Iry Chang is sick of people telling her she looks exhausted. She gets enough sleep, but the dark circles under her eyes elicit stares and make her look older than 25.
The tired look: Your genes may be causing those under-eye rings.
“When I look in the mirror, all I see is someone who looks tired,” says Chang, who started www.mydarkcirclesblog.com, which talks about the latest remedies for dark circles. She has occasionally used concealer on the discoloration. But now that many beauty companies make potions to treat dark circles, not just mask them, she hopes she will be able to look refreshed without make-up.
Recently, the drumbeat against under-eye circles has grown louder. “It has become one of our top imperatives to address dark circles,” says Tom Mammone, executive director of research and development for Clinique.
Roughly 53% of 13,000 Clinique users surveyed by the company in 2006 cited dark circles and puffiness as their top beauty concerns.
Beauty store chain Sephora now sells more than 50 products designed specifically to treat under-eye circles, says Stacy Baker, the chain’s editorial director.
Sales of anti-ageing skincare treatments, including products to get rid of dark circles, increased to $1.08 billion (around Rs4,970 crore then) in 2006, up from $588 million annually in 2001, according to Mintel, a market research firm.
“Dark circles are a combination of heredity and genetics,” says Diane Berson, an assistant professor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University in Manhattan.
Most people think dark circles are a sign of tiredness, or evidence of a binge involving too many margaritas. That’s true to some extent; fatigue makes the skin dull, and drinking alcohol dehydrates and thins it.
But the most likely culprit, dermatologists say, is excess pigmentation. Dark circles are prevalent on all skin colours, but they especially trouble African-Americans, South-East Asians and southern Italians. Beach bunnies note: Sun exposure exacerbates dark circles.
Dilated blood vessels that sit close to the thin under-eye skin are another cause, doctors say. And airborne allergens, which cause blood to pool in the vessels under the skin, can worsen their appearance, says John A. Persing, a professor and the chief of plastic surgery at Yale University School of Medicine (treatment for these sufferers may be as simple as an antihistamine pill).
The problem is that few, if any, of the creams on the market are formulated for people with excess pigmentation or dilated veins. “Multiple creams are available; however, it is unclear how effective they are,” Dr Persing says.
For people who aren’t sure why they have dark circles, he recommends topical products that contain a plumping agent or alpha-hydroxy acids, which can thicken the skin, or vitamins C and K, which can inflame skin and add volume.
Clinique, which now has three products to treat dark circles, uses whey protein in its All About Eyes Rich cream ($27.50), as it increases collagen production, says Mammone. But, in independent medical research, whey protein has not been proved to plump up skin.
Dermatologists say fillers such as Restylane and Juvederm help cover up melanin or the blood vessels that peek through thin skin. A round of injections, which lasts about six months, costs $500-800. Fillers are not risk-free. Side effects can include bruising, swelling and allergic reactions.
Neither Restylane nor Juvederm were specifically approved by the (US) Food and Drug Administration to treat under-eye circles, so patients should be cautious. Patients risk bumps and lumps, which may last anywhere from a few weeks to a year, because the skin is so thin, Dr Berson and Dr Persing both warn.
Although Annette Pucci, 48, of Queens, chalks up her dark circles to genetics, she still tried “every cream in the world”, including those by Chanel and Lancome.
“I would pay a fortune and I didn’t ever see a difference,” she says. “I felt like I looked tired or was crying all the time.” After a friend mentioned she was going to use fillers to treat her dark circles, Pucci also had Restylane injections. “I was a little sceptical,” she says. But Pucci says her circles have disappeared. “I just put on an ice pack and went to my son’s baseball game that night,” she says.
©2008/The New York Times
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