Dark Under Eye Circles | Treatments and Natural Remedies
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How is it best to treat dark under-eye circles?
The key to choosing the right product for under-eye circles is understanding what causes them in the first place. Many people think of dark circles as just an inevitable by-product of aging. However, in practice, I find that many people have been bothered by under-eye circles even as early as their teen years. This is because what appears as dark circles can be the result of a few different causes.
What causes dark circles under the eyes?
Structurally, dark circles can be the result of (see Figure 1)
- How the eyes sit in the orbit or eye socket. By resting back in the orbit, consider how the skin is supported under the eye. The skin travels over the cheekbone (the zygomatic bone) and then can appear to adhere to the lower margin of the eyeball before reaching the lower eyelid. With soft tissue support from adipose or fat, this may less pronounced in some people than others.
- The lack or uneven distribution of fat between the muscle and the skin. In the soft tissue between the cheekbone and the lower eyelid are muscle, fat, edema or fluid, blood vessels, and the skin. The adipose or fat can provide support for this area to make the shadow effect less dramatic. If the skin is thinner or if there is less fat between the skin and the muscle, the hue of muscle and blood vessels will be visible.
Excess pigment in the skin under the eyes, genetic or acquired. Genetically, some people have excess pigment in this area. This is called Periorbital Hyperpigmentation. This pigment is present at varying levels within the skin. This makes it of varying susceptibility to bleaching agents. Pigmentation can be acquired through eye rubbing such as from allergies that can lead to excess pigment deposited or discoloration from bruising.
Causes of Dark Circles Under Eyes
Structural position of the eye in the orbit or eye socket
Thinning of the skin to make the hue of the underlying blood vessels and muscles more visible
Loss of volume around the eyes
Pigmentation that can be genetic or acquired
Who tends to be more prone to dark circles? Why?
Those with allergies tend to be most prone to causing dark circles around the eyes. ‘Eye-rubbers’ and allergy prone people are most likely to trigger dark circles from vascular congestion and even bruising. The constant rubbing of the eyes breaks down small blood vessels in the skin leaving a bruise like discoloration around the eyes. The thin skin around the eyes can hold onto this. Also, sinus congestion can lead to back up in those small blood vessels with the same effect. I also have some patients who simply wear tight goggles for swimming or work that results in dark circles as well from pressure.
Lack of sleep can also contribute. Otherwise it’s up to genetics to decide.
Can eye creams work to treat dark under-eye circles?
After taking a moment to really think about the causes for under-eye circles, understanding the role that eye creams can play in addressing your concerns will make much more sense. Let’s discuss this further by reviewing each individual cause and if a cream could play a role in treatment…
Cause of Dark Under-Eye Circles #1: Structural.
Take a look at your eyes. Then examine the skin under the eyes. Ask yourself a few questions:
- Does your lower eyelid skin “hug” the eyeball?
- Is there a groove between your lower eyelid and your cheekbone? Almost feeling as though your finger is able to rest in this groove?
- When you pull the skin gently taut, does the darkness subside?
If the answer to these questions is yes, then this suggests that the eye sits back in the orbit or socket to potentially create the shadows under the eyes that appear as dark under eye circles.
First things first - creams cannot change the positioning of the eye. This is structural. However, an eye cream can add hydration or turgor to the under eye skin making it appear more supple. This can decrease the appearance of dark circles as it permits light to reflect evenly.
Focus on products that market the keyword hydration.
Cause of Dark Under-Eye Circles #2: Thinning of the skin.
Thinning of the delicate skin under the eyes can result in dark circles as well as crepe-like changes to the skin. The redundancy of the skin can give it a darker hue. To improve the appearance of the skin, again focus on hydration. If your skin can tolerate the addition of a retinol, this may help over the long run for improving the overall thickness of the skin.
It is important to remember to use retinols around the eye with caution to avoid drying or irritating the thin sensitive skin in this area. If you see excess dryness, this can exaggerate these circles. Focus on balancing retinols with hydration: vitamin E, hyaluronic acid- these will increase the skin’s turgor by drawing moisture to the skin.
Cause of Dark Under-Eye Circles #3: Loss of volume.
When it comes to volume loss, technically a cream would offer minimal benefit. To truly address a loss of volume, discussing with your Dermatologist is important. The potential benefit of hyaluronic acid injectables may be discussed versus potentially surgical interventions. The most important thing to remember is that spending money on expensive cream will likely be disappointing.
Cause of Dark Under-Eye Circles #4: Pigmentation.
There are two factors to take into consideration when addressing pigment. The first is the pigment itself. For this, lightening and bleaching creams may need to be considered to fade the pigment present. The second factor to take into consideration is adequately managing any underlying tendencies towards allergies to avoid contributing to recurrence of the pigmentation.
Can digital eye strain cause dark under-eye circles?
