Where dark circles come from?

Periorbital hyperpigmentation or also known as dark circles are brown-black or dark patches on the lower eyelid, sometimes extending onto the upper eyelid, upper inner part of nose and upper cheek. Many people, question themselves ‘where dark circles come from?’, hence we have put together some facts and information.

Dark circles are not gender specific but can occur for both men and women of all ages, depending on some of the factors described below.

What are Dark Circles?

Dark circles are very visible and makes one look tired and dull, therefore highly distressing for patients and one of the common reasons in skin of coloured patients who seek out dermatology/cosmetic help.

What are the causes of dark circles?

It usually starts after puberty/early adulthood 16-25, in patients with a darker complexion.

A large study from India1 looking at 200 patients presenting with dark circles showed the causes as below:

  1. Constitutional or hereditary
    This means dark circles are commonly caused in Asians, start in early childhood, more noticeable after puberty/early adulthood 16-25 years, runs in families, diffuse hyperpigmentation, deep set eyes, affect upper eyelid also.

  2. Post-inflammatory
    This means dark circles occur as secondary to skin disease, most commonly atopic eczema, allergic contact dermatitis, lichen planus pigmentosus, ashy dermatosis, or even simple rubbing and dry skin – they have background dry skin, lichenification (dry skin lines), can have eczema elsewhere or family history of atopy (genetic tendency to develop allergic diseases).

  3. Vascular

red or bluish discolouration and thin skin with visible veins underneat

  1. Shadow effect
    These types of dark circles, can be commonly found near the eye. Deep tear trough, eye bags – inner part of lower eyelid, most commonly due to ageing, where there is volume loss due to loss of fat, thinning of skin and bone resorption. The fat herniated or forms a little wall at the border of the lower eyelid causing more shadow

  2. Dermal melanocytosis
    This is commonly known as dark circles referred to one or more birthmarks.

  3. Dermatology diseases
    Where different areas of the skin shows some visible abrupt transition from hyperpigmented to hypopigmented or normal skin coloration.

  4. Periorbital Oedema
    Also known as swelling around the eyes. This is a collection of fluid due to medical causes around your eye socket. Most often it appear to be worse in the morning

  5. Drugs
    Some of our self medicated drugs or eye drops used for glaucoma such as latanoprost, bimatoprost, OCP, HRT can cause dark circles also. Always make sure you ask for the side effects from your doctor before taking medication.

  6. Nutritional
    Your nutrition can play a huge part on your skins outlook. Nutritional deficiencies, anemia (most reported improvement on correction), chronic illness can cause the skin to look depleted and cause dark circles. But with the right treatment plan and nutrition, this can be reversed.

  7. Lifestyle
    A lifestyle where a person has excess sun exposure, lack of sleep (cause in 40-50%), stress in majority (stress causing stimulation of Melanocyte Stimulating hormone via Hypothalamic Pituitary axis), smoking, alcohol, cosmetics – leading to eye rubbing can cause dark circles.