What are dark eyelids?
The darkness of skin in any part of the body is due to the presence of a pigment called melanin. Melanin is secreted by certain cells, called melanocytes, that lie in the bottom layer of the skin. This pigment plays an essential role in the protection of the skin against harmful UV rays that come from the sun. Therefore, its concentration in the skin varies according to the level of exposure to the sun. In addition, genetics also determines the level of melanin in an individual’s skin.
Melanin is not evenly distributed in the skin. The skin at certain regions of the body is darker than the skin at other regions. The skin of the eyelids is very thin and is usually only a little darker than the rest of the skin on the face. However, it can become significantly darker in certain conditions. The darkness of skin might also extend beyond the eyelids and encompass the skin all around the eyes. This can easily be seen in a condition popularly known as “dark circles”.
Other Signs and Symptoms
Apart from a general darkening of the skin, dark eyelids may also display other symptoms. Some of these are mentioned below.
- Inflamed eyelids: Dark eyelids may also be accompanied by inflamed, reddish skin. The inflamed region may either be restricted to the eyelids or extend beyond that.
- Redness of eyes: Reddish eyes may also be seen in conjunction with dark eyelids. This could indicate some cause that affects not just the eyelids but also the eyes.
- Itching eyelids: A severe itching sensation may also be present in individuals displaying dark eyelids.
- Runny eyes: Dark eyelids may also be accompanied by teary or runny eyes.
- Puffy eyes: A puffy appearance in the skin that encircles the eyes may also be seen in some cases.
These additional symptoms may help in determining the exact cause of the dark eyelids.
Causes of Dark Eyelids
Dark eyelids can be caused by a variety of factors. Not all of these causes are pathological in nature. Some causes may be physiological and temporary.
Inflammation of the skin of the eyelids is a common cause of dark eyelids. Inflammation is the body’s natural reaction to an injury and is aimed at protecting the injured area. It is usually an acute reaction that ends quickly. However, when the inflammation becomes chronic, it can lead to changes in the structure and appearance of the skin, including dark pigmentation. Examples of chronic inflammatory conditions that can cause dark eyelids include styes, chalazia, and blepharitis.
Eyes are prone to get affected by various allergic reactions. Some of these allergic reactions may spread from nearby regions (e.g., allergic rhinitis), whereas others may primarily affect the eyes (e.g., allergic conjuctivitis). Allergic reactions that involve the eyes are frequently accompanied by an itchy feeling.
Rubbing the eyes constantly to relieve this itch can result in a darkening of the skin of the eyelids. Sometimes, the allergies can be triggered by contact of the skin with certain substances (e.g., cosmetics). These allergies, also known as contact allergic dermatitis, could also result in darkening of the eyelids.
Permanent darkening of the eyelids could result from certain injuries, especially if they are severe or chronic. These injuries could result from mechanical trauma, chemical agents, or exposure to electromagnetic radiations. An example of a mechanical trauma is a blow to the face or vigorous rubbing of the eyes.
Exposure to strong acids is an example of chemical injury. Sunburns caused by prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light present in strong sunlight is an example of injury caused by electromagnetic radiation. All these injuries can result in either temporary or permanent darkening of the eyelids.
Skin irritation can occur through prolonged contact with normally harmless substances such as water and sweat. Such a reaction is termed as irritant contact dermatitis. Itching is a common effect of irritant contact dermatitis and the consequent rubbing or scratching can lead to damaged skin. The intensity of the reaction depends on the type of irritant substance, its concentration and the length of exposure.
Lack of sleep
Dark eyelids and puffy eyes are also associated with a lack of proper amount and quality of sleep. The exact cause is not clear. The darkening of eyelids in this case has been proposed to occur due to an increased dilation of blood vessels. This dilation of blood vessels leads to increased blood flow, which becomes visually apparent due to the thin skin of the eyelids. Leaking of fluid from these blood vessels into the tissue spaces around the eyes also leads to the associated puffiness. Conversely, it is also possible that some underlying cause of dark eyelids also causes sleeplessness.
Deficiency of micronutrients such as vitamin B and iron are also associated with dark circles around the eyes and dark eyelids. However, it is not clear whether this darkening of the skin around the eyes is a direct effect of a lack of these nutrients. It is possible that the darkening of the skin occurs as a result of some other consequence of nutritional deficiency. Poor nutrition in conditions such as starvation and eating disorders are also associated with dark eyelids.
In addition to the above mentioned causes, other factors such as genetics of an individual, advanced age, cosmetics and pressure in the eyes could also cause dark eyelids.
Treatment for Dark Eyelids
When the eyes are irritated, treatment with cold packs, damp compresses or even cucumber slices are recommended. They help in soothing the irritation and may help in reducing the darkening of the skin by restricting the blood flow in the thin skin of the eyelids.
If the reason for dark eyelids and eye irritation is contact dermatitis or allergy, avoiding cosmetics would be the best approach for the management of the condition.
UV-protective glasses are essential when going out in strong sunlight for a long period of time. They help in reducing the damage caused by UV rays. Good quality sunglasses and sunscreen lotions are usually recommended.
If dark circles are caused by a lack of adequate sleep, then the affected individual should make it a priority to change the associated lifestyle. If sleeplessness is caused by pathological factors, then appropriate sleep treatments would be advised by the doctor.
Skin treatments using topical medical applications to the eyelids should only be done under a doctor’s supervision. Many of the cosmetics that claim to reduce dark eyelids may only be masking the appearance of the skin. Skin treatments that might be helpful on other parts of the body, may not be appropriate for eyelids. In fact, they might lead to injury and further aggravate the condition.