Dark Circles Under Eyes -- The Truth About Treatments

stencil of eye and eyebrow
Flickr photo by Horia Varlan
I never knew what dark circles under the eyes were until I had babies. Hello, Mrs. Raccoon. They arrived the very first week of sleep deprivation. I hammered the skin care pretty hard, but they never totally went away. Instead they lurk there, waiting for the next bout of sick kids and sleepless nights. Adequate sleep helps, but what mom can bank on that?

WebMD, in their recent article on how to Banish the Bags Under Your Eyes, deals with some of the common questions and misconceptions around dark circles and bags under eyes. I'll pass along a few of the things I learned:


1. They're probably not dark circles at all.

Here's a test: Pull the skin under your eye taut with your finger. If those dark circles disappear with this little adjustment, you really have "dark shadows," created by the troughing effect of your skin and underlying ligaments. Dark circles, which are really tiny blood vessels, can sometimes be faded with lasers, while that "gutter" look is a lot more complicated and difficult.

2. Take care of your skin before you get shadows.

Once the shadows or bags are there, it's not that easy to get rid of them. Some of it happens because of age -- the ligaments stretch and sag, causing the fat under the eyes to dissipate and move down in the socket, forming those little puffs. These fat pockets can be removed with a surgical eye-lift -- where an electronic probe is inserted into the pillow to melt the fat, and the skin is surgically pulled tight, but then you risk that cosmetic "zombie eye" look if it isn't done correctly.

Prevention is the best policy: Avoid salty foods, which cause your body to retain water, including around your eyes. That's why they sometimes get puffy. And over time, that puffiness will stretch out the delicate eye skin to the point that the youthful tightness will never come back. And exercise for general well-being!

3. Consider a prescription for retinol or Retin-A.

Despite all the new stuff on the shelves and on infomercials, it's still the most effective anti-aging cream in a dermatologist's arsenal. You'll need a prescription for it, and it'll cost you about $50 for a little tube that will last just a couple of months.

But retinol is the ONLY topical that has been proven in study after study over two decades to stimulate the production of collagen in the skin, the structure that keeps it strong and tight. It does this by sloughing off the dead skin cells. When that happens, the underlying cells go "uh-oh, time to ramp it up," and they produce more collagen.

4. Aside from scary surgery, dermatological fillers are the only way to get rid of them entirely.

Injected fillers like Juvederm and Restylane cost upward of $500 per treatment and last about a year. This is an extremely difficult area to inject and make "look right," so choose your surgeon carefully.

If all this fails, the WebMD article has some excellent tips for using makeup to cover up your dark eyes.


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