- Puffy eyes are the result of fluid accumulating in the surrounding tissue
- This is typically a temporary condition brought on by lifestyle and environmental factors
- In some cases, they can be a sign of infection or an underlying medical condition
- You can treat this concern with simple at-home solutions as well as skin care products formulated with specific agents.
Periorbital edema, periorbital puffiness or simply puffy eyes, is a very common issue that can affect anyone. While this swelling typically resolves on its own, it can be unsightly, especially in moderate-to-severe cases. Fortunately, there are some easy DIY remedies as well as effective over-the-counter (OTC) eye creams, gels and serums specially formulated to alleviate symptoms.
What Causes Puffy Eyes?
Skin around the eye region, especially the under-eye area, is thin and delicate which allows for easier penetration of both contact and airborne allergens. Eyelids are also relatively unprotected from allergens and tend to be touched frequently, enabling transfer of contaminants to the eye area.
As such, this places eyes in a vulnerable position, leaving them prone to fluid retention.
Puffy eyes can result from a number of environmental and lifestyle influences which cause excess fluid, called edema, to accumulate around the eye socket. Symptoms can be mild to severe. Swelling can affect one or both eyelids, and may or may not be painful or itchy.
Eye allergies are one of the most common causes of puffy eyes and result from both airborne indoor and outdoor allergens that come into contact with the eyes. These allergies can be chronic (mold spores, dust mites, cockroaches and pet dander) or seasonal (trees, grasses and weeds).
During an allergic response, the body releases the chemical histamine which increases blood flow and triggers inflammation. Allergies can cause significant puffiness in the delicate eye area resulting in not just red, watery eyes, but swollen, itchy eyelids and blurred vision.
In addition to these symptoms, sometimes there is an accompanying sensation of dirt or grit in the eyes, which can prompt rubbing. This can also worsen symptoms through repeated eye rubbing and touching which is the driving force of the itch-scratch cycle.
Eyelid contact dermatitis
Eyelid contact dermatitis is a common condition brought on by direct contact with an allergen or irritant; when it impacts the eye area it is called periocular dermatitis and is a very common cause of puffy eyes.
Contact dermatitis is one of the most common causes of puffy eyes for several reasons.
As with allergies, there are a wide range of known irritants including cosmetics, sunscreen, skin and hair products; these contain preservatives, additives, fragrances and metals. The eye area is particularly susceptible to allergic reactions due to any number of skin and hair products that can inadvertently transfer over.
Allergic reactions can cause dramatic swelling and inflammation of the eyelid as the skin is thin and particularly sensitive.
Specific behaviors can trigger fluid retention and cause puffy eyes due to dehydration.
Overindulging in alcohol typically leads to dehydration due to its diuretic effects, which causes an imbalance of salt and fluids in the body.
The same effect holds true if you don’t consume adequate supplies of water which results in your blood increasing in viscosity. This triggers an increase in heart rate which causes the kidneys to economize on water and the body to retain fluids.
Fluid retention also occurs when you consume too much salt. The body responds by releasing the antidiuretic hormone (ADH) from the pituitary gland which travels to the kidneys to prevent water loss; sodium attracts water.
Lack of sleep
Cortisol is a hormone that affects nearly every organ system in the body and plays a number of important roles: one function is to regulate salt and water balance. Insomnia or poor quality sleep disturbs the natural ebb and flow of cortisol within the body which leads to elevated cortisol levels during the day, causing fluid buildup in the eye area.
Stress also has an impact on cortisol levels. During this time, high levels of cortisol are released by the body which trigger the fight-or-flight response. This disrupts the natural balance of salt which leads to water retention and puffy eyes.
The eye area can signal good or poor health; in some instances puffy eyes can be indicative of an underlying health condition.
Puffy eyelids can be a symptom of a bacterial or viral infection; conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye can be caused by either. While it is a minor infection, symptoms can be quite uncomfortable with swelling of the inside of the eyelids, tearing, itching, irritation and burning.
Like allergies, it creates a sensation of having a foreign body in the eye and causes the urge to rub and scratch.
Blepharitis is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the edges of the eyelids and occurs due to blocked oil glands at the base of eyelashes; it is also linked to a number of systemic diseases such as ocular rosacea and dermatitis. Symptoms include swelling, burning, irritation and tearing,
More serious illnesses typically involve autoimmune diseases such as vasculitis, an inflammation of blood vessels, or sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease. As well, puffy eyes can be an indication of lymphoma, a type of blood cancer and a warning sign of kidney disease.
Puffy eyes vs. dark circles and eye bags
Puffy eyes differ from dark circles in that they don’t necessarily involve discoloration of the skin – although it’s not uncommon to have both simultaneously.
Bags under the eyes are typically a result of aging and genetics which is not the case for puffy eyes. As skin ages, the tissue around the eyes weaken and fat migrates downward resulting in loose skin below the eyes.
Puffy eyes can affect anyone at any age and are caused by lifestyle and environmental factors.
Best Treatments for Puffy Eyes
When choosing a cream or serum, ensure you purchase one that is specially formulated for the eye area to avoid irritation. These products can be safely used on both the upper and lower eyelids.
An effective product will contain ingredients that work either to drain existing fluid or will stimulate collagen production to thicken thin skin and build resilience against puffiness. These include the following.
