Dark circles under eyes

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at December 10, 2015
StartSymptomsDark circles under eyes

Dark circles under the eyes are a cosmetic issue for many that can be associated with health problems like fatigue, excessive drinking, anxiety, or an overall unhealthy lifestyle. Many consider dark circles under the eyes to detract from their physical appearance and seek remedies and lifestyle changes to treat or prevent them.


Definition & Facts

Since the skin under the eyes is more delicate and thin than the rest of the face and has a small amount of sebaceous glands, the area below the eyes may appear dryer and discolored. Blood vessels are also closer to the skin in this area to make the skin appear darker.


Brown circles under the eyes can be caused by genetics, hyperpigmentation from sun exposure and other factors while blue-tinted circles are caused by blood gathering under the eyes.

Dilating the capillaries by pulling up the skin on the lower lid is a way to determine if poor blood circulation or hyperpigmentation is the cause of dark circles. If the skin remains dark instead of becoming lighter, the dark circles under the eyes are caused by hyperpigmentation.

Other issues that can cause dark circles under the eyes include:

When to see a doctor

Dark circles under the eye typically are not a medical problem, but a doctor should be seen if discoloration appears under one eye only or worsens over time. A dermatologist can also be seen to provide more effective treatment than over-the-counter creams and concealers.

Treatment & Therapy

Treatments for dark circles under the eyes vary. Home remedies such as these typically fix mild to moderate dark circles:

  • Using lemon or other citrus fruit to gently lighten the skin under the eyes
  • Extra sleep prevents the face from becoming pale and hollow-eyed, which makes dark circles less apparent.
  • Chilled teabags, a cold compress or a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth reduce dilated blood vessels that cause discoloration.
  • Extra pillows elevate the head and reduce the fluid that gathers in the eye which causes puffiness.
  • Rinsing sinuses with a saline solution or saltwater solution of 1/4 teaspoon sea salt and 2 cups warm water relieves nasal congestion that can cause dark circles.
  • Using a concealer the same color as the skin or a darker color to even out the skin

Certain creams that contain these ingredients also remedy dark circles under eye:

Non-surgical medical procedures to treat dark circles under eyes include outpatient laser or light-based tactics that can be completed in under an hour. Multiple treatments may be needed or improvement may show right away. A chemical peel reduces fine lines under the eye and rejuvenates the skin to reduce dark circles under the eyes. Careful post-treatment such as sun protection must be used to prevent infection and scarring, and the effects of a chemical peel are not often permanent.

Blepharoplasty is an outpatient surgical procedure that can reduce the appearance of dark circles under the eye by repairing excess skin, fat and muscle on the eyelid. The surgery involves cutting along the upper eyelid and removing the excess tissue, then cutting below the lashes on the lower lid and removing the tissue. The procedure typically takes no more than two hours, and the individual is placed in a recovery room to watch for any complications. Post-care treatment methods for blepharoplasty include avoiding smoking, avoiding contact with the eyes, avoiding strenuous activity and lifting, cleaning the eyelids with ointments and eyelids and using cool compresses. Common temporary side effects of blepharoplasty include:

Immediate medical attention should be sought if an individual experiences chest pain, bleeding, severe eye pain, shortness of breath or an irregular heart rate. Other risks of blepharoplasty include conspicuous scarring, eye muscle injury, difficulty in closing the eyes, infection and the need for more surgery.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Avoiding certain foods can prevent dark circles under the eyes. While products that contain caffeine can help reduce dark circles under the eyes, consuming excessive amounts of caffeine can stimulate hormonal glands and cause exhaustion.

The caffeine in sodas, especially diet sodas, can also cause dark circles under the eyes. Diet sodas also contain aspartame, which causes exhaustion after long-term use. While foods high in sodium and potassium can help reduce dark circles under the eyes, these foods can also cause water retention which darken the skin under the eyes. Avoid excessive amounts of oranges, turkey, peanut butter, soybeans and milk.

Food allergies are often the main culprit behind under eye dark circles. Chocolate, mustard, sugar, yeast, citrus fruits and peas are often allergenic for adults, while peanuts, egg whites, soy and wheat cause allergic reactions in children. Determining if one is allergic to any of these foods and avoiding them as well as opting for less allergenic foods such as broccoli, honey, apples, rice and grapes may be all that is needed to avoid dark circles under the eyes for some individuals.

Getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night prevents under eye dark circles caused by insufficient sleep. Having enough rest not only prevents the overall paleness that makes dark circles more prominent but also prevents poor circulation that causes darkness around the eyes. Regularly drinking at least eight glasses of water and maintaining a healthy diet also prevents dark circles under the eyes.