We've probably all experienced the rude awakening of spotting a pair of puffy eyes in the mirror. Undereye puffiness can happen due to a variety of factors, most of which are easy to counteract once you know how.
Even if you don't have particularly sensitive skin, chances are your eyes, particularly the skin surrounding the eye area, is fairly reactive. Why? Because the skin in this area is thinner and less resilient against irritants. You can be armed with the best eye cream out there, but fluid retention can strike anytime—and it shows up more prominently here than other areas of the face, especially if it has built up overnight while you lie flat on your pillow.
Sometimes irritants may also be also the case, in which case it's best to check with your doctor for any underlying eye allergies and to switch to ophthalmologist-vetted eye products, such as the best mascaras for sensitive eyes.
We look at the common causes of puffy eyes and how to get rid of them, as well as the best ways to prevent them in the future.
Causes of puffy eyes
Many causes of puffy or swollen eyes can be tackled with small changes to your lifestyle and your skincare routine. But there is a minority of reasons that are indicative of underlying health issues too, so it’s important to identify the cause of your puffy eyes so you can rule out anything more serious.
Here are some common causes of puffy eyes that you may not have considered:
- Heating: Turning the central heating up in winter can make eyes drier and more sensitive than usual, as heat causes dehydration of mucus membranes in the eyes, thus leading them to thicken and become more inflamed.
- Sleep quality: A bad night’s sleep can lead to puffiness around the eye area 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.
- Salt intake: Too much salt in your diet can cause your eyes to puff, as excess sodium levels can lead to fluid retention. If you think too much salt may be the cause of your swollen eyes, simply cut back on foods that contribute to fluid retention: There is hidden salt in condiments and pre-packed, frozen, or canned goods (sodium is often added as a preservative), so eat those in moderation.
- Allergies: Seasonal allergies can cause swelling of the eye area. When your body is faced with an allergy, it releases histamine into your system, which can sometimes lead to inflammation of the eye area.
- Menstrual cycle phases: Just like the rest of your body retains water during certain times of the month, your eyes can actually do the same. This should go down after a few days, as with abdominal bloating.
- Alcohol intake: Your eyes are extremely vulnerable to even small changes in your diet, so the dehydration caused by drinking too much alcohol can lead to puffiness around the eye area. (Yes, sadly, white-wine eyes are definitely a thing.)
- Thyroid issues: Although it is probably more likely to be an environmental factor, puffy eyes can also be a symptom of an overactive thyroid, so if you are concerned, always check with your doctor.
How to get rid of puffy eyes, according to the experts
“Puffy eyes are caused by age-related changes that occur around the eye area,” explains Dr. Aoife Turner, aesthetic and plastic surgeon at Harley Street Skin Clinic. “Loosening and stretching of the skin and underlying tissues leads to a bulging of the fat pads around our eyes, which can be exacerbated by environmental factors. Common triggers include dust mites and food products containing lactose or alcohol.”
To combat the problem and reduce swelling, Dr. Turner says, “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 eyepack will help reduce puffiness.”
If you prefer a more holistic approach, Chinese medicine practitioner Katie Brindle explains that it may be that some of your organs are out of balance. “In Chinese medicine, puffy eyes are a sign of weak kidney and spleen qi,” she says. As founder of the Hayo'u Method, Katie recommends a gua sha massage tool. “Hold the cool jade or rose quartz over the eyes,” she explains. “Rose quartz is cooling, and jade emits far infrared radiation (FIR) rays, which are healing at cellular level. Then press-stroke the tool to encourage lymphatic drainage. Make sure you work on the neck first to open the lymph channels.”
In addition, celebrity beauty therapist and makeup artist Nathalie Eleni recommends the following three-step ritual to depuff and soothe eyes:
Eye massage for puffiness
- Apply some eye gel or eye cream, then place your ring finger (which has the least amount of pressure) just under the tear duct of each eye. Using medium pressure with a pumping movement, slowly press along the undereye area in about ten gradual moves until you reach your temples.
- Now massage the temples, using small circular, anti-clockwise movements to help drain toxins and fluids from the face. Continue this technique along your eye sockets, round towards your temples again. Slowly repeat three times.
- Finally, place the index finger at the bridge of your nose just under the brow. Push up and under the muscle, so that you are lifting it and hold for the count often. Work your way along the whole brow with this technique and repeat three times.
Natural puffy eye remedies
Once you have identified the cause of your puffy eyes, you can adjust your lifestyle habits to tackle them or, alternatively, seek medical advice if you think it may be an underlying symptom for something more serious.
You can also try these natural remedies for reducing the appearance of puffy eyes at home:
- Water intake: Your undereye area will swell if your body is dehydrated. This is because it’s desperately trying to retain water. Increasing your water intake can help mitigate swelling. Drinking eight to ten glasses of water a day can also help flush out toxins, helping clear up your eye area.
- Chilled cucumbers: Cucumbers are an age-old puffy-eye remedy, and there's some decent science behind them too: As well as being deeply moisturizing, cucumbers contain antioxidants to fight off the environmental damage that can make eyes look tired and dull. Ensure the cucumber slices are chilled, as the cold temperature boosts vasoconstriction (the tightening of blood vessels), which instantly depuffs. (And they even double as a healthy, low-salt snack!)
- Teabags: Teabags can help soothe irritated and puffy eyes, as they have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce swelling—as well as relieving 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: Much like cucumbers, this home remedy will help tighten the blood vessels, which will relieve tired and puffy eyes. Simply chill metal spoons in the fridge for approximately 15 minutes, then hold the rounded side against your eye for a few minutes until the spoon becomes warm.
Best products for puffy eyes
Lastly, there are several topical solutions that can help diminish and prevent undereye puffiness. These range from light serums to roll-on creams:
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