Dark circles and Puffy Eyes: Your guide to causes and treatments

Dark circles and puffy eyes. Your guide to what causes them and what you can do about them.


Dark circles under the eyes is one of the most common things people list as a concern when they take the Harley Street Emporium skin care test.

More than 25% of respondents said it was an issue for them.

There many of causes for dark circles under the eyes so unfortunately there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ fix – despite what we’re often told.


The Causes

The causes can include:

  • genetics
  • lifestyle (too many late nights, smoking, alcohol consumption)
  • ageing, and
  • health issues such as skin conditions, hormones or an iron deficiency.

Cosmetic Dermatologist, Dr Simon Zokaie, medical director of the Linia Skin clinic on Harley Street, says sun exposure can often make dark circles worse as it increases the melanin content, so wearing sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses is important.

When it comes to ageing there are two main factors involved. We lose collagen and elastin and the skin thins which means the blood vessels may become more visible, giving a darker appearance.  We also lose fat in some areas of the face which can make the tear trough appear more hollow and darker.

Dr Zokaie adds that skin conditions that can affect the skin on the eyelids such as eczema or allergic contact dermatitis, or inflammation from dry and sore skin can increase melanin production and make the skin around the eyes look darker.

So, the treatment for dark circles will depend on the cause.


The Treatments

Dr Unnati Desai, a GP with a diploma in dermatology, says if the cause is inflammation from something like dermatitis or eczema, the first and most important step is to get that under control with the appropriate treatment such as an anti-inflammatory or steroid cream.

It is vital to see a doctor to get advice on the best treatment option.

Once it’s under control the pigmentation can be treated with medical-grade products that address the production of pigment itself such as the ZO Skin Health or Tebiskin Sooth and LC range.

Before and after 3 months topical cream treatment, courtesy Dr Unnati Desai

She says, patience is required for treating pigmentation as the skin has a 4-6 week cycle and it may take a few months to see real progress.

Dr Desai adds hydroquinone is good for lightening dark circles but must be used short term only and under medical supervision as it can cause skin irritation and may cause blueish-black skin discolouration, especially in people with darker skin types.

Tear trough fillers are possibly one of the most well-known treatment for the under-eye area addressing a loss of volume and in some cases the dark circles, but they aren’t suitable for everyone, Desai says.

“If you have a tendency to retain water or have puffy eyes fillers could make it look worse, as they bind water to them,” she says.

In this case she recommends using PRP instead.

PRP or platelet-rich-plasma helps regenerate the tissue under the eye, improving the collagen and elastin and in turn the thickness of the skin so the darkness from the blood vessels is reduced. It can also help with lymphatic drainage which will help reduce the puffiness.

She adds that special under eye peels with kojic or lactic acid can help with dark circles too, but these DO NOT fall into the ‘try this at home category’ – they must be done by a medical professional as it is a very delicate area.

Dr Zokai says mesotherapy with a lightening serum such as glutathione and vitamin C may help improve dark circles too. Glutathione is an antioxidant that is also known is reputed inhibit melanin production and produce skin lightening.

He also says microneedling can be used under the eye area to help boost the collagen and elastin production and improve the skin texture, but warns that this too is a no-no to do at home as it’s delicate tissue.


The Quick Cosmetic Fixes

Consultant Dermatologist and founder of Dermaperfect on Harley Street, Penelope Tympanidis has a quick fix for recovery after a big night out (or to get you through one.)

She says a chamomile tea bag compress can work wonders. Make yourself a pot of this soothing tea and once it has cooled either use the bag or soak an eye pad in the tea, squeeze off the excess liquid and spend a good ten minutes or so relaxing with them on your eyes.

Dr Tympanidis says “chamomile great for reducing swelling and inflammation.”

She also says if you want your eyes to stay looking good for longer, quit smoking and cut down on the alcohol.

GP and aesthetics doctor, Kal Pindolia , founder of Envisage Aesthetics, says there are a number of other at home remedies that can provide temporary relief from puffiness and dark circles as well.


Thankfully puffy eyes when you wake up usually settle quickly she says, but if you need a little help you could try cucumber slices, potato slices, cotton pads soaked in milk, caffeinated teabags or even applying cold spoons. These have all been used to temporarily refresh the eye area.

They help constrict the blood vessels which reduces puffiness and gives a lighter appearance around the eye – but the results won’t last long, she warns.


Cover ups

Make-up with colour correction in another option for dark circles.  Peach or orange tones can reduce the blue hue caused by superficial blood vessels, she says.

A good concealer, a shade lighter than the skin, can also cover dark circles and areas of hyperpigmentation.

She recommends avoiding heavy, creamy products as they may contribute to puffiness, so lighter serums tend to be a better vehicle for topical potions.

One good one is Teoxane RHA Advanced Eye Contour which hydrates but works to reduce puffiness and helps cover dark circles with a universal tint.: https://harleystreetemporium.com/product/teoxane-rii-eyes-rha-advanced-eye-contour-15ml/