Q: What causes dark circles under my eyes? How can I get rid of them?
A: Dark circles are usually a result of genetics and aging. The thin skin below the eyes becomes thinner over time, revealing the underlying blood vessels, especially if your skin is extra-transparent or if you have many veins or large veins. The fat and other tissues above the cheek bone also shrink (lose volume) with age—as well as with weight loss—creating a hollowed effect, which adds to the appearance of dark circles, while fat pads and wrinkles just below the lower eyelids can develop with age and cast shadows. In some people, especially those with darker skin, excessive pigmentation can develop over time in the undereye area. Sun exposure (which increases pigmentation), nasal allergies, estrogen use, certain medications, and possibly fatigue may also contribute to dark circles.
If the circles bother you, a dermatologist can determine their cause and potential treatment. Options include topical gels, bleaching agents, chemical peels, intense pulsed light therapy, laser treatments, or injections of fillers. Depending on your expectations, the results may be disappointing, however, and no treatment is risk-free. Some products may cause skin irritation, over-lightening, or pigment irregularities. As a last resort, a plastic surgeon can perform a lower-lid blepharoplasty (“eye lift”) to remove fat tissue.
Over-the-counter (OTC) cosmetic products may contain some of the same ingredients used in doctors’ offices, though in lower concentration. They may also contain a kitchen sink of others, such as papaya, chamomile, sweet hazel, resveratrol, and seaweed extract. Some ingredients, such as hydroquinone (a lightening agent), may provide some benefits, depending on the cause of the dark circles and the individual. But many OTC products are expensive or take months to show any change—and adverse reactions are possible. Your dermatologist may be able to help you in choosing the best OTC product for you.
A temporary quick-fix is to use inexpensive color-correcting concealers, which come in peach, pink, yellow, and other tones. The exact color that will work best depends on the color of your skin as well as the color of the blood vessels underneath, which range from blue to purple. It may take some trial and error, and you may need to combine two different colors. Of course, there’s also the age-old home remedy: thin slices of chilled cucumbers or an ice pack applied over the eyes to help reduce puffiness that can cast shadows. Be sure also to treat allergies if you have them, and wear sunscreen and large sunglasses when outdoors.
Jeanine Barone contributed to this article.
This article first appeared in the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter.
Also see Why Do My Eyelids Itch?