Ask a Plastic Surgeon: How Do I Get Rid of My Undereye Circles?

Woman wearing eye mask

Even the most beauty-savvy individuals would love to get insider intel from a plastic surgeon. But sometimes, it’s hard to ask a doctor your most burning questions — maybe you believe your concern is too trivial, or you’re embarrassed to get the answer in a face-to-face appointment. That’s why Spotlyte brings you Ask a Plastic Surgeon, a regular column where we have professionals provide the answers to your questions, no matter how big or how small. In this installment of Ask a Plastic Surgeon, Dr. Gerald Imber explains the causes behind frustrating dark circles — and actual solutions to get rid of them forever.

If you’ve been cursed with dark circles, we’re willing to wager that you have tried nearly every heavy-duty concealer on the market. There’s also a very high probability that despite all the money you’ve shelled out, you remain dissatisfied. Some dark circles are just too, well, dark to hide with makeup — even with full coverage formulas. Instead, you go through life fielding perpetual queries on how tired you are, no matter how much sleep you got last night.

This super common beauty concern consists of two issues that compound one another, according to NYC plastic surgeon Dr. Gerald Imber. The first is excess melanin, a.k.a. skin pigment (responsible for your skin’s color and any changes to it!) which causes one part of the darkness. The other is the specific area under the eye itself. This specific spot — where the bones surrounding your eye socket end and your lower lids begin — is also known as the tear trough. The deeper the hollows are, the darker your circles appear.

If you’re getting paranoid that the area is getting worse as you get older, it might not all be in your head. Often, the hollows become deeper with age as well,” says Dr. Imber. This is because structures and muscles in your eyelids weaken with age. You might even be contributing to those circles by hastening their demise. “Do your eyes get puffy after drinking wine or eating spicy foods?” he asks. “These are factors that accelerate the way you age.” That’s because inflammation (in this case, puffiness) causes your skin’s aging process to speed up.

Beyond cutting out your favorite curries or cocktails, though, you still have some options to help improve the look of your dark circles. But it’s likely that none of those options are sitting on your vanity. “Eye creams and eye gels do very little to significantly improve undereye circles,” notes Dr. Imber. “The only scientific topical agent [that works on dark circles] is hydroquinone.” That’s because this ingredient works by interrupting melanin production (which is responsible for the darkening of your undereye area).

While some beauty products contain the ingredient, it is rare to find it in an eye cream. That is likely due to the fact that there is some controversy surrounding hydroquinone’s safety. It is actually banned in Japan, Australia, and all of the European Union because there has been some evidence that the ingredient has carcinogenic properties (though this has only been proven in rats, not humans). If you’re still interested in trying it, consult with your doctor. He or she can determine whether the benefits outweigh the potential risks, as well as if an over-the-counter or prescription product would work best for you.

If you’re impatient and prefer an in-office treatment in the name of faster results, Dr. Imber recommends two treatments to remove the excess melanin for this area: TCA chemical peels and laser resurfacing. With the former, you’ll likely need to come back for a few appointments as the skin in this area is very thin, and the chemical peel solution will be watered down in the name of safety. Laser resurfacing works most effectively, but the downtime with this treatment can vary (so if you have a special event coming up, you may want to rethink your office visit).

You can also focus on filling up your hollow tear trough, which creates a shadowing effect, thus creating a darker look to your undereyes. According to Dr. Imber, the most dramatic fix is injecting tiny fat transfers into the area. “A fat transfer is when we transfer living fat cells from a donor area to another area that needs filling,” he explains. (For example, you could take some living fat cells from the stomach or inner thigh.) “The fat is then injected into the undereye area, replacing what has been lost, and rejuvenating the entire area, diminishing the hollow, dark circles that may appear as you age.” This procedure is a long-lasting one — while you’ll always continue to age in this area, fat transfer won’t require regular re-treatment or maintenance. However, it is a medical procedure, and all medical treatments have possible side effects and risks, so consult with your doctor to see if it’s right for you.

Should you be willing to try something more experimental, you also have platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections as an option. “Recently, we’ve seen some improvements in dark undereye circles when injecting PRP,” shares Dr. Imber. “PRP is a high concentration of growth factors and stem cells from your plasma.” However, there are possible risks, so ask your doctor if it’s an ideal treatment for you.

When your plasma is injected into your skin, it helps promote cell growth, tissue repair, and collagen production, adds Dr. Imber. Encouraged collagen production in regards to your dark circles means newer, younger looking skin, and you could see a brighter, tighter undereye area. However, he notes that every patient responds differently. Keep in mind no results at all is still a response — so consider that (and the price) before you book. But if you’re used to spending hundreds of dollars a year on concealer, a little extra spending on a possible solution might just be worth it to you.