The Main Causes of Dark Circles, According to a Dermatologist

August 11, 2022
Alyssa Kaplan
By: Alyssa Kaplan | by L'Oréal
person touching under eye area

Dark circles are often blamed on a lack of sleep, but if you’re getting your eight hours in on a regular basis and you’re still waking up with darkness under your eyes, you’re not alone. In fact, the causes of dark circles go way beyond your sleep habits and skincare routine

We reached out to Dr. Robert Finney, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, to find out what really causes dreaded dark circles, get his tips and tricks, and more. Ahead, the full breakdown. 

What Causes Dark Circles?

“Dark circles can be [the result of] many different things — oftentimes people are just seeing darkness because they’re experiencing volume loss and it’s creating a shadow,” says Dr. Finney. 

On top of that, as we age, the fat pads in our faces can shrink and shift as we lose collagen and elastin, which can contribute to volume loss, he says. When the fat pads shift downwards, a divet can form in the under-eye area causing a shadow to appear. To determine whether or not this is the cause of your dark circles, Dr. Finney says a dermatologist will want to evaluate the tear trough area.

Dark circles can also be caused by hyperpigmentation, which may be the result of several different things. “Hyperpigmentation can be from UV damage and sun spots,” says Dr. Finney. He also notes that it can result from rubbing your eye area due to allergies or even eczema. “If you constantly rub your skin because of allergies or eczema, your skin can thicken and darken from that mechanical rubbing.” 

Can You Prevent Dark Circles?

“With respect to our fat pads shrinking and shifting, everybody is going to have that happen,” says Dr. Finney. However, he says that lifestyle factors can have an effect on this as well. For example, crash dieting or trying to lose a lot of weight at once can lead to volume loss in the face and potentially make dark circles look more pronounced, he explains.

In terms of preventing dark circles that are the result of hyperpigmentation, Dr. Finney emphasizes using proper sun protection. “At a minimum, people should be applying sunscreen every day with an SPF of 30 or higher.” 

He also recommends applying a vitamin C serum to the areas where you’re experiencing darkness underneath your sunscreen. “Applying vitamin C serum beneath the SPF will help protect against free radical damage and hyperpigmentation, which will help prevent dark circles related to pigmentation.”  Make sure you choose a product that is marketed for use in the eye area. You can ask a doctor for guidance if needed.

How Can You Improve the Appearance of Dark Circles?

If your dark circles are the result of pigmentation, like sun spots, Dr. Finney says topical products can help. “If you have dark pigmentation in the surface layer of your skin in this area, ingredients like retinol and bakuchiol can target that and actually improve the appearance of it,” he says. However, he also warns that these ingredients can be strong and you should test them out slowly before incorporating them into your skincare routine on a consistent basis. Again, ask your doctor for help choosing a product that is appropriate for use in the eye area.

But if you have dark circles that are the result of fat loss, topical creams and ingredients won’t be of much help. “If your dark circles are due to volume loss, although you can improve the texture of the skin overlying it, you’re not going to be able to replace the volume,” says Dr. Finney. However, remember that hydrating the area can help it look smoother and can also help reflect light to assist in distracting from the darkness.

Photo: Chaunte Vaughn

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