Dr. Tan Hui Yun: Why getting more sleep and putting face masks are not the answer to improving your dark eye circles

In 2021, thanks to TikTok, we discovered a wave of interesting beauty trends – from glass skin (skinimalism) to faux freckles. But there was one that caught my attention in particular – dark under-eye circles

Yes, panda eyes are now considered cool, to the extent that people are using makeup to intentionally create the effects of dark eye circles. 

https://www.tiktok.com/@sarathefreeelf/video/6911815630370999553

The original creator behind the video, Sara Carstens, said she was inspired to post the video as she “struggled to accept her dark circles for years”, and that she finally decided to embrace them. While it’s great that we’re accepting our imperfections, as an aesthetic doctor, I’ve seen firsthand how patients struggle with their dark eye circles for years. 

For these patients, their dark eye circles are not a beauty trend for them but something that causes a lot of insecurity. This frustration has led them to try many methods, including getting more sleep and slapping on one face mask after another with little to no effect

It’s easy to blame our harrowing eyebags on sleep deprivation, especially in Singapore where we rank 3rd most sleep-deprived out of 43 cities1. Don’t get me wrong, sleep definitely plays a huge part in contributing to your dark eye circles, but if that’s the only thing you’re focusing on, you may be doing it wrong. 

In this article, allow me to explain why getting more sleep to get rid of your dark eye circles is a myth, what to do if you’re genetically prone to getting dark eye circles, and what you can do at home to supplement your aesthetic treatment. 

First, eye bags vs dark eye circles – is there a difference?

Eye bags and dark eye circles, while often used interchangeably, are two entirely different things. 

Eye bags refer to the swelling or puffiness you get around your eyes as you age. Again, eye bags are often thought to be caused due to a lack of sleep; but inadequate sleep is just one of the factors that worsens or adds on to your eye bags. Sometimes, eye bags can also be caused by fluid accumulation. 

Dark eye circles, on the other hand, are the darkening of the skin below the eyes. They often accompany eye bags (hence why these 2 terms are used interchangeably!) and can make you appear tired and older. Like eye bags, lack of sleep is just a catalyst for dark eye circles to appear and worsen. 

Lady with tired eyes

What are dark eye circles caused by?

Dark eye circles are caused by a myriad of factors2, including; 

  • Ageing 
  • Sun exposure 
  • Fatigue 
  • Allergies 
  • Genetics 
  • Smoking 

Like acne and acne scars, dark eye circles can be a complex condition where treatment is highly dependent on the cause(s). While no two patients are the same, in my experience, the most common cause of panda eyes is a combination of thin skin and poor blood circulation

Blood vessels and underlying muscles are more visible through thinner layers of skin, causing the blue grey appearance of dark eye circles. Skin under the eye may be naturally thin due to genetics, or from a loss of collagen due to aging. 

The following can worsen blood vessel congestion under the eye, leading to dark eye circles: 

  • Stress
  • Hormone changes 
  • Poor sleep 
  • Rhinitis 

How are dark eye circles treated in Singapore?

Many patients —especially those with a genetic inclination— think that dark eye circles cannot be treated, or that treatments are merely placebo effects. That couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Treatments can help, but they will need to be continued in the long term as the original conditions that predispose the patient to dark eye circles would recur once treatment is stopped.

When I first see a patient, I will ask about their medical history to assess if they have any underlying conditions that may predispose them to dark eye circles, such as allergic rhinitis. Next, I go through their lifestyle habits to identify factors that may aggravate their condition. Are they getting enough quality sleep? Do they smoke? 

Lastly, I check if they have undergone any previous treatments, if those treatments worked, or if they experienced side effects. It’s also important that I respect their budget, pain tolerance and whether they can accept downtime. All these will help me decide what treatments to recommend. 

How I treat dark eye circles 

As a start, regardless of cause, I always prescribe medical grade skincare to help slow down collagen loss and improve skin quality below the eyes. These treatments are to support any additional treatment, which may include; 

  • Microneedling radiofrequency (RF) treatments such as Sylfirm 
  • Rejuran to thicken and improve skin quality 
  • Dual Yellow and Clarity II lasers to constrict dilated blood vessels that cause dark eye circles 
  • Pigment lightening creams and pigment lasers like the Q-switch and Pico Laser to lighten excessive melanin deposition
  • Filler injections for significant tear trough depressions.

The number of treatment sessions required depend on the individual but as with any aesthetics treatment, maintenance sessions are required if you want to continue to look good. This is because we are ageing every minute and aesthetic treatments only help to slow down the ageing process, not halt it completely. 

What can I do at home to supplement my treatment? 

To ensure you get the most out of your dark eye circles treatment with me, here are some tips:  

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle involving good eating and sleeping habits 
  • Eat more food rich in antioxidants such as lycopene to protect blood vessels and improve circulation 
  • Avoid triggers that cause your symptoms to flare if you suffer from allergic rhinitis 
  • Cut down on excessive screen time to reduce eye strain and improve blood circulation around the eyes 
  • Cut down on stress 

Do you have a question for me regarding dark eye circles treatment in Singapore? Feel free to drop me a message and I’ll be more than happy to help. 

References 

  1. https://www.nus.edu.sg/uhc/resources/articles/details/sleep-deprivation#:~:text=How%20does%20sleep%20deprivation%20affect,Seoul%20the%20people%20sleep%20lesser.
  2. Vrcek, I., Ozgur, O., & Nakra, T. (2016). Infraorbital Dark Circles: A Review of the Pathogenesis, Evaluation and Treatment. Journal of cutaneous and aesthetic surgery, 9(2), 65–72. https://doi.org/10.4103/0974-2077.184046