Dark Circles under Eyes

The reasons for the appearance of dark circles under our eyes are usually diverse. There are also habits or certain health conditions that accelerate their appearance.
Dark Circles under Eyes

Last update: 10 May, 2021

When people get dark circles under their eyes, they automatically associate them with a bad night’s sleep. Although this is one of the most frequent causes, it’s not the only reason.

Likewise, they often think that it only appears when a person is sick. While it’s true that someone who’s ill often shows this sign on their face, it’s also true that there are healthy people with the same problem.

In any case, they’re rarely related to any major health problem. The question then is… Why do they appear? There are several answers to this question.

What are dark circles under the eyes?

Dark circles are a bluish, grayish or purplish coloration that appears under the lower eyelids of the eyes. Most often, this occurs only occasionally; however, there are people who have this under their eyes frequently, even if they aren’t sick or have slept well.

If they appear on the lower eyelid, it’s because this area of skin is quite thin and sensitive. It’s only half a millimeter thick so it’s actually 5 times thinner than the skin on the rest of the face and 10 times thinner than the skin on the rest of the body.

Similarly, there’s less collagen in the lower eyelids and this area is more easily distended due to blinking. All this makes the shades of the blood vessels transparent in a more evident way than in other areas of the body.

A woman with dark circles under her eyes.
This is a darkening of the skin on the lower eyelids. In most cases, they don’t represent a major condition.

Eye bags and dark circles under eyes

Eye bags and dark circles are two similar problems, but they’re not the same problem. They’re often confused because they appear in the same area: the lower eyelid. However, they’re different in nature and have different causes, although they sometimes occur simultaneously.

As mentioned above, dark circles correspond to an increase in the pigmentation of the eyelid area. Regarding this issue, a study published in the International Journal of Dermatology distinguishes between three types of dark circles under eyes:

  • Pigmented. They’re related to an increase in melanin in the eyelids.
  • Vascular. In these, the blood vessels in the eyelid area are transparent.
  • Periorbital swelling or “valley of tears”. In this case, there’s a marked furrow running from the inner corner of the eye to the cheek.

Eye bags, on the other hand, are a swelling or profusion that appears on the lower eyelid. As such, they have no particular coloration and arise due to loss of muscle tone in the eyelid, fluid accumulation or herniation of the orbital fat of the eye.

Why do dark circles appear under the eyes?

One of the reasons for dark circles under eyes is genetic. In this case, the eyelid area is more pigmented and the trait is inherited. In fact, some ethnicities may also be more prone to dark circles under eyes.

Gellin and colleagues reported a family case in which 22 members were affected in six generations with a genetically determined form of hyperpigmentation affecting the periorbital area.

-Dermatologic Surgery-

Causes of dark circles under the eyes:

  • Fatigue. This is one of the most frequent causes. Fatigue causes the blood vessels to dilate, and the delicate skin of the eyelid reflects it more clearly (much more so if fatigue is accompanied by stress).
  • Drugs. Some hypotensive eye drops (i.e. those that reduce intraocular pressure) cause pigmentation to appear around the eye.
  • Unbalanced diet. Excessive consumption of salt or caffeinated foods, especially at night, leads to fluid retention and contributes to the appearance of dark circles under the eyes.
  • Sunlight. The lower eyelids are sensitive to sun damage. Excessive exposure causes the production of melanin to be activated and, with it, dark circles under the eyes.
A woman with sunscreen under her eyes.
As this is a very sensitive area, it’s important to use sunscreen so that ultraviolet rays don’t lead to this issue under our eyes.

Other causes:

  • Allergic reaction to a cosmetic. When the skin doesn’t tolerate a certain cosmetic, it could generate reactions such as dark circles under eyes. This occurs with products such as concealers or eyeliners.
  • Other allergies. Allergies lead to more histamine secretion and these, in turn, generate vascular dilation. Likewise, if people have itchy eyes and they rub them vigorously or frequently, dark circles are also possible.
  • Fluid retention. Fluid retention is one of the causes of this issue, in addition to eye bags.
  • Hormonal changes. Hormonal changes aren’t a direct cause of dark circles under eyes, but they do generate organic changes that affect eyelid pigmentation, such as fluid retention.
  • Aging. The passage of time causes the eyelid skin to become thinner and more transparent.
  • Other causes. Lack of iron, atopic dermatitis, eczema and decreased fat around the eyes are also causes.

Accepting them

The reasons for this issue are varied and may differ from person to person. However, they don’t usually indicate serious health problems (except when they are the result of fluid retention or a disease).

In general, reinforcing aesthetic care can help to reduce them. However, the expert José María Rumbo-Prieto suggests that the ideal thing would be to learn to accept them. In this regard, the definitive solution to make any modification is to undergo pigmentation treatment. Therefore, visit a specialist for detailed information.

It might interest you...
Presbyopia or Eyestrain
Step To HealthRead it in Step To Health
Presbyopia or Eyestrain

Presbyopia is a vision defect commonly referred to as eyestrain. Unfortunately, presbyopia cannot be prevented. However, it can be treated.

  • Prieto, J. R. (2017). Las antiestéticas ojeras: ¿antes guapa que sencilla? Enfermería Dermatológica, 11(32), 7-9.
  • Huang, Y. L., Chang, S. L., Ma, L., Lee, M. C., & Hu, S. (2014). Clinical analysis and classification of dark eye circle. International Journal of Dermatology53(2), 164–170. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-4632.2012.05701.x
  • Freitag, F. M., & Cestari, T. F. (2007, September). What causes dark circles under the eyes? Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1473-2165.2007.00324.x
  • Vrcek I, Ozgur O, Nakra T. Infraorbital Dark Circles: A Review of the Pathogenesis, Evaluation and Treatment. J Cutan Aesthet Surg. 2016;9(2):65–72. doi:10.4103/0974-2077.184046
  • Carranza Romero, C., y López-Bran, E. (2018). Alteraciones de la pigmentación. Medicina – Programa de Formación Médica Continuada Acreditado, 12 (48), 2854–2863. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.med.2018.01.006
  • Roh, MR y Chung, KY (2009). Círculos oscuros infraorbitales: definición, causas y opciones de tratamiento. Cirugía Dermatológica, 35 (8), 1163–1171. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1524-4725.2009.01213.x