Dark circles under your eyes: When did those show up?

Key takeaways:

  • For most women, dark circles under the eyes are more annoying than concerning.
  • Common causes of dark circles include aging skin, genes, allergies, stress and more.
  • Learn when to see your doctor about dark circles.
  • To treat dark circles, eat less salt, try tea bags and cut down on sun exposure.

[5 MIN READ]

Supermodel Gisele Bundchen has a word of advice about avoiding dark circles under the eyes. “If you're outside when the sun is overhead, you're going to have dark circles from the sun creating shadows on your face. So, no outdoor pictures between 12 and 2!”

Good advice — if you’re a supermodel at an outdoor photoshoot. But what about most women who have found that avoiding dark circles under their eyes isn’t as simple as staying out of the sun between 12 and 2 while they’re getting pictures taken?

For most women, undereye dark circles are more annoying than concerning. Still, it’s good to know some of the causes of dark circles so you can decide what solution may be right for you — including seeing a doctor.

Dark circles under the eyes: common causes

Dark circles under the eyes (medical name: periorbital dark circles) show up clearly on the face because the skin around the eye area is the body’s thinnest skin. This makes it easy to see blood vessels. Think of a “black eye” – it’s seen more easily because the ruptured blood vessels show through that thin skin.

Dark circles normally aren't a health concern. Sometimes, just a good night’s sleep can remedy the problem. There are other common causes for those shadowy half-moons. They include:

Thinning skin 

The thin skin under the eyes can become even thinner with age. One reason is that the body isn’t forming as much collagen (the second most abundant substance in the body after water) as it used to. Think of collagen as the “glue” that holds the body together. Aging produces less collagen, which makes the skin under the eyes even thinner. Then the dark blood vessels beneath the surface become more obvious.

Allergies

If you suffer from hay fever or seasonal allergies, they may trigger histamines in your body. These are chemicals made by your immune system to help your body get rid of something harmful — such as whatever substance is causing the allergy. The histamines can cause the blood vessels under your eyes to swell. If that happens, the thin skin may make the vessels appear darker than the rest of your face.

Lack of sleep

Being deprived of sleep isn’t the actual bad guy when it comes to undereye dark circles. Lack of sleep does cause the skin on the face to become paler overall. That’s what makes blood vessels near the skin’s surface become more visible, giving you that “fatigued” look.

Too much sun

Sun exposure causes your body to make more of the pigment called melanin, which is what gives skin its color. When you allow too much sun on your skin, you're promoting the breakdown of collagen. Less collagen equals thinner skin, which makes veins more obvious.

Too much stress

Dark circles can be a reflection of stress. Not surprising, especially with the added stress caused by the pandemic. After all, you may be on overload as a caretaker, homeschool teacher, remote worker or essential worker. When you’re under stress, blood goes to other parts of your body instead of adding a normal flush to your face. Lack of blood will make your face look pale and cause the blood vessels under your eyes to become more obvious.

Too little water

You can become dehydrated if your body loses more fluid than you drink. It’s a common reason for having dark circles under your eyes. When your body doesn’t have enough water, the skin under your eyes starts to look dull and your eyes look sunken. The result is more pronounced shadows and blood vessels.

Genes

You may have your family’s DNA to thank for the dark circles under your eyes. In some families, members have darker pigment on their undereye skin than anywhere else on their faces and it can lead to the look of dark circles. It’s more common for families that have darker skin tones to have dark circles. If deep-set eyes run in your family, that’s another reason dark circles may be more noticeable.

Ways to improve your dark eye circles

While it’s harder to treat dark circles that are caused by family genes or seasonal allergies, there are still several ways to shed some light on how to deal with dark circles.

Change your diet

  • Pick foods with pigments. Some foods contain antioxidant pigments that may help make your vessels stronger, so they won’t leak blood and be more pronounced. Eating foods such as blueberries, black currants, cranberries, green or black tea, legumes, onions, bilberries and parsley can provide those antioxidants.
  • Hydrate the healthy way. Drink plenty of water and other healthy fluids every day. Juicy fruits and vegetables are also great resources of healthy fluids.
  • Cut down on salt. When you eat salty foods, you can retain water which can cause puffiness. Try to consume no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium daily.

Protect your peepers

  • Get your rest. Try to get at least seven hours of quality sleep every night.
  • Keep the sun out. Every day put mild sunscreen with at least SPF 30 under your eyes. This will help keep undereye skin from weakening because of sun damage. Large sunglasses and a wide hat are useful protection when you’re in direct sunlight.
  • Don’t rub. Rubbing your eyes too much can break the blood vessels beneath the skin. It can make the thin skin around the eyes show the underlying broken blood vessels more clearly. 

Pamper yourself

  • Try tea for two eyes. Steep two black-tea bags and let them cool before putting them on your eyes for about 15 minutes. There’s caffeine in black tea that stimulates blood circulation around the eyes and redistributes fluid to help minimize dark circles.
  • Cool down with cukes. Cut two slices of cucumber, put them in the fridge for several minutes and then apply one to each eye for 15 minutes. The cool temperature of the slices, along with certain ingredients in the cucumber, can cut down on swelling and minimize the dark circles.
  • Keep adding topical Vitamin K. This vitamin is added to certain skin creams and serums. It can help improve circulation and may make dark circles less obvious.

Based on your level of commitment (and budget), there are also medical and cosmetic treatments that may address your dark circles. Those include peels, fillers, surgery and lasers. A dermatologist can help you decide on the approach that’s right for you.

See your doctor or dermatologist

It’s clear that dark circles under the eyes can have many different causes. That’s why it’s best to see your doctor or a dermatologist, which is a specialist in skin, hair and nail conditions. It’s fairly rare, but sometimes dark eye circles can be a sign of more serious health concerns such as kidney or heart problems.

By seeing a doctor or dermatologist, you’ll have the help you need to shed a little light on the problem of dark circles.

Do you have dark circles under your eyes? What are you doing to treat them? Share your strategies with readers @providence.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Women's Health team is committed to providing useful and actionable insights, tips and advice to ensure women of all types can live their healthiest lives.

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