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Dark Circles, Puffy Lids and Bags

by | Nov 30, 2011

Facial structure can affect skin color in the orbital eye area and create dark circles. Prominent cheekbones and deep-set eyes, with translucent skin covering dark underlying tissue, make the orbital eye area appear darker than the rest of the face. Did a parent, grandparent or other family member also have dark circles? Facial structure and coloration can be hereditary. Were they smokers? Smoking causes severe dark circles, lips and gums and premature aging of the skin.

Genetic fat deposits under the eyes can appear in youth and gradually worsen with age. Under-eye fat can cause severe dark circles, especially just below the fat deposits, because they put pressure on those tissues. A safe, effective surgical procedure called transconjunctival blepharoplasty addresses excess fat through an incision placed inside the lower eyelid. It avoids the external incision, leaves no visible scar, and can be performed as early as the late teens or early twenties. Ask us for a referral to a board certified cosmetic surgeon.

Lack of sleep: Chronic lack of sleep, sleeping with infants and small children, sleep disorders, frequent air travel, crossing time zones, graveyard-shift jobs and interrupted daytime sleep can lead to physical stress. This can cause dark circles, puffy eyes and other skin issues, including acne flare-ups.  Manage your time before bed, create a consistent bedtime routine, sleep without your children in your bed, and get seven uninterrupted hours of sleep on a consistent basis. These changes will help improve skin problems dramatically.

Dehydration: Inadequate water intake causes dehydration and water retention, which can lead to dark circles, puffy eyes, bloating, low energy, dry skin and scalp, shedding hair and a darker, uneven skin tone. Coffee, tea, high sodium intake, sports and energy drinks, alcohol, medications, hard water, indoor heat, space heaters, smoking and secondhand smoke all significantly increase the body’s need to re-hydrate with water. Rule of thumb: Drink enough water to equal half your weight in ounces. For every dehydrating beverage and salty meal, drink extra water. Double your water intake if you must take antibiotics, diuretics, antidepressants, medication for sleep, allergies, sinus or colds, high blood pressure or diabetes, or any medication known to cause dry mouth.

Pressure-lowering eye drops and eyelash enhancing products can cause dark pigmentation on the eyelids and darken the color of the eye itself. Use exactly as directed and wear sunglasses.

Medication: Hormones, birth control pills and devices, antibiotics, antihistamines, diuretics, blood pressure  and oral anti-diabetic drugs, antidepressants, painkillers, Accutane® and other drugs can cause severe sun sensitivity that leads to skin darkening. Skin lighteners, retinoids and other products can cause photo-sensitivity. Overuse of retinoids and anti-aging eye creams also cause irritation and temporary darkening. Longterm use of fluorinated steroid creams for itching in the eye area may lead to discoloration, thinning of the skin, swelling and broken capillaries.

Chemical irritation: Acne medications and cleansers that contain ingredients like benzoyl peroxide (BPO) can cause temporary darkening and swelling when applied too close to the eyes. Moisturizers applied simultaneously with BPO can cause them to migrate into to one another, darkening the skin in the eye area and diluting BPO’s action elsewhere. Cleansers that contain BPO, salicylic acid, alpha hydroxy acids, sulfur, fragrances and drying lathering agents shouldn’t be rinsed over the eyes. Perspiring during sleep can cause BPO to get into the orbital eye area. Bathing in hard water can dramatically dry out and darken the skin tone.

Contact dermatitis with symptoms that include itching, irritation, fine bumps and darkening can be caused by eye pressure drops, lash-enhancing products contaminated mascara and eye pencils, frosted eye shadows, D&C red dyes, scented skin, hair and laundry products, contact lens solutions, and by sensitivities to chemical sunscreens, skin lighteners, acne ingredients, alcohol or other cosmetic chemicals. Switch to matte eye shadows and fragrance-free products. Avoid make-up that contains red dyes. Keep acne medications and cleansers away from the eye area and if you perspire during sleep, wear BPO during the evening hours only and wash it off at bedtime. Replace mascara every three months and never share. Patch-test products that might be causing problems.

