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What’s Up With the Dark Circles Under Your Kid’s Eyes?

Pediatricians explain how kids get dark circles and bags under their eyes, and why it's rarely cause for concern.

Dark circles around eyes of toddlers and kids  — those otherwise beautiful, twinkling eyes — is both creepy and alarming. Why does your kid look like that overworked dude Phil from accounting? The difference is that only one of them is stressed about quarterly reports and an impending divorce. Most toddlers who have dark circles under their eyes aren’t actually worried — as adorable as it might be to believe it so. They are more likely suffering from infant allergies or genetically predisposed to what scientists and pretentious makeup salespeople call periorbital dark circles.

“Dark circles and bags under the eyes are usually no cause for alarm,” says Andrew J. Bernstein, MD, Assistant Professor of Clinical Pediatrics Northwestern University, and Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “They can point to allergies, ‘allergic shiners,’ a lack of sleep, or, most commonly, they can just be a hereditary coloration or shape of the eyes.”

Dark circles form around eyes of kids for the same physiological reasons, if not the same behavioral reasons, as they do in adults. The skin around the eye is thinner and more transparent than other parts of the face so it can’t fully cover up the soft tissue and veins surround the eye. For some, this results in dark circles. People predisposed to eye circles can coat their under-eye area with makeup, but they can’t, research shows, treat the problem at its source. Dark circles and bags are sometimes made worse by fluid retention, which is why they are more visible after a salty meal. Most obviously, lack of sleep causes blood vessels under the eyes to dilate, while upping fluid retention, resulting in even puffier, darker eyes.

“Most often the dark circles are not due to lack of sleep or poor health,” says Alison Mitzner, a New York-based pediatrician. Mitzner notes that genetics and seasonal allergies are almost always to blame. Nasal congestion from allergies restricts blood flow, making the veins under the eye expand and darken, resulting in circles that are more visible depending on how light a child’s skin is. That’s also why their eyes look like this when they’re sick.

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When children are getting enough sleep and still look worried that they did a bad job negotiating a mortgage rate, it’s probably worth consulting with your pediatrician. In any case, there is no shame in asking your doctor about it to be safe, even if they’re just going to hold up a mirror.

“Your pediatrician can work with you to determine the cause to ensure there are no other health issues that, although rare, may be the cause,” Mitzner says. After all, you don’t want to lose any more sleep over it.

The 4 Reasons There Are Dark Circles Under Your Kids Eyes

  1. Genetic predisposition: Sorry folks, but kids with bags under their eyes are predisposed to periorbital dark circles. So it will be something they deal with for life. 
  2. Infant allergies: Allergies can restricts blood flow, making the veins under the eye expand and darken.
  3. Lack of sleep: Same as allergies, lack of sleep restricts the blood flow. Less sleep, more bags.
  4. Fluid retention: Did your kid eat a big ol’ salty meal? See how it makes those bags pop?