Are dark circles and under eye bags caused by lack of sleep?

DEAR DOCTOR K:

I have dark circles and bags under my eyes. Does this mean I’m not getting enough sleep?

DEAR READER:

Lack of sleep probably has nothing to do with the dark circles and bags under your eyes. In fact, getting too much sleep is more likely than too little to cause this appearance. That’s because when you’re sitting or standing up, gravity tends to pull excess fluid in your body downward toward and into your belly and legs.

Conversely, if you have been lying flat in bed for a long time, fluid in your body tends to flow toward your face. It accumulates in the loose skin below your eyes. Lying down also makes the veins under the eyes widen, which darkens the appearance of the skin even more.

Here are some other reasons why your eyes might be darker and puffier than usual:

  • You’re getting older. As you age, the skin around the eye gets thinner and looser. This allows fluid to collect, causing a puffy appearance. Veins under the skin can create a dark appearance.
  • You have allergies or nasal congestion. The veins under the eyes drain into the nose. Nasal congestion or allergies can block this drainage, causing the veins to widen. Dark circles are so common with allergies that they’re sometimes called “allergic shiners.”
  • You’re retaining fluid. Anything that causes fluid retention, such as premenstrual bloating or excessive salt intake, could increase puffiness around the eyes.
  • You have a medication side effect. If your puffy eyes started right after you began a new medication, the drug might be the cause.

Many home remedies claim to get rid of dark circles and bags. They act as astringents, causing the loose skin beneath your eyes to tighten. These home remedies include putting any of the following on your eyes: wet, cool tea bags, cucumber slices, or cotton balls dipped in rose water.

None of these have been scientifically proven. On the other hand, they won’t cause any harm.

Other treatments make more sense to me. Again, there are no rigorous scientific studies to support (or refute) them. But they are good ideas even if you’re not bothered by puffy eyes and dark circles. They include:

  • Getting unstuffed. Treating a sinus problem or allergies may improve how you look.
  • Limiting salt intake. This might reduce fluid retention.
  • Using sunscreen. The delicate skin under the eye is particularly vulnerable to the sun’s rays.

Makeup and various creams and ointments can also help. If you’re really bothered by your appearance, cosmetic surgeries, including bleaching and laser treatments, are an option.

I’m not saying that insufficient sleep, or poor quality sleep, won’t affect your appearance. We all recognize the “look” of exhaustion. Facial expressions are less animated, more sluggish. The mouth and cheeks sag. You become pale. But dark circles and bags under your eyes generally have other causes.