Metal eyeglass frames containing alloys like nickel can cause dermatitis around the eyes and on the brows, nose and temples. Those sensitive to nickel should choose plastic frames that are large enough to completely cover the eye area.

Out-of-control chronic allergies cause puffiness and dark circles. ‘Allergic shiners’ afflict both adults and children and run in families. Swelling, tearing, wiping, rubbing, blotting, scratching the eye area and failure to wear sunglasses and address the allergens that trigger allergy attacks are contributing factors. Old school antihistamines like Benedryl® cause dehydration, sun-sensitivity and drowsiness. Non-drowsy medications like loratadine (Claritin®) and fexofenadine (Allegra®) are better, but can still cause dehydration. Allergy symptoms and itchy puffy eyes improve dramatically when a saline sinus rinse like NeilMed® or a neti pot is used consistently two to three times a day. Eliminate cow’s milk, cheese and dairy products, which are known to trigger nasal congestion and increase mucus production. For more information, see: http://www.notmilk.com/kradjian.html

Explore and remove all irritants that trigger allergies, like dust, mold, pollen, dust mites, pet dander, fragrances, etc. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, stick to fragrance-free skin, hair, laundry and household products, sleep on fragrance-free bed linens (even when away from home), keep filters and air ducts clean, bathe pets often and use dander-remover. Wear a dust mask when you clean the house and work in the yard. Keep your car’s ventilation system on “circulate”, not “intake” from the outside to keep dust, pollen and particulate pollutants from getting into your eyes, nose and lungs.

Wiping and rubbing: Tearing, rubbing, wiping and scratching causes darkening because of friction and irritation caused by tearing. Remove eye make-up gently with a non-drying fragrance-free product. Pat dry after cleansing; never rub with a towel. Keep irritating cleansers, fragrances and chemical sunscreens away from the eyes. Avoid incense, smoke, wind and fans. Use caution with contact lenses, which make eyes more vulnerable to irritation and infection from debris, dust, pollutants, bacteria, protein build-up and rubbing. Replace lenses often and keep them clean. Wear UV-protective sunglasses, even on overcast days. At night, wear lightly-tinted sunglasses to protect your eyes from wind-borne debris, dust and pollutants.

Thyroid disease: Sun-sensitivity, darkening, puffiness, fluid retention and bulging in the orbital eye area, constant tearing, disturbed sleep cycles and delayed healing are symptoms that accompany Graves’ disease. Rubbing and wiping and not wearing sunglasses can intensify the darkening.

Auto-immune diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, sarcoidosis, scleroderma, diabetes, thyroid disease, vitiligo and others increase sun-sensitivity, as can many medications often associated with treatment. Sun avoidance, protecting the skin from the sun with hats and physical sunscreen and wearing sunglasses are crucial to avoid skin darkening and severe reactions to the sun. Prolonged, unprotected sun exposure can also trigger an auto-immune response.

Obesity and sudden weight gain: Fat cells boost the body’s production of estrogens, which leads to sun-sensitivity and skin-darkening. The darkening can extend from the orbital eye area out onto the outer cheeks, face and neck. Drugs often associated with obesity including water pills, oral anti-diabetic drugs and blood pressure medications, dramatically increase sun-sensitivity. Sun avoidance, daily sunscreen and sunglasses will help slow down the darkening. Plan to get back to pre-medication weight. Cut back on salt, eliminate high sodium foods and dairy, increase water intake, reduce fat, simple carbs and sweets, and exercise regularly. These lifestyle changes will reduce weight and water retention, and improve blood pressure, general health, skin tone and self-esteem.

Sun exposure: Wear sunscreen and protective eyewear during even short episodes of sun exposure, including overcast days. The sun’s long UVA rays can penetrate clouds and windshields and cause dark circles, brown discoloration, skin cancer and premature aging, even on overcast days. Sunglasses must be large enough to cover the entire orbital eye area. While prescription “transition” lenses darken in direct sunlight, they may not darken sufficiently while riding in a car or bus, and are often too small to adequately cover the eye area.

