- Laser treatments can safely and effectively treat dark circles.
- Lasers reduce hyperpigmentation and stimulate the rejuvenation of skin tissues by focusing intense light and heat on the targeted area.
- There are two broad categories of lasers treatments for dark circles: ablative and nonablative.
- Ablative lasers remove the outer layers of skin that contain excess melanin, and stimulate the blood vessels in the underlying skin.
- Nonablative lasers tighten the skin by encouraging additional collagen production.
Dark under-eye circles are typically caused by one of two issues: excess melanin or poor circulation below the eyes.
Melanin gives skin its color, and can cause hyperpigmentation when it appears in excessive amounts. Pigmented dark circles, also known as periorbital hyperpigmentation, can be brought on by a number factors, including aging and lifestyle choices.
Poor circulation under the eyes can also lead to dark circles in the area. Known as vascular dark circles, they occur when blood and lymphatic liquid are unable to circulate properly, leading to a visible buildup beneath the eyes.
Many natural and over-the-counter (OTC) treatments are available to manage and treat dark circles. However, depending on their underlying cause and severity, in-office surgeries and procedures such as laser treatments may be more effective.
There are several types of laser procedures, each with their own advantages and disadvantages when it comes to treating dark circles. These include ablative lasers – carbon dioxide laser treatment and garnet laser treatment, and nonablative options – pulsed dye lasers, Q-switched lasers and fractional lasers.
Can Lasers Treat Dark Circles?
Depending on their wavelength, pulse characteristics and radiant exposure, lasers can treat dark circles by focusing low or high-intensity light on a targeted area of skin.
Laser treatments vary in effectiveness depending on the type of dark circles being treated. The classification of dark circle types can help determine the appropriate treatment and are classified by their appearance:
- Pigmented dark circles are typically brown in hue
- Vascular dark circles are characterized by blue, pink or purple discolorations, as well as puffiness in some cases
- Mixed dark circles occur due to a combination of pigmentation, vascular or structural factors
As each type of laser is suited to a different type of dark eye circles, correctly identifying your dark circles will improve your treatment results.
Pigmented dark circles are caused by excessive skin melanin production and distribution. Laser treatments for these types of dark circles work to reduce pigmentation by targeting and destroying skin cells with darker pigmentation.
Vascular dark circles are caused by visible veins, which appear due to skin thinning, slower blood circulation and fluid retention. These can be treated by using lasers to stimulate subcutaneous blood vessels, encouraging blood flow and rejuvenating skin tissue.
For mixed dark circles, treatment might include multiple laser types, or combining laser treatment with other treatments such as cosmeceutical topicals.
Not all lasers are created equal
Several types of lasers are used in the treatment of dark circles. A laser’s treatment applications are determined by its wavelength and pulse duration, as well as how the skin tissue absorbs it.
Lasers used for dark circle treatments are classified into two broad categories: ablative and nonablative lasers. Both types of lasers work below the surface skin, stimulating the underlying tissue, encouraging collagen production and leaving the skin tight, smooth and rejuvenated.
The difference between the two is that ablative lasers remove the outer layers of skin which in some cases contain excess melanin. Nonablative lasers, also known as pigment-selective lasers, work beneath the surface to address excess melanin and circulation-related issues without removing the surface skin.
|Ablative Lasers||Nonablative Lasers|
|Carbon dioxide laser (Co2)Garnet lasers (Er:YAG and Nd:YAG)||Pulsed dye laserQ-switched laser (Nd:YAG, Q- switched Ruby and Q-switched alexandrite)Fractional lasers|
Carbon dioxide laser (Co2)
Carbon dioxide lasers (Co2) are ablative lasers that focus on encouraging collagen production and tightening the skin. They can be used to treat pigmented dark circles. First introduced in the late 1960s, they are still in use due to their safety and efficacy. They have few side effects and are unlikely to cause blistering, scarring or permanent pigment issues.
