“You look so tired.”
Anyone with dark under-eye bags has heard this well-intended, reverse compliment too many times. No matter how much sleep you get, those purply, puffy circles engulfing the delicate skin around your eyes just won’t go away.
That’s because the cause of under-eye bags varies from person to person. For some, genetics can play a role as well as pigmentation, especially in darker skin. Fat loss in the face as we age can give the eyes a sunken look, pushing the area further into the shadows that emphasise dark circles.
“The eye areas is one of the first areas to start ageing,” said Dr Kirshni Appanna, a cosmetic doctor at Jeunesse MedSpa in Hamilton.
Lifestyle, including what we eat, how much water we drink, the sleep we get, whether we smoke, our allergies and our stress levels can also impact the health of our skin. This is particularly true under our eyes where the skin is at its thinnest.
“It’s one of the hardest things to treat,” said Appanna. “There is usually not just one thing that is happening.”
The cause of under-eye bags varies from person to person
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When a patient first comes to Dunedin-based dietician Helen Gibbs with dark under-eye circles, the first place her mind goes is iron levels. Low iron levels can exacerbate tiredness and lead to pale skin.
“In New Zealand, roughly a quarter of women of childbearing age are iron deficient,” said Gibbs. “That is due to poor dietary choices and the menstrual losses of women.”
For treatment, rather than instantly reaching for supplements, Gibbs prefers to focus on dietary changes. This could mean increasing red meat, beans and tofu, as well as iron-rich vegetables such as broccoli and spinach.
It also means pairing those foods with vitamin C that enables the body to absorb iron while steering clear of what might inhibit absorption such as the tannins in tea, according to Gibbs. Most vegetables contain some vitamin C. Potatoes have particularly high levels of it.
Dehydration can also emphasise under-eye bags, according to Gibbs. This is often the result of either drinking too little water, or consuming too much salt. “If we have a lot of salt, we pee a lot so it is easier to get dehydrate,” she said, adding that urine, except the first of the day, should be close to clear.
There is also a lot of interplay between diet and sleep, the main culprit of under-eye bags, said dietician Catherine Wall.
“Good sleep hygiene improves your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep and get enough sleep, thus reducing the appearance of dark eye circles,” said Wall.
This means exercising regularly, keeping electronics out of the bedroom and creating good dietary habits like eating a balanced diet so you are not reliant on late-afternoon caffeine fixes that keep you awake at night and giving your stomach a break a few hours before bed.
Dehydration can emphasise under-eye bags, so make sure you keep up your water drinking.
Caffeine might keep you from getting a good night sleep, but ironically a caffeine-rich eye cream can reduce those under-eye bags, said Wellington makeup artist Katerina Katreva. So can retinol, collagen and vitamin C. She suggested the eye couture gel from Joyce Block, or something with potent vitamin C, such as a C20 or C15 serums.
Vitamin C can be particularly effective if pigmentation issues are the cause of dark circles, said Appanna, the cosmetic doctor. Kojic and azelaic acids can also lighten and brighten pigmented under-eye skin.
Hydroquinone, a sometimes controversial treatment that bleaches the skin, can be helpful for pigmentation if it is used carefully with the correct quantities, according to Appanna. Hydroquinone is only available by prescription, she added.
Rebekah Parsons-King/Fairfax NZ/Waikato Times
Vitamin C can be particularly effective if pigmentation issues are the cause of dark circles, says Dr Kirshni Appanna, a cosmetic doctor at Jeunesse MedSpa in Hamilton.
For a scaled back day-time routine, Katreva points clients towards peach or orange-toned concealers that also match your skin colour. Those tones best counteract the dark under-eye colourations.
If you’ve got a special event and need full makeup coverage, start with an orange corrector or concealer. “It won’t look natural on its own,” advised Katreva.
An additional layer of foundation will reign that orange back in line with your natural skin tone. Then, add a layer of regular concealer to keep the under-eye area bright with a brush of powder to finish the look.
Katreva points clients towards MAC and Makeup Forever that “have good concealer palettes”, she said. Bobbi Brown’s tinted eye brighter is also a top product for covering dark circles, as is MAC’s Prep & Prime highlighter, according to Katreva.
As people age, faces become increasingly “skeletonised”, as fat disappears, creating a hallowed look.
Adding volume to sunken areas is how Dr Robert Beulink, a cosmetic doctor in Auckland, treats undereye bags. He does this through either fillers or fat transfers.
As people age, faces become increasingly “skeletonised”, as fat disappears, creating a hallowed look, Beulink said. This is especially obvious around the eyes, as the area essentially sinks into the face.
“It is the hallowing that catches the light and shadows shows up on photos from selfies to wedding photos,” he said. “It makes people look tired.”
Derma fillers, which involves injecting what Beulink describes as medical putty, can be completed within an hour and comes with little to no downtime following the procedure. The downside is fillers don’t last forever and Beulink typically sees patients return after 18 months for a top up.
The eye area “is the most difficult area on the face to treat”, said Beulink. He advised those seeking treatment to go with practitioners who are experienced and highly trained even if they are more expensive, adding that derma fillers can result in lumps, bruises and even darken the area – the substance injected has blue tinge – if not done correctly.
The next step up is a fat transfer, which is essentially a more permanent, but more invasive version of fillers that treats the whole face. Beulink puts patients under a local anaesthetic with a mild sedative and performs what is essentially a mini liposuction to remove fat from elsewhere in the body to inject into the face
Fixing sunken eyes using derma fillers typically costs around $1400 with a highly experienced doctor, Beulink said. A fat transfer costs more than $10,000.