Makeup basics: concealing dark under eye circles

On polling twitter, it looks like two of the most popular topics new-to-makeup people want me to cover are lipstick and concealing dark under eye circles.

Dark under eye circles are Literally Satan, and from experience I’d say no skincare product can do much to lighten them. Most eye creams promise to reduce fine lines, thicken the skin, and eradicate dark circles, but I’ve found that the most they can do is moisturize the area. Which is great, but not going to help much with the dark circles. I have no experience with puffy under eye or eye bags, so keep that in mind. I’m detailing the concealing process under the assumption that your under eye area is reasonably, er, flat.

What you will need:

  • Skin prep: eye cream/moisturizer.
  • Primer.
  • Corrector (optional).
  • Concealer.
  • A small fluffy eyeshadow brush.
  • Setting powder (optional).

Eye cream? Fine lines? Brown? Blue?

First thing! Take a close look at what your under eye area is like and, importantly, what color the dark circles are. If your dark circles are brown, you’ll be good with just a concealer a shade brighter than your skin; if your dark circles are blue or purple, you’ll probably want a corrector as a base (more on this later).

Do you have fine lines under your eyes? If yes, you are going to want a silicone-based primer to ‘fill’ those lines up – dried concealer that has creased and settled into fine lines will alert you to lines you never even knew you had really fast and age you at least a decade up. If you’ve got no fine lines, congratulations!

What you get when you buy almost any eye cream is a container (often a jar, which is a problem) that is half the size of a container of facial moisturizer yet the eye-area product usually costs twice as much without being a significantly different or more concentrated formula. Plus, more often than not, the eye-area product contains nothing that will help the supposed special needs of this area any more than a state-of-the-art moisturizer or serum can.

Although we understand many people are set on using an eye cream, you can save money and take superior care of your eye area by using your face product (assuming it is well formulated and appropriate for the skin type) around your eyes! But if you want to hedge your bets and use an eye cream, read on to find out what to look for and the claims to be aware of.

Eye Creams: Do You Need One?

I don’t religiously follow Paula Begoun’s recommendations, but I’d say she’s right about eye creams, up to a point. I do personally use eye creams because most moisturizers I use for the rest of my face don’t play nicely with the skin under my eyes (which is significantly more sensitive than anywhere else), but I do use my normal face sunscreen under my eyes with no trouble. If I don’t use any moisturizing product under my eyes at all though, the skin there becomes noticeably tight, dry, and concealer doesn’t apply as well.

If you apply eye cream before makeup, make sure to let it dry/absorb before applying concealer or the concealer’s going to just slide off. :)

Prime and correct

There are several options for primers. I’d suggest these:

  • MAC Prep + Prime Vibrancy Eye (this is the most specific undereye primer I know of)
  • NARS Smudgeproof

NYX HD Eyeshadow Base should also work since it’s also silicone-based; likewise any other pore-filling primers (Maybelline Baby Skin Instant Pore Eraser Primer, Benefit Porefessional). If you’re allergic to ‘cones, there’s not much to be done, alas. The primer will fill your fine lines, prevent the concealer from creasing and settling into those lines, and make the concealer last longer.

Corrector is where you can repurpose other products, but here are a couple that are specifically correctors.

  • Skinfood Salmon Darkcircle Concealer Cream
  • Bobbi Brown Corrector

Otherwise, the Illamasqua Cream Pigment in Androgen, any MAC Paint Pot that’s peach/orange, or just about any cream eyeshadow or cream blush that fits the bill (and which you can trust not to easily crease). The idea is color theory: orange cancels out the blue/purple tone of your under eye circles (again, if your dark circles are simply brown, I’d personally skip correctors).

Alternatively, you could use an orange lipstick. I’m not a big fan of this method since I find lipstick too emollient to use anywhere on the face but lips; the wax content means it’s greasier and more ‘slippery’ than cream eyeshadow or concealer. However, it does work (it also works if you need to cover up body tattoos, by the way: lipstick first, then pile on a heavy full-coverage foundation) and if you already own a red/orange lipstick it’s a good way to try it out.

Conceal and set

Laura Mercier makes a concealer kit that covers most of these steps – the Undercover Pot includes a corrector, concealer, and a setting powder. I have never used it so I can’t speak for its quality, though. Here are some concealers to try:

  • NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer
  • Revlon Age Rewind
  • Maybelline Dream Lumi Touch

There are several methods of application to try, but personally I just dab the concealer straight onto the under eye area with the applicator, then use a fluffy brush to buff it into place. The Real Techniques Deluxe Crease brush works for me, but generally any brush that looks like it ought to do:

I’d opt for Real Techniques or Zoeva 142, personally; both are cheap, made of synthetic fiber (easy to clean!), and great quality. They’re also fantastically soft and won’t scratch the delicate under eye skin.

You could use your ring finger to pat the concealer in, but I don’t find this method particularly great – the brush is more convenient and produces better results in my experience. Alternatively, use the pointy end of a makeup sponge (damp) like a Beauty Blender or the RT Complexion Sponge to pat it into place but, again, I’m not a fan because it’s more fuss than just using a brush. But if a brush doesn’t work for you, you can always try the sponge or a slightly damp cotton swab.

Now you’ve done all that, time to set the concealer so it stays in place! There are a lot of choices here, at various price points:

  • NYX HD Studio Finishing Powder
  • Kate Kanebo Face Powder
  • Laura Mercier Translucent Loose Setting Powder

Using the same fluffy brush from above, dab loose powder onto the concealer. Use very little. You should now be all good to go. I consider the setting powder step fairly optional, since if you don’t have overly oily skin or you live in a dry climate, your concealer shouldn’t slide off anyway.