Dark Circles: Causes, Treatments, & Top Ingredients

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

What Causes Dark Circles?

Genetics

This is the most common cause of dark circles. So, the next time your family looks at your eyes and tells you to get more sleep, let them know they might actually be the cause of the below types of dark circles you may be suffering from.

  • Genetic periorbital hyperpigmentation: (aka pigmented dark circles): causes extra melanin to be produced in the skin below your eyes, darkening the area. This typically affects people with genetically darker skin.
  • Genetic vascular dark circles: if your genes have blessed you with poor blood circulation or more transparent-looking skin, this may be the cause of your dark circles.
  • Genetic structural dark circles: genetics determine your facial bone structure and how deep your tear ducts are. Sometimes, the two combine to create shadows and/or an indentation that looks like dark circles.

Aging

Wrinkles isn’t the only thing you acquire with age. As you get older, your skin loses collagen (its elasticity - so it gets saggy) and subcutaneous fat (the one time losing fat actually has a negative outcome.) As a result, the skin under your eyes gets thinner which leads to:

  • Vascular dark circles: as you age, your skin loses its ability to hide the color (blue, pink, or purple) from the blood vessels under your eye - this makes the area your under eye appear darker because you are literally seeing the blood under the surface of your skin when light gets reflected off your blood vessels.
  • Structural dark circles: your skin loses volume with age (especially in the face), causing shadows and creating the illusion of eye bags and dark circles.

Sun Damage

The skin around your eyes is some of the thinnest on your body, so it’s extra sensitive to sun exposure. And when it gets hit with sun damage, we see increased blood flow and age spots, resulting in periorbital hyperpigmentation (pigmented dark circles). Unfortunately, you can’t undo the effects of sun damage, so be sure to use preventative measures (it’s never too late to start).

Chronic Eye Rubbing

We get it, you’re tired—but try not to rub those eyes! The skin near your eyes is super delicate, and rubbing it can easily break the blood vessels in the area, causing swelling, inflammation, and—yes—vascular dark circles.

Lack of Sleep

When you don’t get enough sleep, your body produces extra cortisol, which leads to more blood pumping through your veins. And that means those enlarged vessels show through the skin as vascular dark circles. It’s a no-brainer, but we have to say it: find a way to get some more shut-eye (7-9 hours per night, ideally). If need be, try sleeping on your back to avoid constricting blood vessels in your face or sleeping with extra pillows to elevate your head and reduce eyelid swelling.

Lifestyle Choices

Certain lifestyle choices can worsen the appearance of your dark circles. Those of you who engage in the below activities...do everything in moderation so you don’t look like a hot mess:

  • Too much caffeine
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Smoking

Periorbital Puffiness

This is fancy medicine-speak for bags under your eyes. It’s the annoying swelling that makes your dark circles look even darker. In younger people, periorbital puffiness is usually caused by fluid buildup from illness, allergies, lack of sleep, or excessive salt consumption. The buildup causes increased pressure on the skin and blood vessels, pushing blood vessels closer to the skin’s surface, and making vascular dark circles appear more prominent. However, it doesn’t just affect the young. Periorbital puffiness can also be a result of old age (a.k.a. infraorbital palpebral bags).

Allergies

Allergies can trigger the release of histamines in your body, which cause blood vessels to dilate under your eyes. Allergies can also make your eyes itch, and it’s only natural to rub them—but that rubbing can lead to swelling, inflammation, and broken blood vessels in the eye area. These are all types of vascular dark circles. For allergies, use an under-eye cream in the AM with caffeine (to help shrink swollen blood vessels) and antioxidants (like green tea, which helps reduce inflammation).

Medications

Any medication that causes your blood vessels to dilate will also lead to increased blood flow. When it comes to the delicate area below your eyes, that increased blood flow can show through as vascular dark circles.

Poor Nutrition and Anemia

Vitamin deficiencies (especially vitamin K), protein deficiency, iron deficiency anemia and dehydration can contribute to vascular dark circles. Take a multivitamin to help with vitamin deficiencies. If you lack vitamin K, eat more broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, kale, cabbage, spinach, blueberries, soybeans, and/or edamame. If you are iron deficient, eat more red meat, seafood, green leafy vegetables, beans, dried fruit, iron-fortified cereal, eggs, and/or whole-grain bread.

Structural Dark Circles

Contours and shadows caused by your unique facial bone structure, which make the skin under your eye look darker than it actually is Caused by: aging or genetics

Use Under-Eye Creams or Serums Daily

After cleansing, apply an eye cream or serum twice a day that contains one or more of the following ingredients: caffeine, vitamin C (ascorbic acid), peptides, retinol, and hesperidin methyl chalcone. These ingredients help brighten the area under your eyes, fight free radical damage, improve cell turnover rate, strengthen the protective barrier of the delicate skin under your eye, and restore skin volume and elasticity by stimulating the production of collagen and elastin.

