Updated: Jan 9
From sleep deprivation to seasonal allergies, there are many reasons that dark circles or puffiness can develop around the eyes and eyelids. Read more...
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From sleep deprivation to seasonal allergies, there are many reasons that dark circles or puffiness can develop around the eyes and eyelids. These skin problems have become common in both men and women. Dark circles under your eyes or dark circles around your eyes can give the appearance that you look older, tired or fatigued, and even affect your overall confidence and self-esteem. Puffy eyes or puffy eyelids may have similar triggers to consider as well.
Can you briefly share what happens to the skin around the eyes when we are fatigued and lacking sleep?
The soft tissue around the eyes is like a sponge. Allergies, irritation from eye makeup or removal of eye makeup, rubbing our eyes, not sleeping enough- all of these can trigger inflammation and build-up of fluid around the eyes. Once that fluid is caught up in the soft tissues around the eyes, it can linger for a long time. This puffiness around the eyes can last because the lymphatic drainage around the eyes can be impaired with sinus pressure and allergies. For some, lack of sleep can result in the opposite effect- dark circles under the eyes. This ‘sunken’ look to the eyes can also be worsened by dehydration.
Don't forget the role that aging plays with the skin around the eyes. As we get older we lose collagen and elasticity of the skin around the eyes. This contributes to a crepe-like quality of the skin. It also contributes to the "ballooning" of this thin skin easily with fluid accumulation around the eyes.
Are there other causes for under-eye circles or puffiness?
The key to choosing the right product for under the eyes is understanding what is causing the dark under-eye circles in the first place. Many people think of dark circles as just a by-product of aging. However, I find that many people have been bothered by these circles even starting during their teen years.
This is because the big three reasons for dark circles are:
The result of how our eyes sit in the eye socket (orbit). It’s a structural or positional thing- if our eyes are set back in the orbit even slightly then there is a shadow that appears under the eyes.
The lack of or uneven distribution of fat between the muscle and the skin. With less fat between the skin and the muscle, the area under the eyes appears darker. Much of the discoloration is likely a result of actually seeing the hue of the muscle under the skin.
Some people genetically have excess pigment in this area. This is called periorbital hyperpigmentation.
This discoloration can be induced or triggered by friction as well. ‘Eye-rubbers’ and allergy-prone people are most likely to trigger dark circles from vascular congestion and even bruising. I also have some patients who simply wear tight goggles for swimming or work which results in dark circles as well from pressure.
Are there natural ingredients that can help relieve tired eyes?
Natural remedies for the eyes include:
Tea bags that have been in hot water and then cooled down can be applied to the closed eyelids. The caffeine and antioxidants found in tea have been shown to reduce vascular congestion and reduce inflammation.
The thought behind cucumber slices is that they can cool the skin and reduce vascular congestion. They also have vitamin K which has been shown to help with circulation as well.
Potato slices have been used by some to cool the skin and reduce vascular congestion to improve the appearance of this area. My only worry about potatoes is that they may contain catecholase which can actually potentially darken the skin. Catecholase is an enzyme that can promote melanin production.
Are there other ingredients to seek in an eye cream?
There are some key ingredients to look for when choosing a product for dark circles and puffiness.
Make sure your eye cream has the must-have Vitamin K to target dark circles prevention. Vitamin K is known for promoting healing by helping with clotting. It has been used after surgeries to help in blood clotting and potentially decrease bruising. Furthermore, Vitamin K fights against dark circles and has been shown to be effective in studies evaluating products for this purpose.
Vitamin K to combat under-eye bags or under-eye puffiness is harmless but of questionable benefit. Theoretically applying vitamin K could reduce the tendency for bruising or bleeding post-procedure via the role it plays in clotting. Many studies have failed to show a true benefit in reducing bruising. That being said, it’s likely harmless to try. It is intended more for bruising and to potentially prevent pigmentation that results from bruising as opposed to directly fading pigmentation or puffiness.
Wrinkles, dull skin, and fine lines are part of the natural aging of our skin. This is the result of a decrease in collagen production over time. Nevertheless, what if your eye cream had an added retinoid? In that case, you have less to worry about because retinoids help slow the skin's natural aging by promoting collagen production and assisting with skin cell turnover. Retinoids present in your eye gel can potentially increase the thickness of the skin over time and reduce the crepe-like appearance.
If you cannot tolerate retinol, phyto-retinol is a great alternative. Less irritating but appears to retain its effectiveness.
Whether it is your face or just around the eyes, hydration improves the overall appearance. For instance, an eye gel that contains hyaluronic acid can keep the skin in the eye area appearing smooth and hydrated. It is a naturally occurring glycosaminoglycan that gives the skin support and is found throughout the body's connective tissue.
