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A shadowy problem

April 2011 

eye shadowsDark circles under eyes may not be a health hazard, but they are a nuisance and do nothing to enhance our looks or our confidence.

It is a well known myth that lack of sleep causes deep shadows under the eyes, but there really doesn’t seem to be any medical proof that this is the case. Shadows under the eyes are not linked to behaviour such as watching too much television or staring at a computer screen either; nor are they linked to diet.

Shadows and dark circles under the eyes have a medical name – oxidizing haemoglobin – and generally they are similar to bruises on the skin when you have somehow banged yourself or inadvertently walked into something. When you bruise yourself, the blood vessels in the skin are traumatized and sometimes even broken. Blood from these vessels can then leak out into the surrounding skin and as this excess blood is mopped up by natural processes, a dark, blue-black discolouration appears. These are the bruises you see on the surface of your skin.

In a way, it is a similar process that causes the dark circles under our eyes, although it is not usually caused by external trauma. The skin below our eyes is particularly thin and delicate and the blood vessels it contains are also very very small. So small in fact that sometimes there is a “queue” of red blood cells waiting to get through these tiny vessels and as they wait a few move away and wander into the surrounding skin. As with light bruising, this isn’t a problem at all as the body naturally deals with these wandering blood cells and mops them up; breaking them down with enzymes. But again, as with normal bruising, this process produces the same blue-black colour – hence the dark circles under your eyes.

Because the skin around the eyes is so thin and delicate, these blue-black shadows are particularly visible and being in such a prominent area of our face, they can become a real nuisance.

The idea that dark circles are caused by lack of sleep probably arose because when you are overtired your blood circulation may become sluggish and your skin can become whiter, making any shadows under your eyes stand out even more. This can also be the case for people who are ill.

The good news is that today if you are really worried about the look of the shadows below your eyes, there are all sorts of masking cosmetics and creams that can cover up and lighten the dark colouring. Keeping healthy of course is also important – but blaming yourself because you have had a series of late nights or have been watching too much television is definitely not justified.


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The above article is part of the features section of called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

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