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Last modified on December 20th, 2022
What deficiency causes dark circles? This is a common question, and while the two most common reasons for dark circles under the eyes—lack of sleep and genetics—aren’t caused by a nutrient deficiency, there are other reasons.
Several vitamins could be the issue when answering what deficiency causes dark circles.
Below we’ll discuss what deficiency causes dark circles and how certain foods and supplements might help your under eyes look healthier and more refreshed.
An Overview of Dark Circles
Having dark circles under the eyes is a complaint of many men and women across all age groups. Dark circles can make you look tired and older than you are. They’re also hard to get rid of.
Certain people are more likely to deal with circles under their eyes. These include people with a genetic predisposition to the condition, called periorbital hyperpigmentation, as well as older adults. People with darker skin tones are also more likely to have hyperpigmentation around their eyes.
We tend to associate circles under the eyes with fatigue, but there are often more underlying factors to be aware of, including vitamin deficiencies.
What Causes Undereye Circles?
Some of the causes of circles under the eyes and darkness that aren’t related to nutrition or deficiencies include:
There is a genetic predisposition to developing dark eye circles. Some people are genetically disposed to getting eye circles when they’re younger, and for other people, it happens when they’re older. If you have certain medical conditions with a genetic element such as thyroid disease, this can also lead to dark circles.
When we don’t get enough sleep, particularly regularly, it can make us more prone to having tired eyes and circles under them. If you’re sleep-deprived, it can show on your skin in multiple ways. Not getting enough sleep leads your skin to look dull and also pale. Those effects then allow dark tissues and blood vessels under the surface of your skin to be more apparent.
When you don’t get enough sleep, it can also cause fluid to build up under your eyes, so they look puffy. The dark circles you’re seeing may be shadows caused by the puffiness of your eyes and eyelids.
Naturally, as we age, the circles under our eyes might become more prominent. Our skin gets thinner, and we lose the fat and collagen that otherwise helps our skin maintain its elasticity. When these effects of aging happen, it causes dark blood vessels under the skin to become increasingly visible, so the areas under your eyes look darker due to the loss of fat in your subdermal features.
Allergies that cause dryness of the eyes, in particular, may contribute to dark circles. If you have an allergic reaction to something, your body releases histamines. Along with the traditional allergy symptoms such as itchiness and redness, histamines trigger blood vessels to dilate.
When blood vessels dilate, they’re more visible below your skin’s surface.
If you have allergies, including seasonal allergies, it can also make you rub the skin around your eyes more, leading to swelling and broken blood vessels in the under-eye area. This area is also known as your tear troughs.
Being dehydrated is a big reason for dark under-eye circles. If you do not have enough water regularly, the skin under your eyes dulls, and your eyes can look more sunken because they’re close to the bone. Drinking plenty of water is a good starting point if you’re dealing with circles under eyes or the appearance of puffiness.
Overexposure to Sun
If you get too much sun, your body produces more melanin. Melanin is the pigment that colors your skin. If you get too much sun, then the skin around your eyes might darken because of pigmentation.
What Deficiency Causes Dark Circles?
While all of the above factors can cause dark circles, vitamin and nutrient deficiencies can cause them or contribute.
Iron Deficiency Anemia
Anemia is a medical condition where you don’t have enough red blood cells. While there are many causes of anemia, one of the most common is a lack of iron in your diet. When you have iron-deficiency anemia, your blood cells can’t carry enough oxygen to your body tissues. Deoxygenated blood affects every part of your body. That includes the tissues under your eyes.
Along with dark eye circles, other signs of anemia include pale skin, dizziness, and fatigue.
If you’re anemic from a deficiency of iron, you may also experience headaches, brittle nails, and an irregular heartbeat.
There are a number of underlying causes of iron deficiency anemia, including not getting enough iron, an imbalanced diet, or endometriosis. Heavy menstruation can contribute to iron deficiency anemia, and so can having certain GI conditions like celiac disease that make it difficult to absorb nutrients.
