Why Your Eyes Are Puffy—And What You Can Do About It

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Of all the areas of the face, the eye area can be the most problematic due to puffy eyes and under eye bags that develop with age. Since the skin is so thin, it will be the first place to show the signs of aging. In this post, I’ll explain why the eyes get puffy and my expert tips that can make a big difference.

Skin fact: long-term under eye puffiness will lead to under eye “bags”

Under eye puffiness

Puffy eyes are considered a temporary condition as they are most prominent for the first 2-4 hours after you wake up. Under eye puffiness is brought on from eating salty foods at night, yawning, allergies and crying. Sleep also plays a part in causing puffy eyes due to the flat nature of the body laying for 7-8 hours. This makes for improper drainage of the fluid around the eyes. Once you wake up and are in an upright vertical position, your puffy eyes should improve. (Pro tip: Sleep on two pillows.)

Under eye bags

The term “bags” refers to loose, sagging skin under the eyes that has lost its firmness. Bags start out in the early years as under eye puffiness and over time, the connective tissues that attach the skin to the orbital bone deteriorate. This results in a pouch of fat known as “fat pads.” Under eye bags begin to show in the mid-40s when the skin naturally starts to lose its tone. Chronic puffiness over the course of many years will stretch out the skin tissue and cause it to no longer spring back. Unfortunately, bags are considered a permanent condition and anti-puffiness eye creams will not give improvement. At this stage, it’s impossible to restore the loss of elasticity once the bag is formed. Cosmetic surgery can remove the fat pads and tighten up the skin. It’s considered to be the most tried-and-true solution for the most noticeable improvement.

How to keep the skin under the eyes tight, firm and intact

Get your thyroid checked

Under eye bags may be related to a thyroid function. Hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) causes myxedema which makes changes to the connective tissues, that can cause loss of tone in the under eye area. A sluggish lymphatic system and kidney or liver problems may also be a culprit. Consult with your doctor.

Avoid yawning by getting plenty of sleep

Being tired at night results in yawning and yawning will make the eyes tear and swell up. The excess fluids around the eyes will cause puffiness which weakens elasticity under the eyes accelerating under eye bags. The goal is to keep the skin tissue tight and intact.

Control your allergies

One of the biggest contributors to under-eye puffiness (and eventually bags) is from allergies. They are a contributing factor to the deterioration of the under eye skin tissue.

Avoid smoking

Smoking inhibits circulation and is the major cause of oxidative stress in the body resulting in the weakening of collagen and elastin fibers. It’s thought that heavy smokers are nearly five times more likely to be wrinkled than non-smokers—and the eye area is the most affected. The reason for this is because when cigarette smoke is blown out, it often travels upwards and gets directly into the eyes. This not only causes squinting but lipid peroxide (released in cigarette smoke) is the main free radical that destroys the skin’s barrier function. This is why for smokers (and for anyone, for that matter) should use a well-formulated antioxidant serum to keep the skin firm and intact. I recommend Firm + Repair Overnight Serum as a great way to visibly repair the skin while you sleep.

Firm and Repair Skin

Avoid using rich, oil-based eye creams

First, make sure your eye cream contains ingredients that help to keep the skin intact. This includes what are known as peptides. This active ingredient helps improve the skin’s firming mechanisms. Second, avoid eye creams that are greasy and rich to prevent what I call “eye cream puffiness syndrome”. Your skin can only absorb so much so what doesn’t get absorbed creates the potential of the eye cream traveling directly into your eyes. This can lead to unnecessary puffy eyes. Your eye cream should use lightweight, moisturizing ingredients with the addition of firming agents to keep the skin around the eyes visibly tight. Recommended eye creams: Total Eye Repair Creme at night and Vitamin C Eye Brightener in the morning.

Reduce puffy eyes with a bag of frozen peas—or anything cold

Cold temperatures constrict blood vessels, preventing the flow of fluid into the tissues. This should help quickly diminish puffiness in the process. Some people like to put a spoon in the freezer and use this to target the under eye area. This works, too. The idea is that anything really cold will be beneficial.

Keep your head elevated while you sleep

Sleep on two pillows at night to encourage proper drainage to reduce unnecessary fluid retention in the morning.

Shower in the morning, don’t bathe at night.

Heat from the water dilates (relaxes and opens) lymphatic vessels to help assist with drainage of fluids, wastes, and toxins that build up in the vessels. When you wash your face in the shower and the water is directly hitting you with force, this helps to stimulate excess fluids to move out of the eye area. In addition to the heat helping with the circulation, your vertical position in the shower helps drainage move out of the face area. When you get out of the shower, splash your skin with very cold water to then shrink capillaries to reduce puffiness. So, technically you’re opening up the vessel walls with hot water, and then closing them with cold water. If you bathe at night, you miss out on this whole process that can reduce puffy eyes.

Exfoliate under the eyes—gently

Not only do you want to prevent puffiness, but you also want to keep the skin cells healthy. This means exfoliating around the eyes to prevent dry cell build up that leads to crepey-looking eyes. Many people aren’t aware that exfoliation can make a big difference in the eye are looking smoother. Use Overnight Eye Serum 2-3 times a week underneath eye cream to smooth away dryness.
to treat puffy eyes and dark circles

Avoid salty foods at night

This is a big one if you want to wake up without puffy eyes. The sodium in foods encourages water retention under the eyes resulting in excessive swelling of the eye tissue. If you are trying to avoid puffiness under the eyes, it’s best to avoid salty foods at night and drink a lot of water to flush your system. Also, some clients have told me that eating gluten will cause them undereye puffiness so you may consider this.

Skip the hemorrhoid cream

Years ago, hemorrhoid creams were being promoted to help reduce puffy eyes. However, they don’t help anymore like they may have once done. Read about hemorrhoid creams used for under eye puffiness.

In summary, if you are someone who has used every eye cream on the planet and they leave you without any real results, it’s simply because you cannot reverse bags using topical products. I highly recommend that you practice my tips to prevent them from appearing as quickly. Prevention is everything.

Want to learn more? Learn why you need to know the difference between dry and dehydrated skin

Renée Rouleau

Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”