Ask a Dermatologist: What Causes Dark Circles Under Eyes?

 

Dr. Courtney Rubin, our Chief Medical Officer, weighs in on your most pressing skincare questions.

Dark circles are a multifactorial problem, with genetics, skin tone, anatomy and lifestyle all coming into play. Dark circles may be caused by increased pigment in the skin under the eyes, which can be due to genetics, skin tone, allergies or poor sleep. Dark circles can also be caused by loss of volume in the fat pad under the eye, which can be attributed to aging, genetics and/or dehydration. Loss of volume in the fat pad under the eye creates a shadow, or a dark circle. Depending on the cause of the dark circle, different solutions may be recommended. Some of the options include filler, laser, topical lightening agents, concealing makeup and addressing lifestyle factors, from poor sleep to allergies. There isn't a one-size-fits all solution here! 

Can allergies contribute to dark circles? 

Yes, allergies can contribute to dark circles under the eyes—these are colloquially called "allergic shiners" because the etiology is due to background allergies. Basically, the inflammation from allergic conjunctivitis (allergies affecting the eyes), along with frequent friction and rubbing of an itchy eye area, can lead to broken blood vessels and bruising. As the bruising heals, pigmented hemosiderin (a component of hemoglobin) is left behind, which causes dark marks under the eyes. Additionally, inflammation around the eye area can leave behind post-inflammatory pigmentation, which is another mechanism by which allergies lead to darkening of the skin under the eye.

Is the skin under the eye different than skin elsewhere on the face?

The skin under the eyes is thinner than the skin on the rest of the face, so the skin around the eyes is often more sensitive, and more likely to show early signs of aging such as fine lines and discoloration. Because the skin around the eyes is so thin, the vasculature underneath the skin can often show through, giving the skin a blue or green hue which can contribute to the appearance of dark circles or discoloration. 

Additionally, because the skin under the eyes is thin and more sensitive, under eyes are more susceptible to dermatitis caused by irritation and allergies. The inflammation caused by this dermatitis can leave behind post-inflammatory changes that contribute to the appearance of dark circles.