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What Causes Dark Circles Under the Eyes?
How Can You Prevent Them?

Dark circles under the eyes are a common complaint. They make you appear tired, even when you're not, and can add years to your face, but for some people dark circles seem next to impossible to get rid of.

The most common cause of dark circles under your eyes is one you can't control: your family.

Contrary to what you may have heard, fatigue usually doesn't play a role in dark under-eye circles, according to Mayo Clinic dermatologist Lawrence Gibson, M.D. Lack of sleep is not a common cause either, although not sleeping can make dark circles appear worse because of swelling around the eyes. What does cause dark circles under the eyes? Here's a list of the most common causes.

1. Heredity

"The most common type of under-eye circles are usually an inherited trait like varicose veins and have nothing to do with underlying disease or how much sleep you get," says Paul Lazar, M.D., professor of clinical dermatology at Northwestern University in Chicago

Dark circles run in families for a number of reasons. When blood passes through the veins under your eyes (where the skin is very thin), dark circles can appear. If your skin is more transparent (an inherited trait), the circles will appear darker.

Meanwhile, you can also inherit an excess amount of skin pigmentation under the eyes, which leads to dark circles, and others, particularly those of Mediterranean ethnicity, have dark pigmentation in the dermis layer of the skin that "creates a blue-black hue below the eyes," says Dr. Sandy Tsao, a dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Finally, the shape of your face can also contribute to dark circles. Those who are born with a deep hollow (or "tear trough") in the inner corner of their eyes can have dark circles because of a shadow that's cast near the corner of their eyes, says Tsao.

2. Eczema

People with the chronic skin condition eczema under their eyes may experience darkening in the area, which is especially noticeable in people with darker skin. The discoloration comes from inflammation and rubbing your itchy eyes.

3. Allergies

"Substances that you are sensitive to can dilate the blood vessels in the delicate under-eye area," says Dr. Lazar. "The blood then shows through the skin."

Further, allergies often cause your eyes to itch, and rubbing or scratching your eyes can cause the skin to darken. People who suffer from hay fever may have under-eye smudges during allergy season, and those who have food allergies may also experience dark circles when they eat a food they're sensitive to.

4. Cold or Sinus Infection

Superficial blood vessels in the skin can lead to dark circles under the eyes. A cold or sinus infection increases pressure on these blood vessels, which makes it even more likely that dark circles will appear. Also, if your skin becomes pale due to a cold or sinus infection (or because of fatigue, menstruation, pregnancy, etc.), dark circles will be accentuated.

dark circles eyes

If you have dark circles, don't rub your eyes! Doing so will make the skin more inflamed and thicker, and the dark circles will appear darker.

5. Aging

Although getting older doesn't mean you'll automatically get dark under-eye circles, aging will tend to make existing dark circles stand out more, and may make them more permanent.

6. Medications

Certain medications, such as those that cause blood vessels to dilate, can cause under-eye circles to appear darker.

7. Lack of Nutrients

Not eating a variety of healthy foods can lead to nutrient deficiencies that contribute to discoloration under the eyes.

How to Prevent Dark Circles Under Your Eyes

Although inherited dark circles can't be prevented, there are a number of things you can do to make sure they're kept as invisible as possible:

  • Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fresh, whole foods.

  • Avoid rubbing or scratching your eyes, which will cause the skin to become thicker and inflamed.

  • Identify, and try to avoid, potential allergens.

  • Get enough sleep and take time to relax (and let go of stress). This will help keep you healthy and less likely to come down with a cold or sinus infection.

  • Try placing cool tea bags or cucumber slices on your (closed) eyes for 10-15 minutes. Compounds in tea bags called tannins have been found to help reduce swelling and discoloration under the eyes, while cucumber slices help reduce puffiness.

Recommended Reading

Why Your Face Ages, and How to Avoid Premature Aging

The Youth-Restoring Benefits of (the RIGHT) Facial Masks


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