That said, Co2 laser treatments can cause discomfort. Aggressive treatments with high-energy lasers can lead to skin reddening, swelling and a burning sensation than can last for more than three days in extreme cases. Treatment with low-power Co2 lasers tend to have fewer side effects and a shorter recovery period, but may also yield less apparent results.
Garnet lasers (Er:YAG and Nd:YAG)
Garnet lasers are ablative lasers that effectively and safely treat dark under-eye circles. They cause fewer side effects and have a faster recovery time than Co2 treatments.
Garnet lasers can significantly improve dark circles after a series of three treatments. However, they also carry a risk of side effects such as swelling and bruising.
Fractional laser resurfacing therapy is a more recent ablative laser treatment method in which specific microscopic zones of the skin are purposely damaged with heat. As the skin quickly regenerates to seal up each damaged area, the body’s natural collagen production process is bolstered. In this manner, the laser is employed strategically to sculpt tissue and reshape the surface skin.
The laser’s precision ensures that the tissue surrounding each zone is left undamaged and leaves surface skin with only minimal damage. As such, the procedure offers a quick recovery time and carries little risk of complications.
Fractional lasers are a suitable option for treating dark circles caused by pigmentation issues, especially in patients with melasma. By improving collagen production, this treatment may also help to mask underlying veins beneath the eyes to improve the appearance of vascular dark circles.
Pulsed dye lasers (PDL)
Pulsed dye laser treatment is a nonablative option that addresses vascular dark circles. It does so by targeting and shrinking blood vessels, reducing the appearance of the skin’s bluish vasculature-based markings.
Although a little bruising and redness is normal after treatments, recovery time is typically only a few hours. Full treatment usually requires three to five sessions.
Q-switched lasers, such as Q-switched Nd:YAG, Q-switched ruby and Q-switched alexandrite lasers are nonablative lasers. They can be used to treat dark circles caused by hyperpigmentation.
Q-switched lasers provide effective results by focusing both light and heat to damage a precise skin area and leave the tissue in the surrounding area undamaged. That said, treatments may be painful, and side effects include redness, itching and swelling which may persist for several days.
As laser treatments for dark eye circles do not typically have any major adverse effects, most people are suitable candidates for the procedure.
However, individuals with darker skin tones may experience pigment alteration-related side effects, particularly when using certain ablative lasers. High-energy, high-density laser treatments can drastically reduce pigmentation, leading to an unintentional discoloration of the skin.
In some cases, patients with darker skin tones may also experience rebound hyperpigmentation, a sudden and dramatic return of dark pigment to the skin after it has been treated.
While these side effects may limit the types of lasers available for patients with darker skin tones, a qualified dermatologist should be able to work around these limitations. Consulting with a medical professional prior to a procedure will ensure that a patient’s sensitivities are addressed, and that the appropriate type and intensity of laser is used for the procedure to minimize any potential risks.
Preparing for Laser Treatment
Prior to the procedure, you will speak with a certified medical professional. During this consultation, they will review the details of your treatment and explore the pros and cons of the options that are available to you.
During this meeting, you should discuss any concerns you may have to ensure you are comfortable with your treatment process and understand what your recovery will involve.
Once you have selected a treatment plan, a spot test is performed to determine how your skin reacts to the treatment and to ensure that you are a suitable candidate for the chosen procedure.
Leading up to your treatment, it is important to follow the instructions provided by your physician. This may include avoiding spending extended periods of time in the sun for at least one week prior to your treatment, as patients with sunburn risk damaging their skin during laser treatments.
What to Expect During the Procedure
Before your procedure, a topical anesthetic may be applied to the treatment areas to help ensure comfort throughout the process.
Your dermatologist or certified technician will then begin the treatment by passing a wand-like device under your eyes. Treatment comes in slow bursts that cover one small area at a time. This area, roughly the size of a quarter, may become red or inflamed, however, this should quickly fade.
This process is then repeated across the area to be treated. In most cases, the entire procedure takes roughly one hour to complete.
Recovery and Results
After treatment, you should be provided with aftercare instructions. Be sure to always follow these guidelines to minimize your risk of complications.
