Spotting a pair of puffy eyes in the mirror is a rude awakening most of us have experienced. Undereye puffiness can happen due to a variety of factors, and even if you don't have particularly sensitive skin the eye area can be vulnerable to reactions and inflammation.
Why? Because the skin is thinner and less resilient against irritants. You can own the best eye cream out there, but fluid retention can strike anytime and shows up more prominently here than in other areas. "Eye bags can result from a wide variety of causes, though the most recognizable and familiar is a lack of sleep," explains Lenstore optometrist, Roshni Patel. "It’s also very common as part of aging, but there are also lots of other reasons why you might have bags under your eyes, which include fluid retention, allergies, hereditary conditions, sun exposure, and eczema."
Feeling confused? Don't be. This doctor-approved guide will break down all the possible causes of your puffy eyes as well as the remedies you can use to treat and prevent them in the future.
What causes puffy eyes?
Many causes of puffy eyes can be tackled with lifestyle and skincare routine tweaks. But there are a minority of reasons that indicate underlying health issues, so it’s important to pinpoint the trigger.
- Poor sleep: A bad night’s sleep can lead to puffiness in the morning due to your body not being able to efficiently clear fluid and toxin buildup overnight. This can be even worse if you’re stressed, which causes changes to the salt balance in the body—and if salt balances are off, your eyes can retain water and swell as a result.
- Fluid retention: Certain points of your menstrual cycle, dehydration due to alcohol intake, or too much salt in your diet can cause your eyes to puff due to fluid retention.
- Allergies: Seasonal allergies can cause swelling of the eye area, as can reactions to particular skincare products. When your body is faced with an allergy, it releases histamine into your system, which can sometimes lead to inflammation of the eye area.
- Heating: Turning the central heating up in winter can make eyes drier. The heat causes dehydration of mucus membranes in the eyes, which can make them become inflamed as well as worsen conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.
- Aging: "As we grow older, the tissues around the eyes weaken. With that, normal fat that helps support the eyes falls into the lower eyelids, resulting in a puffier look, and fluid may accumulate in the new space, which adds to the puffiness," explains Patel.
- Medical issues: Although it is far more likely to be a lifestyle factor, puffy eyes can be a symptom of conditions such as an overactive thyroid. If you are concerned, check with your doctor.
How to treat puffy eyes, according to eye doctors
1. Sleep quality
We'll start by stating the obvious: Longer, better quality sleep will help exponentially. But on the occasions when poor sleep is unavoidable and you wake up with raisins for eyes, there are things you can do to jolt your face awake.
“Introducing movement on the skin is a great way to reduce puffiness with instant effect as it will encourage increased circulation" advises Kimberley Hulme, Head of Clinic at Face the Future. "If you have a gua sha at home, use this with a light to moderate pressure after applying a facial oil to avoid friction on the skin." Beauty ed's tip: The best facial rollers are great for this too.
Chinese medicine practitioner Katie Brindle advises using specific crystal types for this massage “In Chinese medicine, puffy eyes are a sign of weak kidney and spleen. Hold a cool jade or rose quartz over the eyes. Rose quartz is cooling, and jade emits far-infrared radiation (FIR) rays, which are healing at a cellular level.”
Revolution Skincare Jade Gua Sha | RRP: $21.95/£10
Gua sha tools are cost-effective, cute, and useful tools for puff reducing massage. Use with skincare that has plenty of 'slip' like a serum or face oil.
2. Fluid retention
If you're familiar with 'white wine and kettle chips face' you'll know the trick to avoiding fluid retention is laying off triggers. “A bulging of the fat pads around our eyes can be exacerbated by environmental factors," agrees explains Dr Aoife Turner, aesthetic plastic surgeon at Harley Street Skin Clinic. "Common triggers include dust mites and food products containing lactose or alcohol.”
To combat the problem and reduce swelling, Dr. Turner advises we “identify which substance or cause is irritating the eyes and reduce exposure, while simple tricks like sleeping with an extra pillow and using a cool eye pack will help reduce puffiness.” Bear in mind that fluid retention ultimately comes down to dehydration, as your body desperately tries to retain water, so the old eight to ten glasses of water a day rule will mitigate this and help flush out toxins.
Skin Proud Icicle Cooling Eye Serum Stick | RRP: $17.97/£14.95
Sometimes alcohol and salty foods seem unavoidable (and sometimes we just don't want to avoid them) If that's the case and you're all puffed up, swipe on this uniquely cooling solid serum stick, ideally right from the fridge, and feel sweet, soothing relief from the HA and cica formula.
Allergies can be one of the trickiest puffy eye cause to treat, because with dozens if not hundreds of ingredients going into every skincare product it's almost impossible to single out which one is the problem. In fact, according to independent research conducted by allergy-neutral skincare brand Oodee, 90% of UK people did not know which specific skincare ingredient caused their irritation or a skin flare-up.
If you have sensitive skin generally, or your eyes feel hot, look red, or have flaky skin around them as well as being puffy, you could well be experiencing an allergic reaction. Some good general advice would be to avoid essential oils and skin barrier stripping surfactants such as sodium laureth sulfate, as well as staying clear of strong skincare acids and cleansing with lukewarm not hot water. Using products designed for a skincare routine for sensitive skin can help alleviate discomfort too.
