We’ve all had one of those mornings when we wake up to find that our eyes are unfortunately rimmed with bags. When we were younger, the solution for this was easy: We’d throw some water on our faces and let time quickly diffuse the situation. As we’ve gotten older, however, the bags have not only become more stubborn, but they’ve also decided to pop up on more than one occasion. We get them after a sleepless night. We spot them as a result of crying. And we know they’re coming after eating the wrong foods. In fact, sometimes puffiness can happen for no apparent reason at all. And as we slather on creams or wear cold eye masks to get things back to normal, we also can’t help but feel like there’s nothing common about persistent puffy eyes at all.
As it turns out, all of that worry might be for nothing. Because according to Ronald Moy, MD, at MFC Dermatology in Beverly Hills, eye puffiness is to be expected with age. “Other than decreasing your salt intake or treating allergies, nothing helps,” he says. “Most of the puffiness is due to getting older, or it’s genetic.”
Meet the Expert
Dr. Ronald Moy is a cosmetic surgeon, lecturer, and author. Dr. Moy is also a fellow of the American College of Mohs Surgery and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, a member of the American Academy of Facial Plastic Surgery, and has published more than 200 scholarly articles on cosmetic and dermatologic surgery.
Though we now know that the reasons behind puffy eyes are mostly out of our control, we asked Moy to delve deeper into this common insecurity to better explain the causes of eye puffiness, and what we can do to sooth its appearance.
Understanding the Basics of Our Eye's Skin
The skin around the eye is thin and delicate, and as we get older, those tissues—and sometimes the muscles under them—weaken. When that happens, Moy says, fat deposits that are distributed around eyes can slowly anchor themselves under the eyelids, creating bags. Less commonly, fluids can also build up under eyes to create these bags.
“Imagine it like this: When a balloon deflates, loose material develops,” he says. “The same thing happens as we get older. We lose fat, which causes deflation, and that leads to puffiness.”
Puffiness around the eyes is rarely seen as a medical concern because of our skin’s natural tendency to lose its elasticity as we get older. Instead, the sagging and swelling are often considered “normal,” even if it’s tough to accept.
Breaking Down the Underlying Factors
“Everything drops as we get older: the face, the neck, and the eyelids,” he says. But aside from the understandable factor of time—and a predisposition to eye puffiness from genetics—Moy says that there are some lifestyle choices that may contribute.
- Salt can be a factor. “Salt causes everyone to retain water because fluids are attracted to salt,” he notes. “This is a chemical reaction that causes swelling because fluids will always move toward salty areas.”
- Allergies can cause flare-ups. If you notice that your eyes are puffier in the spring or whenever you’re in a particular environment, then allergies are the most likely culprit. “Allergies cause this inflammation in the skin,” he notes.
- Some other causes include lack of sleep, allergic reactions to makeup or medication, genetics, smoking, and excessive dryness, which causes inflammation.
Lifestyle Changes to Make
Although Moy is clear that most of what has to do with eye puffiness comes as a result of aging or genetics, he does suggest that getting enough sleep and monitoring your salt intake can lessen bags’ appearance. If you suspect that the puffiness is a result of allergies, Moy recommends consulting a doctor about a prescription to help.
Lastly, if the swelling is severe, painful, itchy, or continuous, reach out to a doctor as soon as possible. Here are some other tips:
- Avoid rubbing eyes. As hard as it is to stop, this will only increase inflammation and discomfort.
- Use cold compresses. Something as simple as a chilled cloth or eye mask can lessen the appearance of bags.
- Look for creams with an epidermal growth factor. “The best ingredient that helps eye puffiness is an epidermal growth factor,” he says. “Everyone has epidermal growth factor in their skin, but we make less of it as we age. Most other ingredients are just variations of moisturizers.”
The Best Eye Creams for Puffiness, According to Moy
“This is made with a barley-derived growth factor that stimulates the remaining stem cells in your skin to boost collagen and tighten and thicken under-eye bags,” he says.
“This product builds elasticity and has caffeine to improve dark circles and puffiness,” he notes.
“The essential oils in this product help revitalize puffy under-eyes,” Moy advises.
“The anti-aging peptides in this formula help improve under-eye puffiness,” he says.
“This has a unique blend of peptides to help puffiness, and it also firms around the eye area,” he notes.
“Try looking for products with a cooling metal applicator like this one to help depuff throughout the day,” he continues.
“The caffeine in this gel will help puffiness,” he says.
“This has an eye-brightening complex that aids puffiness and dark circles,” Moy explains.
“Consider this to be a power nap for your eyes, and it has a cooling effect,” he says.
“This helps to lift and depuff the under-eye area,” he explains.
Ahmadraji F, Shatalebi MA. Evaluation of the Clinical Efficacy and Safety of an Eye Counter Pad Containing Caffeine and Vitamin K in Emulsified Emu Oil Base. Adv Biomed Res. 2015;4:10. doi:10.4103/2277-9175.148292
Colvan, L, Fleck, T, Vega, VL. Global Periorbital Skin Rejuvenation by a Topical Eye Cream Containing Low Molecular Weight Heparan Sulfate (LMW‐HS) and a Blend of Naturally Derived Extracts. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2019; 18: 530– 538. doi:10.1111/jocd.12857
Sundelin T, Lekander M, Kecklund G, Van Someren EJ, Olsson A, Axelsson J. Cues of Fatigue: Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Facial Appearance. Sleep. 2013;36(9):1355-1360. doi:10.5665/sleep.2964
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Allergens in Cosmetics. December 2019.
Galor A, Feuer W, Kempen JH, et al. Adverse Effects of Smoking on Patients with Ocular Inflammation. Br J Ophthalmol. 2010;94(7):848-853. doi:10.1136/bjo.2009.174466