The Truth About Puffy Eyes


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Nearly everyone has woken up with swollen, puffy eyes that diminish as the morning goes by. For others, swelling around the eyes shows up only after a late night. For an unlucky few, however, puffy eyes are worse in the morning, and then never go away. Given how common the problem is, nearly every skin-care company sells products claiming to treat chronic or occasional puffy eyes.

But, can an eye cream, gel, or serum really eliminate puffy eyes? Sadly, no. However, don't be disheartened—there are things you can do to minimize puffy eyes once you know the common causes and their solutions.
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Top 10 Causes of Puffy Eyes—and What You Can Do to Treat Them!

Puffy eyes most often are caused by fluid retention, allergic reactions, skin inflamed by irritation, too-prominent fat pads distended around the eye area, or a combination of these factors.

The cosmetics industry's frequent solution—roller-ball eye-cream or gel applicators—only redistributes the fluid around the eye. The roller-balls are no more effective than a gentle fingertip massage, but definitely more expensive! Some find the rollerball-type products helpful, but most won't see much improvement.

Following are the details about the main causes of puffy eyes and what you can do to correct them:

  1. Sleep Position
    Keeping your head flat while you sleep allows fluid to collect in the tissue around your eyes. Sleeping with your head slightly elevated (making sure your neck is properly supported) can help prevent fluid retention in the eye area. Gentle fingertip massage around the eye area when you get up can help relieve this kind of swelling or, as mentioned above, you can use one of the eye-area products outfitted with a metal rollerball applicator.
  2. Diet
    Alcohol consumption and a diet high in salt causes water retention and increases puffiness around the eyes, puffiness that can linger throughout the day. What can you do about it? You can moderate (or eliminate) your intake of alcohol, sodium, and processed foods; add anti-inflammatory foods to your diet (e.g., fruits, vegetables, salmon); and drink plenty of water. All of these can make a HUGE difference.
  3. Contact Lenses
    Even under the best of circumstances, contact lenses can cause irritation, swelling, and, of course, increase your risk of an eye infection. Ensure you are wearing the most comfortable type of contacts for your vision correction. Follow your eye-care provider's exact recommendations for cleansing, wear, and disposal. Keeping your eyes lubricated with the appropriate eye drops also is a helpful preventive step. The Refresh brand of eye drops is a Research Team favorite!
  4. Allergies
    Exposure to allergens, either in the air or by rubbing your eyes with allergen-laced fingers, can cause redness and lasting puffiness. It's best to avoid touching your eyes, because rubbing not only pulls at the skin (which encourages sagging), but also increases inflammation, making puffiness worse. Also, talk to your physician about taking an antihistamine or using anti-allergy eye drops to control your allergy symptoms, such as runny, itchy eyes. Applying a cool (but not ice-cold) compress to your eyes also can help.
  5. Dry Skin
    Dryness around your eyes can contribute to swelling, and make them look wrinkled and tired. A well-formulated moisturizer can make a remarkable difference, and it need not be labeled "eye cream" or "eye gel". Check out our list of recommended eye creams and facial moisturizers that can be used around the eyes. And be sure to protect eye-area skin with a product rated SPF 25 or greater every morning, rain or shine!
  6. Makeup Residue
    Makeup, when left on overnight, or even a bit too long, can cause irritation, a sure way to cause puffy eyes! Be sure to meticulously remove your makeup every night. Start with a mild, fragrance-free cleanser, and then remove the last traces of eye makeup (including mascara) with a gentle, fragrance-free eye-makeup remover (one that's also colorant-free is best for the eye area). Remember not to rub or pull the skin around your eyes when removing your makeup.
  7. Crying
    Are you going through a rough time? Did you just watch a tearjerker? No doubt about it, when the tears start to flow, puffiness often results. Why? The physical act of crying causes inflammation around the eyes. That irritation, plus a person's natural tendency to rub and wipe their eyes while crying, leads to puffiness. There's no remedy for this. Just know one thing … the longer you cry, the worse the puffiness.
  8. Exposure to Irritants
    If your makeup or skin-care products (especially those you use around your eyes) contain irritants of any kind, you are causing irritation and inflammation, which almost guarantees puffy eyes. Ingredients like menthol, camphor, alcohol, essential oils, fragrant plant extracts, or any kind of fragrance shouldn't come anywhere near your skin—let alone near your eyes.
  9. Fat Pads
    For some people, puffy eyes may just be their natural appearance, based on genetics. Typically, this results from overly large fat pads around the eyes or because the fat pads, over time, have pouched through the facial muscles and begun to sag (commonly referred to as undereye bags). If that is the case, the only way to get rid of the problem is with cosmetic surgery,which almost always is incredibly effective.
  10. Sun Damage
    There are many reasons you need to be diligent about protecting your skin from the sun, but the primary reason is that sun damage causes wrinkles, loss of skin elasticity, and dark skin discolorations. If you suffer from puffy eyes, be aware … your eye area is even more susceptible to the negative impact of unprotected sun exposure. The resulting sun damage causes the skin around your eyes to lose its elasticity, which in turn allows more fluid to accumulate in the area. In addition, sagging skin just tends to look puffier. Wearing a sunscreen every day is crucial, but remember, many eye creams don't even contain sunscreen.

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth scientific research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! See Paula's Choice Eye Treatments.

Sources: Orbit, December 2009, pages 313-316; The Netherlands Journal of Medicine, September 2009, pages 338-339; Annals of Plastic Surgery Aesthetics, February 2009, pages 57-70; The Surgery-Free Makeover, Brandith Irwin, 2008, pages 68-69; American Family Physician, December 2007, pages 1815-1824; Plastic Reconstructive Surgery, April 2005, pages 1395-1402; Optometry, January 2001, pages 36-44.

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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