The Harley Medical Group

How to get rid of dark circles under eyes

Dark circles around the eyes can add years to the face, making us look constantly tired. But did you know this pesky problem isn’t always a result of fatigue?

Dark circles under the eyes are unfortunately a very common problem (and no, we’re not talking about the panda eyes you get in the morning after sleeping with you mascara on - which you shouldn't do by the way!). There are many casual factors for dark rings around the eyes and you need to understand which one applies to you to understand what, if any, treatments will help.

What causes dark circles under eyes?

Dark circles under the eyes can have many causes, here we look at the most common:

  • Genetics

Most of us have lots of features and traits to thank our parents for such as beautiful eyes and excellent sense of humour, but dark circles are rarely found on the list. Dark circles under the eyes can appear in childhood, and are often an inherited trait; while some children will outgrow them, many will not. There are a number of reasons why some families are more predisposed to dark circles that others.

First is cultural heritage, unfortunately some races and skin tones are more inclined to have dark circles under their eyes than others. For other people dark circles are caused genetically drier skin which will often have brownish dark rings because a buildup of dead skin cells accentuates darkness.

  • Pigmentation

There are two types of pigmentation that can cause dark circles under the eyes. The first is hyperpigmentation, this is often hereditary, it is caused by excess melanin in an area and can be exacerbated by skin conditions such as eczema.

The second is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or PIH, which is the medical term given to discoloration of the skin that follows an inflammatory wound. PIH often follows an injury or an infection.

  • Lifestyle

There is no denying it, we are what we eat... and sometimes that shows on our faces. We all know that people with beautiful skin with often attribute it to their habit of drinking plenty of water. The same can be said when do things that aren't so good for us, for example Excessive smoking or drinking can contribute to under-eye circles.

Also, people who drink too much coffee can be effected by dark circles, not  directly because of the caffeine, but from the indirect effect of lack of sleep.

  • Sleep pa​tterns

Most of us have been told at some point "You've got bags under your eyes, you need some sleep". Sleep deprivation is the most cause of dark circles so it doesn't really come as much of a surprise to find it listed here. However, more surprisingly oversleeping can also cause rings to appear under the eyes, which is why it's better to set an alarm and get out of bed than to have too many lay-ins in the morning.

  • Allergies

Allergies occur when the body’s immune system reacts to a particular substance which is finds disagreeable. Ranella Hirsch, board-certified dermatologist and co-creator of the Dove DermaSeries premium range, explains that “allergies trigger the release of histamines in the body, which in turn inflame blood vessels and cause swelling”.

Nasal congestion can dilate the blood vessels that drain from the area around your eyes, causing them to darken. In addition the swollen blood vessels make the skin appear puffy, which can lead to shadowing and dark circles.

  • Sun Damage

While it's good to have a little sunshine in our lives as with everything too much can be a bad thing. UVA rays penetrate deep into the dermis ageing cells and damaging their DNA and encouraging the degradation of collagen, ultimately leading to dull, pigmented and wrinkled skin.

This process is particularly noticeable around the eyes where the skin is at its thinnest wrinkles appear faster and deeper and dark circles can appear under the eyes... yet another reason to wear a good SPF every day!

  • Ageing

Even those who are the most careful with their skin cannot ultimately avoid ageing. As we age, we lose some of the fat and collagen surrounding our eyes and this loss, combined with the thinning of our skin, magnifies the appearance of dark eye circles.

However, loss of collagen isn't the only cause of dark circles as we age. Poor blood circulation and reduced lymphatic drainage as a result of ageing also causes dark circles under the eyes.

Blood without oxygen is dark in colour and causes a bluishness under the eyes, as we age the blood increasing stagnates in the eye area, this builds up leading to under eye circles. A reduction in activity of the lymphatic system contributes by allowing the blood to build up under the eye.

  • Fluid retention

A large number of the population will be well acquainted with fluid retention as it can be hormonally influenced. Fluid retention is when fluid builds up in the body, mainly caused by salt retention, resulting in bloating and puffiness - including underneath the eye area. Shadows are more likely to show as a result of the swollen skin. Other causes of fluid retention include pregnancy and weight gain.

