Dark Circles Under the Eyes: Causes and Solutions

We’ve all battled them–those dark circles under the eyes that make us wish concealer were as thick as concrete. The problem with dark circles is that they are not merely a cosmetic problem that is easily hidden using makeup. The truth is that most cosmetic issues have a physiological cause. Dark circles are no different. There are many different potential causes for dark circles. Some are easy to address and correct; others take a longer effort.

If you have extremely dark circles under your eyes consistently, please see your practitioner. The information that follows will help you know which blood tests to request and which body systems to discuss with your practitioner. Please note that the following information does not apply to anyone receiving chemotherapy or other extreme drug therapies, as these therapies themselves may cause dark circles under the eyes. As always, this information was not evaluated by the FDA, is shared for educational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or health condition.

Potential Causes of Dark Circles Under the Eyes

  • Lack of Sleep: Women who complain about dark circles often say they only sleep 4-5 hours per night. Deep sleep allows your skin to heal. Lack of sleep may interrupt this healing and cause skin to sag. Lack of sleep also makes us more pale, which makes the blood vessels under the skin more visible and makes the skin under the eyes look purple. If you have consistent trouble sleeping or have insomnia, please ask your health practitioner for assistance identifying the cause. Although insomnia may be caused by emotional issues, there are also many physical issues that can negatively impact sleep, including: blood sugar fluctuations, nutritional deficiencies, imbalances in neurotransmitters in the brain, hormonal imbalances, thyroid or adrenal issues, and many other physiological causes. You must determine the cause of insomnia in order to address the issue. Using a sleep aid will obviously help on a short-term basis, but identifying and addressing the cause will bring much greater relief.
  • Anemia: An iron deficiency (aka: anemia) can definitely contribute to dark circles under the eyes. The truth is that many nutritional deficiencies can cause dark circles under the eyes. Most doctors base their evaluation of anemia purely on a CBC. If you suspect you have undiagnosed anemia, ask your doctor to order a Ferritin test and an Iron Saturation test. Each of these will provide more insight into your body’s true iron levels. Eating a healthy diet is key to preventing and eliminating dark circles. For tips on how to improve absorption, please read my blog post, The Top Six Ways to Maximize Digestion.
  • Kidney Issues: Chinese medicine attributes dark circles under the eyes to any deficiency or challenge in kidney function. Although dark circles under the eyes can’t be used to diagnose kidney issues, dark circles under the eyes often accompany kidney issues. I can share a personal story related to this. My husband has always had extremely dark circles under his eyes that extended lower than most people’s dark circles. While practicing with my Electrodermal Screening (EDS) unit, my husband volunteered to be a test subject. His kidneys showed a strong degree of poor function (even though he had no physical symptoms), so I put him on a kidney support supplement that works very well for most people. Within a few months, the dark circles under his eyes began to disappear to the point that people noticed it and commented on it. In time, he was able to completely eliminate his dark circles. It was amazing!
  • Food and Environmental Allergies: More than one mom has seen that food allergies cause dark circles under the eyes. This effect is known as “allergy shiners.” Seasonal and environmental allergies can also cause dark circles under the eyes. The basic effect is that the allergy causes congestion which creates increased blood flow to the nose. Because the skin under the eyes is somewhat thin, the increased blood flow creates a purple tint created by the increased blood flow. The congestion caused by allergies can also cause enlarged blood vessels around the eyes and cause the dark tint. Many people with allergies sleep poorly and have adrenal fatigue, both of which can also contribute to dark circles under the eyes.
  • Adrenal Fatigue: Dark circles under the eyes are a primary indicator of adrenal fatigue. The adrenal glands are tiny glands located on top of the kidneys  that produce a multitude of hormones. The adrenals control the balance of electrolytes in our system, control metabolism, and control the production of many sexual hormones. Having adrenal fatigue can negatively impact every body system. The adrenals are also our “flight or fight” glands and respond to stress by excreting hormones. Because we live in a world that creates constant excess stress, many of us have adrenal glands that have become fatigued. Dark circles under the eyes, fatigue, poor sleep, weight gain and many other symptoms may be indicators of adrenal fatigue. Most mainstream practitioners don’t acknowledge that adrenal fatigue exists, but it is a very real condition that negatively impacts many people’s lives. I find that women have adrenal fatigue more frequently than men. If interested in learning more about adrenal fatigue, I highly recommend the book “Adrenal Fatigue: 21st Century Stress Syndrome.”

If you have dark circle under the eyes, try to get more rest, drink more water, eat a healthier diet, and know you’re not alone.

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IndyHealer

Pamela Reilly is a Naturopathic Nutritionist with a burning passion for helping others achieve wellness using an integrative approach combining mainstream medicine with natural modalities. She has over 20 years of experience in natural medicine, has multiple certifications, and is currently completing a doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine. She is part of the practice of The Logan Institute for Health & Wellness in Fishers, Indiana. She is available for consultations in person or over the phone and can be reached at 317.598.4325.

12 thoughts on “Dark Circles Under the Eyes: Causes and Solutions”

  1. I’m fairly convinced that there’s a major hereditary component to dark undereye circles – they also seem to be an Eastern European thing, to a degree?

