- Dark eyelids are caused by hypervascularity or hyperpigmentation.
- Dark eyelids affect a wide range of people, regardless of age, race or sex.
- Aging, genetics, lifestyle and health issues contribute to the appearance of dark eyelids.
- Over-the-counter creams, natural remedies, concealers and professional treatments can reduce the appearance of dark eyelids.
Dark eyelids are an issue that can affect anyone. Because the eyelid skin is thinner than most of the skin that covers the body, it is susceptible to translucency and injury, leading to the appearance of dark eyelids.
Common among people with dark eyelids is the perception that they appear ill, older or more tired than they actually are, which impacts their quality of life. Although the appearance of dark eyelids is not a health concern in and of itself, they may be an indicator of an underlying medical issue.
Dark eyelids can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription creams, natural remedies, concealers, professional treatments and preventative techniques.
What Are Dark Eyelids?
Dark eyelids and under-eye circles are a result of lifestyle choices, genetics and aging. They fall into one of two categories:
Brown-colored eyelids are a result of hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation is an excess of melanin, a brown pigment that darkens the skin.
Blue, purple or pink-hued eyelids are the result of hypervascularity, an increased concentration of blood vessels that cause a more pronounced appearance of vessels beneath the thin eyelid skin.
Lifestyle and Natural Causes of Dark Eyelids
Dark eyelids may be caused by certain lifestyle choices, such as inadequate diet, lack of sleep, or natural causes such as genetics and aging.
The sun’s ultraviolet radiation increases melanin production and thins the skin. Sun exposure also causes vasodilatation, a widening of blood vessels. As a result, blood vessels become more visible under the already thin skin of eyelids, creating the appearance of dark eyelids.
Lack of sleep
Sleep deprivation causes blood vessels beneath the eyelid to dilate and become more visible. Simultaneously, more blood may flow to the blood vessels beneath the eyelid, making the eyelids appear darker.
Lack of sleep can also increase the production of melanin and cause dark eyelids.
Nutritional deficiencies can cause dark eyelids. Iron deficiency anemia may limit the amount of oxygen carried via blood to the periorbital tissues (the area surrounding the eyelids). This increases pallor, causing dark eyelids to become more pronounced.
Aging changes the structure of the skin and the amount of collagen and fat beneath the eyelid. This process leads to thinner eyelid skin and increased visibility of the blood vessels beneath, darkening the eyelids.
Dark eyelids are most prevalent in those with dark skin, hair and eyes, but can affect almost anyone regardless of race, sex or age. It is common for multiple members of a family to have dark eyelids, including children, with pigmentation increasing due to age or stress.
A number of medications may cause dark eyelids, including:
- Oral contraceptives
- Some eye drops
- Certain glaucoma medications
Medical Causes of Dark Eyelids
Although dark eyelids, by themselves, are not a medical concern, they may be a symptom of an underlying cause, such as a skin disorder.
Some conditions and diseases can cause postinflammatory hyperpigmentation, including:
- Atopic and contact dermatitis (such as eczema)
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Eye injury
Inflammation can cause the skin to swell, increasing the likelihood that dark eyelids will develop.
Melasma is a darkening of the skin that commonly affects pregnant women, those on birth control pills or those taking hormone replacement therapy. It is triggered by hormonal changes and worsened by sun exposure.
Melasma may clear up on its own after hormone levels return to normal, such as after pregnancy or the cessation of oral contraceptives. In other cases, treatment may be required for dark eyelids and other dark spots.
Other medical causes of dark eyelids
A number of underlying health issues can cause dark eyelids via hyperpigmentation.
- Lobular capillary hemangioma: a vascular lesion that often presents on the eyelid (among other areas) can cause hyperpigmentation.
- Acquired melanocytic nevi: lesions that typically mold to the eyelid margin and increase in pigmentation before and during puberty.
- Dermoid cyst: a dome-shaped mass filled with keratin that forms on the eyelid and can result in hyperpigmentation.
Best Creams to Treat Dark Eyelids
Skin color will dictate how effective a given treatment is for reducing the appearance of dark eyelids. Those with lighter skin are less likely to have a negative reaction from topical bleaching creams.
The Fitzpatrick scale classifies skin types based on the amount of pigmentation present and how a particular skin color reacts to the sun.
|Type I||Type II||Type III||Type IV||Type V||Type VI|
|White skin||Fair skin||Average skin||Light brown skin||Brown skin||Black skin|
|Always burns; never tans||Always burns; tans with difficulty||Sometimes mild burns; average tan||Rarely burns; tans easily||Never burns; tans very easily||Never burns; tans very easily|
Dark eyelids are commonly treated with topical bleaching agents made with phenolic and nonphenolic compounds, or acids. Creams with phenolic agents reduce the ability of melanocytes to produce melanin and work best for those with lighter skin (type I–III on the Fitzpatrick scale).
Nonphenolic topical bleaching creams are antioxidants and limit melanin production.
