The eyelids are folds of very thin skin. In fact the skin that make up the eyelids are the thinnest in the body, second only to some areas of the genitalia. Like skin elsewhere on the body, the color of the eyelids are determined by the distribution of the natural skin pigment known as melanin. This pigment is produced by specialized melanin-producing cells in the skin known as melanocytes. More melanin means that the skin will be a darker brown in color while less melanin makes skin less brown. Superficial blood flow also contributes to skin color.
Darkening of the skin is known as hyperpigmentation. It usually arises when there is increased melanin production usually only on one area of the skin. The hyperpigmentation seen with dark eyelids may arise due to a number of factors that are typically isolated to this region. Often it may be linked to darkening around the eyes or dark circles as it is often called. This type of natural albeit abnormal pigmentation should not be confused with artificial dyes or trauma like chemical burns that can cause darkening.
Causes of Dark Eyelids
Most of the time darkness of the eyelids is linked to inflammation in this area. Inflammation is a process to protect tissue against damage. It is usually elicited in response to injury. Inflammation is meant to be a short term process but sometimes it can persist for weeks and even months as is seen in certain inflammatory conditions. Prolonged inflammation can lead to changes in the skin, such as darkening. Blepharitis, chalazia and styes are usually acute but can lead to darkening of the skin when it is prolonged.
Allergies that involve the eye are common. People with allergic rhinitis often find that the eyes are involved and allergic conjunctivitis can exist on its own. These allergies may cause the person to rub there eyes excessively as it feels itchy and gritty (like there is dust in the eye). This constant rubbing can lead to skin darkness. Sometimes the inflammation of the allergic reaction may extend to the eyelid. Chronic inflammation in this manner can lead to darkening. Allergies to certain substances that make contact with the skin can also cause darkening. This type of skin reaction is known as allergic contact dermatitis.
Injury to the eyelid can also cause permanent darkening if it is severe or prolonged. It may be mechanical, chemical or electromagnetic in nature. Repeatedly rubbing the eye vigorously is one example of mechanical injury while substances like strong acids can lead to chemical injury. Sunburn is an example of electromagnetic injury but the associated darkening is usually temporary. A blow to the face can also cause eyelid injury leading to darkening that is often referred to as a black eye.
Some substances can irritate the skin even when there is no allergic reaction. It depends on the type of substance, intensity and duration of exposure. Even substances that are considered to be natural and harmless can cause this irritation, like with sweat and water. This type of skin irritation is known as irritant contact dermatitis. Itching is one of the main symptoms and the repeated scratching and rubbing can cause trauma to the skin.
Lack of Sleep
Dark eyelids is commonly associated with a lack of sleep but the exact cause for this long term darkening is not always clear. Insufficient sleep causes the blood vessels in the eyelids to dilate and this can change the color to some extent. Some fluid also leaks into the tissue spaces thereby causing puffiness and often darkness follows.It is also possible that the sleeplessness is linked to some underlying condition which is the cause of the darkening of the skin on the eyelids.
Dark circles around the eyes including dark eyelids may be due to nutritional deficiencies. While this darkening may occur in some cases of iron-deficiency anemia and vitamin B deficiencies, it is unclear whether it is linked to the deficiency of the nutrient or the the complications that arise from these deficiencies. Other nutritional deficiencies may also be factor in dark eyelids and overall poor nutrition especially in eating disorders or with starvation can have a similar effect in some people.
- Hereditary factors
- Advancing age
- Eye cosmetics
- Constant pressure on the eyelid
Remedies for Dark Eyelids
There are many remedies that are purported to be effective remedying dark eyes. Some of these remedies may have some benefit while others are of little to no use in remedying dark eyelids.
- Ice packs, damp compresses and even cucumber slices may help due to the cooling effect thereby reducing inflammation.
- Avoiding eye makeup is always advisable especially if the darkening is associated with itching and puffiness.
- Increasing sleeping hours may also be of use if the dark eyelids are due to a lack of sleep.
- UV protective eye wear should be used when in the sunlight for long hours if sunscreen is not applied on the eyelids.
Treatment for Darkening Eyelids
Treatment is most effective when the underlying cause of the darkening can be identified and treated. Depending on the nature of the condition and the effectiveness of the treatment, it is possible that the darkening that has already occurred could be reversed. Although no single treatment is indicated for dark eyelids, prescription skin-whitening agents and tretinoin, are some of the skin applications that could be used. However, it may not always be advisable for use on the eyelids and should only be considered if prescribed by a medical professional.
Many over-the-counter and cosmetic eye creams that claim to lighten dark circles usually camouflage it instead. Skin treatments that may be suitable for use elsewhere on the skin, like acid peels, may not be advisable for the eyelids. The thin skin of the eyelids means that the eye itself could be exposed to some of these toxic compounds with detrimental consequences. It is therefore important to seek the advice of a medical professional before commencing with any treatment for dark eyelids.