What Causes Dark Under-Eye Circles?

To Treat the Problem, First Find the Source

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Lack of sleep and eye strain are often blamed for those horrible dark under-eye circles that have plagued most of us at one time or another, but apparently late nights in front of the computer screen aren’t the top culprits for the reddish-blue tint that can form underneath the eyes, making them look tired and unhealthy.

Top Causes of Dark Under-Eye Circles

The top causes for dark under-eye circles are genetics (pigmentation problems often run in families among people of color, especially among blacks and Asians, due to extra melanin in the skin), allergies and nasal congestion.

Skin conditions like atopic eczema have been known to cause dark under-eye circles. The cause can also be from aging since the skin loses collagen and thins, making veins more prominent. The dark circles can also be caused by your facial features. Shadows can be cast by bone structure, puffy eyelids or from hollows under the eyes caused by the natural process of aging.

What’s Causing Your Under-Eye Circles?

The first thing you need to do to combat the problem is finding out the source. Here’s a quick dermatologist trick to determine what might be causing dark circles: Gently press under the eyes with your fingertips to stretch the skin. Hold for about 30 seconds. If this makes the area become darker, the circles are due to genetics or aging. If the color doesn’t change, UV exposure or allergies could be the cause. If you get a mixed result and the circles don’t go completely away when you let go of the skin but are less noticeable, you might have a combination of excess pigment and vascular issues.


The dark circles can be caused by seasonal allergies such as hay fever, food allergies, cosmetic allergies and allergens in the home or workplace. Allergies cause inflammation which enlarges the tiny blood vessels beneath the eyes. These swollen blood vessels press against the thin under-eye skin and the dark color shows through. If you suffer from airborne allergens, try an over-the-counter antihistamine or prescription drug prescribed by your doctor. If you suspect other types of allergies, see the appropriate healthcare professional.

Visit a dermatologist if you think you are having an allergic reaction to products. Eyeshadow, mascara, creams and any other product that causes irritation, makes your eyes water or become sore or red, should be avoided. Old cosmetics and eye makeup can also contain bacteria that can cause skin problems. See When should you toss your makeup?

Don’t rub your eyes when they become itchy or irritated, which will break the tiny capillaries underneath the eyes causing puffiness and discoloration. The rubbing and scratching can also stimulate melanocytes (melanin-producing cells) darkening pigmentation in the area.

Nasal Congestion

Blocked nasal passages can cause dark circles because the veins from your eyes to your nose can become dilated and darken.

Invest in a neti pot and mix up a saline solution of water and sea salt (or ready-made saline solution). Place the net pot inside one nostril and tilt head to the side so that the water comes out from the other nostril. Read more about how to use a neti pot and the use of neti pots for help with sleep disorders caused by sinus problems and nasal decongestion, which can also result in under-eye puffiness and discoloration. (If you plan to use a neti pot, please read these articles to learn how to use one safely. There can be adverse side effects as well as serious infections that can result from the use of water that is not sterile (some tap water may be unsafe), and from the use of neti pots that have not been properly cleaned).

Vitamin Deficiencies and Poor Nutrition

Poor nutrition can lead to vitamin deficiencies, specifically B vitamins (such as a B12 deficiency from anemia), vitamin E, vitamin C and vitamin K and can result in dark circles. Vitamins are also needed for adrenal gland function. When the adrenal gland is fatigued from stress, excess consumption of caffeine, alcohol and sugar, vitamin absorption is impaired, resulting in facial puffiness and dark circles.

Food additives like sulfites found in wine can also result in puffy eyes and under-eye circles.

Eliminate processed, greasy and fried foods from your diet and replace with lean meats and fish, and load up on the vegetables and fruits. Try these Juice Recipes for Clear and Smooth Skin.

Also reduce salt intake, which can cause the body to retain water and cause the blood vessels under the skin to appear bluer.


Drink water to prevent dehydration, which causes blood vessels to become dilated and swollen. Also, as mentioned above, avoid too much alcohol and caffeine which can dehydrate the body, as well as disrupt sleep. Alcohol also decreases the flow of oxygen to the skin, as does smoking.


Smoking causes vascular problems, constricting the blood vessels, resulting in poor circulation and making the blood vessels appear more prominent and darker.


In addition to possibly causing anemia, your monthly cycle can cause hormonal-induced dark circles and puffiness due to water retention and PMS. Cut down on salty foods, carbs, and excess fluids. Other hormonal changes (pregnancy, menopause) can also cause blood vessels to swell.

Lack of Sleep

While it is not the major cause of dark under-eye circles, lack of sleep can lead to stress and other health problems, creating paler, tired-looking skin and making shadows and dark circles more noticeable. So get those zzz’s! If you’re having trouble with sleeping follow these Better Sleep Guidelines.

Check For Medical Conditions

If under-eye circles are constant, or the area under the eyes seems to worsen, be sure to see your doctor to make sure the condition isn’t caused by something more serious like a kidney function problem or other medical reasons.