What are sunken eyes?

The delicate skin under your eyes can sometimes appear dark, sunken, and hollow. While sunken eyes are usually just a result of aging, dehydration, or not getting enough sleep, they could also be a sign of a medical condition. Read on to learn about the causes of sunken eyes, the treatment options, and how you may be able to ease sunken eyes with simple home remedies.

Pictures of sunken eyes

What are the symptoms of sunken eyes?

You’ll probably first notice sunken eyes when you look in a mirror. While the exact appearance may differ from person to person, sunken eyes are often described in the following ways:

  • a hollowing under the eyes
  • a dark shadow over the lower eyelid
  • dark circles underneath the eyes
  • thin-looking skin under the eyes
  • an overall tired or fatigued look in the face

Sunken eyes also go by other names, including “tear trough hollows” or “under-eye hollows.” Since dark circles are commonly a result of aging, most people will begin to notice sunken and dark eyes by their late 30s and early 40s.

Causes of sunken eyes

Sunken eyes can have many possible causes. Most of the time, it’s not considered a medical problem.

Aging

As we get older, we lose fat and bone density around our bodies, including our faces. There is also a decline in the supporting structures that hold everything together. The skin loses collagen and becomes thinner and more translucent. A hollowing of the face around the eyes is part of the process.

Dramatic weight loss

When you lose a lot of weight, the fat loss comes from all areas of the body, including the face. A dramatic loss of fat in the face can also make the blood vessels surrounding your eyes more visible and transparent.

Genetics

The position of the eyes in their socket also depends on your genetics. If other members of your family also have the appearance of sunken or darkened eyes, it could just be part of your DNA.

Lack of sleep

Poor-quality sleep or not getting enough sleep is a common problem in today’s society. Frequently getting less than seven hours of restful sleep can take a toll on your appearance.

Dehydration

Lack of proper hydration can lead to sunken eyes, especially in children. Children are particularly susceptible to dehydration caused by stomach viruses and bacteria. If your child has sunken eyes, along with diarrhea and vomiting, see your doctor. This could be a sign of serious dehydration. Other symptoms of dehydration include excessive thirst, low urine output and dry mouth. Severe dehydration can cause lethargy or decreased responsiveness.

Sun exposure

Sun exposure causes our bodies to produce melanin, which darkens our skin. If you already have darker skin under your eyes because of your genetics, sun exposure can make the skin darker. Darkened circles under the eyes might look like shadows, which can cause the appearance of hollowed-out eyes.

Allergies

Allergic rhinitis, also called hay fever or seasonal allergies, can cause dark circles to form under the eyes and give them a sunken look. This is often referred to as “allergic shiners.” People with allergies may also rub or scratch the skin around the eyes leading to irritation. Other symptoms of allergies include nasal congestion, sneezing, and itchy eyes and throat.

Sinus infections

Inflammation of the sinuses or an infection called sinusitis can make your eyes appear dark and sunken. Pressure, pain, and nasal congestion are other symptoms of a sinus infection. You should see your doctor if you think you have a sinus infection.

Smoking

Smoking degrades collagen and causes your skin to lose elasticity. This can lead to sagging skin on the face and the appearance of sunken eyes.

Should you go to the doctor if you have sunken eyes?

If your sunken eyes worsen over time despite your attempts to get better sleep and drink enough water, or if they’re accompanied by other symptoms, you may want to see your doctor.

At your appointment, your doctor will take a medical history and visually inspect your face. They will want to know about any medications you’re taking and how long the sunken eyes have been a problem. Be sure to tell your doctor about any other symptoms you might be experiencing, like nasal congestion, itchy eyes, or fatigue, or if you have recently lost any weight.

Based on your symptoms, your doctor may order lab tests to try to determine what’s causing your sunken eyes.

Can sunken eyes cause other conditions?

Having sunken eyes as a result of aging or genetics is not dangerous and shouldn’t cause any other problems. Negative changes to someone’s appearance, however, can trigger emotional reactions. Poor self-esteem and reduced confidence can eventually lead to depression or anxiety.

How are sunken eyes treated?

Sunken eyes as a result of allergies or sinus infections can be treated with medication. Over-the-counter antihistamines and eye drops can help reduce allergy symptoms, while prescription antibiotics are sometimes needed to cure a sinus infection.

Lifestyle changes and home remedies

To help ease sunken eyes, try the following:

  • Maintain a fixed sleep schedule and get enough sleep to make you feel refreshed the next morning.
  • Invest in a quality moisturizer with sunscreen.
  • Apply almond oil, which studies suggest might improve complexion and skin tone.
  • Place warm, moist tea bags directly below the eyes; tea is rich in antioxidants and flavonoids and promotes blood circulation.
  • Take two slices of chilled cucumber and place them on your eyes for 10–20 minutes to reduce irritation and add moisture.
  • Apply cold compresses.
  • Wear sun protection, including sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats when you go outside.
  • Drink sufficient amounts of water.
  • Avoid too much caffeine.
  • Eat dark green, leafy vegetables.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Take care when applying makeup. Before applying makeup, use a moisturizer to hydrate the skin and to ensure that your makeup sticks. Then apply a concealer with a yellow base that’s a lighter shade than your skin to help brighten the area.

Medical procedures

There are both major and minor surgical treatments available for people who experience sunken eyes due to aging. Of course, no surgery is without risks, so be mindful and informed if you’re considering surgery.

Dermal fillers such as Juvederm, Restylane, and Perlane involve an injection of a naturally-occurring substance known as hyaluronic acid into the tissue below the eye. A filler is usually painless and takes just a few minutes to inject, but it doesn’t last forever, so you’ll need to get the procedure redone every year or so.

Cosmetic surgery, including brow-lifts, blepharoplasty (lower eyelid surgery), and face-lifts can reduce the appearance of sunken eyes. These techniques are more invasive than dermal fillers and involve a longer recovery time. However, they can offer a more long-term solution to sunken eyes.

What is the outlook for someone with sunken eyes?

For most people, sunken eyes are just a normal part of the aging process, so the only concern is related to your physical appearance and self-esteem. Fortunately, there are many treatments on the market, including moisturizers, as well as noninvasive procedures like dermal fillers, to help minimize the appearance of sunken eyes. If you have concerns about sunken eyes or have other symptoms along with sunken eyes, see your doctor.