Maybe it’s the economy. Or maybe it’s too many late nights watching back episodes of CSI on your DVR. Either way, you notice that there are dark circles under your eyes that didn’t seem to be there before. What causes these dark circles under the eyes, and what can you do to treat them?
After wrinkles, dark circles are probably the second most common complaint that I hear in clinic from patients about their faces. There are two main reasons for dark circles:
- Blood or blood vessels that appear prominent in this area.
- Excess pigment is being produced from the pigment cells (melanocytes).
The skin under your eyes is the thinnest skin on your whole body (the thickest is on your upper back). As a result, blood vessels can be seen right through the skin in this delicate area. The deep maroon color of blood appears blue when seen through the skin. Many people who have dark circles have them simply because they inherited thin skin in this area, and the blood vessels are easily seen.
Aging and sun exposure causes thinning of the skin which makes this problem more obvious over time. Allergies can cause congestion of the blood under the eyes, making dark circles appear. Slow blood flow can also lead to leaking of the blood out of the vessels, leading to a brownish discoloration from the iron in the blood (called hemosiderin). Things that cause worsening of the blood flow, such as smoking, can also make dark circles worsen. Poor sleep and eating foods high in sodium can also lead to puffiness of the eyes, making the dark circles appear worse.
There are many things that can cause an excess of pigment production as well. For example, atopic dermatitis or eczema often leads to chronic redness and itching around the eyes. This chronic inflammation turns on the melanocytes leading to darkening of the skin in the affected areas. Sun exposure also turns on pigment producing cells. Getting too much sun can lead to darkening of the skin under the eyes, like a tan, which can be slow or difficult to fade, especially in women of Latin American, Mediterranean, and Asian descent.
The best way to treat dark circles is to treat the underlying problem. If you have allergies, then see your physician about allergy medications and nasal sprays to help reduce congestion. If you have itching or redness, then you might need a topical steroid to control the inflammation and prevent darkening of the skin. Most importantly, you should protect yourself from the sun and wear sunscreen everyday, especially in months when the sun’s rays are strongest. No matter what the underlying problem is, darkening of the skin from the sun will only make it worse.
Many creams that promise to clear up dark circles fail to deliver on their promises. Consider seeing a makeup specialist at your local department store or salon instead; they can recommend products that reflect light or lighten the area to improve your appearance. In most cases, your money is better spent there than on “miracle” eye creams.
Photo: Wakima, Flickr.com