The Truth About Under-Eye Circles

Sable Yong


A sign of a restless night, dark under-eye circles or bags are mostly deemed as some habitual rebuff for less than healthy behavior. That isn’t wrong per se, but it’s not always that simple. Other than a really good concealer, getting rid of under-eye circles can seem impossible, especially when you’re not sure what causes them. That makes it even more difficult to determine the best form of treatment. Well, here is a quick study as to the myth and logic behind those shadows.

What’s Behind Them? The darker blue-tinged shadows under your peepers are, in fact, blood pooling in the area. No blood is actually blue—we see blue under our skin because our subcutaneous layer is like a selective prism, only allowing blue/violet light spectrums to show through it. Also, depending on your skin tone, veins may appear green, dark red, or brown due to this same effect. The skin is thinner around your eyes and a bit more transparent, so that’s why blood is partially visible. Dr. Dendy Engelman of Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery calls that the Tyndall Effect. “The darkness that is perceived is often the result of the underlying vasculature that is lying right underneath thin, translucent skin. Look at your wrist for an example—we know that the skin overlying your veins isn’t actually blue, it’s just that the skin is thin and shows the veins through it.”
The reason you notice under-eye circles more after waking up is because you’ve spend several hours horizontal, allowing a bit more fluids to accumulate and veins to expand.

Maybe You’re Born With Them. Genetics definitely play a role in under-eye shadows. As we get older, our skin loses elasticity and fat, becoming thinner. This means that those dark blue-ish shadows will likely look even darker eventually. But if you’re young and clock a full eight hours of sleep a night and still have under-eye shadows, it might be that you have particularly thin skin under your eyes or possibly periorbital hyperpigmentation, which is when the skin around your eyes (the periorbital area) produces more melanin than the rest of your face, causing hyperpigmentation. This is usually a brown shadow—not really blue—and is more susceptible if you have an olive to deep skin tone.

On the Sleeping “Myth.” Not getting enough sleep is what people usually attribute dark circles to, but not sleeping enough doesn’t exactly make your blood appear more vibrantly colored or your skin any thinner. However, when your body is fatigued it produces more cortisol—AKA the stress hormone—which attempts to energize your body by temporarily engorging your veins to supply more oxygen to all your bits and pieces. Bigger veins means more blood, and for your under eye area—more visible blood.

Be on Your Best Beauty Behavior. Of course, there are lots of lifestyle habits that will cause under-eye circles and bags. Among them, the most common ones are allergies and stress. “Sleep, salt, stress, [and] alcohol can all affect how good or bad under-eye circles or puffiness appear—but at the end of the day, it’s sometimes difficult to control,” Engelman mentions. Any type of rubbing—either from itching, crying, or just going HAM with the eye-makeup remover—can irritate the delicate eye area, which is basically a lace curtain hiding what’s beneath your skin. Stress throws your body out of whack on all fronts, including hormonal changes (remember cortisol?) and insomnia. Dehydration makes your skin appear duller and thinner, too, which affects delicate areas like under your eyes even more. Basically, if it’s bad for your skin, it’s bad for your under-eye circles.

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What Now? So you’ve been battling under-eye circles forever and you’re real sick of them. If you want to take a stab at diminishing their appearance overall, you can try remedies that work by constricting blood vessels (less blood, less blue) like a caffeinated eye cream or a cold compress.

You can also work towards bulking up your under-eye skin. Look for an eye cream or serum with hyaluronic acid, which is great for plumping skin and boosting collagen production. Using a brightening eye cream with vitamin C can help with periorbital hyperpigmentation.

For a more intensive approach, you can see a dermatologist for what Engelman calls “the ultimate fix,” in which “a little bit” of fillers are placed under the eyes so that the visible bags will disappear. “I also have lasers that can help tighten the skin and build underlying collagen so that dark circles and under eye bags are banished,” she explains.

If you’re not into resorting to lasers just yet, she also touts this eye cream trick: “I keep it in the refrigerator so it cools the delicate eye area and makes the underlying blood vessels smaller. Then, I apply SkinCeuticals AOX+ Eye Gel. It contains a triple antioxidant treatment as well as caffeine to minimize puffiness, and it has ruscus aculeatus, which helps increase the micro-circulation. When all else fails, I rely on my concealer, Dermablend Quick Fix Concealer.”

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