On a daily basis, my patients complain about dark circles under their eyes, the so-called raccoon eyes. These dark circles make it seem like you did not get enough sleep. Some people, even with a good night’s sleep, look tired because of these dark circles.
The good news is that these circles are harmless. The bad news is that they are extremely difficult to treat, which most of my patients find out the hard way after spending money on products marketed to cure under-eye darkness. These products usually contain astringents or proteins designed to change skin pigmentation, but they usually don’t work too well in this area. My patients are frustrated. No matter what they use, how much sleep they get or how much water they drink, they still struggle with those dark circles.
Why Dark Circles Develop
Let’s exam several factors that can contribute to dark circles under the eyes:
* Genetics. More than likely, you can blame your relatives, because having dark circles under your eyes is often an inherited trait. Unfortunately, inherited versions of dark circles are the most common cause and those most resistant to treatment.
* Increased pigment around the eye area due to a prior inflammation after an eyelid has been irritated (or inflammation from continuous eyelid rubbing). This is called post-inflammatory pigmentary alteration.
* Facial bone structure. People who have a depression in the skin around the eye socket area (also known as deep-set eyes) have a dark shadow under their eyes cast from their superior orbital ridge.
* Thin skin around the eyes. As we age, we lose elasticity and our skin is prone to wrinkles. In addition, blood vessels become more visible through the skin with the loss of elasticity. Vessels can dilate and cause venous sludging around the eyes (where the blood just sort of pools in the area), which can appear as dark circles. This is more noticeable in people who have fair skin. This venous dilation and sludging is also common in people with multiple allergies. Allergies can cause eyes to itch and rubbing and friction irritates and breaks the small blood vessels under the skin, which can cause redness, swelling and discoloration.
* Poor blood circulation, sun exposure, fatigue, and even weight loss (which causes changes in the facial structure) can all also contribute to dark circles under the eyes.
So, What Can I Do About Dark Circles?
Here are some tips to help address dark circles under the eyes:
* The simplest solution for dark circles is camouflage. This is a lot easier for women who typically use makeup than for men who typically do not. A quick fix would be to use a yellow-based concealer. Yellow is used because it is the complimentary color to purple. After applying the concealer on the affected area, apply your own skin color foundation and the darkness is gone.
* Use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 every day and avoid prolonged exposure to sunlight during the strongest hours (from 10 am to 4 pm).
* Use sunglasses with UV protection for additional protection to the area under your eyes (as well as to protect your eyes themselves from the damaging sun rays).
* If you suspect the darkening is due to allergens, eczema or other irritants, identify the cause and eliminate it and you may find that the dark circles lighten immediately. In those cases when allergens cannot be avoided, such as seasonal allergies, try over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines, which may partially improve the darkening.
* Chemical peels or skin bleaching can also help, especially when the dark circles are caused by hyperpigmentation in the superficial layers of the skin. Chemical peels (often alpha hydroxy acids or kojic acid) help by removing the superficial layers of the skin that may contain the increased pigmentation. Skin bleaching creams or lightening creams could also be purchased over-the-counter, but stronger prescriptive bleaching creams are also available. However, hydroquinone, the most common agent in bleaching and lightening creams, can cause irritation, paradoxically causing dark circles from irritation, so this doesn’t always do the trick.
* Lasers can also be used to treat dark circles, especially when the darker pigment is deeper in the skin.
* The use of fillers can be effective for dark circles that are caused or exaggerated by the facial structure. The most common fillers used to treat dark circles contain hyaluronic acid, which can lead to immediate results, though repeated treatment is necessary in about nine months to a year.
Speak with your doctor or dermatologist to help you identify the underlying cause of your dark circles and explore which strategies and treatments are best for you. Call 866.804.1007 to find a dermatologist who can help.
Richard Mizuguchi, MD, is a Dermatologist, the Director of Hair Loss Clinic and Hair Restoration Surgery Center at St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospital, and a member of the Skin of Color Center.