- Dark circles are a result of hyperpigmentation or thinning skin beneath the eyes.
- Genetics, lack of sleep and allergies may cause their development.
- Concealers, retinoids and skin lightening treatments can be used to improve their appearance.
- A healthy lifestyle with adequate sleep and nutrition will help reduce dark circles.
Dark circles under the eyes are a result of thinning skin and loss of elasticity, or an abnormal increase in skin pigmentation. Factors such as genetics, poor sleeping habits and inflammation can increase your risk of developing dark circles.
However, preventative measures and treatment options are widely available to keep dark circle development to a minimum.
What Are the Dark Circles Under Your Eyes?
There are two types of dark circles, which present differently and occur for specific reasons. It’s crucial to identify the underlying causes of your dark circles to determine the correct treatment.
Purple circles appear when the color of underlying blood vessels and facial tissues start showing through the thin skin under the eye. It is an inevitable occurrence as the skin thins with age, losing the collagen and fats that keep it thick and firm.
Various factors such as trapped liquid beneath the surface, dilated blood vessels and allergies can also contribute to purplish dark circles.
Brown-colored circles are the result of hyperpigmentation in the skin. They develop as melanin deposits accumulate in the periorbital area around the eyes.
Though more prevalent in certain ethnicities and skin groups, periorbital hyperpigmentation can be triggered through excess sunlight, infections and allergies.
What Causes Dark Circles to Appear Under the Eyes?
Causes for the development of dark circles under the eyes can be divided into three groups: natural, lifestyle, and medical. Dark circles may also be a result of a combination of these factors.
Natural Causes of Dark Circles Under the Eyes
Natural causes of dark circles under the eyes are brought on by the aging process, skin quality and genetics.
Collagen fibers and fats maintain skin’s thickness and elasticity. As skin ages, it can no longer hold these essential proteins and the purple coloration of underlying tissues is revealed.
Inflammation, hormonal changes, mineral deposits, and skin sensitivity contribute toward the darkening of skin’s natural color beneath the eyes, causing hyperpigmentation.
Hereditary factors such as elevated skin pigmentation, increased melanin deposits and low levels of collagen can contribute to the presence of dark circles.
If you have thicker than average blood vessels under the eyes, they may be more visible, resulting in discoloration beneath the eye.
The structure of your face may also contribute to dark circles. People with deeper tear troughs— the facial depressions that join the lower eyelid and the cheek—may appear to have dark circles that are simply caused by shadow.
Lifestyle Causes of Dark Circles Under Eyes
When considering how to improve dark circles under the eyes, it’s important to be aware of the specific lifestyle factors that can cause them.
Sleep deprivation is the most widely recognized reason for dark circles around the eyes. Fatigue may also may be linked to skin appearing paler than usual, which can contrast against a darker tear trough, making the circles appear more pronounced.
Often associated with premature aging and the deterioration of collagen, there is support for the belief that smoking can hasten and exacerbate dark under-eye circles.
Diet and nutrition
A diet low in vitamin K causes poor blood circulation and may exacerbate dark circles. Excess consumption of salt can contribute to puffiness of the lower eyelid, creating shadows beneath the eye.
Dehydration causes fluids to stagnate, increasing the puffiness of the underlying vascular tissue beneath the eyes. A lack of water in the body also causes skin cells to shrink, revealing the color beneath more easily.
Overexposure to sunlight
Excess sun exposure can lead to an overproduction of melanin, a prime contributor to hyperpigmentation beneath the eyes. Additionally, as the area under the eyes has the thinnest layer of skin on the body, it is the most susceptible to being permanently damaged by UV rays.
A word about prevention
Though lifestyle causes of dark circles can be numerous, they are not difficult to change. This is where preventative action can make a difference in the long term. Eating and sleeping well, drinking enough water and using a hydrating moisturizer on a regular basis can mitigate these causes.
