Cucumber slices are a popular facial treatment – just place a couple of slices over your eyelids for instant calm. But what's the science behind it?
"Technically, cold temperature can cause blood vessels to constrict, so swelling is temporarily reduced," says Phillip Artemi of the Australasian College of Dermatologists. "But it won't reverse dark circles around the eyes."
ADVANTAGES: Inexpensive; simple
DISADVANTAGES: Pigment remains unchanged; no proven benefits
The age-old adage of getting your beauty sleep suggests that the key to brighter eyes is getting enough shut-eye. "Getting more sleep may reduce redness in the eyes and the fullness of eye bags, but it will do little to eliminate dark pigment," says Artemi. Some experts advise using one or two pillows to keep your head elevated while you sleep, to help prevent fluid build up in your lower eyelids, which gives the impression of puffiness.
ADVANTAGES: Beneficial for your overall health; effective on temporary eye bags
DISADVANTAGES: Won't eliminate dark circles; not suitable for the time-poor
Although diet doesn't usually play a direct role in dark circles, certain foods can aid skin health. Green tea contains skin-friendly antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory benefits that help protect skin cells; salmon contains astaxanthin, a carotenoid that improves skin elasticity to keep fine lines at bay; and avocados and eggs are rich sources of biotin, a vitamin that helps keep skin healthy.
ADVANTAGES: A nutritionally rich diet promotes overall health; may improve complexion
DISADVANTAGES: No guaranteed effect on dark circles; long-term dedication is needed
A secret weapon for disguising tired eyes, a concealer can help even skin tone. As a bonus, it can also act as a physical barrier against sunlight to ward off sun damage. Make-up guru Bobbi Brown suggests a yellow-based creamy concealer in a shade lighter than your natural skin tone is best at masking blue under-eye circles, while fairer skin types should opt for a porcelain-toned concealer. If skin sensitivity is a concern, then try the most chic concealer of all – a big pair of sunglasses.
ADVANTAGES: Simple; effective at masking genetic dark circles
DISADVANTAGES: Ongoing use is required; temporary cover rather than fix
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If you're after a little "me time," an eye mask is the perfect accessory. They're inexpensive, and gel masks can be warmed up or chilled in the fridge for the desired effect. Worn for about 15 minutes, they can provide much-needed therapy for tired eyes. As for dark circles, Hanna Kuchel of the Skin & Cancer Foundation of Australia says a cool eye mask works by causing blood vessels to constrict, which reduces swelling temporarily. But like most at-home remedies, the results are quick and the benefits short-lived.
ADVANTAGES: Therapeutic; temperature adjustable
DISADVANTAGES: No long-term benefits; requires consistent use
Eye creams are a popular cosmetic product, but do they live up to the hype? It's hard to say, as results vary so much between individuals. Also popular in treating dark circles are lightening creams, which Artemi says contain 2% hydroquinone – a bleaching agent that aims to get rid of dark circles. But creams can irritate delicate under-eye skin, particularly if they contain harsh ingredients, so talk to a professional before use, he advises. To keep the skin moisturized and reduce dark circles, Kuchel recommends sunscreen, which prevents pigmentation of the skin over time.
ADVANTAGES: Soothing and moisturizing
DISADVANTAGES: Can irritate the skin; inconsistent benefits
If a blocked nose is to blame, nasal sprays might be the answer. Nasal congestion can darken the appearance of the veins that drain from your eyes through to the nose, adding to dark circles. Other red flags of congestion include sinus headaches and a sore throat. Saline rinses or nasal sprays can temporarily relieve these symptoms, but prolonged use is not recommended. Building up tolerance to the spray could exacerbate congestion, so have your sinus problems properly assessed before use.
ADVANTAGES: Targets multiple sinus complaints
DISADVANTAGES: Uncomfortable for some
"Dark under-eye circles may also be a sign of atopy, meaning people predisposed to developing conditions such as asthma and eczema," says Georgina Kourt, fellow of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists. So if you have any known allergies, antihistamines could reduce the puffiness associated with them, but will not do much to reduce dark circles. Available over the counter or on prescription, antihistamines work by blocking the effects of histamine, a substance released in the body during an allergic reaction. But use with caution, as they can have side effects such as drowsiness or dry mouth.
ADVANTAGES: Treats allergy and puffiness concurrently
DISADVANTAGES: Ineffective on genetic dark circles; may have side effects
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If you opt to take the surgical route, blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery) could be for you. Some women have a racial predisposition to darker skin under the eyes, while others have prominent eye bags that cast dark shadows. Blepharoplasty aims to rectify the latter. There are two procedures: the first surgically removes fat from the inside of the eyelid, while the second – more common – procedure involves removing excess fat and skin, as well as tightening muscle. Merten says most patients opt for operations on both eyelids for a better overall effect.
ADVANTAGES: Can reset the ageing process for a while and help you regain a more youthful appearance
DISADVANTAGES: Surgical complications may result; potential scarring
PRICE RANGE: For the lower eyelids, about $6,000-$8,000 including hospital and anesthetist's fees
Laser targets the source of dark circles by sending a burst of light into skin under the eyes. The light is absorbed by blood vessels or pigmented areas in the skin. Laser will resurface the skin and reduce or eliminate wrinkles, which improves the overall appearance of the eyes, with the added benefit of reducing dark circles. However, if the skin around the eyes is already smooth, the treatment might not reduce pigmentation. While less invasive than surgery, the tingling sensation of a laser may take some getting used to, and side effects include redness or localized swelling.
ADVANTAGES: Can improve skin quality; reduction in fine lines
DISADVANTAGES: Pigmentation may be too deep for laser therapy; repeat sessions may be needed
PRICE RANGE: Prices vary according to your needs. If you're treating veins, prices run from $500-$1000, while resurfacing ranges from $2000-$5000.