Dark circles aren’t just for breakfast anymore, meaning, contrary to what many people believe, they aren’t simply a result of being tired due to not getting enough sleep. Dark circles have two basic types, blue and brown, and their causes (and treatments) vary.
If your circles have a blue tint (look straight into the mirror and tilt your head slightly to determine their type, blue or brown), they are likely due to the visibility of the blood vessels with oxygenated blood that has pooled underneath the skin. Why are blood vessels visible? A few reasons.
First, skin thins as a person ages, so if you’ve noticed the appearance of dark or bluish circles becoming more prevalent as you’ve aged, thinning skin is likely the reason. Also, these circles are darker in the morning because you’ve been horizontal for several hours, giving blood an opportunity to accumulate and blood vessels to expand. In addition to thinning skin, subcutaneous fat in the eyelids lessens as we age; combine that with thinning skin and you’ve got a recipe for dark circles.
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Brown circles are actually hyper-pigmentation, and caused by the sun, frequent rubbing/irritation, or genetics. African and Asian-American skin tones are more likely to have brown under eye circles.
What to do? For blue circles, over-the-counter treatments include topical creams that contain stimulating ingredients like caffeine, which constrict blood vessels and make them less noticeable, and ultra-potent hydrators like hylauraonic acid that plump up the skin under the eyes, which keeps the blood vessels from being so close to the surface of the skin.
Some of these products include stainless steel applicator balls, and this “cool metal” also helps vessels constrict. If a professional treatment is what you are after, there are prescription-strength retinoid creams that will help thicken skin (not overly thick; just thicker) and diminish the appearance of circles.
For brown circles, a skin-brightening cream with soy or citrus as a main ingredient will lighten the appearance of circles when used over time (usually noticeable within 4 to 6 weeks). For clinical treatments for brown undereye circles, ask your dermatologist about TCA peels, which help exfoliate the build-up of hyper-pigmented skin cells.