There are a number of things that can lead to developing dark circles and/or puffy eye lids. Both can be frustrating and impact how we feel about our appearance. In this post, I’ll discuss potential causes of dark circle and puffy lids, and, provide recommendation on how to improve them.
Cause #1 Genetics
You can be genetically predisposed to dark circles. Fat deposits under the eye can cause severe dark circles. The fat puts pressure on the tissue and causes darkening around eyes. When genetics is the cause, dark circles can begin to appear during a child’s youth and worsen with age. An effective surgical procedure called transconjunctival blepharoplasty performed by a board-certified plastic surgeon, can address this.
Cause #2 – Facial Structure
Prominent cheekbones and deep-set eyes, with light, translucent skin covering dark underlying tissue, can make the orbital eye area appear much darker. If you had a family member with dark circles, it could mean you may be at risk for dark circles too as facial structure and coloration can be hereditary.
Cause #3 – Smoking
If you currently smoke, or smoked in the past, this habit can also contribute to dark circles. Cigarettes, cigars, marijuana and even limited exposure to secondhand smoke, fireplaces and incense can cause dark circles, especially on olive and deeper skin tones. Only a couple of cigarettes and small amounts of secondhand smoke can cause darkening on the eye area, lips and gums, along with the other well-known dangers of smoking. Smoking can not only cause severe dark circles under the eyes, but also cause premature aging around the lips, gums and overall skin.
Cause #4 – Dehydration
Inadequate water intake causes dehydration and water retention, which can lead to dark circles and puffy eyes, bloating, low energy, dry skin and scalp, shedding hair and a darker, uneven skin tone. Coffee, tea, high sodium intake, sports and energy drinks, soft drinks, alcohol, medications, hard water, indoor heat, space heaters, fireplaces, smoking and secondhand smoke all significantly increase the body’s need to re-hydrate with water. Always remember: Drink enough water to equal half your weight in ounces. For every dehydrating beverage and salty meal, drink extra water. Double your water intake if you must take antibiotics, diuretics, antidepressants, medication for sleep, allergies, sinus or colds, high blood pressure or diabetes, or any medication known to cause dry mouth.
Cause #5 – Lack of Sleep & Sleep Issues
Chronic lack of sleep, sleep disorders, frequent air travel, crossing time zones, sleeping with infants and small children, late nights, overnight jobs and interrupted daytime sleep can lead to physical stress, causing dark circles, puffy eyes and other skin issues, including acne flare-ups. Manage your time before bed, create a consistent bedtime routine, sleep without infants and children in your bed, and get seven uninterrupted hours of sleep on a consistent basis. These changes will help improve your eyes and other skin problems dramatically.
Cause #6 – Pressure-Lowering Eye Drops & Lash Enhancing Products
These can cause dark pigmentation on the eyelids and darken the color of the eye itself resulting in dark eyes. Use exactly as directed and wear sunglasses.
Cause #7 – Medication
Medications like hormones, birth control pills and devices, antibiotics, antihistamines, diuretics, blood pressure and oral anti-diabetic drugs, antidepressants, painkillers, Accutane® and other drugs can cause severe sun sensitivity that leads to skin darkening. Skin lighteners, retinoids and other products can cause photo-sensitivity. Use of retinoids and anti-aging eye creams also cause irritation and temporary darkening when not used correctly. Long-term use of fluorinated steroid creams for itching in the eye area may lead to discoloration, thinning of the skin, swelling and broken capillaries.
Cause #8 – Chemical Irritation
Acne products and cleansers that contain ingredients like benzoyl peroxide (BPO) can cause temporary darkening and swelling when applied too close to the eyes. Moisturizers applied simultaneously with BPO can cause them to migrate into to one another, darkening the skin in the eye area. Cleansers that contain BPO, salicylic acid, alpha hydroxy acids, sulfur, fragrances and irritating lathering agents shouldn’t be applied over the eyes. Bathing in hard water can dramatically dry out and darken the skin tone.
Cause #9 – Contact
Contact dermatitis can also be the culprit behind dark circles in addition to symptoms like itching, irritation, fine bumps and darkening, can be caused by eye pressure drops, lash-enhancing products contaminated or old mascara and eye pencils, frosted eye shadows, D&C red dyes, scented skin, hair and laundry products, contact lens solutions, and by sensitivities to chemical sunscreens, skin lighteners, acne ingredients, alcohol or other cosmetic chemicals. Switch safe eye shadows and fragrance-free products. Avoid make-up that contains red dyes and other irritating ingredients. Keep acne medications and cleansers away from the eye area. Replace mascara every three months and never share any make up products. Patch-test products that might be causing problems.
Cause #10 – Metal Eyeglass Frames
Metal eyeglass frames that can contain alloys like nickel can cause dermatitis around the eyes and on the brows, nose and temples. Those sensitive to nickel should choose plastic frames that are large enough to completely cover the eye area.
Cause #11 – Chronic Allergies & Unmanaged Allergies
Your allergies can cause puffiness and dark circles. ‘Allergic shiners’ afflict both adults and children and can run in families. Swelling, tearing, wiping, rubbing, blotting, scratching the eye area and failure to wear sunglasses and address the allergens that trigger allergy attacks are contributing factors. Antihistamines like Benedryl® cause dehydration, sun-sensitivity and drowsiness. Non-drowsy versions can still cause dehydration. Allergy symptoms and itchy puffy eyes improve dramatically when a saline sinus rinse or a neti pot is used consistently two to three times a day. Eliminate dairy like milk, cheese and other products, which are known to trigger nasal congestion and increase mucus production. For more information, click here.
