For all the talk of anti-aging, I have experienced at least a few physical improvements with aging. First, my originally full face has significantly thinned out, giving a more sculpted look without even losing weight. I have even thrown out the contouring bronzer that was nearing expiration date—and will probably not replace it. Woohoo! Alas, under eye bags are not a feature that improves with age.
Now, many people get dark circles when they have a bad night’s sleep—occasionally, but not severely. I’ve had a combination of under eye bags *and* dark circles since college. If you’re wondering what that even looks like, imagine curtain valances (the half-moon drapes that top your curtains). Thank you, Dad.
Age 21, college junior. You can see the bags starting to take root. Also let’s take a moment to appreciate the pastel guys in the back who can be found in the dictionary under “Bros.”
This 30th birthday trip gave me a lot of feels because it was as though my selfies were taken of me, plus my eye bags.
What causes under eye bags and dark circles?
Genetics do play a big role. If you’ve “always” had them or since a young age, you have probably inherited them. But other factors such as lack of sleep and lack of hydration will make under eye bags worse. Celebrity dermatologist Barbara Sturm also says that they can be triggered by hormonal imbalances and high-sodium foods. Also, if you don’t wear sunglasses, your dark circles may actually be hyperpigmentation. Finally, as you age, the decrease in collagen under your thin skin will make the blood vessels more visible—hence making this area look darker.
To tell if your dark circles are due to collagen loss or hyperpigmentation, French chemist-turned-skincare-guru Marie Veronique suggests the following: take your (clean) fingers to either side of your eye bag and gently pull apart horizontally. If the skin becomes darker, it means you have a collagen loss problem. If the skin stays the same color, it’s hyperpigmentation. (Mine got darker—ugh ugh ugh).
How to Reduce Your Under Eye Bags & Circles
- Sleep religiously. When I was having the worst sleep of my life in 2016 and 2017, my under eye area was like a war zone–and my health was seriously under threat, natch. In 2018, I made a conscious decision to prioritize sleep, and the improvement with my under-eye skin was immediate and deeply satisfying.
- Use hydrating and brightening eye cream. I was using one by Mychelle before I switched to Bella Aura Eye Cream, and this one really works for me. The thing with eye cream is that if it doesn’t show improvement, you use it infrequently–and thus diminishing what returns you may have had. Look for Vitamin C which is a precursor to collagen *and* has brightening powers. I use a powerful antioxidant serum like Bella Aura Antioxidant Booster or Earthwise Beauty Nap in the Meadow Serum right up until the lower lash line, and *then* layer an eye cream on top.
- Use gentle strokes on the eye area. I like to use light pressure and plenty of serum/cream. Use light, shimmering tapping (imagine doing jazz fingers). Be sure to press the serum into the skin instead of just pushing it around. Finish up by drawing a horizontal figure 8 (or the infinity symbol!) around the boundaries of your eye area—this is good for lymphatic drainage.
- Lymphatic massage the whole face. This is a huge one—I can’t stress the importance of this enough. Recently I got a Radio Frequency (RF) facial, which vibrates the skin to promote lymphatic drainage and boost collagen, and my facialist said that it reduces under-eye bags as well. Lo and behold, she was right. This doesn’t mean you have to get RF facials every night, but that you can do the self-massage routine at home to mucho effect. Your under-eyes don’t exist by themselves–they’re connected to the rest of your face. To DIY, pump plenty of lotion or cream of your choice (I use Herin Beauty Omega-3 Cream, great for repair) and dot your cheeks, chin, forehead, neck, and décolletage. Use 2–3 fingers of both hands to do circular strokes lifting up and out from the center of your face. Note: You can use firmer strokes as long as you don’t tug the top layer of your skin. Think of it as gently massaging the muscles of your face rather than skimming the surface. You’ll know you did it right if you feel a refreshed, “just-worked-out” sensation all over. 2x a day.
- Facials—ideally at least once a month. The visible effect isn’t going to last more than a day or two, but it’s worth it because you’ll learn how to do the lymphatic massage at home. I’ve noticed facials’ long-term effect the most when I’ve gone consecutive months.
- Eat your beauty nutrients. For under-eyes, make sure you’re getting enough Vitamins C (brightening and collagen-boosting) & E (works with C, and moisturizing), Omega-3 (for repairing damage), and silica (basis of collagen). Vitamin K is a blood clotter, and can help reduce darkness by controlling seepage. This means tons of fruits and vegetables, hemp seeds, hemp milk, walnuts, and leafy greens.
- Cucumber eye masks. This is one of my top beauty secrets. Just peel an organic cucumber using a veggie peeler, and add thin ribbons all over your face and your eyes. It’s brightening and plumping. You can eat some of it too because it’s full of silica.
- Drink enough water. A lot of skin problems go away with extra hydration—including under-eye bags.
- Absolutely no caffeine, and try to reduce sugar. In addition to keeping you up at night, caffeine is a diuretic and will sap hydration right from your eyes—and same thing with sugar! Try to knock your sweet tooth with fruits and vegan dark chocolate.
- Limit blue light exposure at night. Recent studies reveal that blue light emitted by electronic devices damages your skin perhaps even more so than UV. It also disrupts your sleep cycle–all in all, I notice that staring into my laptop late at night spells disaster for my eye area the next morning. Activate warm-light display on your laptop and phone after sundown. Close your electronics as early as possible at night and read a book instead, if you need to wind down!
Age 31, this morning. I’m wearing a touch of sunscreen (Earthwise Beauty Farizad’s Veil + Ruby Oil) and cream blush (Kjaer Weis Cream Blush in Joyful…one of my fav beauty investments of all time…no breakouts, all natural and reusable packaging!) but no other concealer or foundation.
As you can see, my under-eye bags and darknesses (“Hello darkness my old friend….”) haven’t completely disappeared. Instead of obsessing over getting them perfect, I’m going to embrace this quirk. If every weirdness was wiped out of one’s face, one would look so robotic and character-less, right? I’m okay with my under-eyes giving me some personality—as long as they don’t rise up in mutiny again, haha.
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This article was first published on July 11, 2018 and most recently updated on March 27, 2023.
Photo: Peaceful Dumpling