How Can You Get Rid of the Dark Circles Under Your Eyes?

Dark circles under the eyes (medically known as periorbital hyperpigmentation) are pretty common, and usually harmless. You might notice a darkening or a shadow effect in a half-moon shape along the skin below your eyes in a brown, blue, purple, or black shade depending on your skin tone. Different factors like genetics, aging, fatigue, and more can cause dark circles to form.1

For some people, their appearance can be bothersome—but fortunately, it's possible for pesky dark circles to be reduced with at-home and professional treatments. Read on for why they develop, and how to get rid of them.

What Causes Dark Circles Under Eyes?
If you've experienced dark circles under the eyes, they may have been most noticeable after a particularly sleepless night. But there are actually a variety of causes that contribute to dark circle development.
Genetics: Having dark circles under your eyes tends to run in families. Studies have shown that having a family history of dark circles makes it more likely that you’ll experience them, too, and that this might be the most significant risk factor.2
Aging: As we age, our skin becomes thinner and loses elasticity and volume.3 These skin changes to the delicate under eye area can allow blood vessels to become more noticeable—which in turn leads to a darker appearance.4
Allergies: Among people who experience allergies, congestion in the sinus cavities can prompt blood vessel swelling beneath the eyes, leading to dark circles. Plus, rubbing itchy or uncomfortable eyes can make those circles even more prominent.5
Lack of sleep: The anecdote that a sleepless night can lead to dark under eye circles in the morning has some evidence behind it. 6 Skipping sleep can impact blood vessel dilation, which could lead to a darkened appearance underneath the eyes.7
Fluid retention: Smoking, eating a diet high in salty foods, certain medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and some medical conditions that impact the thyroid, kidneys, liver, or heart are all linked to swelling or fluid retention.8 By causing blood vessels to dilate beneath the eyes, dark circles can form.
Sun exposure: For some people, exposure to the sun can make their body produce more melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. Sun damage also weakens skin, creating the perfect storm for dark circles to show through.9
While anyone can experience dark circles, they may be more likely in people with a family history of dark circles, older adults, and people with darker skin tones.19
Home Remedies for Dark Circles
The first line of treatment for dark circles under the eyes can start at home.
OTC Topical Products
Reaching for a topical eye cream found over-the-counter (OTC) to combat dark circles is a great first option, but you'll want to check the product for a couple of key ingredients first.

Caffeine has been shown to help reduce swelling when applied to the skin, which is helpful for treating dark circles triggered by inflammation.4
Retinol eye cream, which is a vitamin A derivative, can help promote collagen growth and decrease skin pigmentation—resulting in under eye skin smoothness and reduced discoloration.4
Vitamin K helps increase circulation, improve skin elasticity, and may gently lighten dark areas of the skin, making it ideal for dark circle treatment.10
Vitamin C is known to promote collagen production, and it may also help brighten skin to help conceal any darkness or shading from dark circles.11
Keep in mind that OTC eye creams are not an instant fix for under eye dark circles. For the best results, experts suggest giving products a try for at least 30 days—unless it's irritating your skin—to know whether it's working for you.12
When applying eye creams or serums, remember that the delicate skin around the eyes is among the thinnest on the human body. Use these products as directed and take care not to let them get into the eye to avoid irritation or superficial burns.13

Green and Black Tea
Another tactic could involve using cooled green or black tea bags underneath the eyes to help cut down on inflammation and stimulate blood circulation. Experts theorize that this may help even out excess fluid underneath the skin and lessen the appearance of under eye discoloration.144 Bonus—using cold therapy on the skin can help temporarily reduce swelling.9

Sun Protection
If your under eye dark circles are due to sun exposure, consider becoming super vigilant about sun protection. UV rays from the sun can lead to skin pigmentation (darkening or discoloration) and contribute to the appearance of dark circles in some people.8

To avoid further sun damage in the eye area, experts recommend wearing a facial sunscreen, larger sunglasses and a hat when in direct sunlight.15

Medical Treatments for Dark Circles
If you're not seeing the improvement you desire with home remedies, it may be time to check with a healthcare provider. They'll be able to help narrow down the cause of your dark circles—like allergies, thinning skin, or a lack of sleep—and offer professional treatment options to help reduce the under eye discoloration.
Prescription Topical Products
Depending on the underlying cause of the dark circles, a topical product with stronger active ingredients may be prescribed.

