- Dark circles are caused by aging, hyperpigmentation and/or lifestyle.
- Treatment for dark circles depends on the factors causing them.
- Possible approaches include lasers, chemical peels and fillers.
- For dark circles due to aging, permanent solutions involve surgery.
- Preventative lifestyle habits and cosmeceuticals may prevent the need for further treatment.
Dark circles under the eyes can result from a variety of factors such as thinning skin and hyperpigmentation.
Treatments for dark circles range from simple lifestyle changes to surgery, but ultimately depend on what is triggering them.
When considering treatment, there are two broad categories of dark circles: those caused by visible veins and those caused by hyperpigmentation of the skin.
Causes Behind Dark Circles
Purple dark circles under the eyes are caused by the appearance of veins. The increased visibility of these underlying vessels are due to slower circulation, thinning skin or fluid retention.
Brown dark circles under the eyes result from hyperpigmentation, which is triggered by an overproduction and accumulation of localized melanin.
When seeking treatment, it’s important to understand the reasons for your dark under-eye circles and note all the solutions available, including preventative measures.
However, as dark circles are an inevitable part of aging for many people, there are treatments that extend beyond simple lifestyle choices and over the counter (OTC) treatments.
Noninvasive Dark Circle Treatments
Often using light-based technology, these noninvasive treatments represent effective and accessible solutions for dark circles without the complications of surgery. Additionally, they directly address the root causes—collagen production, hyperpigmentation, superficial blood vessels, etc.—rather than masking them.
Intense pulsed light devices
Intense pulsed light (IPL) devices are high-output lamps that discharge light into a coupling gel on the skin to improve the skin’s tone and hue. IPL treatment can treat dark circles caused by both pigmentation and visible veins. However, this treatment is not recommended for people with darker skin tones as it can permanently damage the color of skin.
To treat dark circles due to hyperpigmentation, Q-switched lasers break up clusters of pigmentation which are then reabsorbed by the body. They can also be used to promote collagen growth to tighten skin and reduce shadowy circles beneath the eyes.
Q-switched laser treatments may cause temporary scabbing and hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation, meaning patches of skin that are lighter than the overall skin tone.
Pulsed dye lasers
Pulsed dye lasers eliminate superficial blood vessels by redirecting blood flow deeper into the body. These unnecessary blood vessels are then absorbed into the body, allowing skin to return to its natural color.
Used to tighten skin and promote subdermal collagen production, this technique depends on radiofrequency stimulation rather than light upon the skin. The difference in approach means that it can be used on all skin types, regardless of the patient’s sensitivity, with minimal risk.
Noninvasive treatments: pros and cons
|Can treat both visible veins and hyperpigmentation||Suited only for light-skinned patients|
|Q-switched lasers||Best option for hyperpigmentary treatments||Temporary hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation, scabbing|
|Pulsed dye lasers||Treats vasculature-based markings||Temporary bruised patches on treated area|
|Radiofrequency||Stimulates collagen production in all patients||Used only for mild issues|
Minimally Invasive Dark Circle Treatments
Minimally invasive treatments can handle more extreme cases of dark circles than noninvasive alternatives can—while still being less expensive than surgical options.
Used in dermatological therapy to exfoliate the skin, chemical peels are a popular treatment for various skin issues ranging from photoaging to pigmentary disorders. The depth of penetration can be controlled to target different layers of the skin to remove hyperpigmentation.
Ablative laser resurfacing
Like chemical peels, ablative laser resurfacing removes layers of skin to resolve pigment irregularities, fine lines and low collagen. The superficial tissue damage caused by the laser prompts the patient’s body to create fresh and youthful tissue to repair the affected areas.
Inspired by the skin’s natural subdermal layers, under-eye fillers address dark circles caused by volume loss. A natural compound such as hyaluronic acid is injected under the skin to create a buffer above the underlying blood vessels and fill out hollows beneath the eyes. The result is a temporarily rejuvenated appearance until the compound is absorbed into the body.
Available as a treatment for dark circles, cosmetically tattooing below the eye is viewed by many professionals as dangerous, particularly considering the range of low-risk alternatives available.
In the process of tattooing a lighter shade into the skin below the eye, nonmedical personnel can risk damaging the patient’s vision.
Minimally invasive treatments: pros and cons
|Chemical peels||Enhances overall health of the treated skin||Treated skin becomes temporarily sensitive to light; dark-skinned patients may develop visibly pale patches|
|Ablative laser resurfacing||Stimulates collagen production and promotes younger-looking skin||Risks of prolonged visible irritation of the skin, such as redness and swelling|
|Under-eye filler||A rapid treatment with minimal risks||Lasts a maximum of 9 months before being absorbed into the body|
|Medical tattoos||Only one procedure is necessary||Risks vision impairment; discouraged by experts|
How to Get Rid of Dark Circles Under the Eyes Permanently
Though effective, most treatments that address dark circles are only temporary. However, some surgical options target root causes that other treatments don’t recognize, such as bone structure and displaced fat. These approaches also last far longer than most alternatives.