A Note on Allergies – Figure Out Triggers
Dark circles from allergies may be improved if you can figure out what’s triggering them. This could include dust, mold, pollen, dust mites, pet dander, fragrances, etc. I suggest you use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, stick to fragrance-free skin, hair, laundry and household products, sleep on fragrance-free bed linens (even when away from home), keep filters and air ducts clean, bathe pets often and use dander-remover. Wear a dust mask when you clean the house and work in the yard. Keep your car’s ventilation system on “circulate”, not “intake” from the outside to keep dust, pollen, and particulate pollutants from getting into your eyes, nose and lungs.
Cause # 12 – Wiping and Rubbing Eyes
Tearing, rubbing, wiping and scratching causes darkening because of friction and irritation caused by tearing. The skin around eyes is thin and delicate. To protect your eyes, remove eye make-up gently with a non-drying fragrance-free product. Pat dry after cleansing; never rub with a towel. Keep irritating cleansers, fragrances and chemical sunscreens away from the eyes. Avoid incense, smoke, wind and fans. Use caution with contact lenses, which make eyes more vulnerable to irritation and infection from debris, dust, pollutants, bacteria, protein build-up and rubbing. Replace lenses often and keep them clean. Wear UV-protective sunglasses, even on overcast days, the bigger and darker, the better. At night, if outside wear glasses or lightly-tinted sunglasses to protect your eyes from wind-borne debris, dust and pollutants.
Cause #13 – Obesity and Sudden Weight Gain
Fat cells boost the body’s production of estrogens, which leads to sun-sensitivity and skin-darkening. The darkening can extend from the orbital eye area out onto the outer cheeks, face and neck. Medications often associated with obesity including water pills, oral anti-diabetic drugs and blood pressure medications, dramatically increase sun-sensitivity. Prolonged sun avoidance, daily sunscreen and sunglasses will help slow down the darkening. Plan to get back to pre-medication weight. Cut back on salt, eliminate high sodium foods and dairy, increase water intake, reduce fat, simple carbs and sweets, and exercise regularly. These lifestyle changes will reduce weight and water retention, and improve raccoon eyes, blood pressure, general health, skin tone and self-esteem.
Cause #14 – Thyroid Disease
Sun-sensitivity, darkening, puffiness, fluid retention and bulging in the orbital eye area, constant tearing, disturbed sleep cycles and delayed healing are symptoms that accompany Graves’ disease. Rubbing and wiping the eyes and not wearing sunglasses can intensify the darkening.
Cause #15 – Auto-Immune Diseases
Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), sarcoidosis, schleroderma, diabetes, thyroid disease, vitiligo and others increase sun-sensitivity, as can many medications often accompanied for treatment. Prolonged sun avoidance, protecting the skin from the sun with hats and physical sunscreen and wearing sunglasses are crucial to avoid skin darkening and severe reactions to the sun. Prolonged, unprotected sun exposure can also trigger an auto-immune response.
Cause #16 – Sun Exposure
Practice safe sun! Sun can penetrate even through clouds and tinted windows & windshields and cause dark circles, brown discoloration, skin cancer and premature aging, even on overcast days. Sunglasses must be large enough to cover the entire orbital eye area. While prescription “transition” lenses darken in direct sunlight, they may not darken sufficiently while riding in a car or bus and are often not large enough to cover the eye area.
Cause #17 – Hormones
Pregnancy, hormonal imbalances and changes, hormone-containing medications and birth control devices, perimenopause and menopause can all cause sun-sensitivity, skin discoloration, dark circles, fluctuations in weight and mood.
How to Improve Dark Circle and/or Puffy Eyes
AHA! Eye Cream (AHA! Eye Cream – Luxe Skin Care)
What it does:
- Hydrates by promoting the production natural Hyaluronic Acid in the skin
- Builds collagen
- Reduces the appearance of fine lines
- Reduces inflammation
- Retinyl palmitate – reduces fine lines, firming by boosting collagen
- Vitamin C – antioxidant, brightening, collagen boosting
- Copper Peptides – promotes production of collagen and reduction of redness & an antioxidant
- Xylitol – promotes production of hyaluronic acid to hydrate and firm
Note: Individual results may vary and require compliance to corrective home care products, diligent sun protection, professional treatments, and important lifestyle changes, all of which must be monitored and maintained on a long term basis.
Help with Puffy Eyes
- Sleep at least seven hours, with your upper body slightly elevated.
- Decrease salt intake and eliminate processed foods, take-out foods, dairy products, salty snacks, sports drinks and soups.
- Increase water intake dramatically and reduce intake of alcoholic beverages and caffeine. Eliminate soft drinks, sports and energy drinks, tomato juice, soup and all dairy.
- Control allergies and stick to all needed lifestyle changes, including controlling exposure to dust, smoke, allergens, heaters, pollutants and fragrances.
- Avoid scented skin care, hair care, household and laundry products.
- Lose weight, quit smoking and wear sunscreen and sunglasses religiously.
- See an endocrinologist about diabetes, thyroid issues or if eyes are bulging and watery.
- Consult a board-certified cosmetic surgeon about under-eye fat removal to help correct dark eyes.
Help With Loose, Sagging Skin Around the Eye
- Start with prevention, since sagging skin usually requires plastic surgery.
- Avoid direct sun and wear sunscreen and sunglasses.
- Keep your weight stable. Frequent weight fluctuations contribute to sagging skin.
- Don’t smoke or allow any secondhand smoke exposure.
- Control allergies and their triggers so you don’t have to rub your eyes.
- Use recommended skin care, sunscreen and sunglasses during the day.
- Consult a board-certified cosmetic surgeon about solutions for skin laxity.
The material on this website is provided for educational purposes only, and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.