dark eyes
Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
December 3, 2023 ·  6 min read

Why we get dark circles and how to get rid of them

Dark circles under the eyes is a common problem for many people. Often when we see someone with them, our first thought is that they must be tired. While lack of sleep is one possible cause of dark undereye circles, there are actually a number of reasons why someone might have them.

If your eyes are looking tired, continue reading to find out why, and how you can go about treating them.

What Causes Dark Circles?

Doctor Doris Day is a dermatologist and clinical associate professor of dermatology at the New York University Langone Medical Centers. She explains that the pigment under your eyes comes from three things: blood vessels, the thickness of your skin, and the fluid that can accumulate in that area.

“Dark circles are often a combination of pigment making the skin darker and redness from dilated blood vessels,” she says [1].

There are a number of factors that can affect the pigment of the skin under your eyes. They include:


We’ve all had those times when we didn’t get enough sleep at night and woke up with dark circles under our eyes. Inadequate sleep, for even just one night, can do the following to your skin: 

  1. Make your skin dull and pale
  2. Allow dark tissues and blood vessels to show
  3. Cause fluid to build underneath your eyes, making them appear puffy. Puffy eyelids can cast a shadow over your eyes, making them appear darker [2].


As you age, your skin becomes thinner and you lose collagen. This can enhance the appearance of blood vessels beneath the eyes and make the skin appear darker [3].

Stress and Eye Strain

In general, stress can make your skin appear worse, which in turn can cause dark circles under your eyes. Likewise, staring at a screen for prolonged periods of time can also place significant stress on your eyes. This can cause the blood vessels around your eyes to enlarge, making the skin around your eyes darken [2].


When you don’t drink enough water your skin can start to look dull. This, of course, will affect the skin under your eyes as well. It can also make them appear sunken, because of how close that skin is to the underlying bone [2].


Anyone with allergies is familiar with the itchiness, puffiness, and redness of the eyes that comes along with them. In addition, when you have an allergic reaction your body releases histamines. These can cause your blood vessels to dilate and become more visible beneath your skin.

To make matters worse, the itchiness that comes along with allergies can make you rub your eyes more. Because the skin under your eyes is so delicate, this can make them appear even darker [2].

Too Much Sun

When you overexpose your skin to the sun, it causes your body to produce excess melanin. Melanin is what gives your skin, hair, and eyes their color. Too much sun can make the skin under your eyes produce more melanin, and thus make them darker [2].


Family history can also predispose you to having dark circles under your eyes. This is known as periorbital hyperpigmentation. It often appears during childhood and can improve or worsen with age [4].

People with darker skin tones are more prone to hyperpigmentation because their skin already produces more pigment to begin with [5].

“Some people just naturally have darker areas under the eyes. They may look more severe in fairer skin tones, but people of South Asian or African ancestry might also notice that they have a sharp cut-off around their eyes,” says Doctor Evan Rieder, assistant professor of dermatology at New York University Langone and member of the American Academy of Dermatology [1].

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How To Treat Dark Circles at Home

While you can’t do much about your genetics, there are ways you can deal with the other factors that cause dark circles:


The first step in treating under eye circles is ensuring you’re getting adequate sleep. Try aiming for seven to eight hours per night of quality shut-eye. Additionally, how you sleep is important, too. Elevating your head with a few pillows can stop fluid from pooling under your eyes, which can make them look swollen and puffy [2].

Avoid Direct Sunlight

When you’re out in the sun, wear sunglasses and a hat to avoid sunlight hitting your face directly. Of course, sunscreen with a minimum SPF of thirty is always a good idea, too.

Use a Cold Compress

A cold compress can lessen swelling and reduce the size of your blood vessels. This can eliminate puffiness and dark circles. You can do this by applying a cold, damp washcloth to your skin for twenty minutes, or by very gently running an ice cube across your under eyes [2].

Try Natural Ingredients

Applying cold tea bags can also help reduce dark circles because the caffeine and antioxidants stimulate blood flow. Black or green tea bags work very well for this [2].

Alternatively, cucumber slices have excellent cooling and anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce swelling and brighten up your eyes [6].


There are some over-the-counter eye creams that can help reduce the appearance of dark circles. Dermatologist Doctor Heidi Waldorf recommends looking for a cream with the following ingredients:

Hyaluronic acid. This hydrates and plumps the skin.

Caffeine. Caffiene constricts the blood vessels beneath the eyes.

Dimethicone and Cyclomethicone. These are both emollients that lock in moisture. They also act as a spackle between cells to make skin look smoother.

Retinol. This is a derivative of vitmain A that promotes cell turnover in the skin, which helps prevent fine lines and wrinkles.

Vitamin C and polyphenols. These are antioxidants that reduce oxidative stress from environmental pollutants.

Peptides. These are the building blocks of collagen, which keeps your skin smooth and firm [1].

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Medical Treatments for Dark Circles

According to dermatologists, the best way to rid yourself of under eye circles is through a combination of treatments by a dermatologist, healthy lifestyle changes, and high-quality skincare products.

“In-office treatments, such as peels, lasers, devices that tighten and fillers are sometimes needed and can have a lasting effect,” Day says [1].

Waldorf adds that non-invasive skin-tightening procedures like Thermage or Ultherapy can also help treat dark under eye circles. It is important, however, to discuss with your doctor before undergoing any cosmetic procedure. Some of these treatments can be invasive, expensive, and painful, and may require significant down time to recover.

The Bottom Line

There are many possible reasons why you have dark circles under your eyes. If they run in your family, then you are more likely to have them as well. That being said, managing the lifestyle factors that may be contributing to or worsening them can help brighten up that area of your face.

There are many possible treatments available to help with your dark circles. If they are a major concern to you, speak with your doctor or a dermatologist. They can asses the reasons why your under eye skin is dark, and can come up with an effective treatment plan that is tailored to you.

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