Late nights, stressful days, sun damage, or just good old genetics (thanks, mom) – those dreaded dark circles can be caused by just about anything. The biggest beauty bugbear for pretty much everyone (don’t panic – you’re not alone), any skincare expert will tell you that it’s one of the biggest complaints they get from their patients.
The good news is, dark circles are treatable, but what’s key is knowing the cause of yours to determine the best way to get rid of them. “People think all dark circles are created equally, but they’re not!”, explains Dr. Maryam Zamani, leading oculoplastic surgeon, aesthetic doctor, and creator of luxury skincare line MZ Skin. “There are actually numerous factors that can lead to dark circles, each requiring a different treatment approach”.
An expert in all things ‘eye’, we tapped Dr. Zamani for all her dark circle tips in a bid to banish them, once and for all. Because, let’s be honest, panda eyes are only cute on pandas.
First things first: What actually causes dark circles?
That’s a really big question because there are actually two ways in which people can get dark circles. Number one is pigmentation. This is often referred to as ‘panda eyes’, which is an unfortunate term because it’s very hard to treat pigmentation in that area. Sometimes it’s hereditary, but there are some medical conditions that cause the skin around the eyes to become pigmented – for example, if the adrenal glands don’t function properly. But that’s very, very uncommon.
Most people come in for what they call “bags” under their eyes, and that can actually both from puffy eyes and dark circles. So, people come in for two different reasons in that sense. One is that they do actually have puffy lids, which is caused by fat prolapse right underneath the lower lashes. We have three fat pads underneath the eye, and with time the tissue that holds them back becomes attenuated. It’s not that the fat comes totally forward, but it pushes against that tissue and then you see a little bit of puffiness. That’s what I call the ‘hill’.
Then you have the anatomical tear trough – which is the area between your cheek and lower eyelid. When you’re young, you can’t see the differentiation of where the lower eyelid ends, and the cheek begins – it’s nice and smooth. As we get older, things start to have a downward descent. This generally starts to happen in the late 20s. So as the eyelid/cheek junction elongates, people see the demarcation of the anatomical tear trough, which is basically the bony orbit around the eye. That is why people say they have dark circles – because they can see that, and it causes that hollow, shallow effect.
This can be exasperated, so if you have a puffy lower eyelid – like a little hill – and then right next to it is this little valley because you can now see the tear trough, you get what people call dark circles.
What’s the best way to treat dark circles and under-eye bags?
If you have fat prolapse, the gold standard is to have surgery to permanently remove that fat, so that ‘hill’ is gone, and it smooths out the contour so dark circles are much less visible.
Now, sometimes you don’t need to have a fat prolapse to see that dark circle, or a patient might not want to have surgery. So, I can mask the problem by using filler along that hollow bit in the tear trough. If I lift the valley, you no longer see that shadowy effect from the hill. Because that’s actually mainly what it is – it’s a shadowy effect. Even if you wear concealer you still see that dark circle, and that’s because of volume loss as the face is starting to come downward.
For those who don’t have fat prolapse and just have a hollowing in the tear trough, I would also meticulously place hyaluronic acid right along the orbital bone to lift the skin, so you don’t have that darkness any more. Mostly it’s not due to pigment but due to that shadow effect.
What about when you’re really tired and have that bruised, purply under-eye look?
Sometimes if you’re tired, or if you’re a smoker or have allergies, the under-eye area can look a little purple. The skin in the upper and lower eyelids is the thinnest skin in the body, and you have blood vessels and muscles right underneath it. Sometimes those blood vessels become tortuous and dilated.
When you’re sleeping at night, your body is recalibrating and that’s when you’re regenerating and getting things back to how they should be. If you’re not getting that function and you’ve lost sleep, or you’re sick or you have a sinus infection, etc., you can see those torturous blood vessels as they show up as purple. That’s why when people have allergies they’re called ‘allergic shiners’ because they look like they have dark circles but they’re actually those dilated blood vessels!
Are there actually any products or ingredients that can help treat dark circles?
Yes, but it depends on what it’s for. So, obviously, the more hydrated the skin is in the lower eyelid the less likely you are to see all the structures beneath it and those blue vessels. Most eye creams will do that.
There are some ingredients that also help with puffy eyelids, which help with lymphatic drainage and tighten the area. For example, my ‘Depuff and Define’ eye cream has ingredients to detoxify and drain some of the fluid that causes puffiness. Key ones include Slimlift and caffeine – those are two that really detoxify. Things with hyaluronic acid will boost and hydrate the area. These are all great for people who have very sunken eyes.
Ceramides and peptides are great for locking in moisture, so they decrease the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and sometimes dark circles as they’re holding in the moisture, so the skin doesn’t look so dehydrated. So yes, absolutely you can use things to help them – but they’re not going to make them go away forever – they’re a great temporary treatment. If you have truly puffy eyes, eye creams can help – but once the cream’s not there then the puffiness comes back because it’s not actually treating the fat that’s beneath that puffiness.
What about DIY remedies?
Manual massage really helps, especially for people who have puffy eyelids or allergies. Start from the part closest to the nose and press down along that orbital bone laterally towards the edge of the face before going downwards.
Those classic remedies like cold teabags and cucumber slices actually really help, because cold helps constrict blood vessels, reducing the appearance of dark circles. That’s why eye masks work wonders – they cool and have ingredients to drain the skin.
Drinking lots of water is key because that helps to detoxify the body in general. People sometimes think if you drink too much, you’ll get more swollen, but not if you’re drinking water! It actually does the opposite.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about dark circles?
Well, the problem is that a lot of people don’t actually have bags or puffiness – but they use creams that specifically depuff and treat that. Bags are when it puffs out, and in actuality most of the time, they’re volume depleted. They think they have bags because they can see the eyelid/cheek junction – but those aren’t bags!
What doesn’t help dark circles?
Nothing really makes them worse, but obviously allergies and smoking don’t help – and things like sinusitis. Altitude can also lead to puffiness in the eye as you hold onto more water. Puffiness is also affected by diet, so things with high sodium content, some soy sauces, for example, should be avoided. Keep an eye out on what your triggers are and try to avoid them.