How To Get Rid of Puffy Eyes
and Dark Circles
Puffy eyes and dark circles under the eyes occur for many reasons, including inherited facial features, allergies, stress, eye fatigue and individual skin characteristics such as texture.
While certain home remedies such as soothing cucumber slices or even anti-hemorrhoid creams such as Preparation H may temporarily relieve puffy eyes, a more long-lasting solution depends on the underlying cause.
What Causes Ordinary Puffy Eyes and Dark Circles Under the Eyes?
Ordinary swelling around the eyes means you have an excessive accumulation of fluids, called edema, in surrounding skin tissue. Because the skin around the eyes is the thinnest skin in the body, swelling and discoloration can be quite prominent.
But why does fluid accumulate to form puffy eyes in the first place?
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Edema around the eyes generally results from a variety of factors, including:
- Overconsumption of salt, which causes fluid retention
- Allergies that can cause inflammation and swelling
- Sinus problems
- Fatigue and lack of sleep
- Inherited facial features
While the last answer isn't very satisfying, it's true that many people have puffy eyes because this trait simply runs in the family.
With aging, eye puffiness can be caused in part when fatty tissue that ordinarily protects the eye inside the bony eye socket begins to push forward and fill in spaces below the eye.
This happens because aging processes cause thinning of the membrane or "septum" that ordinarily holds back fat in both the upper and lower eyelids. As the membrane thins, the fat herniates and pushes forward. This is when bags or bulges start forming under the eye.
Why Are Eyes Sometimes Puffier in the Morning After You Wake Up?
While we sleep, we don't blink. And this is part of the reason why eye puffiness develops.
Dark circles can form under the eyes from stress or lack of sleep.
Blinking for eyelids is like walking for legs. When idle, some people develop swelling in their lower extremities that goes away as soon as they start walking and muscles in the legs begin "milking" the trapped fluids (edema), which are released back into circulation.
A similar action takes place in the eyelids. The closed, non-blinking eyelids during sleep potentially can swell in certain people prone to this problem. So in the mornings, you could wake up with unusually puffy, swollen eyelids. As soon as you open your eyes and blinking begins, some of this swelling can diminish in an hour or so.
When Do Puffy Eyes Mean You Have a Medical Condition?
Particularly when they occur unexpectedly, swollen eyes sometimes signal an underlying medical problem.
For example, people with thyroid eye disease can develop swelling of tissue and muscles around their eyes. Also, bulging eyes can signal a thyroid disorder known as Graves' disease.
Eye allergies related to conditions such as hay fever also can produce swollen eyes. Other types of allergies, such as reactions to certain foods or chemicals, can cause swollen eyelids.
During an allergic reaction, certain cells in the body release a chemical called histamine that has many adverse effects on body tissues, including fluid leakage from the blood vessels. These fluids become trapped in surrounding tissues, causing edema.
Puffy, swollen eyelids and dark circles under the eyes can occur when you have an eye infection such as pink eye. These swollen eyes are caused by inflammation associated with the eye infection, which directly affects the neighboring eyelids. Also, dry eyes can cause general puffiness and swelling.
Systemic diseases including kidney failure also can lead to general swelling throughout the body, including around the eyes.
What Can Be Done About Puffy Eyes and Dark Circles?
To find the best solution for puffy eyes and dark circles, it's important to identify the underlying cause.
If you have the same puffy eyes as your mother or father, you probably inherited the trait so you can blame your parent! In this case, you will need to learn to live with the look or consider cosmetic options that might help reduce the puffiness.
Puffiness or bags under the eyes have many causes, including inherited tendencies.
Puffy eyes caused by aging also probably would require a cosmetic solution.
You might want to discuss with your eye doctor or cosmetic surgeon some of the available options to address your eyelid concerns.
These options include chemical peels, laser skin resurfacing procedures, certain cosmeceuticals (prescription skin products) and eyelid surgery known as blepharoplasty. Blepharoplasty involves removing extra fatty tissue and excessive skin from upper and lower eyelids, as well as tightening skin and muscles to reduce puffiness and wrinkles.
Many temporary remedies can help reduce the swollen look around eyes, such as:
- Using eye drops for irritation caused by allergies, if appropriate
- Drinking ample fluid to prevent dehydration
- Applying iced compresses when your lids are swollen
- Applying cucumber slices or chilled tea bags over closed eyes
- Using creams and other skin products specially formulated for use around the eyes
- Reducing salt in your diet
- Eating potassium-rich foods, such as bananas, to eliminate excess fluids in your body
- Splashing cold water over your face and eyes
- Getting plenty of sleep and rest
One of the most common home remedies, as mentioned above, is the temporary use of hemorrhoid creams and ointments to reduce the puffiness in eyelids. A common active ingredient in these preparations is phenylephrine, a medication that constricts blood vessels, reducing their diameter.
This can have a potential dual effect on puffy eyelids. First, if dark circles are caused by a visible network of blood vessels under the thin eyelid skin, then making the vessels smaller might reduce the darkness.
Second, constricting the blood vessels could reduce the potential for leakage of fluid from within the blood vessel, and this might reduce puffiness.
However, be aware that there are risks associated with using hemorrhoid creams for this purpose. If you accidentally get any of these types of products in your eye, you can experience a severe inflammatory response known as chemical conjunctivitis.
Before trying this, you should ask your eye doctor about the wisdom of using hemorrhoid creams or other home remedies for puffy eyes.
Ophthalmologic disorders. Practice of Geriatrics, 4th ed. 2007.
Thyroid eye disease. Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary website. March 1993.
[Page updated November 2016]