What causes under-eye circles and how can I get rid of them?

Dear Alice,

For as long as I can remember, I've had under-eye circles. I know that they are partially due to my allergies. I've read that this can be due to a kidney problem, as well. It seems to get better for a while and then all of a sudden worse. What causes this? And what can I do about it? Wearing makeup to cover them only helps a little. I'm tired of looking like a raccoon!

Dear Reader, 

Having racoon-like under-eye circles can be discouraging especially when you feel lost as to their cause or how to treat them! You might be relieved to know, however, that under-eye circles are fairly common and don’t usually signal a serious medical concern. Instead, they may be caused by: 

  • Aging: As you age, the under-eye skin starts thinning and loosening. The blood vessels there become more visible and make the skin look darker. You may also develop hollow areas called tear troughs that increase the under-eye shadows. 
  • Genetics: Dark circles under the eyes may be passed through families. 
  • Dermatitis: Some skin conditions, such as eczema and contact dermatitis, can cause the blood vessels under the eyes to expand. This may cause them to show through the skin. 
  • Rubbing your eyes: Rubbing and scratching the eyes can lead to swelling and burst blood vessels. 
  • Lack of sleep: Not getting enough sleep can lead to pale under-eye skin and visible blood vessels. 
  • Hyperpigmentation: Sun exposure can trigger the body to create more melanin (skin pigment), leading to hyperpigmentation. If this happens under the eyes, it can create the appearance of dark circles. 
  • Dehydration: A lack of hydration can lead the under-eye skin to look dull. 
  • Lifestyle factors: Stress, smoking, and excessive alcohol use can all contribute to dark under-eye circles. 

List adapted from Cleveland Clinic 

Reader, you're also correct in mentioning that these under-eye circles may be connected to allergies. These are called “allergic shiners.” Allergic shiners happen when the under-eye veins get congested due to allergy symptoms such as nasal congestion or sinus infections. They may become darker from additional eye-rubbing or loss of sleep due to allergies. Treating allergies themselves can help to reduce these concerns, and therefore help to reduce the appearance of dark circles. You may also consider allergy-proofing your home or visiting a health care provider to develop an allergy treatment plan. 

Under-eye circles are also vaguely linked to kidney issues. One sign of neuroblastoma—a cancer that starts around the adrenal glands (a gland near the kidneys) and mainly affects children aged five or younger—is dark circles around the eyes. Symptoms of chronic kidney disease such as fatigue and weakness, sleep problems, dry and itchy skin may also be linked to under-eye circles. However, these symptoms aren't exclusive to kidney disease and can be caused by many other reasons. 

That said, if you’re looking to manage your under-eye circles, there are many home remedies you might try. You might consider: 

  • Getting more sleep. Improving your sleep, with at least seven hours each night, can help prevent under-eye circles and darkness. 
  • Using more pillows. Lifting your head with some extra pillows can help stop any fluid collection under your eyes. 
  • Using a cold compress. Cold compresses can reduce the puffiness and appearance of under-eye circles. 
  • Laying cucumber slices on your eyes. Cucumbers are full of water and vitamin C which can help to bring hydration back to the face. Placing them over your eyes may help reduce puffiness and swelling. 
  • Placing cold tea bags under your eyes. The caffeine and antioxidants in tea can help increase circulation. 
  • Getting facials. Facials that treat the areas around the eyes can help improve circulation. 

List adapted from Cleveland Clinic 

In addition to at-home remedies, you might consider meeting with a health care provider. They can assess your dark circles, identify potential causes, and recommend any suggestions on treatments, if necessary. Treatment for under-eye circles can range from creams, peels, laser therapy, and even surgery. However, if allergies truly are at the root of this issue, a medical professional can also help to provide you with guidance on that challenge as well. Here’s to hoping that the case is closed, and your raccoon days are numbered! 

Last updated Nov 10, 2023
Originally published Jan 10, 1997

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