Most people associate dark circles and eye bags with a lack of sleep. Learn about the other reasons for them, too, plus beauty remedies that can help.
It’s bad enough to feel tired after a lack of sleep, but having dark circles under your eyes doubles your frustration.
Dark areas under the eyes are often thought of as being caused by lack of sleep, says Susan Van Dyke, MD, a dermatologist with Van Dyke Laser and Skin in Paradise Valley, Ariz. However, insomnia isn’t the only culprit. “There can be several causes for dark circles,” Dr. Van Dyke says. “Depending on the cause, there are different ways to treat them.”
Dark Circles: How to See the Light
If you’re tired of looking tired, learn about some of the reasons for dark circles, as well as ways to minimize them:
Not Enough Sleep
It’s not an urban legend — falling short on your zzz’s, whether due to insomnia or simply a late night, can cause circles under your eyes to appear or become more prominent. This happens because lack of sleep tends to cause the blood vessels under the thin skin of the eyes to dilate, creating a dark tint. Sometimes, tiredness can make the area under your eyes appear puffy as well. “Fluids can leak out into the skin and cause puffiness and swelling,” says Van Dyke, explaining what we commonly call eye bags.
To treat dark circles caused by lack of sleep, Van Dyke suggests placing a damp, cooled tea bag underneath each eye for a few moments. The type of tea doesn’t matter — it’s the tannic acid in the tea leaves that encourages some of the fluid to retract and the blood vessels to shrink. Another fix: Make the effort to get more sleep. While the right amount of sleep varies from person to person, adults need seven to nine hours per night. “Most people who are younger need more, while older people need less,” Van Dyke says.
People with darker complexions, such as those of Mediterranean descent, tend to have more prominent dark circles underneath their eyes because they have more pigment, or melanin, in their skin. “Darker people tend to have darker circles,” Van Dyke says.
To remedy this problem, at-home surface treatments can be used to minimize their appearance. “There are some topical agents, like eye creams, that contain reflective particles to camouflage the dark color,” Van Dyke says.
Circles caused by pigmentation can be helped through prescription creams, like hydroquinone, which is a skin-lightening agent. Tretinoin, the acne cream known by the brand name Retin-A, may also help.
Maintaining healthy eating habits and drinking enough water will make you look better all over, and that includes your under-eye area. “If you’re protein-deficient or dehydrated, it’s going to show in your eyes for sure,” Van Dyke says. “There’s no magic vitamin or mineral, just good nutrition.” Adults need an average of 8 to 12 cups of water per day to stay adequately hydrated.
As people age, they may lose volume in their facial skin, which can cause shadows and create the illusion of dark areas underneath the eye and eye bags. “As you age, you may lose fat in the cheeks, which will cause depressions under the eyes,” Van Dyke says. Dark circles due to aging can be treated with a dermal filler to add volume back to the face. Known by the brand names Juvederm and Restylane, these substances are injected into the area, procedures that should only be done at a doctor’s office. (Periodic re-treatments will be needed to maintain the effect.)
If you decide to go this route, find a qualified and experienced doctor to perform the injections. “This needs to be done by someone who’s an expert,” Van Dyke says. “Don’t go to the mall to have it done.” Reputable, board-certified plastic surgeons can be found through the American Board of Plastic Surgery. Board-certified dermatologists can be found through the American Board of Dermatology.
Understanding the source of your dark circles and eye bags is the first step to looking and feeling better! Only then can you get the treatment you need.
By Jennifer Acosta Scott – Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH