“I get 8 hours of sleep, but I still have dark circles under the eyes!” people moan. Dark circles are not just caused by being tired. The skin around our eyes (called the periorbital area) is very thin and translucent. It’s just 0.5 mm thick, and the rest of your skin is about 2mm thick. So when light bounces off on the area, it reflects back off any blood vessels that are very close to the skin surface.
So if blood is the culprit, why aren’t our dark circles red? The blood appears blue because skin tissue just lets blue light wavelengths pass through. Some women with very fair or dark skin may have dark circles that appear brown or green, and albinos – who have very little to no skin pigmentation – will have pinkish circles.
However, some factors can cause dark circles to become more prominent.
Unfortunately, you can be genetically predisposed to dark circles even if you have a full night of sleep. If you’re born with very fair or thin skin, any discoloration will show through. Your facial structure, such as deep-seated eyeballs, can also cast shadows. Some ethnic groups – Indian, Malay, and African-American – are also more prone to dark circles both under the eyes and on the eyelid.
Our skin becomes thinner as we grow older: it loses collagen and elasticity, and is less efficient at generating new and healthy cells. That’s why babies barely have any dark circles, but the elderly can have very visible hollows under their eyes.
Sun habits can affect your skin’s elasticity and collagen levels: sun damage (especially since we often avoid putting sunscreen around the eyes) and high sugar diets.
Dilated blood vessels
When blood vessels are swollen, any dark shadows become even more intense. That’s why our dark circles may be very prominent when we wake up: after lying down for several hours, the fluids accumulate and the veins swell.
Many things can trigger the swelling: hay fever, seasonal allergies (the histamines inflame the blood vessels), sinus problems, tobacco smoke, and some medications.
Treatment options for dark circles
Dark circles are caused by many things out of our control, like genetics and aging, but there’s no harm in using eye products that can keep them from becoming worse.
In Asia, where the tropical climate can be very hot or humid, it’s best to avoid rich eye creams, because the oils can cause milia or tiny bumps. It’s best to pick a gel formula, or even better, an eye serum. Serums are easily absorbed and can target the deeper layers of the skin, and have concentrated ingredients that can treat a very difficult, specific skin problem.
These eye serums can contain antioxidants such as flavonoids that can strengthen the blood vessels and prevent leakage in the surrounding areas – reducing both dark circles and puffiness. Flavonoids are present in hemorrhoid creams, which some people use as a “home remedy” for dark circles.
Researchers are also exploring Vitamin K as a treatment for dark circles. This vitamin regulates blood flow, which is why it is given to newborns to help the umbilical cord to clot. Studies are now being made to see if it can prevent too much blood from flowing into the small and tiny blood vessels in the thin skin around the eyes. Another ingredient that shows promise is tranexamic acid, sometimes combined with lactobionic acid.
As I’ve always said, everyone’s skin is unique. Dark circles can be caused by hyperpigmentation or thin skin, age or allergies, or a combination of many factors. Some factors are unavoidable but not uncontrollable, and there are new breakthroughs in skincare that can make the future (or at least, your eye area) a little brighter.