Battling Under Eye Circles: The Science Behind Your Favorite Fixes

10:50 PM

What's the number one complaint over 50% of women have about their appearance? Under eye circles and puffiness plague people of all skin tones and complexions.  Why do the eyes show their age so much more prominently than other facial areas? Let's talk the science behind eyelid puffiness and what to look for in products to depuff and brighten your eyes for a more youthful appearance.

Fashion it-girl Leandra Medine embraces her make-up free appearance, puffy under eye circles and all.  via
It's obvious when you look at friends and acquaintances of your own age that more than just time affects how old you look.  The aging process of the skin is complex; in addition to simple passage of time, genetics, sun exposure, diet, hormones, pollution, and exposure to chemicals or toxins in your daily environment all play a big role.  Sun exposure especially will cause thickening of the epidermis (the surface layer of skin), resulting in dark spots and deep wrinkles and lines.

Why does under eye skin sag? The skin around your eyes is some of the thinnest in the body, with some of the weakest moisture barriers and lowest natural elasticity of all skin areas. As we age, our skin has significantly lower counts of "plumping" molecules like collagen and elastin that help support the link between the surface and deeper dermis skin layers.  On average, we lose 1% of skin collagen for every year of life.  With less collagen and elastin, our skin tissue begins to sag from lack of support, causing wrinkles, drooping eyelids, and those pesky under eye bags to develop.

Dark circles are also a side effect of the eyelid's thin skin.  Without a thick barrier, it's easier to see the matrix of blood vessels running underneath the skin, resulting in a dark purplish hue. Anything that dilates (or enlarges) the blood vessels under the eye will exacerbate the appearance of dark circles. The most common culprits are dehydration, fatigue, allergies, hormone changes (estrogen levels especially influence changes in dark circle appearance), and even warm environments.  Sleep itself actually causes dilation of the blood vessels too, which is why many people feel their circles are worse when they wake up first thing in the morning.  When we are asleep, our body's sympathetic nervous system is greatly turned down, causing blood vessels to dilate as our body enters "rest mode." Sleep and dark or dim rooms (like what we often have using a computer!) cause our body's sympathetic nervous system to deactivate, so a side effect will be a more obvious appearance of under eye dark circles.

What Can You Do?
Aging is inevitable, but there are some things you should start doing now that can protect against more dramatic aging changes and help your under eyelid skin look its best.
  • Sun Protection: From early childhood we need UV protection, including sunscreen and sunglasses to protect the delicate skin around the eyes. Once the skin becomes sun damaged, it's very difficult to erase dark spots from activated skin melanin or the thick wrinkles that develop as a result of  UV damage thickening the epidermis.  Prevention is always the best protection.
  • Stay Hydrated: The skin around the eyes has a very weak moisture barrier, so we need a good daily intake of water to help counteract bags and dark circles.  Dehydration causes the blood vessels under the eyelid skin to dilate, making a more noticeable purplish, dark bag. Alcohol, tea, and sodas can all act as diuretics that increase dehydration.  Medications commonly prescribed for high blood pressure, diabetes, mood stablizers/anti-depressants, and allergies (yes - Benadryl, Claritin, and other OTC antihistamines are your enemy when it comes to staying hydrated!) also commonly have dehydration as a side effect.
  • Adjust Your Screens: Do you work on the computer all day? Your work environment can wreak havoc on your eyes and eyelid skin!  Make sure you have good lighting in the room where you work, preferably a window or natural light source. Working in the dark or in a dim room makes your body enter "rest" mode, so you'll not only feel more tired, but your blood vessels will dilate and you dark under eye circles will be more noticeable.  The blue light coming from your computer screen, cell phone, and other digital or LED light sources can also create problems by disrupting your body's natural sleep cycle hormones. Wearing glasses with blue light protection (Crizal Prevencia anti-glare coating or Transitions XtrActive both have great blue-blocking effects) and using a free download for reducing blue light from your screen like f.lux can help. 
    And we wonder why we have dark, puffy under eyes the next morning? via
  • A Little Morning Pick-Me-Up When you first wake up, under eye circles are more evident until your body gets going and active.  The blood vessels will begin to constrict and fluid that may have pooled in your under eye area will get redistributed once the sympathetic nervous system kicks into gear.  But you can speed that process along by holding a cool compress to your under eye area to constrict blood vessels before applying makeup, and doing a little morning exercise to get blood pumping. Caffeine like that in your morning coffee can also constrict the blood vessels to improve under eye appearance, which is why many skin creams for under eye circles contain a caffeine additive.
  • Use the Right Products The skin absorbs moisture both from the blood stream (internally) and externally (from skin creams and lotions).  Certain under eye products not only hydrate the eyelid tissue, but also boost under eye circulation and reduce the appearance of dark spots.  But be careful of the chemicals found in many popular drugstore brands, because they may actually cause dryness, redness, and irritation - counteracting all your hard work!
Metallic applicators like that used in the LA MER Lifting Eye Serum begin to depuff eyes immediately with their cool temperature. via
    • 100% Pure Coffee Bean Caffeine Eye Cream: Caffeine reduces the appearance of dark under eye circles by increasing circulation, and this vegan eye cream delivers both coffee and green tea extracts to pack a punch. Rosehip oil hydrates and plumps the skin. Paraben free.
    • JUARA Miracle Tea Complete Eye Cream: This nightly cream combines an anti-oxidant packed kombucha tea extract to fight wrinkles and UV damage with marigold extract that stimulates blood vessel circulation to reduce the appearance of dark circles.  Plus as a vegan product its free of chemicals that might be toxic to the eye area.
    • Yves Saint Laurent Forever Light Creator Eye Fluid: Want a concealer that also works on the root of the problem? This concealer also hydrates and contains caffeine and vitamin C to depuff eyes.
    • The Estée Edit by Estée Lauder Late Night Eraser Brightening Eye Balm with Pink Peony: Applied with a metallic "cooling tip" that will begin depuffing under eye bags on contact, this balm also has hydrating cucumber oils and reflective powders that help bounce light back off the under eye area, deflecting the appearance of puffiness. While reflective powders don't actually reduce your eyelid circles, the trick of the light reflecting does make them look less evident to everyone else.
    • LA MER Lifting Eye Serum: LA MER products use algae to help build and restore skin's elastin production. It also uses a cooling tip applicator with massaging instructions to depuff on contact.
What not to use? Retinol is a beloved anti-wrinkle product, but it is much too harsh to use on delicate eyelid skin.  Retinol products are strong skin defoliants, causing peeling, flaking and redness. There are many people that will experience puffiness and redness around their eyelids with any contact around the lid margin -- retinol dehydrates the skin to encourage exfoliation, which is why the eyelid skin will get red and puffy!  Make sure you avoid any retinol creams around the eye to prevent this unwanted side effect.


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