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Dark Eye Circles

Story at-a-glance -

  • Dark circles under your eyes may appear because of thin skin or because of hyperpigmentation around your eyes
  • In some cases, dark circles are accompanied by sagging skin, also known as bags, under your eyes
  • Both dark circles and sagging skin are related to environment factors and genetics, and both may be affected by the choices you make each day
 

What's Behind Dark Circles Under Eyes?

June 18, 2016 | 147,254 views
| Available in EspañolDisponible en Español

By Dr. Mercola

At one time or another, most people are plagued with dark circles under their eyes. Whether you are overly tired, aging or suffering from allergies, you may be faced with dark circles in your mirror.

However, while they are not dangerous to your health, the condition does have a psychological effect on how you see yourself and what others think when they meet you. Despite warnings not to make first impressions from the way others look, the reality is that virtually everyone does it.1

There are changes you can make that will reduce the appearance of dark circles under your eyes. Some are easy and others are a bit more challenging. However, the result will be that you’ll no longer look as tired and worn-out when you first get up in the morning.

Thin Skin and the Color of Your Blood

The reasons for dark circles are varied, but they all start with the difference in thickness of the skin around your eyes. This is called the periorbital area. In most areas of your body, the skin is between 2 and 3 millimeters (mm) thick. However, under the eyes the skin is normally 0.5 mm in thickness.

Thinner skin means the blood vessels under your skin are more visible to the naked eye and produce a different color to your skin. Here’s where what you see on the surface is a reflection of what’s directly below.

Your skin and the tissue directly below the outside layer of skin, called the subcutaneous tissue, only allow blue or violet wavelengths to pass through. This results in your veins appearing blue, because only the blue light is reflected back.2 

This reflected color is different if you have darker or whiter (albino) skin. In the former case, the veins will appear green or brown and in the latter, dark purple or dark red.

This is just one of the reasons dark circles appear below your eyes. You are more likely to see the bluish hint of blood vessels below your eyes, compared to thicker skinned areas of your body. As you age, your skin also loses collagen and elasticity, making the skin thinner and your circles more prominent.

Not All Circles Are Created Equally

Not all circles are due to the visibility of your blood vessels beneath thin skin, though. While this is a common reason, and a higher probability if you are genetically more prone to thin skin under the eyes, it isn’t the only reason.

The second type of circle is caused from hyperpigmentation of the skin under the eyes and is more commonly brown in color.3 This hyperpigmentation, or higher amount of pigmentation in the skin, is the result of more melanin being produced in the skin under the eyes.

This particular condition is more noticeable in people whose skin is normally darker or has more pigmentation. In a study by the Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay Medical College in India, researchers found dark circles under the eyes was the most common condition found in a routine dermatology practice.4

This type of dark circles caused by hyperpigmentation can have either a primary or secondary cause. In a primary cause the increased pigmentation is found under both eyes and occurs spontaneously. In a secondary cause, the increased pigmentation is caused by a systemic or localized process.5

Some of the causes believed to contribute to hyperpigmentation around the periorbital area are temporary and resolve after the irritant has been removed. Possible temporary and permanent triggers for periorbital hyperpigmentation include:6

Sun exposure

Genetic pigmentation

Dermal melanocytosis

Allergic dermatitis

Contact dermatitis

Edema (swelling)

Drugs

Aging

Hormones

Dark circles under your eyes may also be triggered from the oxidation of blood leaking from the blood vessels around the eyes. The release of blood and oxidation leads to not only dark circles, but also swelling and bags under your eyes.7

This occurs when the body attempts to clear blood leakage from a thin-skinned area easily affected by gravity.

This condition is relatively harmless to your health, but can be a challenge to deal with. There are surgical and medical treatments available to stop the blood leaking, but it is best to start with lifestyle changes and nutrition to treat the condition and avoid other more invasive options.

Bags With Your Circles?

Another condition that can make your dark circles appear even darker and more noticeable is swelling under the eyes, commonly called bags. When you are young, this swelling may be caused by allergic reactions, illness or an excessive buildup of fluid in your body.8

As you age there are yet other reasons for developing puffiness and swelling under your eyes. The effect of gravity on tissue that is slowly losing collagen and elasticity can result in tissue sagging. This includes the fat under your eye tissue.9

Fat deposits around your eyes help protect them. As you age, fat may escape from the membrane normally containing it, resulting in the fat falling beneath the eye, causing bagging.

However, in recent research published in Clinical Neurophysiology, scientists discovered the possibility of another reason for the fat deposits beneath your eyes.

Plastic surgeons from California found that in study participants, it wasn’t the fat that escaped the membranes with age, but rather the body produced more fat in the eye area, creating the bags.10

The exact mechanism of the fat deposits beneath the eye may not be completely understood, but doctors recognize the increased risk of bags under your eyes as you age.

