Dark circles don’t discriminate. They affect people old and young, male and female and from all types of backgrounds. And they are one of the most frequent complaints I hear in my work in the skincare industry because they are so difficult to remedy. Even the best eye creams can only offer a small improvement in the dark appearance.

To me, the best approach is to figure out if there is some sort of health or lifestyle issue causing the problem and address the raccoon eyes from the inside out.

NOT ENOUGH SLEEP. Most people associate dark circles with lack of sleep, which certainly is a valid cause. When our bodies don’t get enough rest, the blood vessels dilate (expand), and that’s what creates the dark tint under the eyes. It’s sort of like pressing a blue balloon under a thin white sheet; the closer it is the surface, the more you see it under the sheet.

Poor sleep can also cause puffiness from the same blood vessels that bring fluid to the skin under the eyes. Like dark circles, the puffiness leaves us looking ragged and tired.

Rx: Get eight to 10 hours of quality sleep per night. To prevent puffiness, try elevating your head slightly with a pillow or two while sleeping. Also, drink plenty of water and watch your sodium intake. We tend to retain water when we are dehydrated or have too much salt in our diets.

ALLERGIES AND SKIN CONDITIONS like eczema and dermatitis are an often-overlooked cause of dark circles. The issue here stems from the nasal-swelling congestion that comes with these conditions. The sinuses are located all around the eye area. When there’s swelling on the inside you will see more circles under the eyes as all these tiny blood vessels expand. Additionally, sneezing and watery, itchy eyes will cause you to rub at the already-irritated area, increasing the redness and swelling.

Rx: Work with your doctor to manage skin conditions with proper diet and medications or supplements. In addition to taking an anti-histamine to reduce swelling, many people benefit from daily sinus cleaning with a neti pot or nasal saline rinse. For “emergencies,” like before a special event, try topical and oral arnica to relieve the swelling.

YOUR GENES cause the toughest cases, which frankly is completely out of your control. Certain ethnicities tend to have more melanin (pigment that makes our skin dark) under the eye area than others—namely people from Greece, the Middle East, Italy and India.

Rx: These folks can try using a skincare product with ingredients proven to lighten excess melanin. My favorite ingredients are: Haloxy®, a powerful peptide for dark circles and puffiness…kojic acid…azelaic acid…alpha arbutin…mandelic acid…and vitamin C. The acids can be a little strong for daily use under the eye area. My top pick is Haloxyl, which is found in high-end eye creams like our eye-radiance K’reme. It is also critically important to wear sunscreen every day, rain or shine, and to wear sunglasses.

YOUR AGE. An equally difficult challenge is battling dark circles brought on by the aging process. As we age, our skin becomes thinner, increasing the appearance of the vessels under the skin. Also, over time our vessels get leaky and do not do their job as well as before. Blood vessels transport fluids and nutrients to the cells, as well as remove toxins from them. Age-related impairments in these processes cause more puffiness and pigment.

Rx: The fix here includes the Rx from the genetic approach above. This group can also benefit from practicing excellent hydration and by eating a variety of fresh plant foods, rich in vitamins and minerals, every day to support good vascular health. An omega 3 supplement can also help support vessels and lower inflammation to keep the blood flowing properly.

As you can see, there are many causes of dark circles and puffiness under the eyes, and plenty of lifestyle interventions to help you keep them under control. When all else fails and you just can’t seem to get rid of those pesky circles, use a good moisturizing eye cream, a light reflecting concealer and a big bright smile…and no one will even notice those dark circles.

Click here to read Ginger Hodulik Downey’s book The Esthetician’s Guide to Outstanding Esthetics.