Courtesy of SephoraJolene Edgar, Allure magazine
There are four primary causes of undereye circles, and a full eight hours won't help with any of them. Experts reveal what's really behind those stubborn shadows-and the treatments that work.
Dark circles are a democratic affliction: People of every skin tone and age group are susceptible; they can show up on the most sleep-deprived grad student or the perkiest Spinning instructor. And yet "a fix-all solution doesn't exist," says Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. That's because there are several different reasons for undereye circles-and they all require a different course of action. The bright side? The right diagnosis and treatment will have you stepping out of the darkness in no time.Genetics
THE PROBLEM: If you have light skin, hair, and eyes, chances are you've inherited dark blue circles as well. Fair skin can be too translucent to hide the purplish network of broken blood vessels underneath, sometimes referred to as "vascular circles." People with dark complexions-especially those of Indian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and African descent-typically have heavier concentrations of melanin under their eyes. "It's not unusual to see dark circles even in young children," says David Bank, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.
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THE FIX: Retinol. In skin products, "nothing beats it," says Bank. "It fades pigment and thickens collagen, making skin more opaque." Choose a product specifically formulated for the eyes, such as RoC Retinol Correxion, and limit your use to once a week initially, to minimize skin irritation; over time, you can work up to a nightly or every-other-night routine. For faster results, consider trying the Glytone by Enerpeel, a professional peel that fades melanin with trichloroacetic acid in just a few three-minute treatments. "It's very effective," says Jeannette Graf, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. "Patients can usually see improvement after a single visit."Hyperpigmentation
THE PROBLEM: Irritation can cause skin to overproduce melanin. Eczema, makeup remover, and plain old eye rubbing can also leave behind dark spots. "Some people rub so hard they get brown post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, plus actual bruising," says Graf. Bruises can turn golden brown and stick around for weeks or even months.
THE FIX: Hydroquinone can safely diminish brown areas under the eyes by inhibiting melanin production. Start with a mild 2 percent formula, like Ambi Skincare Fade Cream, dabbing it on dark areas every other night-and be sure to wear sunscreen during the day. If your skin is too sensitive for hydroquinone, look for an eye cream with gentler brighteners that work similarly, like daisy extract (found in Jurlique Herbal Recovery Eye Cream) or vitamin K oxide (found in Auriderm Illume Eye Cream). Whatever cream you choose, keep in mind that it can take up to three months to see improvement. For faster results, ask your dermatologist about the Q-switch YAG laser, or diode laser. Expect a few days of redness and swelling. To combat bruising caused by eye rubbing, try the Vbeam laser, which goes after broken blood vessels.
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THE PROBLEM: "Over time, the sun breaks down our collagen, making the skin even more fragile and transparent, which in turn reveals bluish blood vessels," says Bank. "The undereye skin is already about the thinnest on the body." What's more, he adds, fat pads under the eyes start to deteriorate and droop as early as age 30, either hollowing the undereye area or creating puffy bags just below the shadows.
THE FIX: A broad-spectrum sunscreen (we like Neutrogena Pure & Free Liquid Daily Sunblock SPF 50 because it doesn't irritate eyes) and oversize sunglasses help prevent collagen loss. Use an eye cream with retinol or peptides, plus plumping humectants, like glycerin and hyaluronic acid, such as Dr. Brandt Flaws No More R3P Eye cream. It will help thicken skin and restore the natural curvature of the undereye area, says Bank. At the doctor's office, hyaluronic acid fillers, like Restylane, eliminate shadows and hide blood vessels for up to two years. For bulging fat pads, some doctors suggest radio-frequency treatments, such as Thermage, Pellevé, or eMatrix RF, which help tighten the skin.
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THE PROBLEM: One symptom of allergies is bloated circles caused by the release of histamine (the culprit behind all that itching). The act of rubbing your eyes can "alter the position of blood vessels," says Hema Sundaram, a dermatologist with offices in Maryland and Virginia. "They float up a bit, so they look more obvious under the skin."
THE FIX: If your allergies bring on dark circles, "take an over-the-counter antihistamine once a day to prevent a reaction," says Zeichner. Sleeping on an extra pillow can keep fluid from pooling under the eyes. And caffeinated eye gels, like SkinCeuticals AOX+ Eye Gel or Vichy Aqualia Antiox Eye Stick, can act as a diuretic, draining excess blood and fluid trapped around the eyes.
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