Got Puffy Eyes In The Morning? 11 Causes + Derm-Backed Treatments
Your eyes can tell you a lot about your internal health. Dark circles? You probably need to focus on sleep quality. Fine lines? You might be dealing with dehydration or loss of collagen.
And what about puffiness? Well, there could be multiple factors at play, some of which aren't exactly in your control. If you consistently wake up with puffy eyes, take a peek at the most common causes below—after all, you can't expect to treat the swelling without getting to the root of the issue (but don't worry; we outline some quick fixes as well):
Lack of sleep
Ever wondered why you wake up with swollen under-eyes after skimping on shut-eye? Well, here you go: "Lack of sleep leads to increases in certain hormones that cause fluid retention," says board-certified dermatologist Anar Mikailov, M.D., FAAD, co-founder of Skintensive. "Additionally, lack of sleep means less lymphatic fluid available to clear toxins and waste products, so buildup leads to puffiness."
You see, sleep is a time for your body to clear out everyday waste; when you don't get enough sleep, your body can't clear out that debris, and those toxins can start to build up—in addition to other health concerns, this buildup can lead to puffiness.
But it's not just a lack of sleep that can cause puffiness—how you sleep can totally impact your appearance. For example, if you sleep with your face smashed into the pillow, you'll likely wake up with swollen eyes. "Sleeping with your face down pulls fluid toward your face, especially the eye area," says Mikailov.
Lying flat can also cause puffy eyes, he says, thanks to gravity. "You may want to prop up your body with extra pillows so your head is tilted up a bit to help reduce puffiness," he adds. That way, gravity pulls the fluid downward, away from the eye area.
If you're an individual who menstruates, you might notice some puffiness right around the time of your cycle. "During the early pre-menstruation phase when progesterone levels are high, the body will retain extra fluid, and this will be seen as puffiness of the face, especially around the eyes," notes Mikailov.
Seasonal allergies tend to go hand in hand with itchy, puffy eyes—if your eyes swell up at the first waft of spring blooms, you're certainly not alone. "[An] increase in histamine release causes inflammation and swelling, which is most often seen on the face," says Mikailov.
Not to mention, constantly rubbing at your delicate eye area can cause even more irritation, which only exacerbates the puffiness.
When your body lacks hydration, it may have a hard time getting rid of fluids since it wants to hold on to the precious water it does have. Over time, the excess fluid accumulates, which can lead to puffiness (this is known as fluid retention).
"When you cry, the tissues around your eyes can reabsorb the tears that don't run out of your eyes or nose. That leads to puffy eyes," says Mikailov.
And again, hastily wiping those tears away can irritate the orbs and make them puffy. Board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, M.D., FAAD, agrees: "Crying can lead to puffiness as a result of swelling and inflammation," she notes.
"Alcohol can cause water retention and facial puffiness," board-certified dermatologist and founder of MaeiMD Rebecca Marcus, M.D., says about alcohol's effects on skin; she even says the swelling may last throughout the next morning and even until midday.
Not to mention, alcohol can affect your sleep quality1, which we already know has a significant impact on puffy eyes. It also triggers inflammation2, which is another major culprit of puffiness.
That's not to say you can't ever indulge in a cocktail or two—if you do wake up with puffy eyes after drinking, just know that it's a direct result of alcohol consumption and shouldn't last forever.
In general, high sodium intake dehydrates your skin and causes the body to retain more water, "and this change will become most obvious around the eyes and the face," says Mikailov. That's why experts recommend cutting back on salty foods if the puffiness bothers you. And as board-certified dermatologist Apple Bodemer, M.D. reminds us, "processed foods are often deceptively high in sodium so you might be getting a lot more then you think!"
Alas, sometimes puffy eyes are simply a natural part of aging. As your skin naturally loses collagen and elastin, the fat pads around your eyes lose their structure and start to droop—that's why some complain of puffy eye bags as they get older. Mikailov seconds the notion: "The skin around your eyes becomes thinner and loses structural support as you age, so the puffiness may be more prominent," he adds.
If your puffiness becomes severe or lasts a while, it may be time to see a doctor. "More serious health conditions, like thyroid conditions, can lead to constant puffiness," says Mikailov, so keep a close eye on the swelling and track how long it takes to subside. If you have any lingering concerns, you might as well give your doctor a ring.
Some people are genetically predisposed to puffy eye bags—simple as that. If you're born with them, you likely know there isn't much you can do to change them, save for in-office procedures. However, you can take preventive measures so your bags don't worsen with age.
