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What eye creams can and cannot do

Eye creams promise grandiose benefits that are often as inflated as our under-eye bags in the morning. We're uncovering what eye creams can and cannot do.

by Kristina Mikulić

February 27, 2024

Dark circles are a major barrier to achieving a fresh and youthful appearance. “How can I get rid of dark circles?” is one of the most common questions I receive when I tell someone what I do. Pronounced, hollow, or dark under-eye circles can give the face a tired look, even if it doesn’t reflect our actual state. While sleep is known to be a solution for some types of dark circles, from my experience, many are unaware that under-eye creams are not the most effective solution. When someone asks for advice on getting rid of dark circles, my first question is, what type of dark circles do you have?

Two women's faces

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1 Dark Circles

Dark circles around the eyes are the most common issue we actually want to address when seeking to eliminate dark circles. Though dark circles don’t only affect the skin beneath the eyes but the entire area around them. Such circles result from naturally excessive pigmentation around the eyes, which I would call true dark circles.

2 Sunken eyes

Lately, social media has been buzzing with questions about whether retinol causes fat loss under the eyes. The truth of these claims is debatable, but what is certain is that many millennials have experienced normal aging effects alongside using retinol. Losing fat reserves under the eyes is a natural occurrence. As we age, gravity takes its toll, leading to sunken under-eye circles.

3 Purple under-eye circles

The skin around the eyes is very thin for everyone, especially compared to the rest of the face. For some, it’s so thin that capillaries or at least their shadows are very visible. It’s not uncommon for someone to complain about their blue or purple under-eye circles even with a good sleep routine, not realizing that they have very thin skin around the eyes, causing the circles to appear purple. No amount of sleep can thicken the skin enough to reduce the visibility of purple under-eye circles.

4 Puffy under-eye circles

The last type of under-eye circles, often referred to as bags, result from fluid accumulation. Most people experience puffy under-eye circles only in the morning, as gravity and the lymphatic system do their work. Similarly, with age, the lymphatic drainage system doesn’t function as well, and (along with the loss of skin elasticity) fluid can retain, leaving bags permanently present (without delving into potential and specific health causes of puffiness).

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What we can achieve with under-eye creams

My sister, who naturally has dark circles around her eyes, asked me a very perplexing question after returning from the beautician. “Can I really get rid of my dark circles with a cream that contains caffeine?” It wasn’t absurd that she asked me, but it was absurd that the beautician advised a caffeine cream for lightening dark circles. It would be great if we could solve all the skin problems around the eyes with one under-eye cream, but the nature of the problem is varied, so the solutions are diverse.

Eye creams and serums can help reduce the visibility of dark circles if they contain vitamin C. Now, let me complicate things further and say – but not just any vitamin C. If we turn the bottle to the ingredients list, we want to see terms like pure ascorbic acid, as well as ascorbyl glucoside, 3-o-ethyl ascorbic acid, and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate as some of the most popular stable forms of vitamin C that are effective.

So, if caffeine creams can’t help with lightening dark circles, what can they do? Caffeine is an ingredient that speeds up circulation. Creams containing caffeine are excellent for the morning routine, as they can help reduce puffiness and swelling. Although swollen under-eye circles for most people will subside on their own throughout the day (thanks in part to gravity), if we want to accelerate this process, under-eye creams with caffeine are a great addition to the morning routine  in the battle against puffy under-eye circles.

What we can’t achieve with under-eye creams

Although I think we subconsciously know exactly what under-eye creams can and cannot do, the promises on the packaging are too enticing to pass up trying yet another cream for the area around the eyes. Issues such as loss of fat reserves under the eyes, resulting in hollow under-eye circles, cannot be solved simply through cosmetic means. As this type of under-eye circle can significantly age the appearance of the entire face, many wish to remove them. The real solution for inflamed under-eye circles can only be found with a dermatologist.

Eye creams are a favorite part of many people’s routines. Massaging the area around the eyes is so relaxing, and it’s not necessary to eliminate this step, but it would be beneficial if brands communicated the true reach of their products more clearly. The lack of effect deters customers, and bringing negative emotions into such a relaxing moment as the skincare ritual doesn’t help anyone.