For dark circles that've developed from hyperpigmentation (excessive melanin production in the skin)— a skin-lightening topical product like hydroquinone can be helpful.8 Other active ingredients with similar results include kojic acid, azelaic acid, and prescription retinoids.16

Be sure to use prescription topical medications exactly as directed, as some may have side effects or risks if used excessively or incorrectly.
Injectable Fillers
Known for their plumping and volumizing effects, injectable dermal fillers made with hyaluronic acid can be used to help smooth out the under eye area.8 This can make any darkening due to the  orbicularis oculi muscle under the skin and noticeable blood vessels less apparent.

Bleeding, bruising, skin irritation, and other risks can come with the use of fillers, which a healthcare provider will discuss with you before treatment.17
Laser Therapy
Laser therapy works by aiming controlled heat at the area target skin discoloration, also encouraging new skin cell growth.8 This helps lighten the skin underneath the eyes, resurfacing the area and cutting down on wrinkles that can exacerbate dark circles.1

Depending which type of laser is used, there may be some mild side effects experienced, like redness, swelling, itching, and more.18

Chemical Peels
Chemical peels can help lighten unwanted pigment underneath the eyes.19 Options that contain glycolic acid, alpha hydroxy acid, or lactic acid have been shown to improve darkening in the area.20 This tactic works by safely removing layers of skin with a chemical solution, also resulting in overall smoothing and brightening.4

Chemical peels are safe and generally effective, with a potential for some mild discomfort in the days following the procedure. Some specific skin aftercare may be recommended to help avoid complications like hyperpigmentation or scarring.21

Cosmetic Surgery
There are a couple of surgical options for treating dark under eye circles, depending on the underlying cause.

A fat transplantation can add volume to the area for excessive skin thinning, while a blepharoplasty (a procedure to remove excess skin) can lift, tighten, and smooth the area surgically—helping to eliminate those dark shadows.8

Keep in mind that any surgery comes with risks, and discuss any questions or concerns with your healthcare provider ahead of time.
Other Emerging Therapies
While more research is needed, some studies have pointed to the success of using platelet-rich plasma (or PRP) therapies to lighten under eye dark circles caused by aging.22 This involves taking a sample of blood from a patient, then injecting the plasma into the under eye area.8

PRP is also being used for hair loss, joint regeneration, and as an overall facial anti-aging treatment.23 Potential risks for this procedure include pain, bruising, swelling, and infection.24

How to Prevent Dark Circles
Dark circles aren't always completely preventable, but there are a few ways that experts recommend taking special care of your skin to help minimize the chances of noticeable discoloration from developing—or from getting worse.25

Use sunscreen daily to help prevent skin damage and signs of aging around the eyes
Apply eye cream morning and night to keep the delicate under eye area moisturized
Get enough sleep to help your skin repair and renew itself.
Quit smoking to avoid premature wrinkles and skin aging
Eat a healthy, low-salt diet and drink plenty of water to lessen fluid retention
Try gentle facial massage to improve elasticity and circulation in the under eye area
When to See a Healthcare Provider
If your dark under eye circles are a mild cosmetic nuisance, there's probably no reason to seek medical attention right away.

But if the appearance of your dark circles are impacting the quality of your life, or if you're also experiencing symptoms like irritation, pain, swelling, or congestion—consider checking in with a healthcare provider for an examination and diagnosis.

After reviewing your medical history and symptoms, the healthcare provider can perform a physical examination to rule out allergies or another skin or medical condition. And from there, you can determine what your options are for a treatment plan or cosmetic procedures.