Digital eye strain has become increasingly prevalent given the sudden ‘work from home’ culture shift in the age of COVID. In general, in my practice we have seen a dramatic increase in patients concerned about the appearance of their eyelid skin as well as frustrated with wrinkles around the eyes and the forehead. There is research that has shown that when staring for long periods of time at a screen, we tend to need to blink given the dryness our eyes can start to experience. A natural reflex is for us to start to resort to the “eye squint” to reduce the need to blink. Some studies have shown that the eye squint leads to as much as a 50% reduction in the need to blink. Eye squinting actually then contributes to added wrinkles around the eyes and the glabella or mid forehead. The increased use of these muscles also contributes to fatigue of these muscles. Although I understand our patient’s desire to gain a cosmetic benefit from neurotoxins such as Botox to improve the appearance, I encourage my patients to understand the role that eye squinting plays, why they do it, and other methods to avoid it such as blue light filtering lenses. By not doing so, they will invariably start to experience eye dryness or increase the rate of blinking to balance the dryness if they focus on the wrinkles alone!
Does lack of sleep really cause under-eye circles?
We can all relate to those times when we haven’t had much rest and we get dark circles under our eyes. The overall ‘sunken’ look of dark under eye circles, ‘hollowing’ of the cheeks and dry skin can accompany this. Most of this is a result dehydration that accompanies tiredness. Although its true that dehydration can make us tired or feel fatigued, there is research that shows that lack of sleep also causes us to be dehydrated. There was a medical study that showed that people who do not sleep long enough do not get the same amount of vasopressin released in their body. This hormone is responsible for controlling our water balance.
What are some natural solutions for dark circles?
Natural solution #1
Tea bags that have been in hot water then cooled down can be applied to the eyelids. The caffeine and antioxidants have been shown to reduce vascular congestion and reduce inflammation.
The next question when it comes to tea bags is what kind and how to use them!
Here are the options for types of tea:
Black tea is derived from a plant called Camellia sinensis. Even though it is referred to as black tea it generally takes on a reddish color. The leaves of the plant are initially green. To create black tea in particular these leaves are exposed to air, controlled humidity and then dried. For black tea in particular the leaves are fully oxidized which also makes them last longer in terms of storage.
Black tea contains antioxidants called polyphenols and flavonoids in addition to caffeine which can serve as a vasoconstrictor when initially used. There are many health benefits to be seen from polyphenols and flavonoids. When it comes to addressing dark under eye circles, the main mechanism of action is likely addressing the vascular component of the appearance. The tea does not necessarily lighten the skin directly but can serve to reduce the vascular component that contributes to the appearance. Tea can also reduce puffiness around the eyes.
Note: I do not recommend Earl Grey tea for this purpose. It is black tea combined with bergamot oil. Bergamot oil applied to the skin has a risk of photosensitivity/ phototoxicity when exposed to the sun. Enjoy your Earl Grey as a tea but not for your skin.
Green tea differs from black tea in how it is made. It is not fully oxidized in the manner black tea is so it retains the green color of the leaves. It tends to have higher concentrations of a polyphenol called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). The benefit of EGCG is that some studies have demonstrated its ability to potentially inhibit tyrosinase, an enzyme that contributes to skin pigmentation. By inhibiting the enzyme there is potential to reduce pigmentation.
Here's how to use tea bags to reduce under eye circles and puffiness.
- Place two tea bags in hot or boiling water for about 3-5 minutes.
- Spoon them out, squeeze out the excess fluid in the bag, and let them cool.
- Make sure the tea bags are cool to touch before applying.
- Rest with head laid back, close your eyes, and apply a tea bag over each closed eye.
- Let it sit for up to 10 to 15 minutes.
Natural solution #2
The quintessential spa photo seems to always have a woman with cucumber slices over her eyes. The thought behind cucumber slices is that they can cool the skin and reduce vascular congestion. They also have vitamin K which has been shown to help with circulation as well.
Natural solution #3
Same effect as cucumber- the cooling of the skin can reduce the vascular congestion to improve the appearance of this area. My only worry about potatoes is that they may contain catecholase which can actually potentially darken the skin. Catecholase is an enzyme that can promote melanin production.
Are thereany of there products that you would recommend?
I’m a fan of hydration, cucumber extracts and massage.
From hydration perspective, moisturizing is key. This can be accomplished with something as simple as vitamin E or white petroleum jelly. By hydrating the skin, the turgor around the eyelid skin improves reducing the appearance of dark circles.
Massage via jade rollers or ice rollers can provide instant cooling and manipulation of any excess fluid in the tissue back into the lymphatic system.
Creams can reduce puffiness to avoid exaggerating the uneven fat distribution under the eyes. They can also improve the hydration of the skin to help make the skin appear to have more turgor. And, bleaching creams can help reduce the pigment around the eyes.
Products to consider for sensitive skin
With hyaluronate, this product packs in extra hydration around the delicate eyelid skin. An effective cream to improve the turgor of the thin eyelid skin.
Helps with puffiness
This eye cream combines ingredients such as calming properties such as cucumber, ginseng, wheat germ and algae extracts to reduce puffiness around the eyes. It also has green tea extracts that has an anti oxidant effect to fight the signs of aging around the eyes.
This soothing eye gel helps reduce puffiness around the eyes. If you are looking for a product to use to help restore the appearance of the eyelid skin, this is a nice option.
The main ingredients to be cautious of would be anything that can dry or irritate the thin sensitive skin in this area. Although I’m a huge fan of retinol, around the eyes its worth applying with caution. If you get excess dryness, this can exaggerate these circles. For those sensitive to vitamin C it may also be helpful to exercise caution. Lastly, focus on hydration: vitamin E, hyaluronic acid- these will increase the skin’s turgor by drawing moisture to the skin.