Puffy Eyes? Here Are The Reasons You Get Bags + What To Do About It
Here's my dream: looking like I got a full 8 hours of sleep, visiting my yoga studio, and making it to work with time to spare. My reality is that just doesn't happen, as a decidedly not morning person. Worse yet? My eyes. They range from being excessively puffy bags to dark and brooding circles—and sometimes a strange combination of the two.
So in an effort to help myself, I dug in. First up: bags.
Why do you get puffy eyes?
The skin around the eyes is very thin and delicate, making it more susceptible to changes. This is why it's where people start to show signs of aging there first, why the area is often discolored, and it gets puffy. It's why beauty brands created an entire skin care category dedicated to it (you never see "nose serums," no?), and why so many concealers are specifically targeted to help the area.
So when your eyes puff up and you develop bags, there are typically a few reasons at play, but the underlying issue of all of it is retained and pooled fluid in the area. When your body retains fluid, you often describe it as bloat. Essentially, that's what's happening with puffy eyes. And as we noted above, because the area is so thin and sensitive, you notice it there more readily. And before we get started, it should be noted that puffy eyes are different from dark circles: They are often confounded, and so people think you can treat them the same way. And while some treatments can overlap, the causes for each are vastly different. The more you know!
The thing you so often hear about dark circles and puffy eyes is that they are caused by a lack of sleep. Lack of sleep causes the blood vessels to dilate—this not only causes the dark purplish tint but also allows for more fluid in the area.
One issue you might not be considering, especially if you've been experiencing puffy eyes over a long period of time, is stress. "With stress, your body goes into this fight-or-flight mode and you retain bodily fluids because your body thinks you need it. It's a physiological reaction," says board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara.
Or, as physician Bindiya Gandhi, M.D., told us, it might be allergies—food, environmental, or otherwise: "Obviously symptoms vary from person to person and food to food, but many times, physical manifestations of allergies include watery eyes, itchy skin, or puffy face and eyes."
Food and drink are other big culprits. To start, there's drinking too much alcohol, which causes bloating all over—the face included. Sugar, which can cause the blood sugar to spike, leading to inflammation, is another trigger. But the main one is sodium: "When you eat salty foods, it will accumulate and retain water in your body; you notice it more around the eyes because it is thin skin," says Gohara.
The final thing that can cause bags? Fat pads under your eyes. These are a genetic thing: Meaning you are born with them and you can't really affect them with creams or tonics. You might notice it gets worse with age, but that's because the skin loses elasticity and will begin to sag. I hate being the bearer of bad news, but I'd rather be honest with you: If you have bags caused by fat, your only option is procedural, notes Gohara: "The only way to get rid of them is to remove the pads surgically."
But for all of the others, here's what you can do.
How do you treat them?
Here, how to treat eye bags ranging from long-term to quick fixes.
The most obvious thing we can tell you is that if you have puffy eyes due to any lifestyle choice, you might consider amending that choice. Puffy eyes due to lack of sleep? Try getting your full eight hours. ("It's a necessary part of any skin care routine. Just look at what can happen to your body if you don't get enough sleep," says Gandhi.) Salty foods causing your bloat? Cut back. Of course this is easier said than done, and even when on our best behavior, we can develop bags. In that case, you'll want to be proactive with treatments.
Your lymphatic system is part of the vascular system, and it flushes out toxins through the lymph fluid. When the system is stagnant, it can cause swelling and buildup of that fluid. When you stimulate the lymphatic system and can help get the fluids in your body moving, notes holistic esthetician and mbg Collective member Britta Plug. "We never just want to focus on the face. Because puffiness is usually not just a face issue. So addressing it long term, you want to make sure you have a healthy lymphatic system."
Here's what Plug does: "So I'll wake up and have a nice big cup of lemon water, move to dry body brushing, and then take an alternating hot and cold shower to jump-start things. Start macro and then get more micro: Then I'll do my facial gua sha, focusing on my lymph drainage stroke. Downward on the neck and outward on the face."
Cooling tools and topicals
"These are incredibly efficacious at reducing the fluid buildup," says Gohara, who says she likes mini jade rollers or even eye products that come with a metal tip. Plug agrees: "Our skin is a phenomenal organ and does way more than we give it credit for. One of its big jobs is thermal regulation. When we get hot, everything dilates and expands. Then when we get cold everything constricts—that's why you get goosebumps. So if you put on cold, that constricts the vessels, which helps push the fluid out of them." Don't have a jade roller or gua sha stone on hand? Plug says go old-school: A chilled spoon does wonders.
As for creams and serums, the most common ingredient you'll see is still the best: caffeine. "The thought is that it stimulates circulation and constricts blood vessels," says Plug. However, she also recommends looking for topicals with lymphatic-stimulating actives like sweet fern.
Or, says Gandhi, go to your kitchen: Try cucumber slices ("vitamin C and caffeic acid in the cucumbers helps soothe irritated skin and reduce swelling," she says), banana mash ("the high level of potassium in bananas helps counteract the salt that leads to fluid retention," she says), or green tea bags ("Not only does green tea have caffeine; it's also high in antioxidants," she says).
And, of course, the best treatments are the ones that incorporate a few elements.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.