  • Illness

It is very common for an illness to exhibit symptoms on unrelated parts of the body. Several illnesses including iron deficiency, which can prevent the blood from carrying sufficient oxygen to eye tissues; mononucleosis, which can cause the eyes to appear puffy, yellowing and swollen and kidney dysfunction, which can cause the skin to look puffy and swollen and make dark circles more pronounced.

If you think that the dark circles under you eyes are related to an illness, please contact your doctor for advice.

By very gently stretching the skin under your eyes, you may be able to find out more about the origins of your dark circles. For example, if the skin becomes darker, then it’s possible that the circles are closely linked to genetics or ageing. If the colour remains the same, then UV rays or allergies are possible culprits.

How to get rid of dark circles

We did say "what, if any, treatments..." to rid you of the dark circles around your eyes. The simple truth is that sometimes dark circles cannot be treated - sorry! However, some can, and simple lifestyle changes, products and treatments will help reduce and clear under eye dark circles.

  • Prevention

As with many things in life prevention is better than cure.... after all, you don't wait until your teeth are falling out before looking after them, the same approach should be taken with your skin.

Whether you're at a higher risk of sun damage and pigmentation or not all dermatologists, including our own Dr Justine Hextall and Dr Georgi Tzakov, recommend using an SPF everyday.

At The Harley Medical Group, we actively promote the use of a physical, mineral based, sunscreen which gets to work protecting your skin immediately by repelling UVA and UVB rays.

Also treat yourself to a facial and a massage to keep the blood flowing beneath the skin. You can either visit a specialist or you can do it yourself at home as a way of relaxing before bed.

  • Make-up

The fact is you cannot change your genes. While you can try lightening products and exfoliating treatments generally dark circles, as a result of you genetics, can only be treated and not cured. Some clever makeup application can work wonders, whether you are concerned with dark circles or puffy under-eyebags there is a world of advice out there.

You may also want to consider using a cold compress for five minutes before applying your makeup; this constricts blood vessels and prevents further dark circles. Just remember, makeup washes off, so if it doesn't quite work first time around just try again until you're happy.

  • ​Skincare

We have already mentioned the importance of wearing an SPF every day - even in the winter - and how it's an excellent part of your preventative skincare toolkit. However, there are other skincare products that can help with dark circles including eye creams.

When gently applied to the eye area eye creams can actively promote collagen and boost elasticity to strengthen skin which helps treat dark circles that are related to ageing. For tired eyes products with caffeine, such as green tea, are helpful as they can awaken tired eyes,

You can also use such as skin brightening creams and serums which are specifically designed to deal with hyperpigmentation.  These work by supporting collagen and elastin generation and suppressing melanin production. A word of caution, unless the cream or serum is specifically designed for the eye avoid the area completely.

  • Treatments

Dark eye circles can be hard to treat and it is always a good idea to maintain realistic expectations of the results you can achieve.

However, that doesn't mean that there are no treatments available. Skin peels can address skin pigmentation; exfoliation treatments, such as Medical Microdermabrasion, can treat thick and dull skin. Massages are also a good treatment as they can promote lymphatic drainage and help with fluid retention.

Some specialists will inject a filler into the eye trough to address dark circles under the eye, this is a very difficult to perform safely and not many practitioners have been trained specifically to perform this treatment. The results are not permanent so you will have to continue with this treatment if this is your preferred method.

If you are experiencing permanent swollen or puffy under eyes you may also want to consider an eye bag removal procedure.

  • The Natural Approach

You could also take a more natural approach to dark circles with a few simple changes to your lifestyle.

Start with your sleep - if you think you are getting dark circles because of fluid retention, then sleeping at a different angle may help. Sleeping with your head in an elevated positon will help prevent fluid from building up beneath the eyes. Of course, making sure you have plenty of sleep could help to reduce the appearance of dark circles.

Tweak your diet - a diet high in salt and fatty foods can directly increase your fluid retention. Try eating foods high in flavonoids, such as dark chocolate and blueberries, also foods rich in omega-3, such as salmon and walnuts, also help to improve blood flow.

Let nature take its course - some dark circles are temporary and will gradually fade over time. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is know to last up to 24 months and will progressively fade. Also fluide retention caused by pregnancy will also, eventually, address itself. In the meantime you can also use some homemade remedies to refresh your eyes such as sliced cucumber, almond oil, rosewater and cold tea bags


How do you keep dark circles at bay? Tell us all about your skin care routine on Facebook and Twitter!

Posted March 18, 2021
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