Skin Care Blogs

Dark Circles: What Really Causes Them and How to Deal

woman applying eye cream

Periorbital hyperpigmentation, also known as dark circles, is a relatively common condition that many individuals face on a daily basis (no pun intended). Though causes and treatments can vary, fatigue is usually the most common cause.

And while it’d be nice to be able to say getting enough sleep could cure all of your concerns, it’s not always that easy. In fact, there are a multitude of reasons for those pesky dark circles and under-eye discoloration that are causing you grief.

Treating under-eye circles isn’t a one-stop-shop fix. So, I went straight to a pro for answers. Dr. Jennifer Ahdout, board-certified general and cosmetic dermatologist with The Roxbury Institute of Beverly Hills, has spent several years treating patients with varying types of skin conditions. She’s also the recipient of the American Medical Women’s Association Glasgow-Rubin Citation Award for Academic Excellence and the UCLA Chancellor’s Service Award, among others.

I took some time to sit down and discuss some of the causes of under-eye dark circles and to finally get down to the bottom of how to effectively treat them. First, you must look at some of the reasons why someone might experience dark circles. According to Dr. Ahdout, “Understanding the potential causes of under-eye pigmentation is key to a comprehensive approach.”

Identify the Problem First, Then Find the Right Solution

Dark under-eye circles can be caused by a number of environmental, physical and hereditary causes. These may include (but are not limited to) the following:

  1. Allergies
  2. Thin skin (letting visible veins show through as blue circles; this can get worse with age, as you lose some of the fat and collagen around your eyes)
  3. Inflammation
  4. Toxins within the body
  5. Shadows from under-eye bags
  6. Your genetic makeup (eye structure)
  7. Stress/fatigue (often the result of a lack of sleep)
  8. Sun exposure
  9. Cigarette smoking
  10. Rubbing of the eyes/eye area
  11. Hormonal changes

For any these conditions, treatment methods can vary, ranging from topical and internal treatments to lifestyle changes. If you’re unsure about what could be causing your dark circles, it’s worth a trip to your doctor so you can choose the most effective treatment option. Here are some recommendations to help diminish the look of dark circles—categorized by the type of problem.

For Fatigue or Lack of Sleep:
Try Adjusting Your Diet and Sleeping Habits

Since fatigue and lack of sleep are the most common causes of dark circles, it could be helpful to start by making some simple changes at home, including “getting 7-8 hours of sleep nightly and adhering to an anti-inflammatory diet.” Check out this post on the science of beauty sleep, which digs deeper into the relationship between sleep and skin health—in addition to suggesting a few at-home remedies for better sleep. As far as your diet goes, the Arthritis Foundation has a handy guide on anti-inflammatory foods.

For Inflammation, Toxins, Stress or Allergies:
Turn to Internal Remedies: Supplements or Medication

When looking to treat dark circles internally, Dermstore suggests turning to Wing Man, HUM Nutrition’s dietary supplement designed to treat dark circles and provide a liver detox at the same time. Key ingredients like milk thistle extract prevent inflammation, allowing for restoration of damaged cells from environmental toxins, stress and alcohol. Dandelion root helps detox and protect your body, while artichoke leaf aids your body in flushing unwanted toxins. “In the case of allergies,” says Dr. Ahdout, “taking Zyrtec daily is a great way to combat under-eye puffiness and discoloration.”

For Thin Skin or Hyperpigmentation From Sun Exposure:
Conceal/Heal Using Topical Skin Care or Makeup

If your dark circles are caused by thin skin surrounding your eyes, Dr. Ahdout suggests considering a filler under the eyes. This can “help offset any shadows from fat loss in the area and to conceal any underlying blood vessels, which may be giving a purple hue to the skin.” In addition, Dr. Ahdout suggests creams or serums containing caffeine, as this ingredient “can help by constricting the diameter of blood vessels, thus reducing the violaceous discoloration of the area. A mild lightening agent such as hydroquinone 2% cream can help alleviate pigmentation.” Dermstore recommends NeoStrata’s Targeted Treatment HQ Skin Lightening Gel, which contains 2% hydroquinone plus antioxidants and kojic acid to brighten the skin. 

It’s important to remember you’re not alone and seeking medical advice is always best. Especially when over the counter remedies and lifestyle changes do not suffice, Dr. Ahdout says it’s best to consult with a board-certified dermatologist. If you’re still combating dark circles, Dr. Ahdout says a good concealer is always a great trick.

Editor’s Note: Try RMS Beauty Un-Cover-Up. It’s filled with great nutrients like jojoba, antioxidants, vitamin E and coconut oil—delivering hydration and long-lasting coverage. Dermstore also recommends jane iredale Circle Delete Concealer. This eye concealer features antioxidant-rich green tea and grape seed extracts to protect your skin from environmental damage. Avocado and sunflower seed oils infuse moisture back in, while algae extract detoxifies to help diminish dark circles.


Freelance Writer

Dana Elizabeth Johnson

Dana Elizabeth is the founder of and has spent nearly a decade as a contributing writer for numerous publications. Her work has appeared nationally and internationally in such publications as Hollywood Weekly Magazine, Essential Homme, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, M.R., Ray Li, Parenting OC and HOW Design Magazine. She was the Managing Editor of The Los Angeles Fashion Magazine from 2011-2013; there she helped to establish the publication as a reliable and reputable industry news source. She's been fortunate to have interviewed several well-known individuals including Mischa Barton, Lisa Vanderpump, Kristi Yamaguchi, Joe Zee, Stevie Boi and Rob Dyrdek among others. She holds a BFA from Woodbury University. When she's not writing, she can be found whipping up a meal for family and friends. She is an avid yogi, rock climber and outdoor enthusiast. To learn more, please visit