Medical Causes of Dark Circles Under Eyes
Most medical reasons for dark circles are due to irritation of the skin, either through inflammation, allergic reaction or illness. However, other possible causes exist. If you suspect that your dark circles are medically caused, seek the advice of a doctor or dermatologist.
- Dermal melanocytosis: Though rare to appear on the face, this congenital developmental condition can be blue-grey in color.
- Atopic dermatitis: An inflammatory skin disease and the most common form of eczema.
- Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation: Defined as the temporary pigmentation following a burn injury or skin inflammation.
- Periorbital edema: The scientific term for swelling around the eye, periorbital edema usually results from an allergic reaction, disease, virus or infection.
Asthma and congestion allergies have been significantly associated with the development of dark circles. They may trigger what are known as allergic shiners. Allergic shiners resemble bruises and are caused by clogged sinuses that force blood to pool in surrounding veins.
Vitamin K promotes strong blood coagulation and circulation. Its lack in the body can lead to poor blood flow and result in the appearance of dark circles. Green vegetables or multivitamins can help you maintain normal vitamin K levels.
Though unexplained dark circles beneath the eyes can be an early sign of liver disease, it should not be considered until more classic symptoms of the organ’s failure are also prevalent.
Over-the-Counter (OTC) Dark Circle Treatments
OTC treatments are usually topical and range from entirely natural to modern synthetics. Increased attention from the pharmaceutical industry has resulted in regular innovations in under-eye skin care.
Concealers and cosmeceuticals
Widely available, concealers and cosmeceuticals—loosely defined as cosmetic products with medicinal properties— offer complimentary functions. While most concealers work to simply cover up dark circles, new innovations in cosmeceuticals such as specially formulated eye creams combat dark circles with vitamins and active ingredients.
An essential ingredient when treating damaged skin, retinoids are derived from vitamin A. Topical application of a retinoid promotes epidermal thickening and enhances important binding proteins. They are used under the eye to treat a range of issues including fine lines, wrinkles, skin texture and mottled hyperpigmentation.
Shown to stimulate lipolysis, the breakdown of fats, topical caffeine can contribute to reducing sagging skin and puffy eyes. However, there is still resistance to use it as certain studies show it may hinder collagen production.
Hydroquinone is the most widely prescribed bleaching agent used to treat hyperpigmentation. Regular topical applications are used to inhibit the development of melanin-forming cells in selective areas, lightening the skin tone.
Defined as short chains of amino acid sequences, peptides are necessary for protein synthesis and regulation. Peptides can stimulate collagen and protein production, slowing the under-eye aging process and reducing the appearance of dark circles.
Professional services such as chemical peels, fillers and laser treatments may be faster and more effective than OTC treatments for dark circles. However, they require the supervision of an experienced clinician and usually involve aftercare procedures to reduce the risk of complications.
A popular treatment in dermatological therapy, this treatment uses chemical acids to exfoliate the skin. Grouped according to their depth of skin penetration, options range from superficial to deep, depending on the agent’s concentration, pH level and effect.
Although not a solution for issues of hyperpigmentation, natural compounds such as hyaluronic acid are a quick remedy for purplish dark circles. Injected between the blood vessels and the skin beneath the eye, they provide a youthful appearance and can last up to 9 months before they’re reabsorbed into the body.
When used to target excess pigment and vascularity, lasers rupture concentrated melanin clusters and trigger their reabsorption into the body. Immediately after treatment, temporary hyperpigmentation or bruising may occur as the clusters break up.
Developing dark circles under the eyes may be part of the aging process, but you can still take action to prevent them from becoming distinct.
For many people, good habits such as a restful night’s sleep, proper hydration and nutrition and regular topical treatments can reduce the appearance of dark circles.
For dark circles that won’t go away with improved lifestyle habits, there are a variety of medical treatments such as chemical peels and laser treatments available.
If you suspect that your dark circles are due to an underlying medical condition, seek the advice of a doctor or dermatologist.
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