Dark Circles Under Eyes: Causes and 12 Treatments

8 sources cited
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What Causes Dark Circles Under Your Eyes?

Several factors, aside from tiredness or old age, contribute to dark circles under eyes. In most cases, dark circles are not a cause for concern. However, for cosmetic purposes, most people would prefer not to have them.

Causes of Dark Circles Under Your Eyes

Common causes of dark circles under your eyes include:

Fatigue

Sleep deprivation commonly causes your skin to appear dull or pale, which exposes dark tissues and blood vessels. Fatigue also often causes the area below your eyes to darken. 

Puffy eyelids, which may form shadows that appear as bags under your eyes, are also common.

Age

Aging causes thinning of the facial skin.1 With age, skin loses elasticity, allowing the dark tissues and vessels underneath to show.

Dehydration

Lack of water in the body dehydrates your skin. This makes the area below your eyes appear dull, dark, or sunken. 

Sun Overexposure

Overexposing your eyes to the sun can trigger the overproduction of melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. Excess melanin production around the eyes will darken the area.

Smoking

Studies show that cigarette smokers are more likely to suffer sleep deprivation due to nicotine’s stimulant effect.2 Smoking also causes premature skin aging.

Alcohol Consumption

Like smoking, drinking alcohol causes premature skin aging and dehydration, both factors that may cause the skin under your eyes to appear darker than usual.

Anemia (Iron Deficiency)

Iron is essential in blood circulation and oxygen distribution in the body.3 Low iron levels result in insufficient oxygen supply in the skin under your eyes, resulting in a darker appearance.

Poor Diet

Lack of proper nutrition, including fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, often results in dull, unhealthy skin. This includes skin discoloration, even around your eyes.

Hormonal Changes

During pregnancy or menstruation, women may experience changes in their skin, including dark undereye circles. This may be a result of hormonal changes or lack of sleep.

Allergies

Rubbing and scratching your eyes can harm or even darken your skin. In addition, some food allergies can cause the areas under your eyes to darken.

Genetics

Dark circles under the eyes can be inherited.4 In such cases, the skin around the eyes will always appear darker than other body areas, regardless of other environmental factors.

Eye Injuries

An injury to your eye may cause bruising, cuts, or damage to the skin around it. These injuries are commonly referred to as "black eyes." Black eyes may also appear after cosmetic surgery or severe sinus infections.

Liver Disease

A rare disorder called porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT), which involves the build-up of proteins called porphyrins in your liver, causes painful blisters and fragile skin that worsens when exposed to sunlight.5 It may cause darkening of the skin.

Other Symptoms of Dark Circles Under Eyes

The appearance of dark circles under your eyes will depend on your skin tone. People with fair skin tones may have blue or purple circles under their eyes. People with darker skin may have brown or dark circles.

In some cases, eye puffiness may accompany the dark circles.

12 Ways to Treat Dark Circles Under Your Eyes

Various home and medical interventions exist for treating dark circles under your eyes. They include:

Home Remedies 

Below are six home remedies for your dark circles:

1. Get Enough Sleep

The average adult needs at least 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night. Getting enough sleep reduces fatigue and refreshes your body and skin. 

Bags under your eyes will typically disappear after a good rest.

2. Apply a Cold Compress

Cold compressing involves applying an ice pack or a chilled washcloth on your eyes. Cold water or an ice pack can reduce swelling by shrinking dilated blood vessels. This will reduce puffiness and get rid of dark circles. 

Repeat the process if the cloth becomes warm or if the ice melts.

3. Apply Cucumber

Cucumber slices can soothe tired eyes and minimize puffiness. Cucumber has high water and Vitamin C contents, both of which hydrate and nourish the skin. Cucumber also contains silica, a mineral that is necessary for tissue health.6

4. Apply Tea Bags

Cold tea bags can also reduce the appearance of under-eye dark circles. Tea contains caffeine and other antioxidants that enhance blood circulation, shrink dilated blood vessels and prevent fluid build-up.

Soak black or green tea bags in boiling water for 5 minutes. Allow them to stand for 20 minutes in the refrigerator. Then, apply the cold tea bags to your closed eyes for 10 to 20 minutes. Rinse your eyes with cool water afterward. This should get rid of the dark circles under your eyes.

5. Hydrate

Drink plenty of water and other fluids throughout the day to stay hydrated. According to the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), the daily recommended fluid intake is 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) for men and 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) for women.7

If drinking water is difficult for you, try sparkling or flavored water.