Oodee Nova Illuminating Moisturiser | RRP: £55 (UK only)
This clever British brand takes the guesswork out of puffy-eye prevention by eliminating 14 food and 26 fragrance allergens as well as multiple skin irritants. It's not all about what's excluded though, this ultra-light cream packs in niacinamide (opens in new tab), hyaluronic acid, and collagen-boosting plant stem cells, along with bags of radiance-boosting vitamins.
Don't worry, nobody's asking you to shiver your way through the colder months in three jumpers and ski socks. But if your puffy eyes also feel dry and itchy then central heating could be the culprit. "It’s not uncommon for people with skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis to experience their symptoms getting worse during the colder months," explains Dr Anjali Mahto, Consultant Dermatologist at 55 Harley Street. "Central heating, and taking warm baths and showers can all act to aggravate the skin further."
Lifestyle changes can help dry eyes according to Patel, who suggests "switching to glasses rather than contact lenses, along with investing in a humidifier or an essential oil diffuser to help add moisture back into the air." In terms of your beauty routine, Dr Mahto advises you "choose a moisturizer that has all three components; humectants (e.g. hyaluronic acid), emollients (e.g. squalene) and occlusives (e.g. ceramides)."
Peep Club Instant Relief Eye Spray | RRP: £15 (UK only)
This ultra-fine mist is designed to alleviate dry eye symptoms and feels deliciously refreshing on hot puffy peepers while also moisturizing. It combines hyaluronic acid with sea buckthorn oil, which is packed with occlusive fatty acids plus antioxidant and skin-soothing properties.
5. Ageing skin
We'll spare you the old jokes about the only cure for getting older. But if your eye woes are less about temporary puffiness and more about long-term sagging then no topical product is going to radically shrink eye bags. Surgery can help, if that's a road you wish to explore, and there are plenty of minimally invasive 'tweakments' that can improve sagging skin, such as ultherapy and judiciously administered facial filler.
Ruling out needles and knives, you can also make temporary improvements with a few key ingredients, primarily caffeine which gives microcirculation a boost to drain excess fluid. Keeping eye products in the fridge is an excellent idea, as the cold temperatures rev up vasoconstriction (the tightening of blood vessels) for an extra firming kick.
The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG | RRP: $13/£5.85
This serum combines caffeine's anti-inflammatory, vasoconstriction, and microcirculation boosting properties with powerful antioxidants and is the perfect light texture to use around the eyes.
6. Medical conditions
Even the best skincare products can only do so much, and treating this type of puffiness is definitely best left to the medical professionals. "While not at all common, it’s possible that eye bags may be a result of thyroid or kidney problems or adrenal deficiency," says Patel.
"Additionally, some medications, particularly stimulants or long-term use of painkillers that cause adrenal fatigue, can also result in bags under the eyes. If you are concerned about bags under your eyes, for example, if they’re painful or uncomfortable and if they persist for an unusual amount of time, consult your optometrist."
DIY puffy eye remedies
Last-ditch quick fix time! If you've got somewhere to be and have woken up full of puff, try these fast—and totally free—DIY remedies, they're surprisingly effective.
- Chilled cucumbers: Cucumbers are an age-old puffy-eye remedy, and there's solid science behind the tradition: As well as being hydrating, cucumbers contain antioxidants to fight off the environmental damage that can make eyes look tired and dull. Ensure the cucumber slices are chilled to boost vasoconstriction.
- Teabags: Teabags can help soothe irritated and puffy eyes, as they have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce swelling—as well as relieve redness and irritation. Put two used teabags in the fridge for half an hour, then put them on your eyelids for 15 minutes.
- Cold spoons: Like cucumbers, this home remedy helps tighten the blood vessels, which will relieve tired and puffy eyes. Simply chill metal spoons in the fridge for 15 minutes, then hold the rounded side against your eye for a few minutes until the spoon becomes warm.
woman&home thanks Dr. Aoife Turner of Harley Street Skin Clinic (opens in new tab), Katie Brindle (opens in new tab) of the Hayo'u Method (opens in new tab), Lenstore (opens in new tab) optometrist, Roshni Patel BSC (Hons) MCOptom (opens in new tab), Dr Anjali Mahto (opens in new tab), Dr. Aoife Turner of Harley Street Skin Clinic (opens in new tab) and Kimberley Hulme at Face the Future (opens in new tab) for their time and expertise.
As woman&home's Beauty Channel Editor, Fiona Mckim has tried more products than she’s had hot dinners and nothing makes her happier than raving about brilliant finds on womanandhome.com or her instagram grid (@fionamckim if you like hair experiments and cute shih-tzus). Fiona joined woman&home as Assistant Beauty Editor in 2013 under industry legend Jo GB, who taught her everything she needed to know (learn about ingredients and employ extreme cynicism). She has since covered every corner of the industry, from interviewing dermatologists and celebrities to reporting backstage at Fashion Week and judging the w&h Beauty Awards.
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