How To Get Rid Your Dark Circles When There's No Time For Sleep

Illustration: Anna Sudit
For a mom, my mom didn’t go in too heavy on the old wives’ tales. She never stopped me making funny faces "in case the wind changed." I was never told to eat bread crusts so my hair would go curly (though to be honest, I don’t need any convincing when it comes to carbs). One thing I do remember hearing a lot, though? "If you don’t get some sleep, you’ll wake up with bags under your eyes."
The cruel cosmic joke of it all is I pretty much have perma-bags. I’m a good sleeper usually, but even after a blissful nine-hour weekend snooze, I have a touch of grey under my eyes. I’ve tried a lot of topical solutions, from gels to creams, thick, gloopy concealers to lightweight highlighters, and my reaction to most of them? Meh. I’ve even considered getting the suckers injected (a treatment even Katy Perry recommends). For other alternatives, I asked oculoplastic surgeon Dr. Maryam Zamani, who’s seen more eyes than Argus Panoptes.
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"Many people think there is nothing that can be done, but there are a number of treatments that can help improve this area," said Dr. Zamani. "There is some genetic component to dark circles. Some ethnicities, such as Asian and southeast Asian, can have hereditary hyperpigmentation around the eyes, which is difficult to treat. Some individuals have a family history of puffy lower eyelids from fat prolapse. Tear troughs and some degree of puffiness is inevitable in all populations as part of the normal aging process."
As a beauty writer, I feel like dark circles and cellulite are on a similar footing – every brand claims to have something to treat them, without ever really explaining how it works. "Caffeine or bark extract can help with pigmentation caused by the visibility of the veins," Dr. Zamani said. "Hydration can also help. Hydrated skin is plump and therefore creates more volume, making dark circles less noticeable. Brightening ingredients like vitamin C or retinol can also help thicken and brighten the skin in the lower eyelids."
Dr. Zamani’s onto something – of all the things I’ve tried on my dark circles, it’s The Ordinary’s Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG that’s made the most difference. Plus it comes in a 30ml bottle, unlike the smaller sizes you usually get with eye products, making the $7 price tag go even farther. Dr. Zamani also has a product in her MZ Skin Line called Soothe & Smooth Eye Complex, which has peptides, hyaluronic acid, and ceramides to hydrate the delicate eye area, making it a good option if you’re also concerned about fine lines and wrinkles.
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If you feel that it’s the whole eye area, not just the sallow skin that’s making you look tired, consider a more holistic approach. "Other than sleep and hydration, in-clinic treatments can help," said Dr. Zamani. "Microneedling can help with collagen production and thickening the skin in this area. Also, fractional ablative lasers and radio frequency can [yield] good results. The tighter this skin, the better the overall appearance of the lower eyelids." (It goes without saying that you’ll need to see a specialist if you want any of these done, so do your homework and be prepared to pony up for an oculoplastic surgeon like Dr. Zamani.)
Now that your skin care is in place, onto the fun part: concealer. My go-to combination is BECCA Under Eye Brightening Corrector, followed by Charlotte Tilbury The Retoucher. Both are more than $30, which may seem steep, but the orange-hued creams cancel out grey tones instantly. A lick of concealer on top (and a dust of loose powder) keeps everything perky and bright. Oh, and you must curl your lashes. It’s non-negotiable, especially if you have long lashes. And if all else fails? A slick of red lipstick and trust me, no one will be looking at your eyes.
One more thing: I asked Dr. Zamani about the whole sleep thing, and she said, "The body replenishes and rejuvenates as we sleep. Without proper sleep, we’re too tired for our bodies to do the work needed for healing and rejuvenating. This also means that our veins, including those under the eyes, can become more restricted, causing dark circles." Turns out, mom's warning wasn't a wive's tale after all.
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