6. Use Facial Massages and Avoid MakeUp

Gentle massages around the eyes improve circulation and get rid of dark circles.

Although not a permanent solution, you can use an under-the-eye concealer to temporarily hide dark circles. 

Medical Interventions 

If home remedies fail, your doctor or dermatologist may recommend medical treatment. 

Available options include:

1. Topical Creams

Bleaching creams such as hydroquinone, tretinoin, or a combination of both can reduce hyperpigmentation around your eyes. Because the skin in this area is delicate, consult your doctor to make sure the cream is safe to use around your eyes.

For best results, you may need to use hydroquinone for at least 3 months.

2. Chemical Peels

Chemical peels containing alpha-hydroxy acids can reduce hyperpigmentation around the eyes. Chemical peels can also be used with topical treatments to provide a better result.

3. Laser Treatment

Laser therapy involves using heat energy to get rid of damaged cells and enhance new collagen formation. Scarring and other potential adverse effects can be reduced with less invasive laser techniques such as pulsed dye or diode lasers.

4. Dermal Fillers

Your eye doctor can inject platelet-rich plasma or hyaluronic acid-based dermal filler such as Restylane or Juvederm, or Perlane into your under-eye tissue.8 This fills up lost facial volume and reduces or eliminates dark circles.

5. Kojic Acid

Some experts believe that Kojak acid can clear dark circles under your eyes. Kojic acid is a natural substance derived from two fungal species. Kojic acid might cause contact dermatitis and skin reddening, so use with caution.

6. Surgery

Dark circles around the eyes caused by fat or extra skin can be removed through eyelid surgery (blepharoplasty). This procedure eliminates the shade that excess eyelid skin casts over the eye.  

Blepharoplasty must be performed by a qualified oculoplastic surgeon, dermatologic surgeon, or plastic surgeon.

When to See a Medical Professional 

Seek medical advice if you observe persistent swelling and discoloration under one eye. This may be a sign of mild allergies or severe complications such as:

  • Organ failure (such as kidney failure)
  • Presence of a style (red, painful lump usually outside the eyelids)
  • Periorbital cellulitis (infected wound near the eye)
  • Lymphoma (type of cancer associated with swelling or tumor)
  • Blocked tear ducts

Diagnosis

Your doctor will examine your eyes to determine the root cause of the dark circles. They will also evaluate your personal, medical, and family history. 

Prevention Tips

You can prevent the appearance of dark circles by:

  • Getting enough sleep 
  • Reducing stress
  • Sleeping properly, with your head elevated, to avoid fluid build-up in your eyelid
  • Protecting your eyes from direct sunlight with sunglasses and sunscreen
  • Stopping smoking and reducing alcohol consumption

Summary

Most people associate dark circles under their eyes with fatigue or old age, but there are many other contributing factors. These include fatigue, aging, dehydration, poor diet, genetics, eye injuries, anemia, and overexposure to harmful sun rays.

Sometimes puffiness or swelling accompanies undereye dark circles. In most cases, these dark circles are not a cause for concern. 

Most people can recover by using home remedies. Medical interventions such as skin-lightening creams, chemical peels, laser therapy, dermal filler, and surgery are also available.If you notice severe swelling and discoloration under one eye, you may need immediate medical attention. This can signify a serious underlying health condition, including organ failure.

8 Cited Research Articles
  1. Aging changes in the face,” National Library of Medicine, 18 Feb. 2022
  2. Hamidovic A. & Harriet de Wit., “Sleep deprivation increases cigarette smoking,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 16 Dec. 2008
  3. Hemoglobin and Functions of Iron,” University of California San Francisco (USCF)
  4. Glazier E & KO E.,“Ask the doctors: Genetics play a large role in under-eye circles,”  The Spokesman-Review, 02 Apr. 2019
  5. Porphyria Cutanea Tarda,”  National Organization for Rare Disorders
  6.  Sengupta S.,“Cucumber Nutrition: Amazing Cucumber Nutritional Facts And Health Benefits,” NDTV, 04 Jun. 2018.
  7. Report Sets Dietary Intake Levels for Water, Salt, and Potassium To Maintain Health and Reduce Chronic Disease Risk,” National Academy of Sciences. 11 Feb 2004
  8. What types of dermal fillers are available?,” American Society of Plastic Surgeons
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