Almost everyone develops dark circles under their eyes at some point. Though they’re rarely a sign of anything serious, they can be aesthetically irritating and give the appearance that one is tired all the time. Depending on skin color, the bags can appear blue, purple, brown, or black. Many factors affect the appearance of dark circles, and they may indicate an underlying medical issue or a need for lifestyle changes.
For many people, dark circles are hereditary. A 2016 study found many genetic reasons for the circles. One cause is the collection of blue or grey melanocytes in the skin under the eyes, which look similar to shadows. Some people have prominent blood vessels in their lower eyelids and the skin underneath the eyes. In combination with thin skin, this can also cause dark circles. Most hereditary causes of dark circles have no treatments.
Most people believe lack of sleep causes dark circles under the eyes. Oversleeping, staying awake more than usual, and fatigue are all potential causes. Almost any type of sleep issue can cause dark circles to develop or worsen, for a few reasons. Lack of sleep often makes the skin paler, allowing blood vessels under the eye to become more visible. Sleep deprivation can also lead to fluid build-up under the eyes, making them puffy. The eyes can then cast small shadows, which may look like dark circles.
One of the most common causes for dark circles under the eyes is something that everyone does, regardless of age. Rubbing and excessively touching the eyes can create or worsen dark circles. For some people, eye rubbing causes inflammation, which widens blood vessels and makes them more noticeable. There’s also the chance that rubbing this sensitive skin could break a blood vessel, discoloring the area under the eyes.
Many people fail to drink enough water to stay hydrated throughout the day. This is another leading cause of dark circles. When the body needs water, the eyes and cheeks become sunken. This alone is enough to create the shadows, but other symptoms contribute to their visibility. A lack of hydration can leave skin dull, with an uneven tone, making the most minor flaws more visible.
Everyone knows the sun can burn and otherwise damage skin, but many are not aware that it is also a major cause of dark circles. When the body receives too much sunlight, it produces more melanin. This results in a tan on the rest of the body, but it also causes the often fairer skin under the eyes to darken. Because it is more sensitive, it tends to change its shade more quickly and easily than other parts of the body. Sunglasses and sunblock can help prevent this side effect.
Allergic reactions are another possible cause of dark circles under the eyes. The allergy prompts the release of histamines to combat potentially harmful bacteria. These histamines can cause the eyes to become puffy and dry, both of which contribute to dark circles. Histamines also causes blood vessels to dilate, making them more visible. Some people have the urge to scratch or rub their eyes when they have an allergic reaction, which often exacerbates the shadows. Individuals with hay fever usually have the most obvious “smudges” underneath their eyes.
Older people tend to have larger and more noticeable dark circles under their eyes; the natural loss of collagen causes the skin to become thinner and slightly transparent. As a result, eye rubbing or touching is more likely to break blood vessels. Prominent skin folds or wrinkles can also make dark circles under the eyes more visible.
A lesser-known cause of dark circles under the eyes is ethnicity. While dark circles appear in people of all skin colors, a 2014 study has found that they occur more often in people of color. Researchers believe this is due to the differences in melanin between ethnicities. People with darker skin possess higher levels of eumelanin, which provides better protection from the sun and may also make dark circles under the eyes more likely and visible.
Aside from age, smoking is the strongest predictor of facial wrinkles in both men and women, and contribute to dark circles. Nicotine narrows the blood vessels, preventing proper blood flow to the face and inhibiting skin health. Other chemicals in tobacco can damage collagen and elastin, which provide flexibility and strength. As occurs with age, a lack of collagen leads to thinner skin and makes a person more susceptible to dark circles.
In this age of technology, people spend more time than ever staring at digital screens. The Vision Council states that 87% of United States citizens use a digital device for more than two hours a day. Combined with stress, vision issues, and poor lighting, digital screens contribute to eye strain that can widen blood vessels. As a result, dark circles form under the eyes. People with eye strain also feel an urge to rub their eyes, intensifying the circles.
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