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June 21, 2008

Under-eye Circles: What causes them and how to treat them

Ah, the joys of being a woman. We get to unabashedly spoil ourselves with spa treatments and beauty products delicious enough to eat. While men tend not to go to such lengths, they don’t have to. That’s right — they get to grow old gracefully with that thick skin of theirs and plentiful collagen reserves. And nobody lets us forget it.

Walk into any Sephora or even your local drugstore and you can go blind looking at all of the anti-aging products that remind us of how imperfect we are—and that we dare not let nature takes its course. Aside from the usual culprits—fine lines and facial furrows—one of the biggest beauty concerns for women are undereye circles.

According to a recent survey by Clinique, about 53 percent of the 13,000 women surveyed by the company cited under-eye circles and puffiness as their No. 1 beauty concern. An affliction that makes no exceptions for age or race, dark circles under the eyes is a pesky problem that’s hard to fix — but not for a lack of trying by skincare companies. One dark circles sufferer started a dark circles blog to share advice with others with under-eye circles.

The site lists the myriad reasons for under-eye circles including heredity (thanks Mom and Dad!), nutrition, medications, lack of sleep, blood circulation, allergies, sun exposure and dehydration. We just can’t win.

Sephora sells more than 50 products designed to specifically treat under-eye circles. Enter the words “dark circles” on Sephora.com and you’ll get eight pages of results. But not all products are created equally or treat the underlying causes. That doesn’t keep consumers from trying products that claim to turn back the clock or diminish undereye circles.

The challenge with treating under-eye circles is figuring out what’s causing them. Most people think dark circles mean you’re tired or tossed back too many margaritas at happy hour (which are possibilities—lack of sleep and alcohol do exacerbate dark circles).

The most likely reason for chronic under-eye circles is excess pigmentation in the skin. Dark circles can happen to people of all skin types but are especially prevalent among African-Americans, Southeast Asians and Southern Italians.

Dilated blood vessels close to the thin under-eye skin are another cause. Here’s a less commonly-known culprit: airborne allergens, which cause blood to pool under the skin. The good news is that people with allergy-triggered dark circles can often alleviate their symptoms with an antihistamine pill.

And we can’t forget about the aging process. As we get older our skin gets thinner—so those dark rings under the eyes can appear darker. Medications like birth control pills can also dilate blood vessels.

The problem with many products on the market is that most don’t work for people with excess pigmentation or dilated veins. For people who don’t know why they have dark circles, a topical product containing a plumping agent or alpha-hydroxy acid, which thickens skin, or vitamins C and K, which add volume, can diminish the appearance of dark under-eye circles.

If all else fails, there are laser treatments to resurface skin by destroying pigment cells. The process is not pain-free and it can take weeks to return to normal (i.e. public) activities. But if it means no more dark circles, it could be worth the discomfort and inconvenience.

Leading products that treat under-eye circles:

P205614_hero Shiseido’s White Lucent Brightening Eye Treatment

uses vitamin C, which minimizes melanin, and chestnut rose extract, which the company says thickens skin. The brightening effect reflects light for a luminous glow while the Spot Deacti Complex addresses both melanin formation and poor local microcirculation, two major causes of dark circles.
The Dark Circle Targeting Complex reduces melanin and diminishes the appearance of melanin pigments.


Hylexin is designed to help reduce hemoglobin degradation by-products (the stuff that creates dark circles). It does this by optimizing enzymatic activity, fading red-blue pigmentation of dark circles. Studies indicate that Hylexin actually helps strengthen the capillary matrix to help stop the "leaking," so the delicate skin in the orbital eye area is protected against further damage. Katherine Hagel is reportedly a loyal fan.

P52513_heroDecleor Hydra Floral Deeply Hydrating Eye Contour Gel-Cream

Hydra Floral Eye Contour Gel-Cream dispenses moisture gradually throughout the day to keep eyes looking refreshed, smooth, and bright. Infused with a unique caffeine derivative and a plant-based firming agent, Hydra Floral helps to constrict and reduce dark circles and signs of dehydration.

No matter what, remember that not getting enough sleep, drinking too much alcohol and excessive sun exposure can cause dark circles to appear worse. So, treat your body with care!


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