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Cernes bleues, noires, marrons : quelles différences ?

Blue, brown, hollow: how to differentiate between these types of dark circles?

Dark circles, which can lend a look of sadness and fatigue to the eyes, are a common concern. They are typically defined as a change in the pigmentation or texture of the lower eyelid. The skin in this area is very thin, making even the slightest change noticeable. To reduce them, it is first necessary to distinguish between them.

Published April 14, 2023, updated on February 5, 2024, by Pauline, Head of Scientific Communication — 4 min read

The various types of under-eye circles.

Under-eye circles are among the most common cosmetic concerns. They are typically defined as a change in pigmentation or texture of the lower eyelid. This makes the eyes appear sadder and more tired. Under-eye circles should not be confused with bags, which are more akin to swelling of the lower eyelid. There are different types of under-eye circles:

  • Blue or Vascular Dark Circles : These form as a result of a slowdown in blood and lymphatic circulation. The blood pigments transported by these routes then accumulate at the level of the lower eyelid and are poorly evacuated, giving a bluish-purple colour. The skin in this area being very thin, it easily allows the small blood vessels to show through. Although there is a genetic component in the appearance of vascular dark circles, they are closely linked to the lifestyle. Thus, lack of sleep and consumption of tobacco or alcohol significantly increase the appearance of blue dark circles.

  • Brown or Pigmentary Dark Circles : these are caused by a high concentration of melanin in the skin around the eyes. This area is quite prone to hyperpigmentation, due to its thin thickness which easily allows sunlight to penetrate. The sun's rays stimulate melanogenesis in this area, accentuating the appearance of pigmentary dark circles. Another cause of brown dark circles is genetics. Indeed, this type of dark circles predominantly affects people with darker skin, who produce more eumelanin, a form of dark melanin.

  • Hollow or Structural Dark Circles : As we age, the thin layer of subcutaneous fat located at the lower eyelid diminishes, leading to a certain skeletal appearance of the face. This results in the emergence of a shadow under the eyes. Structural dark circles can have a genetic origin or gradually develop over time or after massive weight loss.

Identifying blue, brown, or hollow dark circles.

It's not always easy to navigate between the different types of dark circles. However, distinguishing them is important in order to then turn to a suitable solution. The first point to consider is the colour of the dark circles. If your dark circles seem rather blue to purple, they are probably vascular dark circles. This type of dark circle is generally the easiest to identify. If you're still unsure, apply a cold compress for several minutes around the eye contour. If your dark circles diminish following this, they were indeed vascular dark circles.

This becomes more complex for pigmented and hollow dark circles as they have a similar colour. However, the former tend to lean more towards yellow-brown, while the latter are darker and truly resemble a shadow. To differentiate them, you can use a lamp. Indeed, the appearance of hollow dark circles is accentuated when the light comes from above but is diminished by frontal lighting. The appearance of pigmented dark circles, on the other hand, does not vary with light.

If you are unable to identify your type of under-eye circles, this may suggest that you actually have mixed under-eye circles. They are a combination of pigmented and vascular types of under-eye circles, to varying degrees.


  • CESTARI T. & al. What causes dark circles under the eyes? Journal of cosmetic dermatology (2007).

  • BANSAL S. & al. Periorbital hyperpigmentation: a comprehensive review. Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology (2016).


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