How to get rid of puffiness
Hoping to dial down the swelling, stat? See here for some quick fixes:
Cool temperatures constrict your blood vessels (a process known as vasoconstriction), which can help reduce swelling. Take it from integrative medicine physician Bindiya Gandhi, M.D.: "If you have only five minutes and can place a couple of ice cubes or frozen bags of veggies or the back of [cold] spoons on your eyes—this instantly decreases inflammation," she writes.
If you have a jade roller or pair of ice globes, feel free to toss it in the fridge for a beat before gliding across your skin. "The applicator is cooling on the skin, which helps to reduce puffiness as it causes the blood vessels to constrict, and the pressure of the jade roller helps to push fluid away from the under-eye area," says Garshick.
If you don't have either of those tools, as Gandhi noted, a cold spoon works just as well, too. Feel free to get creative!
"Using your hands, a ceramic spoon, a gua sha tool, or a jade roller, you can loosen any fluid buildup manually to help with lymphatic drainage," says Mikailov. "It works by manually moving the fluid toward your lymph nodes and improving circulation."
You'll still want to use light pressure—the weight of the tool itself should be enough—but gently swiping outward toward your temples can help flush out the excess fluid.
To get even more bang for your buck, celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas, founder of Joanna Vargas Salons and Skin Care and author of Glow From Within, recommends massaging in your skin care products.
"It's easy to do," she says. "Using a gentle but firm pressure, mimic a 'J' motion across your face." She also likes to gently pinch the tops and bottoms of her eyebrows while sweeping to further increase circulation.
To help deflate the skin in a pinch, many reach for eye masks or patches: These serum-soaked swishes hydrate and cool the area, and many are infused with vasoconstrictors (like caffeine and green tea) that constrict blood vessels and dial down inflammation.
Plus, "The pressure from the patches decreases the amount of space fluid that can accumulate under your eyes, which helps reduce puffiness," Mikailov adds.
If you really want to level up your eye mask experience, Vargas suggests layering a sheet mask on top of the patches. Then use a de-puffing skin care tool (ice globes, jade rollers, vibrating T-bars, etc.), to flush out excess fluid.
The cherry on top? "For added cooling and de-puffing, I always leave my under-eye masks in the fridge!" says board-certified dermatologist Kim Nichols, M.D., founder of NicholsMD of Greenwich. Celebrity esthetician Shani Darden seconds the advice: "I always keep a few in the refrigerator for whenever I feel like my eyes are looking puffy and tired," she says. "The coolness of the mask helps to instantly de-puff the under-eye area.
No under-eye patches? No problem: Plenty of kitchen ingredients make a fabulous impromptu eye mask. Below, find some tried-and-true remedies for puffiness:
- Potatoes: "A great natural ingredient for dark circles and puffy eyes is sweet potato," says Vargas. Regular potatoes, on the other hand, contain natural astringents that remove excess water from the skin. Cut a raw potato into slices, soak them in water, and place them on your eyes for 10 minutes.
- Chamomile tea: "Chamomile tea bags are another great solution if you are traveling and need to eliminate eye puffiness," Vargas notes. "Steep the tea bags in hot water, take them out until they cool, and put one on each eye for 10 minutes. You will look refreshed and de-puffed!" You could also place the tea bags in the fridge overnight and apply them in the morning—the cool temperature paired with soothing chamomile will help dial down inflammation.
- Green tea: Green tea is also a vasoconstrictor, meaning it has the ability to constrict blood vessels in the skin. Follow the same instructions as the chamomile version above; just swap your tea for an antioxidant-rich green variety.
- Cucumbers: Not only are cucumbers incredibly cooling and hydrating, but they also contain vitamin C and caffeic acid to help soothe irritated skin and reduce swelling. Simply cut a clean cucumber into slices and lay them on your eyes for 10 minutes.
- Bananas: "The high level of potassium in bananas helps counteract the salt that leads to fluid retention," Gandhi writes about puffy eyes. All you need to do is puree a banana and rub the goop under your eyes for about 10 minutes. Bodemer also notes that, "Bananas are also very hydrating and packed with antioxidants so this is especially good if you have dry inflamed skin and need a hydration boost."
Use eye cream
Hydrating eye creams are certainly a long-term investment for skin health, but some formulas can help reduce swelling almost immediately. For swollen eye bags in particular, look for an eye cream with caffeine. Caffeine, as we mentioned, is a vasoconstrictor, which means it can help reduce flushing and inflammation—both of which can lead to puffiness.
