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If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Do you have dark circles and bags under your eyes? If so, you’re not alone. Having dark circles is a common and often normal part of being a human. If yours are bugging you, read on as we explain what causes them and what you can do to minimize their appearance.
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What causes dark circles?
The medical term for dark under-eye circles is periorbital hyperpigmentation, and there are a number of factors that can influence them to show up (Sarkar, 2016).
But before we dive into the causes of dark circles, let’s first look at what actually needs to happen to your under-eye area for dark circles to appear.
Dark circles can appear when the blood vessels under your eyes become fragile and break, leaking out into the skin under the eye. Thinning skin, which occurs naturally with age, also makes the blood vessels beneath more noticeable, leading to the appearance of darker shading under the eyes. Additionally, poor circulation can also cause dark circles in the eye area, as can wrinkles or a buildup of fat tissue, both of which cast dark shadows on the tear trough beneath your eyes (Ahmadraji, 2015; Park, 2018).
Now that we’ve reviewed the mechanisms behind dark circles, let’s dive into what makes those mechanisms happen.
Too little sleep
Many of us recognize dark circles as a sign of being tired. That’s because beauty sleep is a real thing.
When you don’t get enough sleep, your skin can get duller and paler. As a result, your blood vessels become more visible under your skin, causing dark circles. Fluid can also build up and make your eyes appear puffy, leading to even darker shadows underneath. Also, sleep deprivation increases stress, which can make dark circles look even worse (Sundelin, 2017; Vrcek, 2016).
Too much sun
If you spend a lot of time in the sun, you may notice dark circles under your eyes. Sun increases your body’s melanin production, leading to darker pigmentation all over, including the skin around your eyes (Vrcek, 2016; Sarkar, 2016).
You may have noticed that older adults are more likely to have dark circles under their eyes. As is the case with many skin changes, aging may be at fault for your dark circles. Our skin thins as we age, and our collagen levels decrease (Vrcek, 2016).
Similar to lack of sleep, these changes may make the blood vessels appear more noticeable under the skin (Sarkar, 2016; Ahmadraji, 2015).
Aging skin: causes, procedures and anti-aging skincare
Just like with the aging process, being dehydrated can dull your skin. The result is that your blood vessels may appear more noticeable, and you may notice darker shadows around your eyes (Matsui, 2015).
People with allergies can experience a range of symptoms, including itchy, red, and puffy eyes. You may rub the skin around your eyes for relief if they itch or feel comfortable, but that can actually make things worse. All that rubbing further inflames the blood vessels, potentially leading to more swelling and dark circles (Park, 2018; Nayak, 2018).
Lastly, some people are genetically predisposed to dark circles (Sarkar, 2016; Ahmadraji, 2015). Dark circles can run in families, and people with darker skin tones are prone to more hyperpigmentation, which is a term for spots or patches of skin that are darker than other areas of the body (Park, 2018; Matsui, 2015).
Some health conditions, like thyroid disease or anemia, can also make you more prone to dark circles (Nayak, 2018).
Home remedies for getting rid of dark circles
Fortunately, ridding yourself of dark circles may be doable from the comfort of your own home. If you’re ready to tackle them, try these at-home tips to get rid of dark circles.
Get more sleep
Better rest has a whole range of health benefits, including helping with stress and dark circles. Adjust your sleep schedule to ensure you have space for at least seven hours of sleep (Sundelin, 2017; Sheth, 2014).
Try a tea soak
The caffeine and antioxidants in black and green tea can boost blood circulation, reducing dark circles and wrinkles under your eyes (Ahmadraji, 2015; Vrcek, 2016). Soak two tea bags in hot water, let them cool in the refrigerator, and apply them to your closed eyes for a spa day at home.
How to reverse aging: 9 ways to reduce premature skin aging
Cut up a cucumber
Speaking of a spa day, you can also cut two thick slices of a chilled cucumber and place them on your dark circles. Some people believe this technique works because cucumbers are a rich source of vitamin K, which boosts blood circulation and may relieve discoloration on the lower eyelid as a result (Ahmadraji, 2015; Violi, 2016).
However, it’s not clear whether applying vitamin K-rich foods like cucumber to the skin (versus eating them) really imparts any of the vitamin’s benefits. It’s more likely that the cool temperature of chilled cucumbers is what’s doing the trick, as the cool temperature can help relieve mild swelling and puffiness.
Increase your fluid intake by drinking more water and adding fluid-rich foods to your diet, like fruits, veggies, and juice (Montenegro-Bethancourt, 2013). You can also incorporate more foods rich in vitamin K, like spinach, broccoli, asparagus, or peas (Violi, 2016).
Moisturize your eyes
Eye creams that contain certain ingredients may help reduce wrinkles and pigmentation under your eyes. To relieve dark circles, look for moisturizers with ingredients such as caffeine, vitamin E, vitamin K, or hyaluronic acid (Ahmadraji, 2015).
Protect yourself from the sun
Avoiding overexposure to UV rays is always a good idea for your skin. Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to prevent hyperpigmentation in the eye area (Sarkar, 2016).
Try an over-the-counter skin brightening cream
Some OTC skin brightening creams may help relieve dark circles. For example, vitamin C can increase brightness and boost collagen production, which may reduce the appearance of dark circles (Sarkar, 2016).
Retinoid creams may also reduce dark circles by boosting collagen production and lowering melanin content. Not everyone responds well to these creams, and there may be some considerations to take depending on which you try, so talk to a dermatologist first if you have any questions (Vrcek, 2016).