Iron deficiency anemia occurs in many pregnant women because their iron stores are a source of hemoglobin for the growing baby.
Vegetarians are at a greater risk of iron deficiency anemia, as are frequent blood donors.
Sources of iron that could help correct this deficiency and improve the appearance of circles include:
- Red meat, poultry, and pork
- Dark, leafy green vegetables
- Dried fruit like apricots
- Cereals, bread, and pasta fortified with iron
Your body best absorbs iron from meat than other sources. When you combine foods with iron with vitamin C, it improves absorption.
You can also take an iron supplement, which may help dark circles and other symptoms of iron deficiency anemia.
When you’re choosing an iron supplement, keep the following in mind:
- There are many types of iron, but the most bioavailable is usually ferrous iron. Bioavailable means it’s absorbed more easily.
- Look for a supplement that also contains vitamin C to promote and enhance iron absorption.
- Some people like liquid iron supplements because they can be gentler on the stomach and absorb well.
- I personally prefer Floradix Liquid Iron. Floradix is easily absorbed and is gentle on the digestive system. This liquid iron has vitamin C and B vitamins and contains natural fruit juices and herbal extracts.
Vitamin K Deficiency
Vitamin K is an essential and often overlooked fat-soluble vitamin. Vitamin K comes in two forms. The first form is phylloquinone. Phylloquinone is found in green leafy vegetables. The other type of vitamin K is menaquinones. Menaquinones are found in animal and fermented foods.
Bacteria in your body can also naturally produce menaquinones.
Vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting, bone strength, and health. The vitamin is found throughout the body, including your brain, heart, bones, liver, and pancreas. Unlike other fat-soluble vitamins, your body can excrete vitamin K quickly, so it doesn’t tend to reach toxic levels.
Vitamin K deficiency can be caused by taking medications that block its metabolism, like antibiotics. A deficiency can also occur in people with a condition that affects the absorption of nutrients from food.
Researchers are increasingly looking at the value of vitamin K. For example, it may be helpful in the prevention and treatment of certain types of cancers and myelodysplastic syndromes. Vitamin K is also needed for proper vitamin D absorption.
As far as undereye circles, adequate vitamin K levels can help strengthen capillaries and veins. The vitamin also affects dark circles because it promotes healthy circulation and is needed for blood clotting.
If you have low levels of the vitamin, your capillaries can weaken and leak. Small amounts of blood can pool under your eyes and lead to bruise-like, dark discoloration if this occurs under your eyes.
Some people use vitamin K as a topical cream, but getting it from your food or supplements may be a better option to correct a true deficiency.
If you’re going to supplement with vitamin K, our favorite option is Life Extension Super K. Super K contains two forms of K2 and K1. Each dose is 2600 mcg, and each bottle is a three-month supply. This vitamin K supplement can support heart health because it promotes calcium balance, which is vital for the vascular system. The supplement supports artery health, and it can help strengthen your bones, in addition to potentially helping with dark circles under the eyes.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Vitamin B12 or cobalamin is essential for red blood cell production and DNA, cellular metabolism, and nerve function. Food sources of the vitamin include meat, poultry, seafood, and dairy. Sometimes, the vitamin is added to breakfast cereals. Supplementing with B12 is common.
People most likely to be deficient in B12 include vegetarians and vegans, those with digestive tract conditions, and older adults.
Untreated B12 deficiency can lead to mood and mental health symptoms, anemia, fatigue, muscle weakness, and intestinal problems.
There’s a lot of research looking at potential benefits and applications of B12. For example, it may be a treatment for certain mental health disorders because sometimes symptoms that can look like depression or other mental illnesses may be a deficiency.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is linked to dementia and low cognitive function, so supplements may help prevent related issues.
Researchers also think that B12 may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke by lowering the levels of something called homocysteine in the blood.
Since vitamin B12 is mostly found in animal foods, make sure that you’re taking a B12 supplement if you aren’t eating enough of them.
Some of the reasons B12 affects under-eye circles include:
- This B vitamin can boost damaged skin cells, eliminating dark eye circles.
