Dark Circles: Causes, Prevention, and Treatments

Depending on your skin colour, dark circles can take several appearances including purple, bluish, brown or black colour under the lower eyelids. Although the condition may not be cause for a medical concern, the discolourations can be unsightly. Also, they can make you look older, sickly, depressed, stressed or sleep-deprived.  

Dealing with the under-eye hyperpigmentation can be as simple as getting enough rest or hiding behind layers of makeup. Other times, you may need specialized skin treatments for better and lasting results. In this article, we will elaborate more on the causes, preventive measures, and treatments for dark circles.

What Causes Dark Circles?

Dark Circles: Causes, Prevention, and Treatments

Dr. Anjali Mahto

Consultant Dermatologist

Cadogan Clinic, London

Dark circles under the eyes can be caused by a number of different factors, from genetics to skin allergies. Rings under the eyes often run within a family and can be down to your skin type.[1]


Dark circles, or puffy eyes, can be caused by several factors. There are also contributing factors that can further aggravate the condition. The causes range from hereditary to environmental factors. Specifically, UV overexposure, health, and lifestyle are the leading factors. Identifying the underlying cause is crucial, as it informs the treatment strategy. Here are possible causes: 

Hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation around the eyes is common among people with dark skin and those of Mediterranean descent. The condition results from the overproduction of melanin in the skin around the eyes. 

The reason being, this area of the skin is delicate, thin and more sensitive. Hence it is more prone to showing imperfections. This form of hyperpigmentation is known as periorbital or periocular hyperpigmentation. The condition becomes more pronounced with age.[2]

Fatigue

The easiest to tell that a person is tired is by looking at their eyes. As it turns out, your eyes can show not just emotions but also the slightest hint of fatigue. When you are overworked, tired or sleep-deprived, dark under eye  circles start to form.

In particular, sleep deprivation leads to fluid build-up in the skin underneath the eyes. Fatigue leaves your eyes puffy or swollen. Again, long hours without sleep over-task your eyes. This paves the way for blood vessels and tissue, which appear darker, to show beneath the skin. 

Thinning of Skin

The natural process of ageing comes with the thinning of the skin. The gradual decline in the production of collagen, the main connective component of the skin, is responsible for the imperfection. 

Apart from making blood vessels to show more, loss of collagen causes volume loss in the tear trough. As a result, dark circles become even more pronounced. 

Allergies and Irritation

Any allergy that affects the eyes can cause dark under eye circles. When irritated, the ordinary course of action is to scratch or rub to ease the itch. If done excessively, the irritation can lead to darkening of the skin. 

This form of skin discolouration is known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. It comes about after exposure to allergens such as pollen and dust. Allergies can also result from sensitivities to certain foods and medication. 

Fluid Retention

Due to varying factors, blood vessels around the eyes can become dilated, leading to fluid retention. As a result, tissue and blood vessels become more pronounced, contributing to dark circles. 

Factors that can lead to fluid retention include heart, kidney, liver and thyroid diseases. Some medications such as birth control pills, corticosteroids, and blood pressure also come with fluid retention as a side effect. Some aspects of your lifestyle, such as smoking and eating salt excessively, can also worsen the situation. 

Dehydration

When dehydrated, your skin becomes pale and shrivelled, making your blood vessels more visible. Dehydration gives the impression of dark colouration around the eyes. If severe, this can lead to sunken eyes which make your eyelids to cast shadows. 

Genetics 

Dark circles can be an inherited trait. In such a case, the condition manifests early in childhood and teenage years. For example, one study reported the condition in 22 members across six generations of the same family. If you are predisposed to thyroid problems, which may also run in the family, you could end up with dark circles as well.[3]

Overexposure to Sunlight

Sunlight exposure prompts your body to produce more melanin. This normal biological process protects you from harmful radiation. That said, overexposure to harmful UV rays can cause dark patches, especially on delicate under-eye skin. 

How To Prevent Dark Circles

Prevention is better than cure; the same is right about dark under eye circles. Additionally, preventive measures may also help to keep existing hyperpigmentation from becoming worse. So, what can you do to keep it away?

Wear Sunscreen

If your condition only manifests during hot spells, then wearing sunscreen will keep you protected. You can also reduce the appearance of dark circles by wearing protective sunglasses.

Sleep Better and Extra

According to doctors, you should get at least seven to eight hours every day. Enough sleep rejuvenates your system and prevents dark circles at the same time. How you sleep matters though; laying flat encourages fluid retention under your eyes. To avoid such a scenario, use pillows to elevate your head. 

Eat Right

The right diet can keep eye bags at bay. Start by avoiding foods high in sodium content. According to a publication by Towson University, every 400 milligrams of excess dietary sodium makes you gain almost a kilogram of temporary water weight. Roughly, your body requires only up to 1 teaspoon of salt per day.[4]

You should also err on the side of iron-rich diet to avoid being anaemic. Unchecked, the disease causes a bluish colouration below the eyes. To be on the safe side, ensure that you take a balanced diet to avoid any form of deficiency. 

If you must indulge, go for fruits and vegetables as they contain vitamins necessary for healthy eyes and healthy blood vessels. Also, try and drink lots of water to avoid dehydration. It’s good to note that not being thirsty does not necessarily mean that you are hydrated; drink at least 13 cups (men) and 9 cups (women) of water per day.[5]

How to Treat Dark Circles

Dark Circles: Causes, Prevention, and Treatments

Rebecca A. Kazin, MD

Assistant Professor

Johns Hopkins Dermatology


You really need to be evaluated carefully to determine what is causing your under-eye circles to target the problem most directly. Then you'll get the best results.[6]

Even with the most elaborate prevention measures, dark circles might still catch up with you, necessitating the need for treatment. Here is our pick of the top skin treatments and home remedies for dark circles.

