Dark circles

What are the causes of dark circles?
Age-related bone and fat loss
Skin laxity
Visible blood vessels
Skin pigmentation due to genetics, melasma and dermatitis

What treatments are available for dark circles?
Treatment depends on the cause.
Topical retinoids, hydroquinone, caffeine and peptides may have a limited effect
Vascular lasers for prominent vessels
Dermal fillers for volume loss in some patients
Lasers, radiofrequency, high intensity focused ultrasound, Tixel, surgery for skin laxity

Dark circles under the eyes are one of the most common skin concerns. The causes are many, and treatment must be tailored to the cause. 

What are the causes of dark circles under the eyes?

  • The genetic structure of the face can predispose to dark circles. For example, having deeply set eyes
  • Age-related changes in the structure of the face, skin laxity (where the skin becomes loose and sags), and a reduction in the volume of fat and collagen can lead to hollowing and the appearance of shadows
  • Thin eyelid skin can lead to visibility of blood vessels and muscles under the skin which can result in a darkened appearance of the skin
  • Age-related changes to blood vessels can cause leakage of the breakdown products of blood into the skin, causing pigmentation
  • The buildup of fluid in the lower eyelid skin can cause a purplish appearance from the colour of the underlying muscle
  • Conditions such as melasma, atopic, irritant and allergic contact dermatitis, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation can cause darkening of the skin underneath the eyes, as can pigmentary demarcation lines

What treatments are available for dark circles under the eyes?

Treatment depends on the cause, so it’s best to be assessed by a professional to work out what exactly is causing your dark circles.

Topical products have a limited role in the treatment of dark circles. Topical retinoids may improve collagen production and reduce pigmentation, and hydroquinone may reduce pigmentation. There’s a small amount of evidence to suggest that products containing caffeine may improve the appearance of blood vessel-related dark circles, and that peptides may improve collagen production. 

Prominent blood vessels may be improved with vascular lasers

The loss of volume of fat and collagen may be improved with dermal fillers in certain patients. This can be dangerous and placement must be precise (sometimes in the cheeks), so seeing a highly qualified professional is recommended. 

Skin laxity may be improved with lasers, radiofrequency, high intensity focused ultrasound, Tixel, chemical peels and surgery.

Ahmadraji F, Shatalebi MA. Evaluation of the clinical efficacy and safety of an eye counter pad containing caffeine and vitamin K in emulsified Emu oil base. Adv Biomed Res. 2015;4:10. Published 2015 Jan 6. 

Freitag FM, Cestari TF. What causes dark circles under the eyes? J Cosmet Dermatol. 2007 Sep;6(3):211-5. 

Roh MR, Chung KY. Infraorbital dark circles: definition, causes, and treatment options. Dermatol Surg. 2009 Aug;35(8):1163-71. doi: 10.1111/j.1524-4725.2009.01213.x. Epub 2009 May 15. 

Vrcek I, Ozgur O, Nakra T. Infraorbital Dark Circles: A Review of the Pathogenesis, Evaluation and Treatment. J Cutan Aesthet Surg. 2016;9(2):65-72.




Spotlight on Skin was created by award-winning Melbourne-based dermatologist, Dr Julia Rhodes.

Julia knows first-hand how overwhelming the skincare world can be, and that’s with over 10 years of experience practicing dermatology. Given that even she gets overwhelmed, she appreciates how hard it can be for those of you without a scientific background to make sense of all the information available, and choose products that are right for your skin…