A fat transfer uses cells harvested from areas of the patient’s own body, such as the abdomen. This treatment provides a wall of cells between the skin and the underlying blood vessels.
It can reduce shadows below the eyes due to herniated intraorbital fat, meaning fat from the under eye area that has moved down to the cheeks. Natural and discreet, fat transfers generally require a short recovery period of 5–7 days following surgery.
Plastic surgery on the eyelids, known as blepharoplasty, can correct aesthetic defects and disfigurations of the skin around the eye. Blepharoplasty can be used to resolve dark circles originating from wrinkled or sunken skin, often called under-eye bags. The surgery pulls the skin tighter to reposition or remove excess fat that has created the appearance of dark circles.
Surgical implants can be an effective option when addressing natural bone and soft tissue loss as a result of aging. Implants are made of silicone and are placed just above the cheekbone, filling in the hollow beneath the eye.
|Fat transfer||Natural filler that lasts far longer than commercially produced alternatives||Expensive|
|Blepharoplasty||Addresses a unique issue in the development of dark circles||Often ineffective if not combined with a secondary treatment such as fat transfers|
|Surgical implants||A permanent solution for a unique cause of dark circles||Limited applicability|
At-Home Remedies for Dark Circles Under the Eyes
The range of clinical solutions available to treat dark circles is dwarfed by the mass of topical treatments and home options.
There’s a good reason that dark circles are most closely associated with lack of sleep: if you’re tired, your skin is tired, too. It appears dull and dehydrated, creating hollows under your eyes and exposing the blood vessels beneath. A good night’s rest can do wonders for dark circles that aren’t due to hyperpigmentation.
Other preventative measures can help minimize the development of dark circles. Avoid sun exposure, which triggers melanin production and can therefore worsen hyperpigmentation. Wear an SPF to protect the delicate skin below your eyes.
Eating a diet high in vitamin K—found in leafy greens—promotes good blood circulation and may prevent blood vessels around the eyes from enlarging and becoming more visible.
If the appearance of the circles remains limited, then OTC products may offer a more affordable solution than clinics. Eye creams containing retinoids, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin C or E can stimulate collagen production and rejuvenate the skin.
DIY remedies for dark circles
As a DIY remedy, cold compresses using tea bags and cucumber slices are commonly recommended to treat dark circles that appear in conjunction with puffy eyes. Their efficacy, however, hasn’t been studied in clinical trials.
Lemon extract is used as an ingredient in several skin-lightening formulas. As a DIY alternative, lemon juice applied with a cotton ball is commonly recommended to remove dark circles caused by hyperpigmentation. A word of caution: Lemon juice may irritate skin and eyes and should be diluted before use, especially for those with sensitive skin.
No matter the cause of your dark under-eye circles, there are treatment methods available. Noninvasive and minimally invasive treatments such as lasers and IPL devices are suitable for milder cases, whereas surgical treatments may be appropriate for more significant instances of dark circles, especially those due to aging.
Lastly, in many cases, dark under-eye circles can be prevented or treated by staying well-hydrated, getting enough sleep and eating a nutritious diet.
- Demetriades, N. C., & Madnani, D. D. (2018). Periorbital Rejuvenation with Application of Fat Transfer. Atlas of the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Clinics, 26(1), 69–75. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cxom.2017.11.005
- Vrcek, I., Ozgur, O., & Nakra, T. (2016). Infraorbital Dark Circles: A Review of the Pathogenesis, Evaluation and Treatment. Journal of cutaneous and aesthetic surgery, 9(2), 65–72. doi:10.4103/0974-2077.184046
- Goldberg D. J. (2012). Current trends in intense pulsed light. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 5(6), 45–53. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3390232/
- Naik, M. N., Honavar, S. G., Das, S., Desai, S., & Dhepe, N. (2009). Blepharoplasty: an overview. Journal of cutaneous and aesthetic surgery, 2(1), 6–11. doi:10.4103/0974-2077.53092
- Sundelin, T., Lekander, M., Kecklund, G., Van Someren, E. J., Olsson, A., & Axelsson, J. (2013). Cues of fatigue: effects of sleep deprivation on facial appearance. Sleep, 36(9), 1355–1360. doi:10.5665/sleep.2964
- Soleymani, Theo MD; Lanoue, Julien MD; Rahman, Zakia MD. (2018) A Practical Approach to Chemical Peels: A Review of Fundamentals and Step-by-step Algorithmic Protocol for Treatment. jcadonline.com/august-2018-chemical-peels/
- Smit, N., Vicanova, J., & Pavel, S. (2009). The hunt for natural skin whitening agents. International journal of molecular sciences, 10(12), 5326–5349. doi:10.3390/ijms10125326