“Dark circles are caused by numerous factors,” explains Corey L. Hartman, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama. These potential causes can vary based on a person’s age, genetics or lifestyle. But one or more of the following variables could play a role.
Under eye skin thins with age, which can cause the dark blood vessels under the eyes to appear more prominent. Aging can also cause a loss of fat around the under eye area, which may create a shadowed effect.
“Seasonal allergies or allergic reactions to certain substances can cause the blood vessels around the eyes to dilate and lead to dark circles,” says Dr. Hartman. Allergies can also lead to rubbing and scratching the eye area, which can cause rupture of blood vessels and release pigmentation in the skin. While this type of dark circle can fade on its own, the process can take months or years without treatment.
Genetics can cause more pigment to appear under the eyes. Having parents or close relatives with dark circles could make a person more prone to developing them.
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can cause hyperpigmentation. This can make the under eye area appear darker, explains Dr. Hartman.
When fatigued, the body can produce cortisol, the “stress hormone.” Cortisol can increase blood flow in the face, which can cause dark circles under the eyes.
Certain medical conditions such as eczema, anemia, thyroid problems and sinus congestion, can cause dark circles, says Saulis Banionis, M.D., a board-certified anti-aging specialist based in Palm Beach, Florida. Heart, kidney and liver problems can also cause dark circles, as well as vitamin K deficiencies.
Lifestyle can also play a role in dark circle formation. According to Dr. Banionis, poor nutrition, dehydration, excessive alcohol consumption or smoking can all contribute to the development of dark circles.