    Then again, I’m chronically sleep-deprived, so who knows. (She said, as she posted a blog comment at 2:15 in the morning when she has to be up in less than six hours.)

  2. Interesting! I tend to get dark circles during finals week when I’m not sleeping and EXTREMELY stressed. But I have also been concerned about having anemia for a while. I haven’t been to PCP since high school. My previous insurance provider made it cheaper and easier to go to specialists, but my new insurance charges more for specialists. I will probably be visiting a PCP soon to keep up on my meds and get a check up I guess. How does one go about asking to be tested for anemia? (I always feel so awkward at doctors offices!)

    1. Sounds like a good idea to get a checkup. Try to remember that your doctor is HIRED by you and that you are the “boss.” You should never feel intimidated by a doctor and should always feel very comfortable requesting blood work. I encourage you to find a doctor who makes you feel comfortable enough that it’s not an issue. When you go for a checkup, your doc will probably order a Complete Blood Count (CBC) that measures hemoglobin, which can be an indicator of anemia. If you think anemia is an issue, ask your doc to also run tests to measure Ferritin and Iron to see what your true iron levels are and what your body’s iron stores are. The CBC, Iron and Ferritin should provide good evidence of whether or not you’re anemic. If you suspect anemia, you may also want to request a B12 test, as B12 levels often fall in the presence of anemia. I wish you well! Keep me posted!

      1. It’s all very well to say your doctor is”hired” by you, but your doctor also knows when a blood test for this sort of thing is actually necessary and when it’s not.

        The best way to get tested for anemia is to tell your doctor your symptoms and your concerns, and ask them what they think the cause could be. You could have anemia, but it could be something completely different – another disease or disorder, environmental factors, other diet deficiencies, whatever.I know it’s tempting to self-diagnose in this age of information, but real life symptoms aren’t as clear cut as they are on the internet.

         If your doctor dismisses your concerns out of hand and you feel they haven’t been addressed, find another doctor. But also remember that they did spend x amount of time at university, theoretically they know what they’re talking about. They’re not going to waste your time and money unecssarily.

      2. Thank you both for your advice. I haven’t had a check up in ages (college does that to a person) and I don’t even know my blood type, so yes, I definitely need to get on this. I’m concerned about anemia, because I experience several symptoms of narcolepsy (my sleep like a lot of things in my life is “disordered”, lets just say). I’m going to sound paranoid and naive for a minute, but part of me resists going to the doctor, because I probably have a lot of things “wrong” with me as far as the medical community would be concerned. I don’t want to add the stress of tests and more medication to my life, so this is a main hesitation in going to even just a PCP for a check up: it could open a huge can of worms. Okay… you are free to go ahead and call me ridiculous now.

        1. Try not to assume the worst. Many symptoms that seem serious have very simple causes that are easily reversed. However, until you see a doctor an find out, there’s no way to calm your fears. Please see a doctor soon. You can’t start to get better until you identify the cause of your symptoms.

          I’m in practice with an MD and will soon be a doctor. I encouraged your to be your own advocate and take charge of your own care because we see so many people in our practice who failed to do that and suffered as a result. The MD who founded our practice and everyone in the practice encourage everyone to be your own advocate,do your research, and to never be afraid to discuss concerns you have or blood work you think you might need. A healthcare system where most MDs only spend five minutes with patients requires that patients be blunt and be their own advocate. Too many people suffer as a result. However, in your case, you’ve diagnosed yourself without getting adequate testing. That can be dangerous, especially when – as you’ve stated – your fears are keeping you from learning the truth. Please see a doctor and find out what is going on so that you can begin to feel better. If needed, find an MD (or PA or NP) who will agree to meet with you before your first appointment sot hat you can figure out if you like the person and if you feel comfortable with them. Finding a doctor whom you are comfortable with and with whom you feel completely open to ask questions is important. I do wish you well!

  3. Like Awkwardette, I have the same dark circles that my mom does. They aren’t as bad as they used to be when I was in highschool and ravingly unhealthy- now that I eat better and get more exercise, the blood flow seems to have pinked them up a bit. What bugs me most is the strong, defined line that separates the under-eye area from the rest of my cheek. Can’t work that away, unfortunately.

    I just want a smooth faaaaace.

  4. or i think we need to some how make dark circles under the eyes en vogue. in my case, i’m pretty sure it’s hereditary. something called “dano bags”  (mother’s maiden name) ran in my family. by the time my grandfather was in his 70s, they were pretty much sagging down the end of his nose, and in my mother’s case, they are dark. mine are just dark and poofy so much so that my mom used to call me a raccoon.

    raccoon chic y’all.

    1. Wouldn’t it be great if dark circles under the eyes, wearing sweats to every function, and fat thighs were the stylish norm? There’s not much that can be done to combat hereditary, but per Marthamydear’s example, eating well and taking care of yourself can help make them less noticeable. I guess the one positive factor is that we’ll all fit right in when the Zombie apocalypse hits, right? (Not making light of the issue. I know it sucks. Just trying to keep things light.)

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