Hormones: Pregnancy, hormonal imbalances and changes, hormone-containing medications and birth control devices, perimenopause and menopause can all cause sun-sensitivity, skin discoloration, dark circles, fluctuations in weight, mood swings and acne flare-ups.

Smoking: Cigarettes, cigars, clove cigarettes, blunts, weed and even limited exposure to secondhand smoke, fireplaces and incense can cause dark circles, especially on olive and deeper skin tones. Only a couple of cigarettes and small amounts of secondhand smoke can cause darkening on the eye area, lips and gums, along with the other well-known dangers of smoking. Now, we have one more valid reason to quit smoking and call an immediate halt to secondhand smoke exposure.

Active skin brightening “cocktails” can contain mild glycolic or lactic acid (fruit acid exfoliators that act as “vehicles” to deeper tissues), dimethyl isosorbide (gentle, penetrating vehicle), retinoids (deep-penetrating active vitamin A derivatives), hydroquinone (FDA-approved skin lightening ingredient), l-ascorbate (stable, absorbable form of vitamin C), and the following melanin-suppressing brighteners: kojic acid dipalmitate, alpha-arbutin, azelaic acid, vitamin K, mulberry extract, bearberry (beta-arbutin), licorice extract, niacinamide (vitamin B3), emblica extract, Tego® Cosmo C250, Gigawhite™, mandelic acid and citrus juice extracts. Patch-tested and used exactly as directed and in the right formulation, there is a low incidence of irritation or allergic reaction.

Corrective products formulated to address darkening in the orbital eye area contain just enough fruit acid or retinoid (vitamin A) to help active melanin-suppressing brighteners penetrate better. They also gently exfoliate and repair delicate under-eye skin, which helps reduce fine lines and improve elasticity and texture. Ceramides and moisture-building factors help hydrate delicate eye-area skin, which lacks sebaceous (oil-producing) activity and tends to dry out first. Wean onto active eye care products, starting every-other-night (if not using BPO). Apply very sparingly and massage gently until all traces have vanished into the skin. Overuse can cause dryness, temporary darkening of the epidermal cells, flaking, itching and redness. Avoid direct sun when possible, apply and reapply full-spectrum sunscreen and wear UV-protective sunglasses religiously.

Help with puffiness:

  1. Sleep at least seven hours, with your upper body slightly elevated.
  2. Decrease salt intake and eliminate processed foods, take-out foods, dairy products, salty snacks, sports drinks and soups.
  3. Increase water intake dramatically and reduce intake of alcoholic beverages and caffeine. Eliminate soft drinks, sports and energy drinks, tomato juice, soup and all dairy.
  4. Control allergies and stick to all needed lifestyle changes, including controlling exposure to dust, smoke, allergens, heaters, pollutants and fragrances.
  5. Avoid scented skin care, hair care, household and laundry products.
  6. Lose weight, quit smoking and wear sunglasses.
  7. See an endocrinologist about diabetes, thyroid issues or if eyes are bulging and watery.
  8. Consult a board-certified cosmetic surgeon about under-eye fat removal.

Help with loose, sagging skin around the eye:

  1. Start with prevention, since sagging skin usually requires plastic surgery.
  2. Avoid direct sun and wear sunscreen and sunglasses.
  3. Keep weight stable. Frequent weight fluctuations contribute to sagging skin.
  4. Don’t smoke or allow any secondhand smoke exposure.
  5. Control allergies and their triggers so you don’t have to rub your eyes.
  6. Use active skin care products consistently, including peptides, vitamin C serum, sunscreen and sunglasses during the day and gentle AHA and/or retinoid serums at night.
  7. Consult a board-certified cosmetic surgeon about solutions for skin laxity.

© 2016 Kathryn Khadija Leverette

The material on this website is provided for educational purposes only, and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.