While some skin care products are effective for treating patients with darker skin (Fitzpatrick skin types IV–VI), they may experience dryness, irritation or further hyperpigmentation after treatment.
The most prescribed topical bleaching cream uses a phenolic ingredient called hydroquinone. Hydroquinone eye cream is available in a variety of prescription-strength and OTC concentrations. Results generally take between 5 and 7 months.
Tretinoin is applied to the skin in cream or ointment form. It is a retinoid, a type of phenolic drug that interferes with pigment transfer and increases the thickness of the eyelid skin. It is an effective, yet slow treatment for dark eyelids.
A combination of hydroquinone, tretinoin and a steroid is considered the gold standard for topical bleaching, but should not be used for long-term treatment.
Kojic and azelaic acid
Kojic and azelaic acid are nonphenolic agents best used to treat dark eyelids in those with darker skin (Fitzpatrick types IV–VI). They are frequently combined with an extract from the bearberry plant called arbutin, which is used as a depigmenting agent.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps reduce the formation of melanin. While it is not as effective as other ingredients, Vitamin C is often included in many topical bleaching creams for its antioxidant properties.
Vitamin E interferes with the production of melanin, but is more effective for protecting the skin from sun damage. It is commonly mixed with Vitamin C in many topical bleaching creams.
Home Remedies for Dark Eyelids
A number of home remedies can be tried to reduce the visibility of dark eyelids or soothe an underlying cause, such as inflammation.
Protection from the sun
Sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide should be applied to prevent the sun’s UVA and UVB rays from causing dark eyelids. Similarly, UV-coated sunglasses are also effective at protecting the skin around your eyes from sun damage.
Cold compresses can’t eliminate dark eyelids but they can help mitigate inflammation caused by a skin condition. Use a cold cloth, a bag of frozen vegetables or chilled tea bags for 5 to 10 minutes at a time to prevent swelling from worsening in the eye area.
Cucumbers, potatoes and tomatoes
Some natural remedy practitioners believe fruits and vegetables may temporarily lighten and tighten skin and reduce inflammation due to their high water content and antioxidants. Place slices over your eyes for 10 to 15 minutes to gain temporary relief from dark eyelids.
Almond and coconut oil
Almond and coconut oil can be used to fight inflammation in the eye area. Almond oil and coconut oil commonly contain vitamins to help lighten dark eyelids and get rid of dark circles.
Get enough sleep
Getting a full night’s sleep will reduce the risk of vasodilatation and cause your skin to appear less pale and contrasted against your dark eyelids.
If All Else Fails, Use a Concealer
Concealers are an effective means of hiding dark eyelids. Some concealers accomplish a dual purpose and are formulated with vitamins to help combat dark eyelids, in addition to masking them. A concealer with SPF protection can prevent the sun from causing damage to your eyelids.
Professional medical treatments and procedures are often the quickest, most effective or longest-lasting solutions for treating dark eyelids. Some treatments, such as chemical peels, may be performed in beauty salons, while others require the medical expertise of a dermatologist.
A chemical peel uses chemicals to remove the outer layer of damaged skin to accelerate exfoliation. This process lightens dark eyelids and can be done alone or in combination with topical treatments to allow for better penetration of the chemical peel.
While effective, scarring or postinflammatory hyperpigmentation can occur after a chemical peel. Patients should limit exposure to the sun and follow proper aftercare instructions to avoid side effects.
Ablative and nonablative lasers can treat dark eyelids caused by both hyperpigmentation and vascularity. Laser therapy lightens and tightens skin while simultaneously stimulating collagen production, creating a youthful effect. Results are long-lasting, though may result in temporary post-therapy bruising and hyperpigmentation.
Nonablative lasers are less effective than ablative lasers for treating dark eyelids, but require less recovery time after the procedure.
Autologous fat transplantation
Autologous fat transplantation, or fat grafting, transfers fat from one part of the body to an area beneath the thin skin of the eyelids. The process restores eyelid volume to reduce the visibility of blood vessels beneath the skin of the eyelid.
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections
During PRP injection therapy, platelets rich with growth factors are injected into a patient over a series of sessions. The growth factors encourages the new synthesis of collagen and improves the elasticity of skin.
Blepharoplasty is a surgical procedure to remove fat deposits or excess skin that cast shadows over the eyelid and create the perception of dark eyelids.
When to See a Doctor
If you are concerned about the appearance of your dark eyelids, or suspect they are the result of something more than aging, genetics or sun damage, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Dark circles may be a sign of an underlying illness.
Dark eyelids can be a result of many factors, including age, genetics and lifestyle. The appearance of dark eyelids can negatively impact your quality of life by making you appear older, more tired or ill. There are preventative measures you can take such as maintaining a healthy lifestyle and protecting your eyes from the sun’s harmful rays.
Dark eyelids can be treated with topical bleaching creams or natural remedies. If your symptoms are severe or you wish to have speedier results, consult a professional to review your best options.
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