The relative darkening of lower eyelid skin, commonly referred to as under-eye dark eye circles or periorbital hyperpigmentation are an unsurprising source of aesthetic concern of patients owing to the fatigued and less youthful appearance that they can impart, which can negatively impact one’s quality of life. Dark eye circles occur more frequently in skin of color patients and women with the etiology of under-eye circles being multifactorial. In this article, we will discuss the causes of dark eye circles, as well as some treatment options.
Potential causes of under-eye pigmentation
The difference between the under-eye area and the rest of the skin is that the under-eye area has much more delicate and thinner skin. This explains why some individuals tend to get dark eye circles from those areas due to genetic factors such as the blood vessels being seen much more prominently in areas of thin skin. Some individuals hence have darker pigmentation on the skin under their eyes than the skin elsewhere on their faces, which leads to the look of dark eye circles. For instance, those of Southeast Asian descent are more likely to be predisposed to this type of pigmentation under the eyes.
Inflammatory skin conditions
Individuals who have inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis or eczema on the face may also face darkness under the eyes for a few reasons. Firstly, eczema and psoriasis are both inflammatory conditions, so that in itself can cause a redness or darkening of the skin. Additionally, as these diseases tend to be itchy, the rubbing process will exacerbate the redness or darkening of the skin. Secondly, pigmentation left behind from these conditions can remain on the skin even after the condition is under control. In particular, people with lighter skin tend to recover faster in terms of post-inflammatory changes, while people with darker skin tend to hold onto pigment a little bit longer.
Rubbing your eyes too much
Excessive eye-rubbing can affect the eye area in different ways, both related to pigmentation and the blood vessels below the skin. This skin under the eyes is very sensitive, excessively rubbing the eyes would hence cause irritation and the skin may become slightly thicker and darker as part of the skin’s defense system.
Excessive rubbing can also lead to broken blood vessels beneath the skin, which leads to the appearance of darkness, since the skin around the eyes is so thin, those underlying broken blood vessels become more visible. In addition, with certain practices such as applying eye makeup over many years as well as wearing contact lenses, the process of dragging and pulling the areas of skin around the eye can make it much more susceptible to wrinkling and laxity.
Dark under-eye circles can also be caused by a number of environmental, physical and hereditary causes. These may include allergies, thin skin which allows visible veins to show through as blue circles that can get worse with age, as you lose some of the fat and collagen around your eyes, stress or fatigue, sun exposure, cigarette smoking and hormonal changes.
Improving the appearance of dark eye circles — categorised by the type of problem
For Fatigue or Lack of Sleep:
Since fatigue and lack of sleep are the most common causes of dark eye circles, it would be helpful to start by adopting a healthier lifestyle, which includes getting 7-8 hours of sleep nightly, having frequent exercise, being on a diet filled with antioxidants, reducing alcohol intake and stopping smoking habits.
For Inflammation, Toxins, Stress or Allergies:
When looking to treat dark eye circles internally, some natural key ingredients like milk thistle extract helps to prevent inflammation, allowing for restoration of damaged cells from environmental toxins, stress and alcohol. Dandelion root helps detox and protect your body, while artichoke leaf aids your body in flushing unwanted toxins. In the case of allergies, taking Zyrtec daily is a great way to combat under-eye puffiness and discoloration. Pigmentation left behind by skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema can also be treated with the retinoids and acids like azelaic or glycolic.
For Thin Skin or Hyperpigmentation From Sun Exposure:
It is necessary to eliminate bad practices in handling of the skin around the eye area, and to advocate good eye moisturising and antioxidants in the form of a cosmeceutical eye cream and daily sun protection. One eye cream product you may opt for is the Elixir-V™ Eyes, which is a dermatologist-formulated eye cream that targets regeneration and repair of skin around the eye area with pharmaceutical-grade bioactive ingredients.
It contains potent oligopeptides used for lifting and repair and our signature LARECEA™ extract for regeneration. An additional ingredient is niacinamide, used for brightening. Also, as a tip, use your ring finger instead of the index finger to apply any sort of eye cream or makeup, in order to avoid exerting repeated high pressure over the delicate eye area, which drags down the skin and may cause or worsen eye bags and wrinkles.
Elixir- V™ Eye Cream provides total nourishment for eyes in a single application. It contains anti-ageing skincare ingredient adenosine as well as active ingredient LARECEA™ Extract that accelerates collagen formation for skin regeneration.
Other topical lightening agents include Vitamin C, kojic acid, and licorice extract which helps decrease skin pigmentation over time, ultimately resulting in the lightening of the dark circles. Additionally, creams or serums containing caffeine are effective as well, as caffeine can help by constricting the diameter of blood vessels, thus reducing the violaceous discoloration of the area. It is also recommended to wear a broad-spectrum physical sunscreen that contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide
If your dark eye circles are caused by thin skin surrounding your eyes, a filler under the eyes can help offset any shadows from fat loss in the area and to conceal any underlying blood vessels, which may be giving a purple hue to the skin.
It’s important to remember you’re not alone and seeking medical advice is always best. Especially when over the counter remedies and lifestyle changes do not suffice, it’s best to consult with a board-certified dermatologist.
Michelle L, Pouldar Foulad D, Ekelem C, Saedi N, Mesinkovska NA. Treatments of Periorbital Hyperpigmentation: A Systematic Review. Dermatol Surg. 2021;47(1):70-74. doi:10.1097/DSS.0000000000002484
Friedmann DP, Goldman MP. Dark circles: etiology and management options. Clin Plast Surg. 2015;42(1):33-50. doi:10.1016/j.cps.2014.08.007