Dark circles are one of the top concerns I treat as an aesthetician. This is because we all experience a darkened eye area at some point in our life, as a result of a number of factors from natural pigment or lack of sleep. Eye creams promise to brighten the periorbital area, but do they actually work? We have filler treatments available to treat the loss of volume and discolouration in the tear trough, but are there any no-needle options available?
Today in this blog post, I will discuss the influences behind dark circles, why the condition is so common, and what you can do to treat and prevent them.
What are dark circles?
Dark circles refer to the shadowing or darkening of the tear trough, the skin that covers the orbicularis oculi muscle, under the lower eyelid. Dark circles and how to treat them is a common topic in the treatment room because it is an aesthetic problem that everyone faces, amongst all races and genders. The eyes are a significant focal point to the face and when the area looks darker, it can make a person look tired, sad and sometimes more aged. These reasons, amongst common culture to look impossibly perfect as the filtered selfies we take, is why this concern remains such a high importance amongst many.
Why we get them
The eye area is an extremely fragile part of the face with little to no subcutaneous fat. Because of this the skin is naturally much thinner, often transparent and provides little camouflage to the blood vessels under the surface.
Natural facial anatomy differs from person to person and this can also have an effect on how our eyes appear – tear trough is deeper set in some cases.
As I have discussed in previous articles about treating hyperpigmentation, and tackling puffy eyes, you must establish the influences behind your concerns before you make a plan about how to treat them.
Dark circles can appear for a temporary amount of time or permanently, and can often look better some days compared to others. This is because of numerous intrinsic and extrinsic factors which I will now explain.
One of the biggest contributions to dark circles is the natural process of ageing. As we get older our skin’s natural mechanisms slow down ever so gradually, resulting in loss of elasticity and collagen. This affects skin laxity and facial anatomy which can lead to a stronger shadowing of the eye area.
Extrinsic factors such as excessive Ultraviolet (UV) light exposure can lead to darker under eyes. Darker skin types are known to be more prone to such pigmentation skin changes.
Harsh weather conditions like wind and rain can stimulate eye sensitivity, followed by eye watering and then rubbing the eyes which can also then lead to temporary darker circles.
Many lifestyle factors affect the ever-changing pigment under our eyes. Sleep deprivation and eye strain is a well-known contribution to dark circles – one study amongst many, found that ‘the faces of sleep deprived individuals were perceived as having more hanging eyelids, redder eyes, more swollen eyes, darker circles under the eyes, paler skin, more wrinkles/fine lines, and more droopy corners of the mouth.’
Smoking reduces blood flow to the skin, blocks oxygen and nutrient delivery and increase free radicals in the skin which can increase damage of skin cells and soft tissue changes under the eye.
Drinking too much alcohol and caffeine, and simply not drinking enough water throughout the day can also lead to a temporary appearance of darker circles.
Stress can trigger bad habits that have a direct effect on how our skin functions including the eye area, as well affecting inflammatory conditions, wound healing and overall skin hydration.
Genetics are also thought to play a role in excessive pigmentation under the eyes, melanin deposition and collagen levels.
Interestingly hormones have a major impact on our eyes and vision changes throughout our life. Especially in women, the changing levels of oestrogen and progesterone affect the eye’s oil glands, which can lead to dryness in the area. Oestrogen can cause the cornea to stiffen which affects how light travels into the eye causing blurry vision. These symptoms combined can cause the eyes to become extremely irritated affecting pigmentation in the area.
Contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy are reported to also have an effect on dark circles as they dilate blood vessels.
The eye area tells a tale of certain health conditions you may have, such an anaemia and iron deficiency. Problems with the sinuses and allergies can cause inflammation and swelling at the upper part of the face leading to dark circles.
Frequent eye rubbing can cause sensitivity in the eye area and therefore temporary or permanent darkening of the tear trough and upper eye.
Contact dermatitis (or eczema) can happen to anyone, even in the eye area, following repetitive exposure to particular soaps and detergents, chemicals, dust and cosmetics. This itchy, swollen condition can cause excessive trauma to the skin laxity and stimulate pigmentation changes in the eye area.
