Like wrinkles and age spots, for most people dark circles under the eyes are more a cosmetic nuisance than a health concern. But for those who don’t like the look of shadowy half-moons beneath their eyes and would like to erase, or at least diminish them, it can be helpful to understand what the potential causes of dark circles are.
Dark under-eye circles, also known as periorbital dark circles, tend to develop due to a combination of factors, some of which are inevitable, some of which can be managed.
Dark circles under the eyes runs in families. They are more common and sometimes more noticeable in people with darker skin tones. This is because people with darker skin tones have more pigmentation in the skin under their eyes. Dark circles are also more noticeable with deep-set eyes.
The skin under the eyes is naturally thin and delicate. With age, it becomes even thinner, allowing blood vessels in the undereye area to become more noticeable. Fat pads beneath the eyes also lose volume and no longer shore up the skin, contributing to sagging that exacerbates the darkness. Sun damage can make this appear worse, because it weakens skin.
In people who suffer from seasonal allergies and hay fever, swelling of the tissue in the nasal cavities cause blood to pool around the eyes, creating what are sometimes called allergic shiners. Rubbing itchy eyes can make dark circles darker and more pronounced.
Engorgement of blood vessels under the eyes due to fluid retention is a common cause of dark circles. There are lots of reasons a person may experience this type of fluid retention. Smoking is one, as is excess dietary salt.
Certain medical conditions that affect the heart, thyroid, kidneys, or liver are associated with fluid retention. Iron deficiency anemia may cause a bluish tinge below the eyes.
And medications that cause blood vessels to dilate, from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) to corticosteroids to calcium-channel blockers, can contribute to dark undereye circles.
Dark circles under the eyes can be a sign of dehydration.
Under-Eye Circle Remedies
While there’s little you can do if you’ve inherited dark under-eye circles from a parent or you have them seasonally due to allergies (aside from learning how to use concealer to diminish them), there are strategies for dealing with them in many other cases.
- Stay hydrated: Down at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water or other healthy fluids per day and eat plenty of juicy fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Protect your eyes: Wear a gentle sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30 under the eyes to prevent skin weakening caused by sun damage. When in direct sunlight, wear large sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat.
- Get plenty of sleep: Log at least eight hours of quality shut-eye per night.
- Steep a couple of tea bags: The caffeine in black tea can stimulate the circulation of blood around the eyes and redistribute fluid. There are caffeine-containing gels that can be patted underneath the eyes, but you also can get a similar effect by placing cooled, damp tea bags over your (closed) eyes for 15 minutes or so.
- Cut up a cucumber: A cool disc of cucumber applied to each eye for 15 minutes can help diminish dark circles in two way: Both the cold temperature and certain properties in the cucumber itself can reduce swelling .
- Limit salt: Keep consumption of dietary salt to no more than 2,400 milligrams per day.
- Try dietary supplements: Grape seed extract and pycnogenol contain antioxidant pigments that may help to strengthen blood vessels. These should be used only under medical supervision if you also take blood-thinning drugs such as Coumadin (warfarin) or aspirin. Certain foods, such as cranberries, blueberries, bilberries, tea (green and black), black currant, onions, legumes, and parsley also contain these antioxidant pigments.
- Apply vitamin K. This nutrient, found in some skin creams and serums, increases circulation and may help reduce the appearance of dark circles.