Hydrate with Humectants Daily

After you’ve applied your eye cream or serum, follow up twice a day with an under-eye moisturizer that contains hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid works to keep the skin under your eyes hydrated, which is essential to anti-aging and as a result, your skin has a more a youthful appearance (bouncy, supple, and plump).

Use an Eye Mask a Few Times a Week for Targeted Treatment

A few times a week after applying your under-eye serum and before applying your under-eye moisturizer, apply an eye mask. Under-eye masks offer targeted therapy to an area where the skin is fragile compared to the rest of our face. When you cover the skin with an eye-mask, you increase the penetration of ingredients, anywhere between 10 to 100 times.

Apply Sunscreen Daily

After moisturizing, always apply sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher daily under your eyes (yes, even during the winter, and even when it’s cloudy out) to prevent sun damage- if you will be in the sun for an extended amount of time, reapply sunscreen every 2 hrs. Sun damage causes pigmented dark circles and can worsen genetic periorbital hyperpigmentation.

Invest in UV Protection Sunglasses

Look for a pair of sunglasses that are labeled 100% UV protection or UV 400 protection to efficiently block the sun's rays from harming the delicate skin under your eyes - the skin under your eyes is very thin and as a result, it is extra sensitive to sun exposure.

ishonest Tips

Use a Warm Compress

Apply a washcloth soaked in lukewarm water under your eyes for 15 minutes in the AM or PM. This will temporarily help improve circulation in the area and help get your blood circulating.

Apply Potato Skins

Apply thin slices of potato skin under your eyes for 15-20 mins in the AM. Potatoes contain an enzyme called catecholase that can temporarily naturally lighten your skin. Avoid getting potato juice in your eye.

Use a Cold Compress

Apply any of the below cold compresses under your eyes for 15 minutes. The cold shock will temporarily shrink the dilated/enlarged blood vessels under your eyes and reduce puffiness. • Chilled teaspoons, green tea bags, or cucumber slices • An ice roller • Cucumber under-eye gel patches

Cover with Concealer

Repair with cosmetic camouflage, a.k.a. an under-eye concealer that will hide the evidence of dark circles and even out your skin tone under your eyes.Learn how to apply concealers correctly for dark circles at Sephora.

FAQs about Dark Circles

Q. What causes dark circles?

  • Genetics
  • Aging
  • Sun damage
  • Chronic eye rubbing
  • Lack of sleep
  • Lifestyle choices
  • Periorbital puffiness
  • Allergies
  • Medications
  • Poor nutrition and anemia
  • Use under eye creams or serums that contain one or more of the following ingredients: caffeine, vitamin C (ascorbic acid), peptides, retinol, and hesperidin methyl chalcone.
  • Hydrate with hyaluronic acid
  • Use an eye mask a few times a week
  • Apply sunscreen daily
  • Invest in UV protection sunglasses
  • Avoid aggressively rubbing the skin under your eyes
  • Fair skin: use a concealer with pink tones in it
  • Light to medium skin: use a concealer with peach tones in it
  • Tan to dark skin: use a concealer with orange tones in it
  • Deep dark skin: use a concealer with red tones in it

Shop our favorite concealers at Sephora.

Q. Are dark circles the same as bags? Nope, they’re different. Bags under your eyes (also known as blepharochalasis) are caused when the skin stretches and then sags. They’re often due to age and good old gravity—two pretty unavoidable things.

Q. Will dark circles go away with sleep? It depends - if your dark circles are vascular, than they may be appearing from your body producing extra cortisol due to a lack of sleep. If this is the case, then yes, getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night will help. However, the majority of vascular dark circles are a result of genetics or aging; and in these cases, getting more sleep will have no effect on them.

Q. Will Botox help dark circles? It won’t. Botox targets fine lines and wrinkles from facial expressions - it isn’t designed to brighten dark circles. Don’t waste your time and cash on this one!

Q. Will tanning help dark circles? No, no, no! Sun damage actually causes dark circles—so tanning will only make it worse.

Q. Will ice reduce dark circles? Ice will only temporarily reduce vascular dark circles. If applied under your eyes for 10-15 minutes, the cold shock from the ice will temporarily shrink discolored and dilated blood vessels.

Read more on: dark circles, dark circles under eyes, periorbital dark circles, under eye, what causes dark circles under eyes

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