- This vitamin helps with new cell formation and new blood cells.
- If you’re deficient in vitamin B12, you may also have anemia, making eye circles more apparent.
- Vitamin B12 can reduce stress and fatigue, which can help with circles.
- When you take vitamin B12 supplements or get it from food sources, it helps your bone marrow make healthy new red blood cells. Your body needs those red blood cells to carry oxygen to the cells throughout your body.
- In one study, 12% of undereye circles were B12 deficient.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin. Deficiency in vitamin A can cost a host of symptoms, including night blindness. When you’re not getting enough vitamin A, it can also cause your skin to become thin and dry. When your undereye skin is thin and dry, it can make dark circles look more apparent.
Getting enough vitamin A is also important because it helps prevent the signs of aging on the skin, including wrinkles.
Foods with vitamin A include carrots, spinach, mangoes, pumpkin, and leafy, green vegetables.
Vitamin C has so many benefits for our overall health, including the health of our skin. Vitamin C can be used topically as well as consuming it. When you have adequate vitamin C levels, it helps your body naturally produce collagen, strengthening your skin.
Vitamin C also protects against damage from the sun, improving the appearance of dark circles.
Vitamin C helps your circulatory system stay strong, also combatting dark circles for some people.
Sources of vitamin C that are part of a healthy diet include citrus fruits and tomatoes.
Vitamin E is a nutrient and an antioxidant. This vitamin is essential for healthy skin. It neutralizes the free radicals that can otherwise damage your cells. Having adequate vitamin E levels can help your skin look younger and smoother. You can get the vitamin from eggs and meat and some oils and milk. You can also take vitamin E as a supplement or apply it topically.
Along with potentially helping with dark circles, vitamin E can restore suppleness and moisture to your skin. The vitamin helps with brown spots and scars, and it helps reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
What Else Should You Know About Undereye Circles?
Along with making sure you correct any deficiency that could lead to undereye circles, the following are other things you can do to reduce their appearance related to lifestyle factors.
- Be mindful of your alcohol consumption. Drinking dehydrates your skin, increasing dark circles. Alcohol also causes the blood vessels under the eyes to dilate, making dark circles look more prominent. Alcohol also affects the quality of your sleep, further worsening the appearance of dark undereye circles.
- Consume plenty of antioxidants, whether from food or supplements. Tomatoes are an excellent food for undereye circles and skin healthy Tomatoes contain antioxidants like lycopene. Lycopene is what gives tomatoes their vibrant red color. Lycopene can also protect your blood vessels, and it helps with blood circulation. Tomatoes also contain quercetin, an anti-inflammatory that can further help improve circulation and reduce the appearance of darkness under the eyes.
- Include berries in your diet like blackberry and blueberries. Berries have anthocyanin, an antioxidant that helps promote blood flow to the eye and supplies oxygen to the tissues around your eyes.
- Generally, a balanced diet is one of the best things you can do for the health of your skin, skin tone and circles, and under eyes.
- If you’re having trouble getting enough quality sleep, make changes in your pre-bed habits. You might also try getting a bit of sunlight first thing in the morning, which sets your body’s natural internal clock.
What Deficiency Causes Dark Circles—Final Thoughts
What deficiency causes dark circles? It can be any number of deficiencies, but some of the most common associated with dark circles include a deficiency of vitamin K, iron-deficiency anemia, and deficiency of B12.
If you’re dealing with dark circles, rather than immediately turning to topical or cosmetic solutions, you might want to first think about your diet. So often, we believe the solution to any problems related to our skin comes in cosmetics.
In reality, your skin is a reflection of your internal health, so start with nutrition and, if needed, supplements and see how that goes. Lack of sleep, problems with collagen production, poor circulation, fluid retention, and various other factors related to health on a holistic level can also affect your under eyes. You may need to take a full-body approach to deal with what we too often see as only being a cosmetic issue.
Peer-Reviewed References (What Deficiency Causes Dark Circles)