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What Causes Dark Circles Under the Eyes?

By: Melissa J. Bell , Reviewed By: Dr. Emmy Graber

Woman concerned with dark circles under eyes looking in mirror

The struggle to camouflage prominent under-eye circles is real, and no lonesome battle, either. Looking dead tired despite a full night's sleep is a prevalent problem, particularly among those with darker skin or deep-set eyes. You may not notice your fellow sufferers, since many women bury theirs under layers of makeup. So before you reach for that concealer, take the time to get to the bottom of what causes dark circles to begin with.

The Types and Causes of Under-Eye Circles

Dark Shadows

Hyperpigmentation, or a concentrated amount of melanin in the under-eye area, causes brown-colored under-eye circles. Blame your relatives for this one, as it tends to be hereditary and more often affects those with darker skin tones. In some, excess melanin appears only with hormonal changes, such as during pregnancy or with the use of oral contraceptives. Constant inflammation or irritation can also kick start melanin production. If you have eczema or allergies and often find yourself rubbing your eyes, you're likely making the problem worse or even directly causing it.

A Blue Hue

For those with mature, thin skin or very fair in complexion, visible veins can show up as blue or purple under-eye circles. You may have gotten your thin under-eye skin from your grandma, but years of sun exposure, age-related volume loss and cigarette smoking can also play a hand in its development. Swollen veins from allergy-induced rubbing or congestion of your blood vessel circulation can also make your under-eye area look bluer than you'd like.

Bags & Puffiness

Discoloration isn't the only thing that can give you that six-feet-under look. Shadows from puffy bags also cast dark rings under the eyes. Allergies, sinus infections or even a good cry may give you temporary puffiness, but a salt-heavy diet and health disorders like diabetes can cause regular fluid retention in the area. In addition to genetics, aging is also a major culprit. As you age, the lower eyelid muscles that are responsible for supporting the fat around your eyes become lax and skin loses its elasticity—causing fat deposits under your eyes to puff out. While getting a good night's sleep won't entirely prevent baggy eyes, it certainly affects the severity of their appearance.

Sunken Eyes

Under-eye shadows are also linked to your face's overall eye area structure—another complaint to lie at the feet of your family, as it's typically hereditary. Deep-set or hollow eyes often look dark all a person's life. This is sometimes referred to as a tear trough deformity, and can come packaged with other dark circle causes like allergy-related puffiness or hyperpigmentation. Depressed circles may worsen with age, as accelerated collagen loss makes the area look more sunken and skin laxity creates extra shadows.

This article has been reviewed by board-certified dermatologist Dr. Emmy Graber.

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