The Truth About Puffy Eyes
Puffy eyes are a common problem, whether you wake up with the kind that gradually diminish as the morning goes by or are bothered by puffiness that never seems to go away. The cosmetics industry knows it’s a problem, which is why nearly every skincare company sells products claiming to get rid of puffy eyes. So, how come you still have puffy eyes?
The answer: Even the most brilliantly formulated eye creams, gels, and serums can do only so much to improve puffy eyes. It doesn’t mean you won’t get some benefit—just that you might not get as much as you were hoping for. As always, we approach problems like this with research and facts to get you as close as realistically possible to minimizing the appearance of puffy eyes. Here’s what you need to know and do.
Top 10 Causes of Puffy Eyes—and Realistic Solutions
1. Sleep Position
Keeping your head flat while you sleep allows fluid to collect in the skin 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. A gentle fingertip massage around the eye area when you get up also can help relieve this kind of swelling.
Alcohol consumption and a diet high in salt leads to water retention and increased puffiness around the eyes, which can linger throughout the day. Try moderating (or eliminating) your intake of alcohol, sodium, and processed foods; adding antioxidant-rich foods to your diet (e.g., fruits, vegetables, salmon); and drinking plenty of water. These can make a HUGE difference.
3. Contact Lenses
Even under the best of circumstances, contact lenses can cause your eyes to look tired and puffy. Make sure you are wearing the most comfortable type of contacts for your vision correction. Follow your eye-care provider’s exact recommendations for cleansing, wear time, and disposal. Keeping your eyes lubricated with the appropriate eyedrops as needed is also very helpful.
Exposure to allergens, whether airborne or from rubbing your eyes with allergen-laced fingers (touching plants or animals you’re allergic to and then touching your eyes transfer the problem), can contribute to perpetual puffiness. It’s best to avoid touching your eyes because rubbing not only pulls at the skin (which encourages sagging), but also may make puffiness worse. Also, talk to your physician about an antihistamine or using anti-allergy eyedrops 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 cause sensitivity and a heavy crepey appearance, contributing to puffy eyes while also making them look wrinkled and tired. An eye cream with skin-replenishing ingredients and antioxidants will keep skin remarkably hydrated, softened, and smoothed. It can make a world of difference, and you may be able to see results almost immediately.
6. Makeup Residue
Eye makeup, when left on overnight, or even a bit too long, can aggravate skin, 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 with a gentle, fragrance-free eye-makeup remover (one that’s also colorant-free is best for the eye area). Remember: Do not rub or pull the skin around your eyes when removing your makeup.
7. Exposure to Harsh Ingredients
Ingredients like menthol, camphor, alcohol, essential oils, fragrant plant extracts, or any kind of fragrance (natural or synthetic) should never come anywhere near your eyes. If your makeup or skincare products contain these types of ingredients, it almost guarantees bouts of puffy eyes. Stop using the product(s) and switch to a non-irritating alternative.
8. Fat Pads
For some people, puffy eyes may just be their natural appearance, based on traits passed down from their parents. If you have excess fat padding under the eye, skincare products cannot address the problem (believe us, we wish they could). If this is the cause of your problem, the only way to deal with it is with the help of a cosmetic dermatologist. That’s a decision only you can make; while it may seem expensive, wasting your money on products that are incapable of addressing this issue isn’t exactly cheap, either.
9. Sun Protection
You cannot avoid the litany of problems unprotected sun exposure causes for the eye area (not only the skin, but also the eye itself—just ask your ophthalmologist). Sun damage is your skin’s nemesis, so don’t let it get the upper hand. An eye cream or well-formulated moisturizer with SPF 30 or greater is critical if you’re trying to control or slow the process of your eyes looking older and puffy. Broad spectrum sunscreen is the one product that can reduce the risk of early signs of aging and keep them from rapidly getting worse.
Wearing sunglasses is important for many aspects of keeping your eyes healthy, but in terms of keeping the skin around your eyes beautiful and young-looking, wearing sunglasses daily is one of our favorite anti-aging solutions for the eyes, including diminishing puffy eyes. And let’s be honest—shopping for a great pair of sunglasses can be fun!
While the solutions we present above may not be as dramatic as you had hoped (we get it; we wish eye creams or gels could magically get rid of puffiness just as much as you do), you’re now armed with the truth and don’t need to waste another dime on products that don’t actually work. And, for some of you, honing in on the specific cause of your puffiness and the right eye cream may be enough to make all the difference.
References for this information:
Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery, April-June 2016, pages 61-64
Facial Plastic Surgery, August 2013, pages 273-280
Clinics in Plastic Surgery, January 2013, pages 225-236
Seminars in Plastic Surgery, February 2007, pages 24-31
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, April 2005, pages 1,403-1,404
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About the Experts
Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:
The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!