What Causes Dark Circles Under Your Eyes?



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:

  1. Blood or blood vessels that appear prominent in this area.
  2. 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

14 thoughts on “What Causes Dark Circles Under Your Eyes?”

  1. Good information! Dark circles are a common beauty problem and one of the most frustrating to deal with.

  2. Why not consider a Mesolift treatment to rejuvenate the delicate skin under the eye. We use a combination of Restylane Vital Light and a Vitamin and mineral compound to rejuvente what has been, up to recently, a very difficult area to treat. Sue Ibrahim

  3. A busy schedule between work and home showed up easily on my face. I had developed visible dark circles and felt very terrible. Thanks to my friend who refereed to a program. I am glad that I took it up as today I have a fresh and glowing face even with targets to achieve.

  4. Can you please suggest me with some easy remedies to get rid of the puffiness and dark circles under the eyes? Thank you.

  5. Something that many naturopaths will tell you is that dark circles can also be a sign of liver toxicity. A liver detox can do wonders if that’s the case. If its heredity then there’s not a lot you can do for the long term, except a good eye gel and a great concealer!

  6. This home remedy should help. Two teaspoons almonds ground to a fine paste and mixed with 10 drops of lemon juice can be applied to the skin around the eyes regularly to lighten dark circles.

  7. Hi, I had a surgery under the eye when I was young, that left very drk circles under my eyes till date. No amount of cream or eye treatment helps as the skin was burned to remove some growth. Any suggestions for intensive treatment to rejuvenate the skin and remove the darkness…

  8. Just want to give you a token of appreciation. This totally helped in my patient visit today. I showed her your blog in the exam room. Under eye circles was her chief complaint. Thanks again!

  9. Poor sleep is what was causing my dark circles. I have made sure I have gotten more sleep everyday and it has helped a lot!

  10. Courtney212 says:

    I have genetic dark circles and have tried everything to mask them. My dermatologist recommended the Made from Earth “Vitamin Enhanced Face Firming Serum” for under the eyes, and the Olive Night Creme for all over the face at night.

    It feels good going on – I use it twice a day. I didn’t realize what an impact it made until I ran out of it and noticed considerable puffiness around my eyes and darker circles after only a week of not having it. It has definitely made a difference for me.

  11. Before surgery I couldn’t see anything clearly without glasses. Even worse, all outdoor activities were a strain. Needless to say I couldn’t score many points playing basketball. At work I wasn’t able to use a computer for more than an hour before I started getting head aches. This not only affected my performance but also my attitude. Now that I’ve had the surgery I finally have a full field of vision during every waking hour. Being able to walk outside with no glasses or contacts and seeing everything is amazing. I highly recommend a Lasik laser surgery.

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