When dark shadows or bags linger, the cause typically is not something temporary, like a few too many cocktails. It might be something you've inherited. Pigmentary issues that cause under-eye discoloration are common among people of Asian or African descent. Age also contributes to dark circles. With age, the skin around the eye thins, exposing the tiny blood vessels that lie just below.
Still, you can do something about it.
If you pull the skin sideways and the darkness turns blotchy, that's evidence the problem is caused by excess pigment in the area, says Joseph Eviatar, MD, a New York ophthalmic plastic surgeon.
Most often, dark circles aren't about changes in the color of the skin at all. Instead, they're created by a loss of volume in the area around the eye. That exposes the orbital bone, creating a hollow trough that shows up as a dark circle. With the delicate eye area one of the first spots to reveal signs of aging, this can happen as early as the late 30s or 40s.
What can you do?
Makeup can help conceal dark circles. Hiding dark circles with concealer is simpler than you may think, says New York makeup artist Kimara Ahnert. Choose a concealer that matches your skin tone. If you have mild discoloration, pick a liquid formula. If your shadows are more prominent, go for more coverage with a cream or cake concealer. Lightly pat the concealer on from the inner corner of your eye to just past the outer corner.
Other, more expensive options, including treatment with IPL or intense pulse light, can help by destroying those pigment cells and smoothing the skin. A series of four IPL treatments, at about $200 each, is typically needed to see improvement. Skin lightening creams that contain hydroquinone or kojic acid may also diminish the darkness.
These fixes are less successful when the dark circles are caused by extremely thin skin. "That's really difficult to treat," Eviatar says. "Eye creams that contain caffeine may help a bit because they constrict the underlying blood vessels."
Prevention and Quick Fixes
Here are four things you can do -- without surgery -- to help keep your eyes looking youthful.
- Don't smoke, and always apply a sunscreen around the eye area. Smoking and exposure to UV rays both weaken collagen and cause premature wrinkling and sagging.
- Apply a moisturizer to the eye area nightly. "You don't need to spend a lot," Goldburt says. "Almost any drugstore moisturizer will provide the hydration you need."
- Add a prescription retinoic acid -- the vitamin A cream that goes by the generic name tretinoin -- to your daily skin care regimen. "It's the single best thing you can use to prevent wrinkles and improve existing lines," Goldburt says.
- To calm puffy eyes, place cold spoons, slices of cucumbers, chilled tea bags, or even a package of frozen peas under your eyes. The cool temperatures -- rather than any special properties of cucumbers or peas -- reduce swelling. And, yes, placing a hemorrhoid cream under your eyes might help get rid of puffs, too. "We have patients who swear by it," says Brent Moelleken, MD, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, "but we suggest a retinol eye cream instead."