Cookie consent

We use cookies to improve your experience on this website. By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies. Tell me more | Cookie preferences

What causes dark under-eye circles?

Dark under-eye circles can be genetic as well as a result of lifestyle and environmental factors.

Story highlights

  • Bluish circles under your eyes can be due to oxygenated blood under the skin
  • Brown under-eye circles may be caused by hyperpigmentation
  • Sunscreen could be the key to banishing a panda-like visage

If your dark under-eye circles aren't quite as adorable as a panda's, you don't have to grin and bear it. Try these (en)lightening strategies to minimize them.

Your plan of attack depends on the color of your circles. Look straight into a mirror in natural light, then lower your chin slightly to expose the shadows under your eyes. This way, you'll see clearly whether your circles are more blue or more brown.

Blue circles
The cause: Blue circles result from oxygenated blood pooled beneath the under-eye skin. Skin here is very thin and almost transparent, so blood shows through. This is more noticeable in the morning: When we've been horizontal for a while, fluids accumulate and the veins expand to hold more blood.

Real Simple: Long-lasting beauty solutions

Blue circles may get worse with age. "As we get older, we lose subcutaneous fat, which can mask blueness below the surface of the skin," says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Medical Center, in New York City.

OTC treatments: There are a few options that work in different ways, though their effects last only a day at most. Topical creams with stimulating ingredients, like caffeine, can constrict blood vessels and temporarily boost circulation; potent hydrators, such as hyaluronic acid, plump the area, pushing the skin up and away from the pooled blood.

Real Simple: Expert tips on hair coloring

Retinoic acid creams thicken the outer layer of the skin to conceal shadows. Another quick fix: products with stainless-steel rollerball-tip applicators. "The cool metal causes vessels to constrict," says New York City dermatologist Eric Schweiger.

Real Simple: Simplify your beauty routine

Professional treatments: A few other treatments approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use on the rest of the face can effectively treat under-eye circles. One noninvasive solution is a cream with a prescription-strength retinoid.

Blue circles can also be significantly diminished by a treatment called Thermage, which involves a high-tech handheld radio-frequency device. It is nonsurgical, requires no downtime, and is thought to increase the production of collagen, which builds up and tightens the skin.

One session costs about $1,000, and the results last three to five years. Zeichner treats dark circles by injecting a hyaluronic acid filler, such as Juvéderm or Restylane, to plump the skin and hide blueness; the injections can last a year or longer and cost $700 to $900 a pop.

Real Simple: 7 skin and beauty problems, solved

Brown circles
The cause: Brown circles result from hyperpigmentation, triggered by chronic eye-rubbing, sun exposure, or genetics. They are most prevalent among Asian and African American skin tones.

Real Simple: How to apply makeup well

OTC treatments: Your best bet is daily use of a cream or serum spiked with a skin brightener, like soy or citrus, which can lighten circles over a period of four to six weeks. Avoid hydroquinone, a go-to lightener for sun spots and scars, as most dermatologists agree that it's too heavy-duty for the eye area.

Professional treatments: As with blue circles, there are treatments dermatologists use elsewhere on the face that can also lessen the look of brown circles. They respond well to low-concentration TCA (trichloroacetic acid) peels, which exfoliate.

Real Simple: How to do a natural no makeup look

Plan on spending about $100 a treatment, and you may need several over a couple of months. For enhanced results, there are lasers, like the Q-switched or Fraxel, which destroy pigment cells and even out skin tone with a beam of light energy. Most circles lighten after two or three $500 sessions.

Real Simple: 6 sexy short hairstyles

Preventive measures
Reason No. 734 to wear sunscreen: It will keep circles from returning after treatment and can also stop them from developing in the first place. Sun protection prevents skin from both thinning prematurely (exposing blueness) and tanning (getting browner).

Real Simple: 10 ways to score big savings at the salon

      Find yourself at CNN Living

    • Travis and Joyce Miller started producing hickory syrup as an experiment. Demand for the unique flavor has turned into a full-time business.
    • These happy couples kept the campfire flames burning, and turned summer flings into lifetime commitments.
    • MIAMI, FL - JULY 22:  A model walks the runway at the Beach Riot show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim 2014 at Cabana Grande at the Raleigh on July 22, 2013 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by  for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim 2014)

      Bikinis might dominate the beaches, but style editors and trend forecasters say the one-piece is the "fashion-forward" choice this season.