Dark Circles Under The Eyes — What You Can Do

Many people suffer from dark circles under the eyes. They are embarrassing and make you look older than you are. There are lots of ways adults and children can develop these dark circles under their eyes.

Yes, some people have dark circles under their eyes because of lack of sleep or too much alcohol. But those aren’t the only reasons. Let’s talk about other possible reasons why you have dark circles under your eyes and what you can do about it.

But first, what’s causing this problem?

What Is Causing the Dark Circles Under My Eyes?

Dark circles have a variety of different causes. And despite what some people think, fatigue isn’t one of them. Besides alcohol and lack of sleep, illnesses also cause these circles to appear. The combination of a fair complexion and thin skin if often the culprit.

Some of the more common causes of dark circles under the eyes include:

  • Heredity. Dark circles under the eyes can appear in childhood, and are often an inherited trait. Some children will outgrow them, but others will not.
  • Allergies. Nasal congestion can dilate the blood vessels that drain from the area around your eyes, causing them to darken.
  • Sleep deprivation is the most common cause, and the easiest to prevent, but …
  • Oversleeping can also cause dark eye circles.
  • Eczema
  • Stress
  • As we get older, our skin becomes thinner.
  • Iron deficiency can prevent the blood from carrying sufficient oxygen to eye tissues.
  • Minor trauma that causes the appearance of a black eye 

Additional causes for dark circles under your eyes:

  • Crying
  • Lifestyle. Excessive smoking or drinking can contribute to under-eye circles. Also, people who drink too much coffee or who use cocaine or amphetamines may have difficulty getting enough sleep.
  • Fluid retention, as may occur with pregnancy or weight gain.
  • Skin pigmentation abnormalities. The skin around the eyes is thinner, which is why your blood vessels are more readily visible through it.
  • Excessive exposure to the sun. Sun exposure encourages your body to produce more melanin.
  • Age. As we get older, we lose some of the fat and collagen surrounding our eyes. This loss, combined with the thinning of our skin, magnifies the appearance of dark eye circles.
  • Mononucleosis can cause the eyes to appear puffy and swollen. This is due partly to the fatigue that people feel when they are suffering from it, and partly because this illness causes a yellowing of the eyes and the skin around them (this is called jaundice).
  • Periorbital cellulitis. This is a bacterial infection of the eyelid or eyelids. If it is promptly treated with antibiotics, however, it is nothing to worry about.
  • Excess salt in the diet causes fluid retention throughout your body—including underneath your eyes.

When to See a Doctor About Dark Circles Under Eyes

In rare cases, dark circles under eyes may be a sign of a more serious medical condition. These circles are a symptom of a variety of conditions such as hypothyroidism and/or diseases of the liver.

When you’re deciding whether to see a doctor about the dark circles under your eyes… it is important to distinguish between “dark circles under eyes” and a black eye. A black eye that is not too severe in appearance can be mistaken for dark circles under your eyes.

If you have two black eyes, it’s possible you have suffered a serious injury called a basilar skull fracture. This is a fracture that occurs to one of the bones at the base of the skull. A basilar skull fracture could be a life-threatening injury. If you have reason to believe you have suffered such a fracture, seek medical attention.

While dark circles are usually nothing to worry about, you should see a doctor as soon as possible if:

  • the swelling and discoloration appear only under one eye and do not go away after a few days
  • if they appear too suddenly

Remedies for Dark Circles Under Eyes

The correct remedy for the dark circles under your eyes will of course depend on the cause of those dark circles, which may be difficult to pin down. While the causes of dark eye circles vary, many simple home remedies can be helpful for addressing a variety of causes:

  • Cold compress: a cold washcloth or a bag of frozen peas can sometimes work wonders. Cucumber slices often work too, of course, but only because they are cool, not because of any component of the cucumber; cutting cucumber slices may therefore be more trouble than it is worth if simpler options are available (and they always are).
  • When sleeping, elevate your head with an extra pillow in order to minimize fluid pooling beneath your eyes.
  • Cover your dark eye circles with cosmetics (see “How to Conceal Dark Circles Under Your Eyes,” below)
  • Avoid excess sun

There are many cosmetic companies out there peddling miracle cures. But you should always be skeptical about any claims these companies make for their products. There is little evidence for the effectiveness of most over-the-counter products.

Beauty products tend to be more effective at concealing dark circles rather than “curing” them. Some products may be effective, however. Topical products that contain alphahydroxy acids can help to thicken the skin around your eyes.

Surgical or Medical Correction of Dark Circles Under The Eyes

Laser surgery:

This is another option for people who are willing to go to great lengths—and to great expense—to rid themselves of the dark circles under their eyes. Apart from the expense, there are major drawbacks to this kind of surgery—it is extremely painful and it takes many weeks to heal. Still, for many people, laser treatment to remove under-eye circles is worth the pain, expense, and risk.

Laser surgery for skin resurfacing has been with us since the Ultrapulse CO2 laser was invented in the 1990s. Although this device had been designed to treat sun damage and to remove skin growths before they became cancerous, it was soon discovered to be useful for removing dark circles under patients’ eyes as well.

Laser treatment destroys some of the melanin that can darken skin, and can also be used to tighten loose skin, or to remove excess skin that causes the appearance of “baggy eyes.” Studies have also shown that laser treatment can also encourage the formation of new collagen in the skin.

Laser surgery to lessen the appearance of dark circles under the eye is not without risks and drawbacks, however. Scarring is one possible risk, and any surgical procedure always carries some nominal risk of infection.

Injections:

These are another way to treat dark circles under the eyes. Dermatologists and plastic surgeons can also offer you “filler injections,” which conceal the melanin and blood vessels that discolor the skin around your eyes.

These injections only last for about six months, however, and they can cost up to $800. They also come with side effects, including swelling, bruising, and the possibility that you may be allergic to them. The swelling is more serious than you’d think, and can last for weeks or months due to the thinness of the skin around the eyes. Moreover, there is also the chance that filler injections can actually make the dark circles under your eyes worse!

How to Conceal Dark Circles Under The Eyes

The least expensive, least painful way to treat periorbital dark circles is to cover them with makeup. Most women are familiar enough with cosmetic products to know what they like and what works. Many men, however, don’t know much about applying cosmetics to their faces. And therefore don’t know how to cover dark under-eye circles.

First, it is important to apply moisturizer before applying cosmetics to the skin. Many cosmetics can dry the skin, which of course can worsen the dark-circles problem.

Next, you should apply foundation make-up to your face. Use a foundation with a matte or semi-matte finish. Facial powder can lessen the appearance of wrinkles by reflecting light, but it is a bad idea for anyone who has dry skin.

Never allow make-up to become “caked on” to your face. This increases the appearance of age to a considerable degree.

Blush can help to conceal the dark circles under your eyes, and powder blush is especially useful because it blends well on top of foundation. But don’t forget, this may not be a good idea if you have dry skin.

Concealer is another particularly useful product for hiding imperfections around the eye. Try to find a concealer that closely matches your skin tone, and be sure to apply it with a brush rather than with your fingers—using your fingers can cause it to smear or smudge.

For a more thorough treatment of the subject of concealing dark circles or bruising under the eyes, read the “How to Conceal” section of our article about Black Eyes.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Dark Circles Under Your Eyes

  • What is causing the dark circles under my eyes? I always make sure to get eight hours’ sleep at night.
  • Which other topical products you recommend for under-eye circles?
  • Can you think of any surgical procedures you think might help me?
  • Are my dark circles due to some serious underlying condition, or are they just due to insufficient rest or too much stress?

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This article was last updated on 10/2016