Somehow, no matter how much sleep you get, you always look like you've pulled three all-nighters in a row. That's because fatigue isn't the only culprit behind dark circles under the eyes. Affecting both men and women, this common and persistent problem tends to crop up during adulthood and can stem from multiple causes. Before you even think about treatment options, it's important to investigate what might be responsible for the discoloration.
In many cases, dark circles are actually just shadows cast by puffy eyelids and under-eye bags. These can result from allergies, sinus infections, eating salty foods, drinking alcohol or anything else that leads to water retention, causing fluid to accumulate under the eyes [source: Bailly]. Bags also occur when you miss out on sleep and don't exercise regularly.
Sometimes, however, chronic dark circles reflect excess pigmentation of the skin. Did your mother or father also have raccoon eyes? Chances are you've inherited the condition. Sun exposure, which stimulates melanin production, can also trigger hyperpigmentation [source: Zezima].
If your dark circles have a bluish tinge and tend to lessen when you press on them, blood vessels showing through the skin could be to blame. The skin under the eyes is extremely delicate to begin with, and age-related collagen and fat loss thins it out even more over the years [source: Morrill]. "The thicker your skin is, the less visible the vessels will be," explains dermatologist Amy Wechsler. Chronic eye rubbing due to allergies or eczema can cause the blood vessels to dilate or bruise, becoming darker than usual [source: Danoff].
Finally, it may all come down to your bone structure, Dr. Wechsler notes. "Dark circles can also be caused by hollowness under the eyes," she says.
Treating and Preventing Dark Circles Daily
Dermatologists use laser resurfacing and hyaluronic acid fillers, such as Restylane and Juvéderm, to target the root causes of dark circles by reducing hyperpigmentation and plumping up the under-eye skin. But these treatments are expensive, have a long recovery time and can cause unwanted side effects, including bruising and long-lasting lumps [source: Zezima]. Luckily, there are less invasive steps you can take to minimize and prevent dark circles on a daily basis.
- Banish bags by getting plenty of sleep and exercise. Avoid snoozing on your side or stomach, which can cause fluid to collect under the eyes. Instead, prop up your head with an extra pillow [source: Levitt].
- If you suffer from seasonal allergies and hay fever, take an over-the-counter antihistamine. This can reduce puffiness and keep itchiness at bay so you won't be tempted to rub your eyes [source: Danoff].
- Don't smoke. The unhealthy habit prematurely ages your skin, and studies suggest nicotine may also disrupt sleep patterns [source: Fine]. Don't drink heavily either, since alcohol can lead to water retention.
- To minimize under-eye pigmentation, apply sunscreen all the way up to your lower lash line every day, Dr. Wechsler advises. Wear large sunglasses for further protection.
- Choose a daily eye cream with ingredients that target under-eye circles and puffiness. According to cosmetics companies, caffeine deflates bags, vitamin C minimizes melanin and vitamin K repairs broken capillaries.
- Topical retinoids, including over-the-counter versions, can make blood vessels less visible by promoting the building of collagen and plumping the skin under your eyes, says Dr. Wechsler. "Use the retinoid with a rich eye cream to reduce potential irritation and further nourish the skin," she counsels.
- Some experts believe vitamin deficiencies can exacerbate dark circles, so cover your bases by taking a daily multivitamin. Since anemia is also a suspected cause, eat plenty of iron-rich foods, such as beans and dark leafy greens [source: Ni].
Quick Fixes for Dark Circles
Let's say you've managed to lighten your dark circles with behavioral changes, a healthy diet and the right skin products. But one morning, after a late night out or for no apparent reason at all, you look in the mirror and see a zombie staring back at you. There are a few quick fixes you can try -- and if they really deliver results, consider incorporating them into your daily routine.
- Soothe puffiness by placing chilled spoons, cucumber slices or any other cold item over your eyes. The low temperature can reduce swelling [source: Levitt].
- Place cotton pads soaked in witch hazel, a natural astringent, over the eyes [source: Lavinthal].
- Encourage fluid drainage by massaging your eyes from the inner to outer corners and toward the temples [source: Lavinthal].
- Soak two teabags in warm or hot water, then allow them to cool before placing on the eyes. Caffeinated teas reportedly cause the blood vessels to constrict, fading away dark circles [source: Lacey].
- If all else fails, there's always concealer. Illuminating formulations, which contain light-reflecting particles, can help the area under the eye look fuller and brighter, says Dr. Wechsler. If you have under-eye bags, though, only apply concealer below them, since covering them up can actually accentuate them [source: Bailly].
For more information on dark circles and other skin care tips, check out the links on the next page.
More Great Links
- Bailly, Jenny. "4 Dark-Circle Cures (That Actually Work)." Oprah.com. March 28, 2013. (July 9, 2013) http://www.oprah.com/style/How-to-Fix-Dark-Circles-Under-Eyes-Dark-Undereye-Circles/1
- Danoff, Rob. "Eyeing Those Dark Circles." MSN Healthy Living. (July 9, 2013) http://healthyliving.msn.com/health-wellness/skin/eyeing-those-dark-circles-1
- Fine, Audrey. "Smoking Cessation: The 7 Sneaky Ways Smoking Steals a Woman's Beauty." Total Beauty. March 15, 2011. (July 9, 2013) http://www.totalbeauty.com/content/gallery/smoking-ruins-your-beauty/p82052
- Lacey, Miriam. "5 Fast Fixes for Dark Under-Eye Circles." POPSUGAR. October 26, 2011. (July 9, 2013) http://www.bellasugar.com/Dark-Circle-Treatments-Work-20143730
- Lavinthal, Andrea. "You Look Tired." Cosmopolitan. (July 9, 2013) http://www.cosmopolitan.com/hairstyles-beauty/skin-care-makeup/you-look-tired-0509
- Levitt, Shelley. "Banish the Bags Under Your Eyes." WebMD. April 12, 2012. (July 9, 2013) http://www.webmd.com/beauty/eyes/banish-the-bags-under-your-eyes
- Mayo Clinic. "Dark circles under eyes." (July 9, 2013) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/dark-circles-under-eyes/MY00346
- Morrill, Hannah. "What Causes Dark Circles Under Your Eyes?" Real Simple. (July 9, 2013) http://www.realsimple.com/beauty-fashion/skincare/face/causes-dark-circles-under-eyes-00100000095280/index.html
- Ni, Maoshing. "8 Remedies for Under-Eye Dark Circles." Yahoo! Health. August 29, 2008. (July 9, 2013) http://health.yahoo.net/experts/drmao/8-remedies-under-eye-dark-circles
- Wechsler, Amy. Personal correspondence. July 12, 2013.
- Zezima, Katie. "Putting 'You Look Tired' to Rest." The New York Times. June 12, 2008. (July 9, 2013) http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/12/fashion/12SKIN.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0