Use makeup concealer
Finally, if you’re in a pinch and need a quick way to cover up your dark circles, grab some makeup concealer that matches your skin color (Vrcek, 2016).
Anti-aging supplements: what really works
Medical treatments for dark circles
Dark circles under the eyes are a common occurrence that many people experience. Still, if they’re really frustrating you, you may want to explore more permanent medical options for reducing them. It’s worth noting that these options can be expensive and invasive, so consult your healthcare provider about the best option for you.
A professional chemical peel strips away the uppermost layer of skin on your face, resulting in a rejuvenated, brighter appearance with fewer shadows under the eyes. Glycolic acid is one of the chemicals commonly used to help address hyperpigmentation (Sarkar, 2016; Michelle, 2021).
Certain laser treatments, like laser resurfacing and laser therapy, may also help reduce the appearance of dark circles.
Laser resurfacing can address uneven skin texture and increase tightness, reducing eye bags or dark circles. Laser therapy uses light to decrease pigmentation and boost collagen production, which can help reduce dark circles in people with higher melanin levels. Lasering also kills off damaged cells, which may further lighten the skin under the eyes (Sarkar, 2016; Park, 2018).
A medical tattooist can inject pigment into the area under the eyes to address uneven skin tone and reduce dark shadows (Vrcek, 2016).
Eyelid surgery (blepharoplasty) can remove excess fat tissue or skin from under the eyes, potentially helping to reduce bags and dark shadows in the under-eye area if they are due to these causes (Sarkar, 2016; Michelle, 2021).
Fat transplants and fillers
Fat transplants and hyaluronic acid fillers can adjust the appearance of the area around the eyes. By increasing the volume beneath the skin, the eyes may appear less sunken in, and there may be less of a shadow beneath them. Fat transplants may also obscure the blood vessels that can cause the appearance of dark circles under the eyes (Michelle, 2021; Park, 2018).
Anti-aging serum: what to look for
Skin lightening cream
Prescription skin lightening creams can also help adjust hyperpigmentation under the eyes. These creams often contain ingredients like azelaic acid, arbutin, hydroquinone, and kojic acid (Sarkar, 2016; Park, 2018).
Dark circles: the bottom line
Dark circles are a common and typically normal part of being a human, and they’re generally harmless (Sarkar, 2016; Park, 2018).
If yours are bugging you, you can start with some at-home remedies to reduce their appearance. If those don’t make a difference or you feel the pigmentation or swelling is getting worse, talk to a healthcare professional or dermatologist.
- Ahmadraji, F. & Shatalebi, M. A. (2015). Evaluation of the clinical efficacy and safety of an eye counter pad containing caffeine and vitamin K in emulsified Emu oil base. Advanced Biomedical Research, 4, 10. doi:10.4103/2277-9175.148292. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25625116/
- Matsui, M. S., Schalka, S., Vanderover, G., et al. (2015). Physiological and lifestyle factors contributing to risk and severity of peri-orbital dark circles in the Brazilian population. Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia, 90(4), 494–503. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20153520. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26375218/
- Michelle, L., Pouldar Foulad, D., Ekelem, C., et al. (2021). Treatments of Periorbital Hyperpigmentation: A Systematic Review. Dermatologic Surgery, 47(1), 70–74. doi:10.1097/DSS.0000000000002484. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32740208/
- Montenegro-Bethancourt, G., Johner, S. A., & Remer, T. (2013). Contribution of fruit and vegetable intake to hydration status in schoolchildren. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 98(4), 1103–1112. doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.051490. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23966431/
- Nayak, C. S., Giri, A. S., & Zambare, U. S. (2018). A Study of Clinicopathological Correlation of Periorbital Hyperpigmentation. Indian Dermatology Online Journal, 9(4), 245–249. doi:10.4103/idoj.IDOJ_244_17. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30050813/
- Park, K. Y., Kwon, H. J., Youn, C. S., et al. (2018). Treatments of Infra-Orbital Dark Circles by Various Etiologies. Annals of Dermatology, 30(5), 522–528. doi:10.5021/ad.2018.30.5.522. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33911473/
- Sarkar, R., Ranjan, R., Garg, S., et al. (2016). Periorbital Hyperpigmentation: A Comprehensive Review. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, 9(1), 49–55. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26962392/
- Sheth, P. B., Shah, H. A., & Dave, J. N. (2014). Periorbital hyperpigmentation: a study of its prevalence, common causative factors and its association with personal habits and other disorders. Indian Journal of Dermatology, 59(2), 151–157. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.127675. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24700933/
- Sundelin, T., Lekander, M., Sorjonen, K., et al. (2017). Negative effects of restricted sleep on facial appearance and social appeal. Royal Society Open Science, 4(5), 160918. doi:10.1098/rsos.160918. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28572989/
- Violi, F., Lip, G. Y., Pignatelli, P., et al. (2016). Interaction Between Dietary Vitamin K Intake and Anticoagulation by Vitamin K Antagonists: Is It Really True?: A Systematic Review. Medicine, 95(10), e2895. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000002895. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26962786/
- Vrcek, I., Ozgur, O., & Nakra, T. (2016). Infraorbital Dark Circles: A Review of the Pathogenesis, Evaluation and Treatment. Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery, 9(2), 65–72. doi:10.4103/0974-2077.184046. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27398005/