7 Surprising Reasons You Have Dark Circles Under Your Eyes

Jun 26 2018 - 7:57am

We all know that a night or two of minimal sleep or putting in extra hours at the office can leave you looking more tired than usual. If you're used to seeing dark, puffy eyes upon waking up in the morning, listen up: there might be a few surprising reasons those circles are forming. While you can't exactly erase the aging process, with some lifestyle changes, you can slow it down and brighten your skin — no concealer required. Ahead, two top dermatologists break down which daily habits could be culprits and how to get rid of dark circles ASAP.


Not to blame your parents, but genetics do play a role in the development of dark circles under the eyes. According to Dr. Sonia Batra [1], dermatologist and cohost of The Doctors, "Darker or more olive-toned complexions, such as those of Mediterranean or Middle Eastern descent, can have higher concentrations of pigment (melanin) under the eyes, resulting in discoloration and shadows," she said. As someone who is half Middle Eastern, I can say the struggle is real. That's why I use a pinkish, orange-colored concealer, like Maybelline SuperStay Better Skin Concealer in Medium Deep [2] ($9), to cover up under-eye circles on my olive skin tone.

A Wacky Sleep Schedule

It's not just skimping on sleep that causes those circles to darken. According to Batra, hitting the snooze button too often can have the same effect.

"Sleep plays a role in dark circles under the eyes due to blood vessels that may be visible [under] thin eyelid skin. Contrary to what we've all been taught, you can actually get darker circles from sleeping too much," she said. "This is because while you sleep, oxygenated blood gathers underneath the eye. Sleeping in certain positions, such as on your stomach, can also worsen dark circles because gravity causes blood to pool under the eye." That's also what creates "bags" — aka puffiness and swelling — under the eyes.

Before you let that advice be your reason to stay up all night, remember that inadequate sleep can also trigger pigmentation. As Batra added, "Sleeping too little can cause the blood vessels under the eye to dilate, creating a dusky hue. Dark circles are more likely to show up when you haven't had a lot of sleep because sleep is when the body goes into repair mode, undoing all the daily damage and stresses that your skin faces each day." Moral of the story: no sleep means that your body has less time to heal.

All things considered, Batra said to aim for getting seven hours of sleep a night, as this amount will still leave you feeling rejuvenated in the morning and help fight those dreaded circles.

Poor Lifestyle Choices

While concealer can give your under-eyes immediate brightness, your lifestyle habits really hold the power in the long-term appearance of your skin. For instance, drinking lots of water helps increase your blood flow. Batra advised to adhere to the "Eight by Eight" rule, which means ingesting eight eight-ounce glasses of water a day (aka half a gallon). Exercise also helps improve circulation, which prevents blood from gathering as much under the eyes.

Batra added, "Foods rich in vitamin K, which helps reduce blood clotting and strengthens capillary walls to prevent blood leakage, can also be somewhat helpful." Some examples are eggplant, kidney beans, grapes, and cucumbers.

Batra also warned against smoking: "It interferes with blood flow and can make dark circles worse."

Seasonal Allergies

When the flowers start blossoming, your eyes might start watering. Unfortunately, all that irritation can lead to darker circles. According to New Orleans-based dermatologist Dr. Lauren Eckert Ploch [3], "Seasonal allergies like pollen, grass, and dander can worsen dark circles because that causes inflammation in your sinuses. This congestion enlarges the blood vessels around your eyes, which creates a bluish tint."

Ploch added, "Fluid can also accumulate in this area. This leads to puffiness that can make adjacent areas appear sunken or sallow."

The solution can be found in your drugstore — but not in the beauty aisle. "I recommend oral antihistamines once or twice daily during allergy season," Ploch said. She also explained that sleeping with the head slightly elevated may also decrease fluid accumulation around the eye area. Meanwhile, Batra said that a humidifier can also help, as it hydrates and soothes swollen blood vessels.

Whatever you do, keep your hands away from your eyelids. "Avoid rubbing the eyes, as this can further increase redness and pigmentation around the eyes. Many eye creams claim to help with symptoms, but the results are usually temporary unless the cream is used long-term. My favorite eye cream (and the one that I personally use) is Skinceuticals A.G.E. Eye Complex ($97) [4]," Ploch said.

Your Car

"The carpeting and upholstery in a car can harbor dust mites, mold spores, and pollen, just like in a home," Batra said. The best way to keep it clean is to make sure carpeting is vacuumed, then covered with a plastic, washable floor mat. "This will help prevent allergens from collection. And for the seats, vacuum frequently and avoid furry or woolly covers, since those can attract more dust and mold spores," she added.

A tip? Leather seats are the best choices for the allergy-prone. Other sources of allergens in a car are dirty air vents, filters, and dusty dashboards, so be sure to clean these frequently also.

A Common Cold

If you've got the sniffles, you should expect to get some dark bags. "Dark circles can occur when you are sick if your sleep is interrupted and your skin doesn't have enough precious repair time," Batra said.

What's more, your prescription medication might be a sneaky culprit. One such example are vasodilators, or meds that treat high blood pressure. Unsurprisingly, these pills work to open vessels and increase blood flow throughout your body. While that's good for lowering pressure, it's bad for brightening your eyes.

You're Overzealous With Cleansing

If you're going HAM with your micellar water at the end of the day, you're only making it worse. "Rubbing your eyes too often and too hard or roughly removing eye makeup can break blood vessels in the delicate skin around the eyes, leading to dark circles," Batra said.

Ploch agreed. "Avoid rubbing the eyes, as this can further increase redness and pigmentation around the eyes. Many eye creams claim to help with symptoms, but the results are usually temporary unless the cream is used long-term. My favorite eye cream (and the one that I personally use) is Skinceuticals A.G.E. Eye Complex [5] ($97)."

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