The truth about dark circles, puffiness and under-eye bags – and how to deal with them

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Lucy Partington
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If shadows, puffiness or under-eye bags are darkening your days, you’re not alone. Here’s how to tackle tired eyes once and for all.

You might have had a solid eight hours – the best sleep of your life, even – yet when you wake up those tell-tale signs of tiredness that suggest you’ve been up all night are still there. 

Whether it’s constant puffiness that not even the coldest of jade rollers can shift, those circular shadows that take on a grey, almost purple, tinge or the hollows underneath your eyes that seem to get deeper every time you look in a mirror, you’re not the only one. These under-eye bugbears are cited as one of the most common skin complaints (and something the Stylist beauty team is constantly asked about) simply because looking exhausted – even when you’re not – isn’t fun.

So, to help combat the issues once and for all, we quizzed two skincare experts, a make-up artist and a facialist: keep scrolling to discover their top tips. Tired eyes, be gone. 

How to deal with dark circles


The terms dark circles and under-eye bags are often used interchangeably, but they’re two different problems that should be treated accordingly. “The former represents a hollow tear trough, while the latter suggests a puffy, bulge-like appearance,” explains Dr Ewoma Ukeleghe, founder of Skndoctor. 

The bad news is that dark circles tend to be hereditary and can worsen over time. “Loss of volume happens with age, which makes circles look worse,” explains Dr Barbara Kubicka, a cosmetic doctor. “Poor circulation is one culprit, but in some cases, especially in skin of colour, the circles are caused by hyperpigmentation.”

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So, while products cannot put an end to dark circles, they can make them temporarily disappear. “First, you need to neutralise the dark shadow,” explains make-up artist Hannah Martin. “It’s essential you prep the under-eye skin first. Hydrate with a lightweight eye cream to prevent dragging, then apply a lighter than-your-skintone concealer to hide shadows and brighten the area.”

Martin recommends using a synthetic, dome-shaped brush so you can get right into the corner of the eye and suggests taking the concealer just over the top of the cheeks. If shadows are particularly dark, you might still see a hint of your colour through your concealer. “If that’s the case, use a colour corrector before concealer: pinky tones are good for neutralising pink/purple colours, or if the shadows are verging on brown, shades of peach are best,” adds Martin. Finish by dabbing with your ring finger to melt it into place. 

The best products for treating dark circles

How to deal with puffy eyes


Lifestyle factors such as tiredness and dehydration can cause structural changes that happen below the skin. “Puffiness arises due to changes to muscles, ligaments and fat pads around the eye,” explains Ukeleghe. 

That means topical serums and creams promising to banish puffiness may not be effective long term because they only target the skin. Don’t panic, though, because lymphatic drainage and cooling techniques can work wonders, especially if swelling typically occurs after a late night or first thing in the morning. 

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“Drinking hot water with lemon and ginger will help stimulate toxin drainage,” says facialist Michaella Bolder. Look for creams or gel-based products with retinol in them – they’ll help improve the skin quality. “Eye serums containing vitamin C can also be considered, but be careful as the eye area is much more sensitive than the rest of the face,” adds Ukeleghe. Such products, alongside clever massage techniques, can help improve the appearance of the eye contour.

“Rest your thumbs underneath the jaw on both sides, with index fingers sitting on the temples. Slide your fingers underneath the eyes with a slow, medium pressure, starting from the outer corners of the eye, then sweeping up to the brow and round. Repeat 10 times: it’ll help activate the product while stimulating the muscles and draining fluid,” explains Bolder. Then use a cold compress or gua sha – or just keep a teaspoon in the freezer – and gently press it underneath your eye. Not only will that help shrink any blood vessels but it’ll also help brighten the area. 

The best products for treating puffy eyes

How to deal with under-eye bags 


Not to be mistaken for dark circles, under-eye bags are generally caused by insufficient lymphatic drainage – usually a result of tiredness, general inflammation or a lack of hydration, but prolonged exposure to screens and too much alcohol can also be contributing factors. 

Under-eye bags tend to occur when weakened or sagging skin relaxes even more, which in turn forms a pouch underneath the eye. “Our eyeballs are surrounded by fat tissue and when the ligaments become lax, they can be seen underneath the eye, presenting themselves as a bag,” explains Kubicka, who also adds that the most effective treatment is a change of lifestyle, but alongside that it’s worth investing in a caffeine-based serum to help combat the issue. 

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“There’s a handful of research that suggests caffeine can reduce puffiness,” says Ukeleghe. Kubicka concurs, adding that it’s best to use caffeine-based products in the morning rather than in the evening, as they work to counteract any naturally occurring overnight puffiness.

Apply using a circular massage motion which, both instantly and over time, can help to reduce any fluid lingering in that specific area. In terms of physically concealing eye bags on a daily basis, Martin says you can’t hide the shadow from the actual contour, but using a brightening concealer and setting with loose powder will help dramatically reduce the appearance of them. No one need ever know you were out all night.

The best products for treating under-eye bags 

Illustrations: Laura Hope/Lipstick of London

Main image: Getty 


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Lucy Partington

Freelance beauty editor Lucy Partington is obsessed with all things skincare, collecting eyeshadow palettes that she'll probably never use, and is constantly on the hunt for the ultimate glowy foundation.