Regardless of how well rested you are, dark circles are a problem many of us battle with, thanks in part to genetics, pigmentation, allergies, and thinning skin. While a good concealer can help cover them up, dark circles are notoriously difficult to get rid of, but not impossible. 

Dr Calvin Chan, medical director of Calvin Chan Aesthetic & Laser Clinic, fills us in on the cause of dark circles, the best treatment options, and which eye creams can help diminish their appearance.

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Dr Calvin Chan (Photo: Calvin Chan Aesthetic & Laser Clinic)

What is the definition of dark eye circles?

Dark eye circles, also known as dark eye rings, refer to the condition where the skin beneath the eyes appears darkened.

What are some of the main causes?

The causes of dark eye circles are varied and can include any, or a combination of the following:

1) Excessive pigmentation
This can be either due to congenital or environmental causes. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation of the lower eyelid skin is not uncommon in those with allergies. Excessive sun exposure and intake of certain drugs can cause such pigmentation as well.

2) Skin thinness and circulation
The thinner the skin on the lower eyelids, the more translucent it is and this causes the underlying muscles and prominent blood vessels to show through, resulting in a dark purplish appearance. Poor circulation and overactive circulation around the eye area both can contribute to a darkening effect too.

3) Shadowing due to tear trough
A depression near the inner side of the lower bony eye socket can cause a shadowing effect on the under eye area making it appear darker. 

4) Volume deficit
Loss of underlying fat and thinning of skin over the eye socket creates a hollowness and emphasises the appearance of a dark curvilinear line under the eye.

5) Overactive under-eye muscles
This translates to a lot of movement of the skin from facial expressions causing stretching and wear and tear of the skin so the area bulges more and looks more tired.

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Is there anything we can do to stop them from developing?

1) Avoid rubbing and scratching the skin around the eyes

Rubbing or scratching can cause the tiny blood vessels around the area to rupture, contributing to a darkened appearance of the under eye skin. It can also cause the fragile skin to loosen and sag, which can worsen the look of bags and dark circles.

2) Do not drag or pull the skin around the eyes

Dragging or pulling the skin may cause it to stretch and due to the delicate and thin nature of the skin around the eyes, this can quickly lead to wrinkles and fine lines as well as skin sagging.

3) Get enough sleep

The amount of sleep one needs depends on various factors, especially age. Sleep needs vary significantly among individuals (influenced by factors like sleep quality, accumulated sleep deprivation and sleeping patterns); but in general, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night.

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Once they appear, what are the best treatment options?

Concealing dark circles with makeup can only get you so far. Fortunately, there are methods to treat dark circles with aesthetic medicine. However, the administering of these should only be done after personal consultation with a doctor as treatment differs based on the root causes of the problem.

1) Chemical peels can slough off the upper layers of the skin thus reducing the appearance of dark pigmentation.

2) Laser skin treatments like Laser Genesis and Pro Yellow can safely treat and reduce pigmentation around the eyes and also rejuvenate the skin to improve collagen production and skin thickness so dark circles are minimised.

3) Dermal fillers can be injected to restore volume and counteract the hollow effect. I would recommend fillers that are specially formulated for use on the eye area, such as Teosyal Redensity II and Rejuran I as they are more suitable in terms of consistency, viscosity and molecular weight to be injected into the delicate and thin skin of the eye area.

4) Botox can help to relax overactive under-eye muscles and give the under-eye area a refreshed, smoother and lifted appearance.

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Close up of woman receiving botox injection under eye
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Are there any potential complications as a result of treatment?

With chemical peels and laser treatments, the common side effects are temporary, and include redness, dryness, stinging or burning sensations, and slight swelling of the treated skin. More serious risks include scarring and the darkening of the treated skin (hyperpigmentation), which is more common in people with darker skin.

With dermal fillers and botox, common side effects include temporary pain, swelling and infection. In serious cases where the physician accidentally injects an artery, it can affect facial nerves temporarily or even permanently.

Can a good eye cream help?

For a good eye cream you should be on the look out for ingredients like vitamin K to strengthen and thicken the delicate skin around the eye area, hyaluronic acid to hydrate and plump out fine lines and alleviate dryness, and peptides to reinforce, plump and smooth the skin.

To help combat dark circles in particular, look for ingredients that boost microcirculation and plump and brighten the under-eye area, such as caffeine, vitamins C and K, ginseng, and peptides.