Facial oedema is extremely common, especially around the eyes. Puffy eyes can cause a darker appearance, and is a result of many different factors which you can read more about here.
Treatments for dark circles
As I have mentioned previously, treatments for your dark circles should be catered depending on what is causing them. There is no use treating the skin with nourishing eye creams and professional treatment if you lead a stressful lifestyle, or have a habit of constantly rubbing your eyes, or are experiencing an allergic reaction to something in your environment. Know the cause and try and find a way to control it, before running to the shop for a caffeine eye cream.
There are a number of treatments for dark circles. The most common and easiest temporary brightening treatment for this condition is cosmetic products. Concealers and camouflage make-up can be worn daily to disguise the appearance of darkened eyes.
Active ingredients to look out for in skincare
Although there is a lot of discussion about whether eye creams work or not, I stand by the fact that skincare is better than no skincare. There are particular active ingredients that will help to brighten the eye, stimulate cell turnover and protect the area from cell damage.
Caffeine is one of the more commonly used ingredients in eye care because it’s a powerful antioxidant and it acts a vasoconstrictor (narrows the blood cells) which helps to temporarily reduce the appearance of puffy eyes and dark circles.
Prescription-strength, topical retinoids have been thoroughly tested for use in skincare since the 80s and widely used as a treatment for pigmentation, fine lines, acne, poor skin quality and texture. Skin irritation is a common side effect of using retinoids and the periorbital area is extremely sensitive, so the choice of what type of retinoid to use is an important one. One article I came across advised that because of this, retinaldehyde products are most effect for rejuvenating the eye area with minimum irritation potential.
Peptides are the building blocks of proteins and the body uses them communicate between cells. Some of the most studied peptides have been known to stimulate dermal matrix production in fibroblast cultures. Although there is a lack of study to show how peptides benefit the eye area and improve dark circles, they are an ingredient worth having your eye cream to help improve the texture and tone.
UV exposure is one of the biggest contributions to the development of hyperpigmentation and can also accelerate ageing as well as heighten your risk of skin cancer. This process is somewhat in your control, and wearing an SPF product daily will minimise the changes of this, and also your dark circles. If you are prone to milia or general sensitivity around the eye area, using your usual face SPF may not be for you – and if that is the case there are many sun protection products out there formulated specifically for the eyes.
Laser, superficial peels, microneedling and radio frequency treatments can be used in the area to help stimulate collagen and plump the thin surface, thus brightening dark circles. A course of treatment would be needed for significant results, carried out every 4-6 weeks alongside the use of an SPF each day and a pigment-suppressing product.
Laser has been known to work specifically well for vascular cases.
Soft tissue fillers and Botox can help to reduce fine lines in the eye area and also provide volume to the tear trough which can help to brighten dark circles.
Blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery) is a last resort, and not required for the majority of cases but sometimes is the best option when excess skin or fat is causing the appearance of dark circles and hooded eyes.
Habits to remember (and forget)
As well as protecting and replenishing the eye area with the appropriate skincare, and treating dark circles with the many treatments on offer, there are a couple of habits to remember if this is a major concern of yours.
Cold roller or compress
A cool compress (or roller-my favourite) is great to use as a temporary brightening treatment daily. The cold temperature reduces swelling and blood vessel expansion which can help to improve the overall appearance of dark circles.
Stop rubbing eyes
Try to avoid rubbing the eyes as much as possible as this is another common factor of dark circles and skin fragility around the eye area.
Remember to establish the triggers in your environment that may be contributing to your dark circles, especially allergies, and find a way to reduce your exposure.
Dark circles are a common aesthetic concern because it affects all genders and all races. UV exposure, genetics and ageing are the biggest influences to the development of a darkened eye area and can be combated through a variety of applications. Eye products containing active ingredients, particularly caffeine, peptides, retinaldehyde and SPF will help to protect the eyes from environmental damage and keep the delicate skin barrier moisturised and stimulated. Laser, peels, needling, radio-frequency, fillers and Botox have all been tried and tested and can help to improve the overall appearance of dark circles.
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