The skin around the eyes is called the periorbital area and the discolouration around the eyes is called Periorbital Hyperpigmentation or commonly referred to as dark circles, there are many reasons that contribute to dark circles and puffy eyes and cosmetic companies marketing one eye cream as a magical solution for all kinds of dark circles is usually just a marketing gimmick, quite often involving manipulation of appearance of dark circles using direct lighting and overhead lighting. In this article, we are going to explore different reasons why we get dark circles and puffy eyes, solutions available to reduce the problem and also lifestyle changes that can help improve the dark circle and puffy eyes.
Periorbital skin and related problems
The skin around our eyes is called the periorbital area and this periorbital skin is significantly thinnest and softest than the rest of the body, with an average thickness of 0.5 mm compared with 2mm to 3mm thickness of the skin in the rest of the body and this is the reason it is prone to various problems, the three most common problems that we face in this area are
- Dark circles
- Puffy eye bags
- Crows feet
As the periorbital skin is very thin, it is also easily prone to hyperpigmentation which is what appears as dark circles. Periorbital hyperpigmentation is symmetrical around the eye and starts early and tends to get worse with ageing.
Puffy eye bags
Puffy eye bags are basically caused due to fluid retention in the body. As the periorbital skin is thin, fluid retention in the skin, caused by any of the reasons, including not enough sleep, crying, consuming salty foods, consuming alcohol, not enough sleep among others, make the skin around the eyes more prominent causing puffy eyes.
The periorbital area also has fewer oil glands and cannot produce as much collagen or elastin and thus is easily prone to moisture loss and dryness and thus fine lines and wrinkles, also commonly referred to as crows feet.
Reasons for the appearance of dark circles
There are so many reasons that lead to the appearance of dark circles and here we will try to cover the most common reasons that people have dark circles apart from the lifestyle-related dark circles which can be temporary and can be reduced by improving your lifestyle.
Sun exposure is the most important reason that people have dark circles, it is not just the ultraviolet rays such as UVA and UVB which cause hyperpigmentation around the eyes. Because periorbital skin is so thin, even visible light is reported to cause dark circles, which makes a strong case for why you should always apply your sunscreen, be it outdoors or indoors.
One of the common reasons for Dark circles is also genetic, so if dark circles problem runs in your family, you might be more likely to get it.
Melanocytes (the melanin-producing cells in the skin) in the periorbital region get triggered early when you are younger, however, as you get older the skin grows thinner causing the appearance of pigmentation and thus dark circles become more prominent.
Facial contours and hollows around the eyes, generally determined by genetics, is one of the more common reasons that people have the appearance of dark circles
Cortisol is the stress hormone of the body, which helps the body to control mood, motivation and fear. The deficiency of cortisol hormone can cause hyperpigmentation of the skin around the eyes. Other hormonal changes such as with the pregnancy, changes in the menstrual cycle and oral contraceptive pills can also cause dark circles.
Concealers and Makeup
The use of concealers and makeup products containing boron, mica, nylon, silica, silicon powder, talc and teflon among others can lead to sensitization of these ingredients can also lead to contact dermatitis, resulting in increased inflammation and discolouration.
Additionally, the use of products to grow eyelashes, especially products containing compounds like Latisse can also result in increased pigmentation around the eyes causing dark circles.
Some of the medical conditions that can cause dark circles, include Vitamin K deficiency, kidney or liver disorders, thyroid disorders, heart problems and also Addisons disease.
Lifestyle reasons that lead to dark circles
Apart from the above-mentioned reasons lifestyle reasons also contribute to the appearance of dark circles and these are
- Poor nutrition
- Sleep deprivation
- Adrenal fatigue
If you take poor nutrition, the capillaries (blood vessels) in your body dilate to allow more nutrients to flow through and as they dilate and thus expand, the capillaries in the periorbital area are easily visible in your under-eye area. Due to the thin skin in the under-eye area, your skin appears dark and intense, which appears as dark circles.
Sleep deprivation is another common reason for the appearance of dark circles. If you are not having about 7 to 9 hours of sleep regularly, the skin in the periorbital region tends to become dull and pale, making the capillaries in the under-eye area more visible and thus causing dark circles.
Adrenal fatigue, as defined by alternate medicine, is a state of exhaustion caused as a result of insufficient hormones sent to the body. When adrenal glands are underperforming and our body releases cortisol, it makes it even harder to get sleep and we tend to get even more stressed further increasing cortisol levels in our body and ultimately causing sleep deprivation and dark circles.
How to get rid of dark circles
As it is difficult to pinpoint as to what is the cause of dark circles on your face, it can also be difficult to treat dark circles, however, as far as the cosmetic options to treating dark circles there are few actives that can really help you alleviate the problem.
Niacinamide is probably one of the best ingredients to use for the treatment of dark circles. What makes it the best cosmetic candidate is that it is not only a powerful skin brightening agent which is great for reducing hyperpigmentation, it is also well-tolerated by all skin types and especially people with sensitive skin. As the periorbital area has very thin skin and is hence very sensitive, Niacinamide is definitely the first option you should explore to treat your dark circles.
When you feel that Niacinamide is not working for you or if you have intense dark circles and have experienced dark circles for a long time and want to use something stronger, you can try Retinol. Retinol works by increasing the cell turnover rate in the skin, thus helping repair the damages in the deeper layers of the skin. You can use 0.3 % to 0.5% retinol products for the under-eye area as an eye cream. It is generally suggested that you dilute it with your moisturiser to mitigate any harsh effects retinol might have on your under-eye area.
If Niacinamide and Retinol didn’t work for you, you can also explore Vitamin C. Vitamin C is a very powerful ingredient and plays an important role in the production of collagen and elastin in our skin. It brightens our skin by reducing melanin production and is another great choice for alleviating dark circles.
Hydroquinone is the gold standard when it comes to the treatment of hyperpigmentation and works by reducing melanocytes in the skin and thus melanin production. Hydroquinone is another ingredient that you can explore to help you reduce dark circles but hydroquinone can cause sensitivity and irritation, especially in the under-eye area, so caution is advised.
None of the treatments is effective for dark circles in the long term if you don’t use good sunscreen. Discolouration around the eyes is driven by and worsened by chronic sun exposure and the fact that not only the UV radiation comprising UVA and UVB, the visible light also causes discolouration under the eyes, it is imperative that you use sunscreen, whether you are outdoors or indoors.
The best sunscreen that you can use to avoid and treat dark circles would be a broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen that physically blocks UV radiation. Here is a complete guide on how to choose sunscreen for oily, acne-prone, sensitive & dry skin.
Precautions for treating dark circles
As the skin in the periorbital area is very thin, it is very sensitive and the use of active ingredients in this area can be very irritating, especially when you are trying out different actives in pursuit of something that works for your skin. So here are some of the precautions you need to take while treating your dark circles with cosmetic ingredients.
- Always start with lower percentages of the actives for the treatment of dark circles
- Dilute the actives with your regular moisturizer to mitigate any harsh effects
- Test the actives on the skin other than the periorbital area, before using it for the treatment of dark circles
This article is medically reviewed by our expert dermatologist, Dr Nagakeerthana Sunder, M.D. DVL