What Do Dark Circles Around the Eyes Mean?

Fact Checked

idark-haired lady image by GeoM from Fotolia.com

Darkening of the skin around the eyes can make a person look older, tired, depressed or just plain hung-over. It is possible to use concealer, get more rest and reduce stress, but chances are those dark circles persist. Dark circles around the eyes do not necessarily mean that someone is in poor health. Having a better understand of the condition can help find the right treatment.

Overproduction of Melanin

Melanin is the pigment which gives people’s skin varying degrees of brown shades. Dark circles are caused when there are too many melanin-producing cells in the skin around the eyes according to Fernanda Freitag M.D. and Tania Cestari Ph.D., authors of "What Causes Dark Circles Under the Eyes" in the September 2007 issue of the "Journal of Clinical Dermatology." The appearance of the darkened areas may fade and and then worsen as it is affected by swelling and thickening of the skin around the eyes.


Experts at the Mayo Clinic identify allergies as a cause of dark eye circles. An allergic response often produces inflammation (swelling), itching and irritation to the eyes according the Freitag and Cestari. People suffering from environmental allergies (pollen and dust, for example) often have dark circles around the eyes because of the swelling and rubbing or scratching the eyes to relieve the itching. It is recommended to ask a pharmacist to recommend an over-the-counter remedy or see a doctor if a person has severe allergies.


Freitag and Cestari state that certain ethnic groups and members of the same family are more likely share having dark circles around the eyes based on clinical observation. According to the Mayo Clinic, Blacks and Asians are among those particularly prone to problems with pigmentation. Many of the same treatments discussed here are available no matter what the cause of dark eye circles around the eyes.


Skin loses the thin layer of fat that adds structure and protection as people age. The skin also loses tone and sags as people age. These effects of aging cause the reddish-blue system of blood vessels under the skin to be more visible through the delicate skin around the eyes according to Freitag and Cestari.


Freitag and Cestari cite common treatments of dark circles around the eyes including retinoid (Vitamin A) creams, bleaching creams and chemical peels. Experts at the Cleveland Clinic describe how dermatologists use carbon dioxide laser treatments to improve the appearance of the skin caused by pigmentation problems by removing thin layers of the skin. Experts at the Mayo Clinic advise that a doctor may recommend any combination of these approaches depending on what is causing the dark circles around the eyes.