Recovering from laser treatments generally requires little downtime. However, recovery times vary from one laser procedure type to another.
Ablative lasers are likely to result in more side effects and longer recovery times than nonablative lasers. This is because they remove the surface layer of skin, while nonablative penetrate the skin and directly target subsurface tissue.
Recovering from ablative laser procedures typically takes a few days of rest away from work. Depending on the intensity of the procedure, it may take up to three days—or in rare cases, even longer— for swelling, itching and redness to fade.
The recovery time for nonablative laser procedures may be as little as a few hours. In most cases, patients are able to return to their daily activities almost immediately after the procedure.
Following the procedure, the skin is particularly vulnerable to sun damage. Avoid direct sun exposure and apply a high SPF sunscreen multiple times per day to minimize potential damage.
Side Effects and Safety Considerations
Ablative and nonablative laser treatments both have a number of potential side effects. Swelling, redness and itching are common following laser treatment, and should fade with time. Speak with your physician if these issues persist or if you are having difficulty coping with them.
While ablative laser treatments have a long track record of being both safe and effective, these options are more likely to cause certain side effects than nonablative alternatives. These include pigment changes, infection and in some cases scarring.
As the eyes are particularly vulnerable to laser damage, safety is a key concern when treating dark circles with lasers. To avoid eye damage, it is important to follow your physician’s instructions and wear all of the appropriate eye protection that is provided to you during your procedure.
Before and Afters
Cost of Laser Treatments for Dark Circles
The price of laser treatment varies depending on a number of factors, including the type of laser used, the skill level of the professional performing the procedure and your location.
That said, treatments typically cost between $300 and $600 per session; most patients require at least three treatments.
It is also important to note that laser treatments for dark circles are not typically covered by health insurance, as these procedures are considered to be cosmetic.
Nonsurgical Alternatives to Laser Treatments for Dark Circles
Many topical alternatives are available OTC for treating dark circles. As with different types of lasers, each of these products can be used to target different types of dark circles. Some work to mask and treat vascular markings, while others address pigmentation issues.
- Vitamin C cream has antioxidant properties to help impede the formation of melanin, making it suitable for treating pigmented dark circles
- Hydroquinone, usually available in cream-based formulations, is a skin lightening agent that can reduce the appearance of pigmented dark circles
- Hyaluronic acid, a hydrating agent available in eye patch form, can combat vascular dark circles, particularly those brought on by dehydration
- Retinoic acid, available as an eye cream, can encourage cell growth, increase collagen production and thicken under-eye skin, making it an effective treatment for vascular dark circles
Other than laser treatments, there are a number of other professional solutions available to treat both vascular and pigmented dark circles. Certain treatments can also bolster the area beneath and around the eyes, which can help to reduce any shadowing that contributes to the appearance of dark circles.
- Chemical peels are acidic chemical solutions that can be applied to the face to remove the uppermost layer of skin, helping to address the excess pigmentation that may cause dark circles.
- Intense pulsed light (IPL) is a low-risk phototherapeutic procedure that can repair vascular lesions and reduce skin discoloration, making it a suitable treatment option for both vascular and pigmented dark circles
- Fat grafting can be used to smooth and restructure the tissue surrounding the eye to help reduce shadowing; it may also mask some of the darkness associated with vascular dark circles.
- Fillers can be used to contour tissue in the eye area, which may reduce shadowing and diminish the appearance of dark circles.
A wide range of laser therapy treatments are available to address dark circles under the eyes, and each treatment option is best suited to a different underlying cause.
Knowing the type of dark circles you are experiencing and choosing the appropriate laser type is vital to your treatment’s efficacy, and will help you avoid negative side effects. While those with dark circles caused by pigmentation issues may benefit from Co2, garnet, fractional and Q-switched laser treatments, vascular dark circles are more effectively targeted by pulsed dye laser treatment.
Consult with a dermatologist to discuss your options and choose the procedure that will ensure the best results.
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