There are few things more frustrating than a well-meaning friend, colleague or stranger remarking “you look tired” – especially when you actually got a full eight-hours the night before. The question of what causes dark circles under the eyes is normally put down to a lack of sleep, when in fact there are a number of other potential causes.
The skin beneath our eyes is less than half the thickness of the skin on the rest of our face, which makes it the prime site for these dark marks to appear.
It’s not the answer you want to hear, but unfortunately some people are just more predisposed to dark rings beneath their eyes than others. If your parents have them, it makes sense that you will have them too. Your skin tone also plays a part.
As we age, our skin becomes thinner, making the blood vessels that surround our eyes beneath the skin more apparent. Think of it like a pair of 200 denier tights versus a 20 denier pair – it’s much easier to see marks and blemishes on your legs beneath the thinner tights. The fat pads beneath our eyes can also become more obvious with age, especially if you have lost a lot of weight. This casts shadows, which can either amplify existing rings or create the illusion of them.
The sun on our skin might feel gorgeous, but the shine starts to come off when you consider that UV rays are the main culprit behind premature aging. Sun exposure can be responsible for hyperpigmentation, caused by an overproduction of melanin, the protein that gives skin its pigment. It appears commonly around the eyes, where the skin is thinner, and tends to be more prolific in darker skin tones. A daily broad-spectrum SPF of at least 30 will help to prevent future damage.
Allergies occur when your body produces a chemical called histamine in response to coming into contact with something it believes to be harmful. The most common allergies include reactions to pollen, animal dander and dust, triggering a runny nose and itchy eyes. There's a natural impulse to rub sore eyes, making them redder and puffier, as well as amplifying the appearance of any existing dark circles.
Feel like the bridge of your nose is filled with cotton wool? Nasal congestion fuelled by allergies and illness can cause the veins around your eyes to dilate, making them appear darker and more prominent.
A lack of water is never a good thing, especially when you consider that more than half our body is made up of it. Dehydration can show itself in a number of ways, but in the skin will make it appear thinner and more sallow, which, you guessed it, is a sure-fire way to shine a light on those pesky rings.
If you suffer from anemia, a lack of iron in your blood, or a lack of vitamin B12, you may find that your skin is washed out, and by proxy, dark rings are making themselves known. Try incorporating more iron rich foods like red meat and spinach into your diet, as well as seeking the advice of your doctor.
We know we said that the answer to what causes dark circles isn’t always burning the candle at both ends, but it can still be a sign you’re not sleeping well. When we’re tired, skin can appear paler, with blood vessels more visible beneath the surface. Tired eyes are often puffier too, creating shadows which will amplify dark rings. If you’re getting plenty of sleep and find your eyes are still puffy, try sleeping on two pillows to help with fluid drainage.