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What causes dark circles?

20 Mar 2023

When it comes to skincare goals, few are as ubiquitous as brightening undereye dark circles. While some are caused by a lack of sleep or hyperpigmentation, which can be mitigated with certain topical products and habits, others are caused by factors like genetics and anatomy. So let’s get into it: what causes dark circles?

Causes of dark circles

“Dark circles are notorious; everyone [can] get them, all skin types,” says board-certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon Dr. Anthony Rossi. “I tell my patients that they’re due to intrinsic factors and extrinsic factors, that way they understand that there are multiple causes.”

One of the most common culprits is fatigue. When you don’t get enough sleep, the blood vessels under your eyes may dilate, causing both puffiness and, due to the thin and translucent under-eye skin, the increased appearance of dark circles. To help prevent the puffiness and the dilation of vessels, Dr. Rossi recommends sleeping with an ice mask, which acts as a vasoconstrictor and prevents under-eye swelling, or, when you wake up, lightly massaging the fluid within the under-eye area outwards from the tear ducts and through the lymphatic system.

“People can really benefit from learning how to properly massage the skin without irritating it,” says Dr. Rossi. “The gua sha technique really does work because not only are you moving fluid away from where it is collecting, but you’re also stimulating the skin and getting it to bring in a recruitment of cells and blood flow.”

Next up is hyperpigmentation, which happens when skin produces extra melanin in certain areas. As Dr. Rossi explains, “Darker skin types often hyperpigment more just because their melanin tends to be more active. But we also see it in people with eczema and allergies.”

Outside of fatigue and hyperpigmentation, some people are simply born with bone structures and anatomies that lend themselves to the appearance of dark circles.

“If you have a recessed zygomatic area, if your eye socket is receded, you’re going to have more of a concavity in that area,” he says. This could cause shadows to fall around your eyes, giving them the appearance of dark circles.

Another intrinsic cause has to do with skin fragility and the vein network that surrounds our eyes.

“The eyelid skin is one of the thinnest skins on our body,” says Dr. Rossi, “it shows all the blood vessels that run underneath it.” He points out that if you’re very fair and have more translucent skin, you’re naturally going to see more blood vessels, but skin with more melanin will still also show touches of shadow.

How to deal with dark circles

When it comes to managing dark circles, Dr. Rossi stresses the importance of proper skincare, no matter the cause. If you improve the thickness and health of the skin, dark circles will automatically be less apparent. Dr. Rossi stresses the importance of using a product formulated specifically for the delicate eye area. He recommends eye products formulated with ingredients like calming peptides, antioxidants, hyaluronic acid, and caffeine.

Like any good dermatologist, Dr. Rossi also stresses the importance of daily sunscreen application.

“I always tell people that they should definitely put sunscreen under their eyes,” he says. “It’s going to help prevent sunburn, of course.” We advise checking eye warnings and labels on sunscreens to safe application, but sunscreen and other sun protection measures can help prevent signs of premature aging.

No matter what’s causing your dark circles, just remember: everyone can get them, and the best preventative measure you can take is to care for your skin.

Written by Ariana Marsh for Youth To The People

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