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Dark Circles Under the Eyes: Causes, Treatment & Prevention

Dark circles under the eyes are a fairly common occurrence, often associated with a lack of sleep. While fatigue can contribute to the development of dark circles, it is not the only cause. 

These circles don’t usually signal any major health issue, but there are many treatments and prevention methods if you don’t like how they look. Many people can get rid of dark circles simply by adopting some basic healthy habits, like sleeping well and drinking more water.

Causes of Dark Circles Under the Eyes

Various contributing factors can cause dark circles to form under the eyes, which can also be called periorbital dark circles

One of the most common is simple genetics, which can cause excess pigmentation in the area. You can’t control this risk factor. 

Aging is another factor. As the skin under your eyes naturally thins with age, the blood vessels underneath become more visible. This blood is dark, and it can get darker if you have poor circulation. This can create circles underneath your eyes.

Discoloration can also be triggered by the following:

  • Allergies
  • Dehydration
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive UV exposure

We often associate periorbital dark circles with fatigue specifically. When tired, your body produces a chemical called cortisol. Cortisol can increase the volume of blood flowing in your face, which can have an effect similar to that of aging. The blood becomes more visible and thus can create dark circles under your eyes.

Risk Factors

Putting aside genetic factors, which come from your biological parents, a poor sleeping schedule is one of the most common contributors to dark circles. Doctors generally recommend that you get at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

Dehydration is another common reason why people develop dark circles under their eyes. As little as 22 percent of American adults drink the recommended amount of 8 to 10 glasses of water per day. 

Experts are mixed on whether alcohol can contribute significantly to dehydration, but it can dilate blood vessels and make them more prominent, thus contributing to dark circles under the eyes.

Treatments for Dark Undereye Circles

The best way to treat dark circles is to treat the underlying cause, if possible.

Oral antihistamines or a saline nasal spray can help with seasonal allergies. They work even better when combined with eye drops, which can prevent allergens from entering through the mucous membranes of your eyes.

Some eye creams may also help with dark circles. Vitamin K is known to help stimulate blood flow, which can reduce its buildup under your eyes and lighten or erase any circles. Skin-lightening creams and serums can also help to fade any pigmentation that is contributing to the circles under the eyes.

Some cosmetic procedures can also help reduce dark circles, including laser treatments and skin peels. These procedures should only be performed by a licensed medical professional.

Blepharoplasty is a surgery that can remove and reposition some fat around the eyes. As this fat is removed, a smaller shadow is cast on the skin below, reducing the appearance of dark circles under the eye. 

Dermal fillers, like Juvéderm and Restylane, can plump up the areas under the eyes, combatting the loss of volume in the area. This can lessen the severity of dark undereye circles.

Prevention of Dark Circles Under the Eyes

By adopting a few healthy habits, you can potentially prevent undereye circles.

  • Get sufficient sleep on a consistent basis.
  • Drink enough water, and aim to always stay hydrated.
  • Avoid unnecessary exposure to UV light, especially the sun. Wear protective sunglasses and hats.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes when they itch, as this can cause the walls of blood vessels to break and pigmentation to be released.

You can also adopt a regular skincare routine, as healthier, fuller skin will make dark circles less likely to develop. Certain skincare ingredients can also lighten dark circles under the eyes if they do develop.

When to See a Doctor

Dark circles under the eyes usually don’t signal a major health problem. However, many people don’t like the way dark circles look. You may want to see a doctor if over-the-counter treatments don’t seem to get you the results you want.

A doctor can prescribe you prescription-grade skin-lightening creams if they believe that is the right option for you. They also can talk to you about surgery and similar options that offer more permanent solutions for dark circles under the eyes.

Dark Undereye Circles FAQs

Why do dark circles appear under your eyes?

Many things may cause you to develop dark circles under your eyes. The stereotype is that it’s caused by fatigue, and there is some truth to that. However, simple genetics play the biggest role. Other factors can include a lack of sleep, dehydration, and allergies. 

Aging can also cause you to develop dark circles under your eyes, as your skin thins and the blood flowing underneath becomes more apparent.

What do dark circles under your eyes signal?

Dark circles under your eyes don’t necessarily signal any problems you need to worry about. However, they can sometimes mean you aren’t getting enough sleep or you should drink more water. Some people may just have darker pigmentation under their eyes as a result of genetics or the natural effects of aging. 

References

  1. How to Get Rid of Dark Circles Under Your Eyes. (April 2020). AARP.

  2. Most Adults Admit They Don’t Drink Nearly Enough Water Every Day. (September 2020). New York Post.

  3. Sleep Answers from Sleep Expert Dr Susheel Patil. John Hopkins Medicine.

  4. Why You Have Dark Circles Under Your Eyes. (June 2014). Insider.

  5. New Biological Insights Into Skin Aging Around the Eye. (May 2016). Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

  6. Relative Maxillary Retrusion as a Natural Consequence of Aging: Combining Skeletal and Soft-Tissue Changes Into an Integrated Model of Midfacial Aging. (July 1998). Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

  7. Vitamin K Can Lighten Dark Circles Under Eyes. (June 2005). The Wall Street Journal.

  8. Allergic Rhinitis. (September 2018). Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology.

  9. Treatment of Dark Circles with the New 15 mg/ml Hyaluronic Acid Filler with Lidocaine. (July–August 2019). Indian Dermatology Online Journal.

  10. Global Periorbital Skin Rejuvenation by a Topical Eye Cream Containing Low Molecular Weight Heparan Sulfate (LMW‐HS) and a Blend of Naturally Derived Extracts. (April 2019). Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology

Last Updated June 14, 2022

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