What can I do about the dark circles under my eyes?

Those shadows under our eyes can make us look tired, unhealthy, and older.

Dr. Rohan Bissoondath 4 minute read September 29, 2021
sculpture with under eye patches

No one likes dark circles under their eyes. GETTY

Why is the skin under my eyes getting darker? I use cover up, but it just sticks in the fine lines. How can I make them go away?

Complaints about shadowy dark circles that appear under eyes and contribute to a look of tiredness are very common. Understanding why they happen and how to prevent and treat them starts with understanding the structure of our face.

The face is composed of various tissue layers. From superficial to deep, we have layers of skin, fat, muscle, fat and bone, and each tissue layer has a particular function. Skin provides support and acts as a physical barrier; fat provides volume, mechanical protection and a supportive environment for the nerves and blood vessels; muscles control the movement of our face; and bone provides structural support.

The skin surrounding the eyes is the thinnest on the human body and ranges from 0.5 – 1 mm in thickness. The fat layer between the skin and the muscle is negligible to absent in the periorbital or around the eye region. In other words, the periorbital skin lies directly on top of the muscular layer.

Dark circles under our eyes can make us look tired, unhealthy, and older, which explains why so many people look for solutions to cover it up. What makes dark circles particularly tricky to treat is that there isn’t just one reason why people develop them — meaning that solutions must be personalized and developed with an understanding of the underlying causes.

Why dark circles happen
Dark circles under the eye occur for several reasons. First and foremost, the skin around our eyes is extremely thin and more delicate than that on the rest of our face, and sits on top of underlying muscles and blood vessels which can make it appear darker, with pink, purple or blue tones.

In the genes?
It’s also not uncommon for people to have hereditary pigmentation (darker skin) in this area. For hereditary pigmentation, laser resurfacing, and medical-grade skincare products with a base of hydroquinone can help reduce the appearance of dark circles.

Sun exposure will also increase pigmentation of the area under the eyes, as well as on the face.

Aging, of course, plays an important role in dark circles. The outer layer of our skin, the epidermis, becomes thinner and drier as we age, leading to wrinkle formation, increased translucency and a loss of elasticity. While this is true for all areas of the skin, it’s visible in some areas more than others — the periorbital region being one of them.

Hollowing — or sunken eyes — is caused by fat loss around the eye and also contributes to the appearance of dark under-eye circles. If you have allergies, you may also be more prone to under-eye redness or dark circles.

Can we treat dark circles?
Treating dark circles underneath the eyes really depends on what causes them in the first place. More often than not, the ideal treatment plan encompasses a range of solutions that address skin thickness, texture, wrinkles, volume, as well as lifestyle changes where needed.

It’s important to talk to a healthcare professional who can assess your skin and build an individualized plan that will also cover the four pillars of health: optimizing sleep; a healthy diet (reducing salt intake is important); getting your heart rate up at least once a day (yes, I mean exercise); and managing mental wellbeing. Cool compresses can also help.

Medical grade skincare, etc.
Medical grade skincare, such as growth factor serums and H.A. serums can help thicken and hydrate the skin, while collagen supplements will help refuel texture and elasticity.  For laxity and diminished collagen in the eye area, skin tightening treatments can stimulate the growth of new collagen, smoothing wrinkles and fine lines, while restoring elastin.

If the dark circles also stem from a lack of volume — the loss of deep fat tissue underneath the eyes — dermal fillers can help to restore both volume and hydration. Because of its effectiveness, tear trough filler — an injection under the eyes — tends to be a popular procedure in patients as young as 25 to 30 years old. It’s a technical treatment that requires the services of a well-trained and experienced medical practitioner.

Until you find out what is causing your dark circles and treat them, you can cover them up and brighten that area with mineral makeup that is developed exclusively for the under-eye skin so it won’t stick in the fine lines. The Jane Iredale Enlighten Plus Under-Eye Concealer, for example, comes with a soothing applicator to reduce puffiness and it’s a full coverage anti-aging formula with SPF in it — which you should be applying daily to prevent sun damage. If you are just looking for extra sun protection built specifically for the under-eye area, products such as Skinceuticals Physical Eye UV Defense can protect and nourish sensitive skin.

Do you have a question or need more information about how this applies to your specific skin concerns? You can contact me here or browse our medical-grade skincare product recommendations.

Dr. Rohan Bissoondath, MD, is the Medical Director and Founder of Preventous Collaborative Health and Preventous Cosmetic Medicine. He is a Board Member and President-Elect of the Canadian Association of Aesthetic Medicine and is certified by the College of Family Physicians of Canada and licensed through the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta.