Puffiness or bags under the eyes are a common sign of aging and one of the top beauty concerns with women. As the skin around the eye area is thinner and more delicate, it tends to dry easily. This is why under-eye bags are usually complemented by other concerns such as dark circles, fine lines and wrinkles or tired looking eyes. Periorbital edema is another type of puffiness where inflammation causes fluid build-up and swelling around the eyes.
Many factors such as heredity, natural aging where the tissue structures and muscles supporting the eyelids weaken; and lifestyle habits like late nights, lack of sleep, high alcohol consumption or poor diet can all lead to this problem. The fat that is normally confined to the area around the eye (orbit) can migrate to the area under the eyes, adding to the swelling. Fluid can also accumulate, especially upon waking or after a high-salt meal, making the under-eye area appear puffy. But for periorbital edema, some causes include allergies, skin disorders, conjunctivitis, as well as trauma from an injury to the eyes.
What causes dark circles?
With aging, the skin becomes thinner due to a loss of collagen, leaving the blood vessels beneath the eyes to appear darker and more pronounced.
Oversleeping, extreme fatigue, or continuous late nights can cause dark circles to develop. Sleep deprivation can cause your skin to become dull and pale, allowing for dark tissues and blood vessels beneath your skin to show. Water retention under the eyes or puffy eyelids can also cause shadows under the eyes to appear as dark circles.
Long term exposure to blue light such as those emitted from electronic or digital devices can cause significant eye strain and damage to the skin. This strain can cause blood vessels around your eyes to enlarge and the surrounding skin to darken.
An allergic reaction which is a defense mechanism that causes your body to release histamines in a response to harmful bacteria. Other than itch, redness, and puffiness, histamines also cause your blood vessels to dilate and become more visible beneath the skin. Allergies which often lead to an increased urge to rub and scratch the itchy skin around your eyes, can in turn cause inflammation, swelling, and broken blood vessels that result in dark shadows under the eyes.
Family history also plays a part and predispositions to other medical conditions such as thyroid disease can also cause dark undereye circles.
Types of Dark Circles
Blue-toned Undereye Circles
A lack of sufficient sleep and bout of allergies like rhinitis are culprits for these bluish toned undereye circles. It is due to poor micro-circulation which causes the blood to become less oxygenated and this will then turn it from bright red to appearing dull blue.
Purplish-red Undereye Circles
Aging and genetics are the cause for those violet-reddish toned undereye circles. As you age, the skin becomes thinner, making blood vessels appear more obvious. What is actually going on is that the vessel walls dilate and weaken the surrounding capillaries, causing the blood cells to leak.
Brownish-black Undereye Circles
These circles are a form of hyperpigmentation caused by UV damage or genetics, and are the hardest to treat. Although all skin tones are susceptible to dark circles caused by excess pigmentation, they are in fact most common in medium to darker skin tones.
Dark Shadows Under the Eyes
While these are not actual discoloration of the skin, they are caused by the loss of facial volume, which then causes “a valley” between the undereyes and cheeks. These are the easiest to treat using fillers to plump up the area.
Dos & Don’t’s
Do get more regular and sufficient sleep
How you sleep and how much sleep are a factor. Although lack of proper sleep may not actually cause undereye circles, it can cause complexion to pale and dull, rendering any shadows or dark circles more obvious. Consider elevating your head with pillows to prevent fluid from pooling under your eyes.
Don’t forget to protect your skin
Overexposure to UV rays can cause an over production of melanin and the pigmentation in the surrounding skin to darken. Wear a sunscreen daily.
Do watch your diet
Cut back on salty foods and alcohol. While salt contributes to your body’s fluid retention, drinking alcohol causes dehydration, and that in turn may lead to bags and dark circles under your eyes.
Do cold compress
To help reduce swelling and shrink dilated blood vessels in an instant, wrap a few ice cubes or dampen a washcloth with cold water and apply it to the area for 20 minutes. Repeat this process if the cloth becomes warm or when ice melts. You can also try cold tea bags as caffeine and antioxidants in tea can help stimulate blood circulation, shrink blood vessels, and reduce fluid retention. To use, first soak two black or green tea bags in hot water for five minutes then chill in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes. Do rinse your eyes with cool water after use.
On top of lifestyle adjustments, try adding an eye treatment to your daily skincare routine. Under-eye darkness caused by excess brown pigment or melanin can be lightened with topical products. Find one with kojic acid or vitamin C to help brighten, green tea and aloe to soothe, and caffeine to constrict and firm the skin.
You should see a doctor if your under-eye swelling is severe and long-lasting, followed by redness, pain, or itching. Your doctor may offer some long-term solutions, like prescription creams or other treatments that work to reduce swelling and discoloration. Medical treatment options include:
Light Based Therapies:
Fractional lasers create micro-injuries in the skin which in turn stimulates collagen production as a result of skin’s natural healing process. For loss of elasticity on the upper and lower eyelids, lasers and radio frequency treatments like Thermage will tighten and smoothen the skin. Side effects may include redness for a couple of days.
Non Light-Based Treatments:
A professional grade peel like TCA administered by medical doctors can penetrate to the right skin depth to improve texture and tighten skin. Chemical peels that penetrate beyond the skins epidermis trigger the skin’s own wound healing ability to stimulate the production of collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid, regulate growth factors, resulting in a thicker dermis, smoother surface and firmer skin.
Injecting hyaluronic acid fillers into the tear trough area (the grooves between the lower eyelid and the cheeks) can reduce the look of saggy eyes and dark circles. Fillers can help to lift skin up and away from blood vessels under the eyes, restoring volume and a smoother appearance. Side effects may include redness and bruising for a day or two.
This procedure involves fine needles puncturing the skin to inflict a controlled injury, which in turn rejuvenates the skin being treated. This treatment can help to reduce wrinkles, scarring, and pigmentation issues, like dark circles and under-eye bags.
A course of six sessions spaced a month or so apart is usually recommended.
Recovery time is relatively fast but some side effects like bleeding, bruising, infection and scarring may occur.
At-home kits are less effective and there’s risk of infection. This approach is not suitable for those who scar easily or have a history of keloids.
Blepharoplasty (Eyelid Surgery)
If the eye bags are too large or sagging skin is significant, blepharoplasty is the only answer. During surgery, excess fat and skin is removed through an incision in the natural crease of the upper eyelid or inside the lower lid followed by tiny stitches that dissolve over time.
Discuss with your doctor about the possible side effects such as dry or watery eyes, pain, swelling, bruising and blurred vision. Rare complications include visual impairment, bleeding, infection, injury to eye muscles, and corneal abrasion.