  • Skin Lightening Creams and Serums

These topical creams incorporate active ingredients that work by inhibiting melanin production. Common skin lightening ingredients include hydroquinone, vitamin C and Niacinamide. Liquorice, arbutin, kojic acid, and glutathione will also do as natural skin whiteners. 

Most of these creams also come with collagen-building ingredients such as retinol, vitamin C, vitamin B3, and copper. Other ingredients moisturize, exfoliate, protect, regenerate and offer anti-inflammatory benefits for your skin. 

CAUTION!

Not all skin lightening creams are safe for your skin. Some are laden with harmful ingredients such as mercury and steroids. Not to mention the controversial hydroquinone which can ulcerate, injure or permanently damage your cornea. For your safety, go for natural skin lightening creams.

  • Anti-Allergy Medication

When it comes to allergies, the most effective course of action would be to avoid allergens. Since this is not always possible, dark under eye circle treatments should come in handy.

Anti-allergy treatments can help reduce or completely get rid of itching and other symptoms. Such drug includes antihistamines, anti-decongestants, nasal sprays, or anti-inflammatory eye drops. As a preventive measure, others also help you build a tolerance to allergens.

  • Chemical Peels

These are acidic solutions used to peel off a layer or layers of the skin. There are three classes of Chemical peels: superficial, medium, and deep. The difference lies in the depth of the peel and the strength of the acid used. Superficial peels are the mildest form with deep peels being the strongest.

For dark circles though, only mild peels like glycolic, lactic, and citric are recommended. Reason being, the skin around your eyes is delicate. When applied to the skin surface, the solution wears out the dead cell layer that forms around the eyes. Sloughing off the outer skin layer reveals fresher and lighter skin. Often, acid peels are used with other treatments to enhance and maintain the results.

  • Laser Resurfacing

Laser procedures involve the use of beams of light energy to target blemished skin cells and destroy them, one skin layer at a time. The treatment boosts collagen production and the formation of newer, lighter and less blemished skin. 

The intensity of these procedures varies depending on the severity of your condition and skin colour, among other factors. It is vital to work with a reputable dermatologist to determine the best procedure for you. In addition to dark under eye circles, laser treatments also take care of other skin flaws such as acne scars, wrinkles, and photodamage.

  • Skin Fillers 

Skin fillers are suited for people who also suffer volume loss besides dark under eye circles. They work by plumping up and smoothing the skin. Fillers also lift skin from the blood vessels that make it appear dull. They come in many names, but it all comes down to specific ingredients.

Hyaluronic acid fillers are the most commonly used, but there are also collagen and synthetic fillers. Note that this is not a one-time treatment; one injection lasts up to several months. Therefore, you need repeated treatments to maintain the results.

  • Surgery

Blepharoplasty is the surgery that involves getting rid of extra skin, fat or muscle that causes bags and dark circles under your eyes. It is, therefore, recommended for people whose dark circles are characterized by such signs. It is an outpatient procedure that requires 10-14 days downtime and a host of aftercare dos and don’ts. 

The results of the surgery may last for a lifetime, though there are cases when the condition comes back. You will also have to deal with scars from the surgical cuts for up to several months.

Home Remedies for Dark Circles

  • Conceal with Makeup 

Though not a treatment, the right makeup can come in handy as you wait for your choice of treatment to take hold. For cosmetic purposes, use an under-the-eye concealer that matches your skin tone. Take caution to avoid makeup whose ingredients irritate the skin. 

Tip: Always remember to wash off your makeup before sleeping. If left on overnight, it can cause allergic reactions or infection. 

  • Soak with Tea Bags

Caffeinated tea bags are one of the most comfortable and effective home remedies for puffy eyes. Why is this? Caffeine contains antioxidants that prevent skin damage from free radicals. Also, caffeine helps to improve blood circulation. In particular, green tea is most effective as it comes with anti-inflammatory properties.[7

Steep two tea bags for up to 5 minutes and let them chill in your refrigerator for about 20 minutes. Squeeze gently to expel excess liquid before applying to the affected area for up to 30 minutes.

  • Cold Compresses

Applying a cold compress on dark circles can offer temporary relief. Under cold conditions, blood vessels constrict, reducing puffiness. You can use store-bought cold compress or fashion one right at home.

DIY options include using a chilled teaspoon, cold cucumber, chilled wet cloth or a frozen bag of veggies. To avoid frostbite, use a soft cloth to wrap your compress then apply for a few minutes at a time. 

  • Cucumber Slices

Applying cucumber slices to reduce swelling beneath the eyes is an age-old remedy. Cucumber has high water content which helps in moisturizing skin, reducing puffiness brought about by dehydration. 

Cucumber slices are also high in vitamin C which, when applied topically, helps to nourish and lighten skin. The vegetable also contains silica, an element that is laden with anti-ageing properties. 

Conclusion 

Fatigue, lack of sleep, ageing, dehydration, and overexposure to sunlight are some of the main factors behind the development of dark circles. Your genes, lifestyle and existing medical conditions could also play a part. 

Remedies for dark under eye circles include getting enough sleep and staying hydrated among other DIYs. In severe cases, the application of depigmenting creams is advisable. You can also opt for skin treatments and procedures such as laser resurfacing, surgery, and chemical peels. 

About:

sonia knight

Sonia Knight is the founder of be:skinformed.

Apart from having her own experience with hyperpigmentation, Sonia has gained vast knowledge in the dermatology field. For more info on this, check out our about us page.

Resources

2 Periorbital Hyperpigmentation: A Comprehensive Review, The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology

4 Are Under Eye Bags Due to Too Much Sodium? San Francisco Chronicle 

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