What causes under-eye dark circles and how can you get rid of them?

The skin around the eyes there can sometimes look a little more tired than we feel — after all, it has its work cut out for it.

Written by
Sophie Overett
Medically reviewed by
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We’ve all heard the age-old saying that the eyes are the window to the soul, but where does that leave our lids, lashes and the soft, pillowy skin that sits beneath the eye itself?

Like a good window frame and perhaps a high-quality curtain, the region of our upper face that surrounds our eyes is notorious not just for its fineness and delicacy, but for the work it does in protecting the surface of the eye from injury, infection, and disease.

As a result, it’s no wonder that the skin there can sometimes look a little more tired than we necessarily feel — after all, it has its work cut out for it.

The appearance of dark circles beneath the eyes is a common ailment affecting both men and women alike. While these dark circles don’t tend to indicate any cause for concern in terms of health, for cosmetic reasons, they can cause insecurity and impact a person’s mental health and well-being [1].

So, how can you get rid of dark circles around your eyes? And how can you stop them from coming back? First, we need to understand exactly what they are, and why you might be getting them.

What are under-eye circles?

Also known as infraorbital dark circles and periorbital hyperpigmentation, under-eye circles generally present as a puffy, darker-coloured circle that appears around the lower eyelid or sometimes on the upper eyelids, malar region of the face (in other words, either side of your nose), eyebrows or neighbouring regions [4].

It’s understood that both gender and skin colour come into play.

In fact, women are more likely to experience these dark circles, and one recent study conducted in India suggests that people with darker skin tones are up to 30% more likely to experience periorbital hyperpigmentation [4].

What causes dark circles under your eyes?

From lifestyle factors to genetic considerations, there are numerous elements at play when it comes to dark circles under the eyes.

In many cases, these causes are outside of your control as ageing and underlying health conditions such as thyroid disease can deepen these issues; however, there are also plenty of situations where treatment options are available.

Increased pigmentation

One of the main causes of dark circles under the eyes is increased or irregular pigmentation.

This might be a result of sun exposure, atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, or rubbing or scratching at your eyes [3].

Loss of fatty tissue in the eyelid or around the eye

The bone structure of our face does play a role in the potential for dark circles as the architecture of the skull determines the distribution of the facial soft tissue and the divisions of facial fat compartments [1].

In other words, it affects how plump or sallow our faces might look depending on the circumstances.

Ageing is a huge reason for the loss of fatty tissue, which can create hollows and lead to shadowing which creates periorbital dark circles [1].

Genetic factors and habits such as smoking can also result in the loss of important facial tissue which conceals dark circles [3].

Puffy eyelids

Another factor when it comes to dark circles is puffy eyes or puffy eyelids, which can be caused by a few things, from the elements to the internal.

However, puffy eyes are most commonly caused by dermatitis, hay fever or other allergic reactions.

Thin, translucent skin

While thin skin around the eyes is a universal experience, some people have thinner skin than others.

Older people, or people with a genetic history of thin skin, may find that they are more susceptible to dark circles.

Some other factors include:

  • Shadowing due to the shape of your eye socket
  • Fatigue or lack of sleep
  • Dilated blood vessels
  • Dehydration resulting in sunken eyes from either not enough water or too much alcohol or both
  • Superficially located blood vessels and blood stasis which may also darken the skin around the eyes [3].

Can dark circles go away on their own?

Some circles under the eyes can, but it often does depend on the cause.

If your dark circles are caused by lifestyle factors such as fatigue or smoking for instance, getting more sleep or kicking the habit might just help them vanish; however, if your dark circles are being caused by ageing or genetic factors, they might need a little extra help.

Can you prevent dark circles?

If your dark circles have yet to appear, don't just count your blessings!

There are a few courses of action that have been found to help prevent this particular condition, and many are simple lifestyle habits that you can work into your daily routine.

In particular, research suggests that to prevent the appearance of dark circles, you should:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Quit smoking
  • Sleep with extra pillows to keep your head elevated, as this can reduce eyelid swelling and potential skin tightening around the eyes
  • Limit sun exposure, wear sunglasses that cover the entire eye and under-eye area, and wear sunscreen, such as Software's Daily Sun Defence SPF50+ [3].