Aloe vera gel has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties to soothe puffy, irritated eyes. As well, it has strong hydrating properties to smooth skin and calm redness. Aloe vera gel is an ingredient in many eye creams and serums or can be used directly from the plant.
If your puffy eyes are a result of allergies, an antihistamine medication will be the most effective solution.
Antihistamines can effectively block the effects of the histamine that is released in the body in response to an allergen. This will reduce swollen tissue as well as the itching and irritation that accompanies it. You can choose between eye drops or an oral medication.
Caffeine has soothing effects and is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it can narrow blood vessels. Applied topically, it reduces the size of superficial veins in the eye area to promote drainage of retained fluids. This reduces redness and puffiness.
You can find gels, creams and serums containing caffeine for this purpose. Most are formulated for use above and below the eye.
One downside to using topical caffeine in the eye is that it has been shown to decrease collagen production.
Peptides are naturally occurring proteins in the body. They perform a wide range of functions that include signaling the body to produce more collagen.
As the under-eye area is delicate, thin and prone to skin laxity, topical application of peptides can promote collagen production to increase skin firmness and thickness, and produce a tightening effect.
While a peptide cream or serum won’t eliminate puffy eyes overnight, if used consistently it can improve the overall appearance of your under-eye area.
Retinol is a natural derivative of vitamin A that has a number of known anti-aging effects including softening fine lines and wrinkles by boosting collagen production.
Retinol can also effectively ease puffy eyes by smoothing, firming and tightening skin which causes a lifting effect.
De-puffing ingredients: pros and cons
|Aloe vera||Soothes irritated skin; hydrates||Doesn’t counteract fluid retention|
|Antihistamine||Fast-acting relief due to allergic reaction||Specific only to allergy relief|
|Caffeine||Constricts blood vessels to reduce swelling||Can decrease collagen production|
|Peptides||Increases skin thickness||Isn’t fast-acting|
|Retinol||Firms, smooths and tightens skin||Can cause dryness, itching and burning|
Home Remedies to Treat Puffy Eyes
Puffy eyes can also be treated with simple techniques using ingredients easily found in your kitchen.
Slices of chilled cucumber placed over the eye can alleviate puffiness through several ways: the high water content rehydrates skin and the low temperature constricts blood vessels to tamp down inflammation and irritation.
Green and black tea
Both green and black tea can address puffy eyes due to several important properties. Both contain caffeine and antioxidants; and tannins, which have a vasoconstrictive effect to constrict blood vessels. These properties work to ease inflammation, soothe irritation and help smooth the eye area.
To use, boil two tea bags and allow to cool in the fridge; place over both eyes for ten minutes.
Although designed to treat the entire face, an ice facial can be used to calm puffy eyes.
This technique involves submerging your entire face into a bowl of ice water; the cold causes blood vessels to constrict, which reduces swelling and inflammation, and calms irritation and redness.
In addition, an ice facial stimulates circulation to tighten and brighten facial skin, including the eye area.
For a less intense experience, a cold compress or some ice wrapped in a thin cloth will achieve the same benefits, although it may take longer.
A word of caution
A commonly cited puffy eye hack is using a hemorrhoid cream below the eyes. Hemorrhoid cream constricts blood vessels and contains hydrocortisone, an anti-inflammatory.
This cream is not formulated for safe use around the eyes and using them for this purpose can cause serious eye injuries.
DIY remedies: pros and cons
|Cucumber slices||Rehydrates; reduces inflammation and irritation||None|
|Green and black tea||Reduces puffiness, inflammation and irritation||Time-consuming|
|Ice facial||Reduces redness, swelling and irritation; tightens skin||May be uncomfortable for some|
Professional Treatments for Puffy Eyes
If your puffy eyes are permanent and not transient due to a specific factor such as an allergy, surgery may be a solution for you.
With age, eyelids stretch and weaken and cause the supporting muscles to be less effective. Eyelid surgery, known as blepharoplasty, is a permanent solution to remove this excess skin and fat, and to tighten the muscles. Both the upper and lower eyelids can be treated to achieve a rejuvenated appearance
Eyelid fillers are a noninvasive procedure that can smooth out mild under-eye puffiness as well as firm up drooping lids caused by loose skin.
Eye fillers are a temporary solution but repeat treatments can maintain results.
Tips and Tricks to Prevent Puffy Eyes
Puffy eyes can often be prevented by following some good habits:
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day, especially in dry climates and during exercise; avoid excess alcohol consumption
- Avoid sodium-heavy prepared foods; you can do so by consuming a Mediterranean diet which focuses on healthy, whole foods such as grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts
- Aim for 8 hours a night of restorative sleep to benefit both your mind and body
Puffy eyes are caused by fluid buildup in both the upper and lower eyelids and result from lifestyle and environmental influences. Symptoms can be mild to severe and range from swelling and redness to significant swelling; itching and red, watery eyes are also common.
Puffy eyes are uncomfortable and can be unsightly. Fortunately, there are several OTC eye creams, gels and serums that can ease puffiness by constricting blood vessels or stimulating collagen production to build up and strengthen thin skin.
Home remedies using specific ingredients are also effective solutions as they can eliminate fluids and calm uncomfortable symptoms.
If your puffy eyes have developed with age, fillers or surgery may be an effective long-term or permanent solution, respectively.
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