Dark undereye circles are something that happen more frequently as I age. What was once an occasional issue caused by too many nights studying with a proverbial coffee drip, spliced with the random hookup with a study buddy (you’re both there, you’re both endlessly stressed, you know you've done it), has turned into a constant quest for solutions -- especially during allergy season; one look at budding plants and the skin under my eyes literally turns down the dark shades and calls in sick.
Let’s also add to that the puffiness that comes along with said Rings Around My Retinas. They seem to expand every year, mocking me from the space beneath my lower lashes. “Foolish mortal, your lack of sleep and incessant need to binge watch House of Cards on your iPad in bed make your eye areas weak and feeble.”
Finally, I called one of my favorite derms, Dr. Jeannette Graf, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at The Mount Sinai Medical Center, and told her about the undereye abyss of darkness issue, paired with the tiny luggage languishing above it, and she agreed to answer some questions. The first of which is, you know, what the hell causes such drama?
"There are two causes: one of them is genetic where melanin gathers under the skin, and the other is allergies, where the blood vessels have expanded," was the short order from Dr. Graf. Seeing as no one else in my entire family seems to have the genetic issue and I know that I can single-handedly pay for every Kleenex employee's 401(k)s, I’m betting mine is allergies.
She went on to explain. "With melanin, you want to help even out the skin tone, so I would use a gentle eye cream with retinol. Avene Professional Retrinal Eye Contour Care ($44) is good, also the RoC Eye Cream ($24.99) is good. What I like about the Retrinal is that it handles puffiness."
Dr. Graf advised, "You can also practice lymphatic drainage, which will help break up the under-eye circles and get rid of the puffiness." She recommends keeping an eye mask in the refrigerator and, once the mask is applied, use the pads of your fingers to gently massage the skin around the eye in a circular manner. "It helps release some of the pigment."
What about us allergy suffers, Doc? The exact same cure applies. "The dilation of blood vessels can cause that dark hue to rise to the surface along with swelling from irritation, so the cool eye mask and lymphatic drainage helps as well." OK, so I tried her tips and, well, they absolutely worked.
Now, because I have issues with just following simple instructions (and I like to experiment), I’ve also come across some other eye creams that I like just as well as the items Dr. Graf suggested for fading dark circles and their baggage-handling traveling buddies. If you don’t have an eye mask sitting around for whatever reason, a cool, wet washcloth thrown in the fridge for a bit can really help. You can also do what I do, which is keep two clean spoons (regular teaspoons will do) in the door of your fridge at all times. Flip them over and lay them on the back of your eyes, then gently work them in circles for a spa-worthy massage. An added bonus: if you apply the eye cream to them and massage the eye cream in while you massage, it feels amazing and really works.
A note: do NOT put the spoons in the freezer and then apply them to your skin. Freezing metal on delicate undereye skin could give you the ice cream headache of your life, not to mention it could stick like the kid’s tongue in A Christmas Story. Cool, not ice cold.
I leave my eye creams in the fridge as well, and, when I apply the cool eye creams, the dark circles go away along with the bags.
If you’re not crazy about putting retinoids near your eye, I can recommend a couple of options. Avon Elements Skin Revitalize 2-in-1 Brightening Eye Roller ($9.99), which is an awesome roller pen of goodness that can help de-puff while it helps break up the bags. I also like Burt’s Bees Brightening Eye Treatment ($20) and Orico London Hi Rise Rejuvenating Eye Elixir ($35) for the same reason, and they seem to deliver really beautiful luminosity. FLOWER Beauty makes a great Lighten Up! Brightening Concealer Click Pen ($7.98) that blends easily into skin with brightening properties for the skin around the eye.
But for my money, I’ve honestly never seen an eye cream work on dark circles the way Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins Dark Circle Minimizer ($41) does. It used botanical extracts to help bust up the clusters of darkness while other extracts like Vitamin C help brighten up the eye area.
If you’re looking to declare all-out war on your undereye issues and spare no expense, then SkinMedica TNS Eye Repair ($93) is the real deal. It’s weapons-grade eye cream and it will repair that area in a Benjamin Button CGI-level of youthful appearance. Give either of those creams a shot for about a month, you won’t be disappointed.
A few other things I’ve discovered that cause my allergic eye bags to return: dairy and wheat. I gave up dairy for Lent and now when I toss down a little half and half here or break into a bag of Ritz crackers there, I have crazy swelling around my eyes, I have mucus build-up (I know, TMI, but wanted to be clear), and my whole face looks dry and dull. Plus, it causes me to itch. So, you know, I try not to do that. Otherwise, no further issues.
So, let’s hear it: do you have dark circles and undereye bags that could incur a fee on most major airlines? Do you think you’ll try these tips or do you have some wisdom of your own you’d like to drop on me? Let’s eyeball the issue in the comments section below.