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Beauty SOS: Why Concealer Can Make Your Dark Circles Look Worse

As I recently learned, it's possible to be using concealer all wrong. Here's the right way to camouflage those raccoon eyes.

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Dark circles can be stubborn

I recently read in a fashion magazine that dark undereye circles are the new status symbol. If that’s true, then I must be royalty. No matter what I do, my dark bluish-black circles remain. I blame genes, I blame allergies (they aren’t called “allergic shiners” for nothing), and I blame my lack of beauty prowess. When I try to conceal my dark circles, they look even worse!

Circles and bags under the eyes are tricky, confirms Laurel Geraghty, MD, a dermatologist in Medford, Oregon. “Concealer can make them look more pronounced,” she notes, “especially if it doesn’t sit flawlessly on the skin, it isn’t moisturizing enough, or if it dries you out.”

Even kids can look like they’ve pulled an all-nighter. You get the effect when “tiny veins, as well as the muscle that encircles the eye (orbicularis oculi), show through the ultra-thin undereye skin,” Dr. Geraghty explains. Also at play: how skin normally ages. As years pass, we lose volume and collagen, which can create dark shadows that exaggerate the issue. Lack of sleep, unchecked allergies, and too much sodium contribute to that lovely zombie look.

So what do you do when a typical swipe of concealer isn’t cutting it? I asked Dr. Geraghty and New York-based makeup artist Ashley Riley how to erase this beauty bummer without looking like you’re wearing a mound of makeup.

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Attack the puff

Wake up with bags under your eyes? Apply a cream containing caffeine, which will help constrict the blood vessels and reduce swelling. Or go old-school, as Dr. Geraghty does: “I slap on a cool compress for 3 to 5 minutes—grandma’s bag-of-frozen-peas trick, or I steal my husband’s gel eye mask that we store in the freezer.” To prevent puffiness, Dr. Geraghty sleeps on more than one pillow to help drain excess fluids that can make eyes puffy (“gravity works in my favor!”). Here are more ways to calm puffy eyes.

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Moisturize like mad

We all make makeup mistakes that age us. Exhibit A: Concealer cakes on dry skin, highlighting fine lines. The solution: Amp up your hydration efforts. No need to drop a lot of dough on fancy eye creams. Dr. Geraghty is crazy about basic Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream (“It’s labeled for body but I love it around the eyes for its gentle, moisturizing dimethicone and sweet almond oil”), as well as products with sun protection and skin brighteners (such as vitamin C) like CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion AM SPF 30. Still seeing lines? Try this trick from Riley: “Cut your concealer with a moisturizing primer to keep skin refreshed, rejuvenated, and youthful.”

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Think orange

The trick to masking purple-gray skin is to use its opposite on the color wheel: orange. Depending on your skin tone, that can mean applying a pale peach or a surprisingly bright orange. Start by applying foundation (if you wear it), then grab your corrector. “Really get into the inner corners of the eyes to cancel out the blue tones,” Riley advises. “After you’ve neutralized the dark blue circles, use a lighter yellow-toned concealer to brighten under the eye.” She likes Eve Pearl Salmon Concealer, which come in combos of a darker tone for correcting and a lighter shade for brightening. Dr. Geraghty’s go-to: the peachy-orange shade in L’Oreal Paris Infallible Total Cover Pro Correcting Palate followed by Bobbi Brown Creamy Concealer.

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Don’t forget to blend

While your fingers work fine, Riley prefers applying cover up with a brush because it’s more precise. “Lately I’ve been obsessed with blender brushes for foundation application and concealing,” she says. You use the flat brush to dab the product on and the angled one to blend it into your skin. Riley also likes to mix foundation with the concealer to get that just-right match. (Just make sure to keep your brush clean—you won’t believe the gross things that can happen when you don’t wash your makeup tools.)

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exerciseJacob Lund/Shutterstock

Clean up your act

Turns out, all those classic self-care moves (getting enough sleep, wearing SPF 30, eating whole foods instead of salty, processed fare) are amazing for your undereye area. And—surprise!—so are regular workouts: “Exercising absolutely helps, by promoting circulation and natural lymphatic drainage to help minimize puffiness and shadows,” Dr. Geraghty says. “Even when I have to get up at 5 a.m. to exercise, I end up looking better rested.” Final tip: Make sure your allergies are under control. Here are surprising ways to stop allergy symptoms so you look and feel great. And don’t miss these brilliant concealer tricks every makeup-wearing woman must know.

Lisa Lombardi
Lisa Lombardi writes frequently about health, wellness, science, culture, and parenting. A Yale graduate, she was Executive Editor of Health and is co-author of the women's health guide What the Yuck?! The Freaky & Fabulous Truth About Your Body. She also writes for Time, The Washington Post, Parents, The New York Times, and Real Simple. You can follow her on Twitter @lisaclombardi.