The most common causes of dark circles under the eyes are genetics and excess pigmentation. Many people believe that a lack of sleep is one of the primary causes of dark circles, and although this can worsen the problem, it is not a cause. Other factors that can exaggerate the appearance of existing dark circles include allergies, illness, stress, smoking or alcohol consumption. The thinning of skin that comes naturally with aging also can contribute to dark circles under the eyes.
Excess pigmentation of the skin under they eyes can, in many cases, be attributed to genetics. People who are struggling to determine the causes of dark circles under their eyes should note whether their siblings, parents or grandparents had similar concerns. If so, hereditary inheritance of dark circles might be to blame. These individuals will find that no matter how much sleep they get or how healthy they are, their dark circles will not vanish of their own accord.
Discoloration can also result from blood gathering in dilated vessels underneath the eyes. The skin directly under the eyes is very delicate and quite thin, so the swollen blood vessels can show through and create the appearance of purple-tinged skin. This is perhaps the most common cause of dark circles because it can be stimulated by multiple factors. Allergies and nasal congestion are known to cause dilation of the blood vessels, and rubbing the eyes can also worsen the appearance of dark circles. Additionally, certain medications can cause blood vessels to dilate and cause a similar effect.
Lifestyle factors cannot really be blamed as causes of dark circles, but certain habits can exacerbate the problem. Any habit or activity that dulls or thins the already delicate under-eye skin will make pigmentation or dilated blood vessels more obvious. For example, smoking or excessive alcohol consumption can dehydrate the skin, leaving it dull and susceptible to revealing dark circles. Individuals whose dark circles are caused by pigmentation should avoid sunbathing, which will increase pigment production and worsen circles.
Aging is another factor that can worsen dark circles under the eyes. As the skin ages, it becomes thinner, loses fat content and slows collagen production. All of these factors increase the visibility of pigmentation or dilated blood vessels and can make dark circles much more prominent.
As for the long-believed theory that a lack of sleep is one of the most common causes of dark circles, it is not entirely true. Exhaustion does not directly cause dark circles to form, but it can exaggerate their appearance. A lack of sleep can cause swollen, puffy or sunken eyes, all of which can cast shadows over the face that give the appearance of dark circles.