Of course, "Keeping the under-eye area hydrated is essential for helping your eyes to look their best overall," adds Darden. So make sure your cream is chock-full of moisturizing players. These picks will have you looking refreshed in no time.
"There are also procedures that work to tighten the skin, such as lasers, microneedling, or radio-frequency devices, that can improve the appearance, as well as surgical treatments that can help to reduce the under-eye bags," says Garshick.
Especially if your puffiness seems genetic or due to natural skin aging, the in-office route might be an option to consider. As board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara, M.D., once told us about genetic bags: "The only way to get rid of them is to remove the pads surgically."
Best products for puffy eyes
How to prevent puffiness
While some elements of puffiness are simply genetic, there are measures you can take to prevent the swelling altogether or keep it from getting worse over time. Here, find more long-term tips:
Since dehydration is a significant culprit for puffiness, you'll want to prioritize your daily water intake. It's impossible to give everyone the same hydration quota (that "eight glasses a day" rule is a total myth!), but experts generally recommend drinking half of your weight in ounces. So, for example, someone who weighs 150 pounds would want to drink around 75 ounces of water, which is about 9 cups.
But as integrative medicine physician Dana Cohen, M.D., notes on the mindbodygreen podcast, "The only way to know is to live in your body and know what it feels like." So if you routinely wake up with puffy under-eyes, you might want to try increasing your intake.
Protect from UV rays.
Your skin naturally loses collagen as you age, which can make the fat pads underneath your eyes more prominent. But certain lifestyle factors can accelerate collagen decline—like UV damage.
"If we don't wear sunscreen around our eyes, we leave the skin susceptible to UV damage, which can contribute to weakening of the skin and loss of collagen, which can contribute to baggy eyes," says Garshick. "Wearing sun protection and sunglasses to protect the skin around the eyes helps to prevent collagen loss and, therefore, may help to prevent lower eye bags."
Mind your diet.
What you consume can totally show up on your skin, and in the case of puffy eyes, a salt-heavy diet or too much alcohol can exacerbate swelling. Everyone's bodies are different, but if you find sodium or alcohol to be a big trigger for you, you might want to think about cutting back.
Get enough sleep.
"Try to get enough sleep every night, and when sleeping, use an extra pillow propped up behind you," suggests Mikailov.
We know getting enough sleep is way easier said than done, but experts recommend minimizing your screen time, avoiding late-afternoon caffeine, and curating a calming wind-down routine to ensure solid rest. Find our full list of expert-backed sleep tips here, and if you need an extra nudge into dreamland, see here for our favorite natural sleep aids.
For those prone to allergies, you might want to speak with your doctor to learn about your options for managing symptoms. You can find some doctor-approved allergy-relieving tips here, but everyone's triggers are different, so we do recommend speaking with someone who knows your health history.
Can dehydration cause puffy eyes?
"Dehydration may cause puffy eyes as a result of fluid retention," says Garshick. When your body lacks hydration, it may have a hard time getting rid of fluids since it wants to hold on to the precious water it does have. Over time, the excess fluid accumulates, which can lead to puffiness.
Why do eyes swell after sleeping?
"Gravity is the reason for puffy eyes after sleeping," says Mikailov. "Facing downward pulls the most fluid toward your eye area. However, laying flat can also cause puffy eyes. You may want to prop up your body with extra pillows so your head is tilted up a bit to help reduce puffiness."
If you don't get enough quality sleep, you may experience puffiness as well. "Lack of sleep leads to increases in certain hormones that cause fluid retention. Additionally, lack of sleep means less lymphatic fluid available to clear toxins and waste products, so buildup leads to puffiness," adds Mikailov.
How do you get rid of lymphatic fluid under your eyes?
"Lymphatic massage is one of my favorite ways to help reduce puffiness, eliminate dark circles under eyes, and lessen the frequency of breakouts," says Vargas. Try her easy technique while applying your eye cream: "Using a gentle but firm pressure, mimic a 'J' motion across your face," she explains.
Puffiness can happen for myriad reasons, but because the eye area is so thin and delicate, it can easily swell up from the above culprits. The good news is that most of these factors are easily rectifiable, and the puffiness shouldn't linger for too long. Now, puffiness and dark circles tend to go hand in hand—if it's the latter you're dealing with, you'll want to check out these slightly tweaked care tips.
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.