remove any foods from your diet. It just helps you eat more of the good stuff and leave the rest for an occasional treat. It’s how I eat and it’s done wonders for my skin. You can click on the link below to read my story.

Related: I Went On The Low Glycemic Diet And It Transformed My Skin

The Bottom Line

Once you know what’s causing your dark circles, you can finally get the right treatment for them.