All of us have experienced dark circles under our eyes. While it is easy to blame lack of sleep for them, this is only one factor that could be contributing to the under-eye darkness.
“When people talk of dark circles under their eyes, it seems like a catch-all phrase.” Shari Lipner, dermatologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian, told us. “Some people refer to dark pigmentation under the eye area, while others are referring more puffiness, edema or bags under the eyes, depression or just wrinkles.”
Lipner stated that although some factors may contribute to dark circles under the eyes, it is important to remember that they are not all the same. Let’s take a look at it:
Sometimes, dark circles can be caused by skin pigmentation.
There are several factors that can contribute to darker pigmentation under the eyes.
Dark circles can be caused by darker skin pigmentation under the eyes. According to Dr. Maryam Zamani is an oculoplastic surgeon in London. She treats many eye problems and says that this factor is often hereditary. She noted, for instance, that people of Southeast Asian descent or individuals from Southeast Asia are more susceptible to this type pigmentation under their eyes.
Zamani suggested a simple test to determine if dark circles are caused by pigmentation or shadows. She said, “If you have pigmentation, you can move it no matter what, it will still be that color.”
Lipner stated that if you have under-eye pigmentation and want to reduce it, there are a few topical treatments available. These include retinoids, certain acids, like glycolic, and azelaic.
Hydroquinone, which is a lightening agent can be used to reduce dark circles. However, topical creams are slow, tedious, and not very successful, Zamani said.
Conditions that cause inflammation of the skin, such as eczema or psoriasis.
Lipner stated that people with inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis may also experience darkness under their eyes.
She explained that eczema, as well as psoriasis, are both inflammatory conditions. This can lead to a reddening or darkening skin. Itchy skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis can be exacerbated by rubbing.
Lipner noted that pigmentation from these conditions can still remain on the skin after treatment. Devika Icecreamwala is a board-certified dermatologist who is based in Berkeley. She likens the result to certain acne bumps that sometimes leave dark marks on the skin.
Lipner stated that it depends more on the skin. People with lighter skin recover quicker from post-inflammatory changes. People with darker skin tend not to retain as much pigment.
Lipner stated that the retinoids, as well as acids such azelaic and glycolic can be used to treat pigmentation caused by these skin conditions.
You shouldn’t rub your eyes too often.
According to Icecreamwala and Lipner, excessive eye-rubbing can cause eye irritation in a variety of ways. It is related to pigmentation as well as the blood vessels beneath the skin.
Lipner explained that the skin can become thicker and darker if you rub your eyes. This is normal skin defense, Lipner said in a follow up email. This is similar to a callus that forms on the feet in response to trauma.
Icecreamwala explained that excessively rubbing your eyes can “traumatize the skin” underneath the eyes. The skin is very sensitive and the more you rub on it, the more irritation it will experience. This causes skin to turn yellow.
Excessive rub can cause broken blood vessels under the skin which can lead to darkness. Icecreamwala said that because the skin around the eyes are so thin, the underlying blood vessels can become more obvious.
This leads us to our next point.
Sometimes, dark circles you perceive under your eyes may not be dark circles.
“Dark circles” is a common term that people use to describe a variety of problems, as we’ve already mentioned. Sometimes dark circles are not caused by skin pigmentation. It could be due to skin puffiness, or hollowness. The general structure of the face could also cause shadows.
Icreamwala added that because the skin around the eyes has a thin layer of skin, which shows the underside, it is more likely to appear darker than other parts. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the skin’s pigmentation is affected.
Here are some common reasons that darken the skin without changing its color.
People who suffer from the horrible allergy season can develop dark circles under their eyes.
Zamani explained that they are called allergic shiners because they appear like you’ve had been hit in your eye twice.
Icreamwala explained that under-eye darkness is a sign of allergy. It’s caused by the blood vessels underneath the skin around the eyes. This is the most thinnest skin on your face.
Histamines can trigger allergies, which can cause dilation of blood vessels. This is noted by Good Housekeeping. Zamani said that because the skin around the eyes are so thin, “it’s transparent,” she said, and the blood vessels have dilated, it leaves you with that “purple” or “darkness” on the lower lids.
Zamani stated that taking an antihistamine as well as getting a good night of sleep during allergy season can “help reduce the appearance dark circles under the eyes”.
Seasonal allergies sufferers may experience puffiness around their eyes. Icecreamwala explained that this is caused by fluid buildup. She explained that once the puffiness has subsided, it will leave behind a hollowness which can make the area appear darker.
Icecreamwala stated that dehydration is also a factor in dark circles under the eyes. Icecreamwala used excessive alcohol consumption to illustrate her point.
She explained that drinking causes fluid loss and electrolytes to be lost. “If you drink, it makes your eyes look hollower and your tissue sockets under your eyes looks smaller,” she said.
Lipner pointed out that dehydrated skin can appear darker or mottier, which can lead to dark circles under the eyes. Lipner suggested that under-eye creams can be used to correct this problem. They “can make skin appear lighter by improving the skin barrier.”
Zamani explained that ingredients such as ceramides, hyaluronic acids, and peptides can all be used to moisturize your skin.
She explained that if moisture is locked into the skin, it makes that skin thicker and prevents you from seeing the tortuous and dilated vessels underneath.
Zamani stated that retinoids can also be used to treat the eye area. They help build collagen and increase skin thickness.
Zamani explained that puffiness around the eyes is similar to gray hair. Some people experience it in their 20s while others may feel it in their 30s. Others might feel it in their 50s.
She explained that puffiness can be caused by fat prolapse. There are three fat pads under the eyelids: the central, the medial and the lateral.
She explained that there is a tissue that keeps all of that back. “Occasionally contact lens wearers, or people with severe allergies, can cause that tissue to become attenuated and thinned.” It becomes thinner and attenuated, which causes fat to move forward, which can lead to actual puffiness.
This puffiness can create a shadow above the cheek that could be mistaken for darkness under the eyes. She added that dermal fillers are available to smoothen the area and reduce shadows. She said that this would not solve the problem. Zamani stated that the best way to deal with a fat prolapsed is to have your eyelids removed.
According to the National Eye Institute, puffiness can also be caused by edema. This is the accumulation of fluid around the eyes from damaged blood vessels.
Zamani stated that many people believe they have puffy eyes but actually have volume loss.
She explained that the eyelid-cheek junction gets longer as we age. You can see the end of the cheek and the beginning of the eyelid. She said that when we were children, there was little distinction between the end of the eyelid and the beginning of the cheek. As we age, this line can become more prominent.
Zamani explained that when this happens, you can see what people call dark puffy eyes. But… it’s simply the elongation and enlargement of the eyelid-cheek junction. People mistakenly believe that those dark circles are dark circles. But it’s actually a shadow. This shadow gives the bag an appearance.
Aging in general
Our skin gets thinner as we age. This includes the area around the eyes, which is already thin. The underlying blood vessels are now more obvious.
Lipner also stated that fat is lost as we age. Lipner added, “If you lose the fat pad under the eye, it’s going to look darker.”
What should you do if your puffiness or darkness won’t disappear?
Under-eye circles can result from a variety of issues. Your best option for treating them is to visit a dermatologist. Lipner and Zamani suggested that dark circles may be an indication of more serious medical conditions, such as kidney or cardiovascular problems.
Lipner said that a dermatologist or doctor can diagnose you and guide you to the best treatment based on the cause of the darkness.