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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 under toddlers’ and kids’ otherwise bright, beautiful eyes can be a little disconcerting, even alarming. When your preschooler starts to resemble Phil from accounting, who’s been up all night worrying over quarterly reports, it’s normal to wonder what’s up. Despite how adorable it may be to believe so, most toddlers who have dark circles under their eyes aren’t actually worried or sleep-deprived. They are more likely suffering from infant allergies, or genetically predisposed to what scientists and pretentious makeup salespeople call “periorbital dark circles.”

“Most often 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 eyes expand and darken, resulting in dark circles under the eyes that are more visible, depending on the lightness of a child’s skin. That’s also why their eyes look like this when they’re sick.

In essence, dark circles and puffy bags form under kids’ eyes for the same physiological 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 that surround the eye. For some people, even as toddlers, this results in dark circles. Those predisposed to dark 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.

When children are getting enough sleep and still have dark circles under their eyes that make them seem like they’re worried about their mortgage-rate negotiation, it’s probably worth consulting with a pediatrician. In any case, there is no shame in asking a doctor about it to be safe, even if they’re just going to hold up a mirror.

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“Dark circles and bags under the eyes are usually no cause for alarm,” says Dr. Andrew J. Bernstein, 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.”

“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?