Why You Might Be Seeing Dark Bags Under Your Eyes
Known as periorbital hyperpigmentation, under-eye circles or a dark puffy look under the eyes have a strong genetic component, says Laura McGevna, MD, a dermatologist in Burlington, Vermont. But even if it doesn’t run in your family, these dark bags under the eyes can show up as a result of fatigue, stress, allergies, dehydration, sun damage, and even a bit of a visual trick thanks to changing cheekbones and eyelids.
“Very commonly, dark circles worsen with age,” says Dr. McGevna. “That’s because there’s a natural restructuring of the bones of the cheek, and some skin laxity in the eyelids, which leads to a hollow appearance, and a shadow from above.”
The dark bags and puffy under-eyes are also related to the veins just under the skin, adds Susan Massick, MD, a dermatologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. The skin under your eyes is already thin, and as you age, you may begin to lose volume in the fat pads just under the skin there, as one review article noted. As these fat pads thin out, you’ll be able to see the blood vessels more easily. Inflammation, which can come from poor sleep or nasty allergies, also makes those blood vessels more pronounced, says Dr. Massick.
“This all leads to a more sunken-in appearance, so any hyperpigmentation you have as a result of genetics can be more noticeable,” she says.
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How Puffiness Under the Eyes Comes Into Play
The circulation around the eyes is more predisposed to fluid retention as you age, says Dr. Morrell, and you also lose elastin, a protein important for skin health, resulting in sagging and wrinkling. This can puff up the under-eye area and make this area look darker, he adds.
Other under-eye puff–producing factors include allergies, dry skin, and dehydration, the same as you’d get with dark bags under the eyes, says McGevna. As the skin stretches to accommodate fluid and inflammation, gravity can pull those bags downward, making them more pronounced.
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Let There Be Light: How to Fade Darkness and De-Puff
Hyperpigmentation can be difficult to eradicate completely, says Massick, but there are ways to minimize the dark bags and puffy under-eye appearance. Here are a few strategies that the dermatologists suggest:
Apply Brightening Creams
Products made with hydroquinone, especially when combined with retinoids, hyaluronic acid, or vitamin C, have been useful for some people in lightening dark bags under the eyes.
Retinoids can affect both cellular and molecular properties of the skin and make your skin look younger, according to a study. Another study called hyaluronic acid a “key molecule in skin aging” that creates brightness by increasing the water content in the skin.
For vitamin C, this powerful antioxidant can protect the skin from the aging effects of sunlight, while decreasing the formation of melanin, which can darken the skin, suggested a study.
Although these ingredients have been shown to be effective, be sure to discuss usage with your dermatologist first, advises McGevna.
When used in excess, hydroquinone in particular may worsen dark spots under the eyes by causing ochronosis, a deposit of dark black and blue particles under the skin, according to a review article.
Go DIY and Try Using Tea Bags
If you need a quick fix for reducing puffiness and darkness, grab a couple tea bags that contain caffeine. Brew them for a few minutes in hot water, let them cool until they feel lukewarm, and put them on your closed eyes for three to four minutes. The caffeine will help constrict the blood vessels beneath the skin around your eyes, so they aren’t as pronounced, Massick says. A small, short-term study detailed the use of an eye pad with 3 percent caffeine and 1 percent vitamin K. Researchers concluded that after four weeks, study participants experienced reduction in both dark circles and depth of wrinkles.
Consider Undergoing Surgery
Although surgery sounds like an extreme measure, it’s considered a minor procedure, says Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, MD, founder of Mudgil Dermatology in New York City. He says recovery time is about a week, and pain tends to be minimal. Most common is removing the remaining bits of the under-eye fat pads and tightening the skin. Not only does this eliminate the puffy under-eye bags, but it usually dispels the darkness as well, he says, adding it’s often used by people who are wrangling with genetics, like Dr. Mudgil himself.
“It feels like I’ve tried every eye cream that has ever been available,” he says. “I’m not alone; many of my patients come to me with plastic bags filled with thousands of dollars worth of products. I can understand their frustration. Sometimes a procedure is the only thing that will work.”
Ask Your Dermatologist About Fillers
If your puffiness and darkness are related to loss of under-eye fat, one option is hyaluronic fillers, like Juvederm, Restylane, or Belotero, says Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, a dermatologist in Beverly Hills, California. She says these are carefully injected to hold the place where the fat once was and can create a smoother, more opaque surface over the underlying blood vessels.
Play It Cool With Sliced Cucumbers
Yes, the stereotypical spa look really does work for reducing eye puffiness, says Dr. Shainhouse. That’s because cucumbers are high in sodium, she says, and that draws out water from under the skin. Plus, when they’re chilled, they’re like tiny ice packs that reduce swelling in the small blood vessels under the eyes.
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What Not to Do to Your Eyes to Help Prevent Damage
Because the skin under the eyes is so very sensitive, especially as you get older, it’s easy to cause temporary or even longer-term damage. There are three major ways you can combat these issues:
Don’t Rub Your Eyes
If you have allergies, the simple motion of trying to clear your eyes by rubbing them is likely to grind whatever the allergen is deeper into the skin, making it all worse. For example, you could be driving more pollen into your eyes and tear ducts, increasing the itch instead of relieving it. Mudgil suggests a gentle cleanser instead — like micellar water, for example — and applying an eye area–friendly moisturizer.
Avoid Smoking or Being Around Smoke
Of course, smoking comes with a range of potential health issues, but it’s also a killer on your eyes. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) notes that smokers have a higher risk of dry eye, which will make you more likely to rub and scratch. Smoking also contributes to faster collagen loss, making the skin under your eyes even thinner and those blood vessels more pronounced, according to the AAO.
Limit Salt and Salty Foods
When you have a high intake of sodium, particularly if you don’t balance it with extra hydration, you may retain fluid throughout your body, which can include your under-eye area, according to the Mayo Clinic. If this happens to you on a regular basis, consider lowering your salt intake and avoid drinking fluids before bed so you reduce fluid retention overnight, recommends the AAO.
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Good Habits Can Go a Long Way in Reducing Dark, Puffy Eyes
Products and procedures can be helpful when it comes to minimizing the appearance of dark circles and under-eye puffiness, but perhaps your most potent tools are healthy lifestyle habits: Avoid allergens, wear sunscreen, get enough sleep, watch your salt intake, and ditch the smokes.
“The best treatment for your eyes, much like for the rest of your body and your brain, is sleep,” says Mudgil. “And, if genetics are part of the equation, making peace with your family trait to some degree may need to factor in as well.”