Although you might be tempted to point the finger at a lack of sleep and rest to the increasing size of the bags under your eyes, there is no scientific proof linking this cause and effect. However, lack of sleep does increase the severity of the puffiness under your eyes, especially first thing in the morning.

How to Lighten Your Dark Circles

Although they are usually relatively harmless, you may want to reduce the effect as much as possible. There are several choices you can make daily to help reduce both bagginess and discoloration under your eyes. Each of these options will work, but may not work for everyone, depending on your condition.

Before considering surgical choices, use these strategies to reduce the effects. If you choose surgery, be aware that inappropriate daily choices may cause your hyperpigmentation or puffiness around the eyes to quickly return.

Avoid Rubbing Your Eyes

The skin under your eyes is thin, losing elasticity and collagen as you age and may be prone to blood leakage. All of these factors contribute to under eye circles and are worsened when you rub the skin. Do your best to stop rubbing your eyes.

Manage Your Allergies

Allergies can cause itchy, watery eyes. This may contribute to rubbing a sensitive area and can increase the puffiness around the eyes.

Switch the Way You Sleep

Are you a stomach sleeper? Gravity causes fluid to collect under your eyes and consistent pressure on your facial skin can lead to deepening wrinkles. Try sleeping on your back. Avoid sleeping on more than one pillow since it significantly alters your neck and back alignment.11,12

Remove Your Makeup — Gently

Leaving makeup on during the night can increase irritation to your sensitive eye tissue.13 But rubbing your eyes each night to remove your eye makeup can cause capillary damage and inflammation to the eye area, making your dark circles even worse.14

Instead, use a gentle eye makeup remover you can swipe on your eyes and leave for a minute and then wash off. A good moisturizer or virgin coconut oil are also good options.

Reduce Your Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol is dehydrating, pulling the water out of your skin. This increases the risk of further damage to the area if you accidently start rubbing your eyes.15 If you drink alcohol, drink approximately 56 to 64 ounces of water before you go to bed. It might seem like a lot of fluid, but it will help to rehydrate your skin.

Wear Eye Protection

Wear quality sunglasses when you’re outside. They help protect both your eyes and the delicate skin around the eyes from the sun. Look for UV 400 or 99 to 100 percent UV absorption.

Choose larger lenses that wrap around and protect the skin on the side of your eyes. The color of the lens does not indicate the strength of the UV protection.

Reduce or Quit Smoking

Smoking speeds the loss of collagen from your skin, increasing the bags around your eyes. Smoking is a strong addiction. You may find the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) can help reduce the cravings and increase your success rate. The process is easy to learn and use at home.

Reduce Indoor Air Pollution

Air pollution is a significant eye irritant and common both outdoors and indoors.16,17 Because most people who work and live in the U.S. spend approximately 98 percent of their time indoors, it’s important to reduce your indoor air pollution.18

Use a Soothing Eye Treatment

The area around your eye responds well to soothing treatments to help reduce puffiness. Experiment with different options to find the one you enjoy and works for your eyes.19,20 Several suggestions are listed below.

Honey

Honey has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory benefits. Look for raw, locally sourced honey. Simply dab a small amount under your eyes just before bed and allow it to soak in overnight.

Cucumber Slices

Long used in spas and for eye treatments, these little slices of heaven help reduce puffiness because they have skin-lightening properties and anti-inflammatory effects.

Thick slices of cold cucumber over your eyes for 10 minutes at the end of a long day are rejuvenating.

Almond Oil

Dab some under your eyes before bed and allow it to work overnight. Wash off in the morning with a quick splash of water.

Buttermilk and Turmeric

Sprinkle some turmeric in a bit of buttermilk and soak two large cotton balls in it. Squeeze out the fluid and place over your eyes for 15 minutes five times per week. Buttermilk constricts the blood vessels and turmeric is an anti-inflammatory.

Avocado

Rich in fat and emollients, avocados are wonderful to eat, but also make a great eye mask.

Place a slice of ripe avocado under each eye, or make a mask with a teaspoon of avocado and a couple drops of almond oil. Leave on for 15 minutes.

Mint Leaves

Mint is cool, tingling and just feels great. It's a great pick-me-up at the end of a long day. Crush raw leaves and apply over the dark circles for 5 to 10 minutes. Wash off.

Black Tea Bags

Once you’ve brewed your tea, put the bags in the refrigerator and recycle them later in the day. Once cooled, they help reduce end-of-day puffiness around the eyes.

Apply one on each eye for 10 minutes and then discard the bags.

Potatoes or Tomatoes

If your dark circles are from too much pigment, then you’ll want to try lightening the skin with either the juice of a potato (grate to extract the juice) or a tomato (fresh).

Soak a cotton ball in the juice, squeeze out and rest them over your dark circles for 10 minutes; rinse your face.

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