Could Your Dark Under-Eye Circles Actually be Melasma?

Here's how to tell the difference and what to do in case you're dealing with stubborn hyperpigmentation.

melasma eye creams

While the main cause of freckles and dark spots are environmental factors, like sun exposure, melasma—a form of hyperpigmentation—is triggered by genetics, as well as environmental and lifestyle factors. "Melasma can be brought on due to an influx of hormones," says celebrity aesthetician Celeste Rodrigues. These changes in hormonal levels could be caused by pregnancy, when you start or stop birth control, or during periods of high stress, adds Rodrigues. The pigmentation can lay dormant in the skin and flare up due to UVA/UVB ray exposure or because of an increase in your internal temperature.

Freckles can be removed using laser treatments like IPL or BBL Hero, but once you develop melasma, it never truly goes away, says Rodrigues. Plus, because of the heat energy emitted by lasers, these treatments could make your melasma worse in the long run. It's a skin condition that needs to be managed through one's lifestyle and skin-care choices. For instance, celebrity stylist Sarah Clary recommends wearing a hat whenever you're in the sun. And diligent sunscreen application is a must. And sticking to a skin-care regimen that contains non-inflammatory, skin-brightening ingredients is key.

For most people, melasma primarily occurs on the upper lip, cheeks, forehead, and the bridge of the nose, says Dr. Farhaad Riyaz, a board-certified dermatologist and a medical adviser for Docent. However, this isn't always the case: melasma can occur around the eye as well, and because that area is more sensitive than the rest of your skin, there are certain precautions to be taken and specific measures to keep in mind. Ahead, we talk to experts to learn how to best treat melasma when it shows up around your eye.

How common is eye area melasma?

Those dark circles under your eyes could be due to one too many late nights and dehydrations, says Dr. Riyaz. Or it could be melasma. How can you tell the difference? Well, according to Dr. Riyaz, if you notice two similar-shaped splotches on both sides of your face (they could range in color from light tan to a deep brown) that could be a sign of melasma.

It most commonly shows up the orbital bone, the place on your face when the contour of your eye and the cheekbone meet. Because this spot gets a significant amount of sun exposure, says Dr. Riyaz, it makes sense that that it's a common place for melasma to pop up.

However, it can be very difficult to get rid of melasma around the eye. "Because of the delicate skin surrounding the eye area, the typical lightening creams can be too abrasive for the zone," says Dr. Ben Talei, a board-certified plastic surgeon.

Why is the eye area so hard to treat?

Because the skin underneath your eye is extra-thin and super-sensitive, common melasma treatments like hydroquinone and kojic acid could lead to redness and inflammation, worsening the appearance of the melasma. The best plan of action is to opt for products that keep the area hydrated and soothed, says Karen Fernandez, the lead aesthetician at SkinSpirit.

When it comes to procedures, chemical peels are the most effective for treating melasma, says Dr. Macrene Alexiades, a board-certified dermatologist. Dr. Riyaz recommends trichloroacetic and lactic acid peels, but ultimately, he says, we rely on creams to do most of the heavy lifting.

What are the best ingredients to use in an eye cream?

When looking for an eye cream to treat melasma in the surrounding area, look for ingredients like vitamin C, to help even out your skin tone, as well as gentle exfoliators, like polyhydroxy acid, azelaic acid, and mandelic acid, suggests Dr. Riyaz. He also recommends seeking out products infused with niacinamide and kojic acid. "More recently, doctors have been using tranexamic acid (TXA) for stubborn melasma around the cheek and eyes," Dr. Talei adds, noting that tranexamic acid can also be given as a pill.

For stubborn pigmentation, Dr. Riyaz says that that tretinoin (prescription-strength retinol) and hydroquinone are two of the most best ingredients to help fade hyperpigmentation . "The best treatments for melasma include hydroquinone and tretinoin, which are both very sensitizing to the skin," corroborates Dr. Tracy Evans, aboard-certified dermatologist and the medical director of Pacific Skin and Cosmetic Dermatology. She notes that her favorite is Neocutis Lumiere Firm Riche, which is mixed with a "tiny drop" of a prescribed compounded formula of hydroquinone, tretinoin, hydrocortisone, and hyaluronic acid.

Managing melasma isn't a one-size-fits-all treatment. Everyone's skin is unique, so there's almost always a period of trial-and-error before finding the ingredient combination that works best for you.

Vitamin C + Peptide 24 Brightening Eye CreamFragrance-free

Thanks to an ingredient formulation that includes brightening vitamin C, firming amino peptides, and niacinamide this affordable drugstore option is able to combat discoloration in the eye-area while maintaining moisture levels.

$39 $29

5 Stars Retinoid + Niacinamide Eye Serum

Potent forms of retinoid combine with niacinamide in this formula to exfoliate and decrease the appearance of pigmented cells while also minimizing the potential for irritation.

Sunday Riley

EyeMax AlphaRet Overnight Cream

Rodrigues is a fan of this eye cream because even though the formula contains a powerful retinoid technology, it's still sensitive enough to be used on the delicate skin around your eyes.


The Eye Renewal Cream

This dermatologist-developed eye cream includes kojic acid, goji berry extract, bilberry extract, and Arnica montana; these ingredients work to inhibit the production of melanin production, preventing the under eye area from darkening.

Eighth Day Skin

Turmeric + Vitamin C Booster Eye Cream

For some brightening vitamin C delivered alongside anti-inflammatory Turmeric and tone-evening Niacinamide, look no further than Sweet Chef. This vegan formula makes for an affordable drugstore option that is safe for sensitive skin types.

This vegan and drugstore formula delivers vitamin C into your skin, alongside turmeric, an anti-inflammatory ingredient, and niacinamide, which works to even out your skin tone.

Sweet Chef

Night Bright Eye Balm

This creamy, nourishing balm is filled with three different forms of vitamin C and hydrating vitamin E to help soothe the skin while fading dark patches.


Nutrient C Eye Cream

The celebrity aesthetician's eponymous line offers this brightening vitamin C eye cream. Along with the antioxidant, it also features anti-inflammatory neem to calm irritation and reddness.

Kat Burki

Bright Repair CBD Eye Cream with 10% Vitamin C

Designed especially for sensitive skin, the 10 percent vitamin C in this cream is coupled with 500mg anti-inflammatory CBD and emollient vegan collagen to help lock moisture into the skin's outer barrier.

Saint Jane Beauty
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