How to treat dark circles

When it comes to treating dark circles under the eyes, there are numerous options available from simple surface treatments you can do at home, to non-invasive aesthetic treatments and more invasive medical procedures.

What will work best for you will be determined by the severity of your dark circles and the underlying cause.

Home remedies to treat dark circles

Home remedies can be a great place to start in any treatment plan as they're often the most cost-effective, and can offer easy, at-hand relief when you need it.

You can try getting rid of dark circles fast by massaging the area with a cold compress. Cold compresses can not only help to reduce any puffiness but have been found to minimise the appearance of prominent blood vessels too [3].

Applying cooled tea bags has also been found to assist with reducing both dark circles and eye redness. You could also use cucumber slices if you're not a tea drinker.

Aesthetic treatment to treat dark circles

Aesthetic treatment options are non-invasive methods to manage skin changes and circles under your eyes.

Some popular treatments include topical creams or serums such as Software's Multi-Peptide Eye Serum.

Packed with highly targeted ingredients that are formulated to treat under-eye concerns from all angles, this eye serum effectively diminishes signs of dark circles and puffiness. Plus, it stimulates collagen production and protects your skin cells from free radicals for a smooth, firm and healthy skin texture.

No matter what topical treatments you choose, there are a few ingredients worth keeping an eye out for:

  • Propanediol, which reduces puffiness under the eye and regulates pigmentation
  • Glycerin, which tightens the skin to make the surface seem firmer and tighter
  • Acetyl hexapeptide-8, which penetrates the skin’s deep layers to prevent the appearance of expression lines
  • Retinoids, which promote collagen production and synthesis
  • Hydroquinone, which can help to stabilise skin pigmentation
  • Peptides, which promote collagen production, as well as elastin, proteoglycan, glycosaminoglycan and fibronectin production — 4 proteins known as 'the building blocks of robust skin' [1]

Laser treatments, such as intense pulsed light (IPL treatments), are another treatment option. They can target varying degrees of pigment and reduce both fine lines and dark circles [3].

Medical treatments

Medical treatments should only be conducted after a medical evaluation by a trained professional.

There are a range of superficially invasive and deeply invasive treatments. Some superficially invasive treatment options include:

  • Chemical peels, which have been found to have a positive effect on dark circles. A chemical peel can also help you to reduce fine lines and surface pigmentation [3].
  • Ablative laser resurfacing [1].
  • Hyaluronic acid gel dermal fillers, which help to address eye contour irregularities that might result in shadowing that deepens the appearance of dark circles [1].

More invasive medical treatment options include:

  • Fat transfer, which can assist in achieving facial rejuvenation. In this procedure, a professional can remove excess fat from another part of your body to soften the eyelid-to-cheek transition and minimise dark circles.
  • Surgery such as lower eyelid blepharoplasty or surgical implants [1].

These options should be a last resort and done only under trusted medical advice.

What vitamins are good for under-eye circles?

As with many health concerns, certain vitamins have been found to have a greater impact than others on reducing dark circles under the eyes and promoting overall skin health.

In particular, scientific evidence has recently proven that when applied topically, vitamin K, vitamin C and vitamin E can have a positive effect on the ageing process, helping not just to reduce dark circles but also giving you brighter, cleaner, fuller skin.

Vitamin K

A recent study looked into the success of an eye counter pad containing vitamin K as well as a vitamin K in an emulsified emu oil base at addressing the appearance of dark circles.

The study was a unanimous success, with all 11 women finding that both their dark circles and wrinkles had reduced after just 4 weeks and that they felt their skin looked better than before [6].

Vitamin C & Vitamin E

Another study used a topical gel containing vitamins C and E and had similarly positive results.

These particular vitamins were also found to help reduce haemostasis [7], with a third study finding that vitamin C in particular had been found to help thicken the eyelid, promote blood flow and conceal dark circles [5].

Software's Vitamin C + Ferulic Acid Serum contains a full dose of 15% vitamin C, making it one of the most potent formulas on the market. If you want to reduce pigmentation and dark spots, target dull skin or simply keep it supple and smooth, this serum is a must-have.

So whether you are looking to prevent dark circles or address the ones you already have, never fear, there's a treatment option available to rejuvenate your skin and get you back to feeling your best.

Image credit: Getty Images

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