Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/29/2021
If you suffer from dark undereye circles, you’ve probably thought about how to get rid of them. After all, there are only so many times you hide them under your sunglasses.
Although a nuisance, under eye dark circles (clinically known as periorbital hyperpigmentation) are not typically a cause for concern or indicative of an underlying problem.
However, perceptions of a person’s age or fatigue level are sometimes based on the appearance of the periorbital space — also known as the space around the eyes.
Dark circles can make someone look older or more tired, and are a factor in how one presents their appearance to the outside world.
Let’s explore some of the causes of dark circles and go over various methods you can use to reduce or remove dark circles under your eyes.
Many anatomical factors of the face play a role in the appearance of dark undereye circles. This includes the underlying bone and ligament structures, soft tissue, blood vessels, prominence of eye muscles and thinness of the under eye skin.
Age-related changes in the face lead to loss of bone volume and facial fat, which can result in a hollowing of the orbital space and subsequent dark shadows in that area.
The lower eyelid skin is one of the thinnest parts of the body and can be fairly transparent. This area also has a tendency to accumulate excess fluids, and eye puffiness is usually worse after a salty meal or in the morning. The fluid often takes on a purplish color due to the underlying lower eyelid muscles.
Dark undereye circles are also believed to be caused, at least in part, by genetics.
In one study, researchers reported a familial case in which 22 members were affected in six generations that had a genetically determined form of hyperpigmentation involving the periorbital (under eye) area.
Allergies can also play a role in dark under eye circles. Allergic shiners are dark circles under the eyes caused by nasal congestion. Any allergy can result in allergic shiners, but they are usually resolved by taking an antihistamine.
There are several home remedies that can help with dark under eye circles. Unfortunately, none of these remedies are a cure for dark under eyes, but they can help with the appearance of them.
Wearing SPF daily as part of your skin care routine can improve hyperpigmentation. However, be cautious about using chemical sunscreens on the delicate skin of the eye area, as they can cause irritation. Wearing sunglasses with UV coating is also considered to be beneficial in reducing dark under eye circles.
Lack of sleep can cause puffy eyes and dark circles. Being well-rested can reduce the puffy appearance around the eye area and, in turn, reduce the appearance of dark circles.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that adults ages 18 to 60 get at least seven hours of sleep every night.
Applying a cold compress upon waking may be an effective at-home remedy to reduce eye puffiness. In theory, cold compresses constrict the blood vessels around the eyes, which decreases the amount of swelling.
Applying cold tea bags to your eyes may improve the look of the under eye area and reduce puffy eyes by constricting the blood vessels. The anti-inflammatory properties of Rooibos, black and green tea may also aid in reducing puffiness.,
Soak two tea bags in hot water for a few minutes. Remove the tea bags and let them chill in the refrigerator.
Once they’re cold, apply the tea bags to your closed eyes for several minutes (we recommend between 10 minutes and 20 minutes). Remove and rinse your eyes with cool water.
A hydrating eye cream can help improve the appearance of eye bags and darkness under the eyes.
Results from a recent study demonstrated that an eye cream containing low molecular weight heparan sulfate (LMW‐HS) and a blend of naturally derived extracts achieved global skin rejuvenation by improving the appearance of periorbital hyperpigmentation, puffiness, and fine and coarse lines and wrinkles.
If your dark circles are inhibiting your quality of life, there are a number of permanent treatment options available for periorbital hyperpigmentation.
Topical depigmenting agents, such as hydroquinone, kojic acid, azelaic acid and arbutin are non-invasive ways of reducing or getting rid of dark circles under eyes.
Also known as 1,4 dihydroxybenzene, hydroquinone is the most prescribed bleaching agent worldwide. It is used in strengths of 2% to 6%, and is safe to use in the undereye area.
The effect of treatment generally becomes evident after five to seven months of use, which means you should use it for at least three months to see noticeable results.
Kojic acid is a naturally occurring fungal derivative produced by Aspergillus and Penicillium fungi. It’s used in concentrations ranging from 1% to 4% and acts by inhibiting tyrosinase (an enzyme in the skin that catalyzes the production of melanin).
Although there are no studies, it has been tried anecdotally in the treatment of periorbital hyperpigmentation and has been found to be effective. Side effects include erythema (redness of the skin) and contact dermatitis.
Azelaic acid (AzA) was initially developed as a topical anti acne agent, but because of its effect on tyrosinase, it has also been used in the treatment of hyperpigmentary disorders such as melasma.
Since it was found to be effective for facial postinflammatory hyperpigmentation, it is a potentially promising agent for hyperpigmentation of the under eye area due to postinflammatory hyperpigmentation (inflammation after injury or dermatitis).
Arbutin is an extract of leaves of the bearberry shrub and the cranberry, pear or blueberry plants.
A randomized open study from 2008 found that gel containing topical arbutin was effective in reducing pigmentation in a group of 10 melasma patients.
Arbutin can also be used in other facial hyperpigmentation including under eye hyperpigmentation.
Vitamin C, an antioxidant, has also been used for the treatment of hyperpigmentation. Vitamin C promotes collagen production and conceals the color of blood stasis (congealed red blood cells), which may improve the appearance of dark circles under the lower eyelid.
Physical therapies, such as chemical peels, fillers, surgical corrections, and laser therapy are another route for eliminating dark undereye circles.
Chemical peels may be used alone or in combination with topical treatments. Glycolic acid is the most widely used alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) for chemical peeling. Glycolic acid 20% can also be used for dark undereyes and fine lines.
In a small 2013 study, researchers tested the efficacy of trichloroacetic acid (TCA) 3.75% and lactic acid 15% on periorbital dark circles on 30 subjects and found that 96.7 percent of participants showed improvement.
For the treatment of periorbital hyperpigmentation in a medium to darker skin tone, it is best to extend the peel to the entire face to avoid post-peel demarcation.
A side effect of chemical peels can be postinflammatory hyperpigmentation. This may be minimized with the help of priming agents, such as hydroquinone and tretinoin.
Hyaluronic acid gel is used as a filler for 3D reshaping of the under eye area. Patient satisfaction is high, but some patients with dark circles noted darker pigmentation after hyaluronic acid gel.
In one study, 12 patients with under eye hyperpigmentation were treated with the hyaluronic acid push technique. All patients experienced immediate improvement after the procedure.
We also use hyaluronic acid as one of the ingredients in our topical Goodnight Wrinkle Cream.
Lower eyelid surgery, also known as blepharoplasty, can help with eliminating the dark circles and lines created by a shadow, which is typically caused by fat deposits or excess skin.
Lower eyelid blepharoplasty is primarily done by ophthalmologists and plastic surgeons. When done well, the results are said to be very good.
Unlike upper eyelid blepharoplasty, however, lower eyelid blepharoplasty is more technically challenging and prone to complications.
The complications can include infection, bleeding, wound separation, suture cysts, asymmetry, and more.
Lasers have been used increasingly in cosmetic dermatology in recent years. Dark undereye circles have been successfully treated with various noninvasive lasers that target pigment and vascularity.
Various lasers that have been used for treating dark circles are: Q switched ruby laser (694 nm), Q switched alexandrite laser, and Nd:Yag laser (1064nm).
The aim of treatment should be to identify and treat the primary cause of under eye hyperpigmentation as well as its contributing factors. Then, based on the primary cause, you can work with a healthcare provider to figure out the best treatment options for you.