If your skin looks dull just because of the tiredness under your eyelids, opt for an eye cream with Vitamin C. This natural element brightens up your look by boosting collagen production, addressing discoloration, and the effects of UV damage.
Undoubtedly, Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that keeps your skin appearing plump and supple.
Caffeine works best when it comes to brightening the under-eye area and leaving tired eyes looking fresher and more awake. This key element is both a vasoconstrictor and vasodilator. Its vasoconstriction effect may help in constricting the blood vessels under the eyes making them appear less apparent. The vasodilation associated with caffeine may promote the circulation of blood in this delicate area. Furthermore, caffeine has antioxidant properties to also improve the appearance of the delicate skin around the eye area and reduce puffiness.
Which ingredients should one try to avoid if they're looking for an all-natural eye product?
Retinol can be hit or miss around the eyes. It can help improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, however, many people are simply too sensitive to use it. If there is significant irritation, this could lead to rebound swelling and exaggerated under-eye bags. Avoid products with fragrances or floral extracts that can irritate the delicate skin around the eyes or even cause the eyes to have a burning sensation.
In your professional opinion, what are the best all-natural products to brighten and rejuvenate the appearance of tired eyes?
I’m a fan of hydration, cucumber extracts, and massage.
From a quality of skin perspective, hydration is key. This can be accomplished with something as simple as vitamin E or white petroleum jelly. By hydrating the skin, the turgor of the eyelid skin improves reducing the appearance of dark circles. Even Aquaphor on the eyelids can serve this purpose.
Cucumber extracts or slices can cool the skin and have the benefit of vitamin K to address the vascular component in eyelid swelling and discoloration.
And, massage via jade rollers or ice rollers can provide instant cooling and manipulation of any excess fluid in the tissue back into the lymphatic system.
Are there some simple options to consider for eye creams?
I know this sounds crazy given how pricey and elaborate most eye creams are. However, I tend to have dry skin around my eyes that only serves to accentuate fine lines and wrinkles as well as make my eyes seem puffier and dark circles darker. I realized years ago that what works best is hydration: I often massage Aquaphor around my eyelids in a lateral sweep before bedtime to hydrate the skin and massage out excess puffiness. Since the Aquaphor can get pretty greasy on my pillowcases I may use the Neutrogena Hydro Boost for a less greasy finish.
Any recommendations for eye creams with SPF?
I find this a really important topic to understand due to a really practical aspect of SPF and eye creams... most eye creams are meant for nighttime use. The goal is to help improve the texture of the skin overnight. SPF is not really on the minds of most products. There are several eye creams with an SPF, however, what they may be forgetting to include is a tint! If you are thinking about SPF around your eyes during the day, then chances are you are thinking about more than just preventing sunburn. There are very few eye concealers with an SPF. It never made any sense to me because it forces people to use more than one product on this thin-skinned, highly dynamic area where the goal should be to avoid products from caking up in the creases.
For this reason, I love Neutrogena Healthy Skin Brightening Eye Perfector & Under Eye Concealer. By being smart about including the concealer in the product this product is taking into consideration the multiple steps women take to address the delicate skin around the eyes.
Lastly, what exactly is the "pinch test" referenced in TikTok videos for under-eye circles?
The “pinch test” referenced in TikTok videos is generally used to evaluate elasticity (or lack of elasticity) for eyelid skin. If the skin is pinched or pulled out and the discoloration is no longer as apparent, then this would indicate that the skin is quite thin and somewhat translucent allowing you to see the hue of the muscle underneath. Collagen production could be benefited from the use of retinol in this area if it could actually tolerate it overall. The other approach is to improve the skin’s hydration to improve its overall turgor making it appear less thin or translucent. This outcome may be better accomplished by hyaluronic acid-containing products. The lightweight and less irritating properties of hyaluronic acid-containing products make them ideally suited for the under-eye area. If the skin is pinched and the discoloration persists, the use of hydroquinone, kojic acid, or azelaic acid amongst other skin lighteners may improve pigmentation. Vitamin C inhibits an enzyme called tyrosinase that produces melanin. It can help reduce pigmentation but may not be as effective as other options. It can be effective in preventing further pigmentation as well.
There are several remedies to address the appearance of dark circles, under-eye bags, and eye fatigue. However, using the right eye cream that combines the best of ingredients can help. Products with vitamins and natural extracts such as avocado, cucumber, herbs, eggplant, and aloe, can hydrate and smooth the appearance of the delicate skin under the eyelids.