Dec 09, 2020 · 6 min read
Extra baggage is never fun to carry, and the bags under your eyes might weigh on you heavily. But puffy skin around the eyes is very common, especially as we age—thanks, gravity! While you likely won’t fully get rid of your eye bags overnight, the cause of your eye bags might be easy enough to unpack.
Certain methods to help depuff eyelids cost little (if any) time or money, and simple lifestyle changes might be able to make a difference. Good eye creams don’t have to be fancy. You can pick them up online or at your local pharmacy. The caveat: Certain home remedies for under-eye bags should probably be skipped. Here we’ll tell you everything you need to know.
In short, eye bags or under-eye puffiness can be caused by mild swelling. Eye bags tend to get worse with age, but thankfully, you can often improve their appearance (if you want to, that is—after all, beauty is in the under-eye of the beholder!).
Your eyes are surrounded by your upper and lower eyelids and supported by tissue structure (collagen) and muscles (among other things). Fat surrounds your eyes, acting as a cushion to protect them in their sockets. As you age, collagen begins to break down, weakening your eyes’ support structure. The fat that naturally surrounds your eyes may move in to fill the sagging skin below your eyes, creating a hollow impression just under the lower lid and a plump, puffy “bag” below. Fluid joins the party, and voilà! Bags under your eyes.¹
While bags under your eyes may not be the look you’re going for, they seldom require a doctor’s visit. That said, if the condition causes vision problems, irritation, or headaches, seek medical advice from your healthcare provider. And if you’d like to get rid of the bags under your eyes, some procedures can help—if home remedies and lifestyle changes don’t do the trick. Those include:
Laser resurfacing. Lasers can remove the top skin layer and stimulate collagen production, resulting in firmer, younger-looking skin—without the bags and dark circles.²
Fillers. It wasn’t until early 2022 that the Food & Drug Administration approved Juvéderm® Volbella® fillers for use under the eyes of people over the age of 21.³ No other dermal fillers have been FDA approved, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been used to reduce the appearance of under-eye hollows. Hyaluronic acid-based fillers are used “off-label,” meaning without an official approval from the FDA. Fillers work to disguise hollow depressions or plump areas surrounding fatty deposits to smooth the transition from your eyes to your cheeks. We recommend consulting a cosmetic dermatologist if you are interested in this option!
Surgical correction. Dermatologists and dermatology providers seem to be moving away from dermal fillers and recommending lower eyelid lift (blepharoplasty) surgery. This outpatient procedure reallocates the fat from under your eye and tightens the muscle and skin in the area to create a smooth appearance.⁴ The big difference between surgery and fillers or laser resurfacing is that surgery usually produces longer-lasting results.
If you wake up one morning with bags under your eyes, take inventory of what you did the night before—a little too much to drink? Too much salt on your fries? Didn’t sleep? These are all reasons why you might wake up with bags in the under-eye area. In and of themselves, these won’t lead to permanent bags under your eyes—that’s caused when the underlying tissue structure breaks down, as described earlier.
Here’s a list of contributing factors to baggy under-eyes:
Smoking: If you’re still hunting for a reason to quit smoking, bags under your eyes are another reason. Tobacco breaks down the skin’s elasticity and collagen and degrades the tissue structure.⁵
Normal aging: Collagen and elastin naturally begin to break down as part of the aging process. The weakened tissues under the eyes can sag and fill with fat and fluid, leading to the appearance of undereye bags.
Salty foods: Salt can cause fluid retention in your body, which can lead it to collect under your eyes—aka bags under the eyes.
Lack of sleep: Chronic poor sleep quality is associated with increased signs of aging, which may include dark circles.⁶
Sun exposure: UV rays from extended sun exposure damage skin cells and break down collagen, damaging the structural integrity under the eyes.
Heredity: Under-eye circles can run in the family. It’s partially due to how the face is shaped.⁷
Environmental factors: Although environmental factors don’t cause baggy under-eyes directly, they may contribute to other skin changes like skin thinning and loss and firmness, worsening the condition.⁸
Under-eye puffiness can often be improved, be it via DIY at-home treatments or in-office fixes from a licensed derm or dermatology provider. When concealer just doesn’t seem to cut it, here are a few other things you can try:
Whether it means going to bed earlier, sleeping in, or both, do what you can to get a full eight hours of rest. You can also try sleeping with an extra pillow under your head to keep it elevated, which may help prevent fluid buildup while you’re off in dreamland.
Salt retains water, a basic chemical reaction that can do funky things to your skin, including bags under your eyes. If you have puffy eyes, try sizing up the sodium in your diet and see if consuming less salt makes a difference.
When it comes to dark circles, eye creams can help do the heavy lifting for you—depending on the formula. Look for hydrating eye creams that contain ingredients like retinol,vitamin C, and caffeine. Do your best to avoid anything potentially overly drying, irritating, or pore-clogging. Here are some eye creams that we recommend:
You can apply any of these eye creams right up to the lash line. Just be mindful not to get any in your eyes. (If you’re feeling extra curious, this Curology guide gets into the nitty-gritty of eye cream science.)
Although you may notice some temporary improvements, long-term use of topical steroids to reduce the appearance of under-eye puffiness can possibly cause unwanted side effects like skin thinning.⁹ If you ask us, they’re just not worth the risk when it comes to your eyes area.
Allergies are no fun for tons of reasons (red, itchy eyes being one of them), and unfortunately, they can also make under-eye puffiness worse. Try not to rub the eye area, and consider taking allergy medication if you need relief. And, next time you get a chance, talk to your medical or dermatology provider about allergies and your skin.
A classic home remedy for eye bags is to stick a metal spoon in your freezer for a few minutes, then rest it on your eyes. Cold compresses like this one can help reduce swelling, but the spoon itself isn’t magic—any cool compress can work.
Chilled green tea bags may also supply your eye area with powerful antioxidants. Green tea has anti-inflammatory properties.¹⁰ Here’s a quick how-to: Steep two tea bags for 3-5 minutes before chilling in the fridge for 20 minutes. Squeeze any excess fluid from the te bags before applying them to your eyes (closed eyes, of course).
Sunscreen does more than protect your skin from skin cancer. It helps prevent premature aging and UV damage. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a water-resistant, broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher daily. Broad-spectrum sunscreen protects against UVA (the skin cancer rays) and UVB (the skin-burning rays). Both degrade skin cells which can contribute to sagging skin under your eyes.
If your under-eye bags don’t go away with home remedies, you can also try medical treatments like surgery or laser resurfacing. Talk to your derm provider to learn more.
As you grow older, your skin naturally changes. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help limit some of the natural signs of aging, should you wish.
Take control of your skin by building smart routines that make sense for your unique skin and goals. If you need some guidance, connect with a dermatology provider when you sign up for your first month of Curology.*
Curology helps take the guesswork out of your skincare routine—our in-house licensed dermatology providers work with you to examine your skin, assess your skincare goals, and provide custom treatment options. We’ll send you skin routine staples (like our cleanser and moisturizer), so you can get your entire skincare routine without leaving the house (or putting on pants).
Probably not. Aging is a natural process of living a long beautiful life, and as we age, we lose collagen—the building blocks of skin integrity. You can eat foods rich in collagen, like oranges, red peppers, kale, and brussel sprouts, but this likely won’t have a direct impact on your undereye bags.
It’s unlikely, but it’s possible. Makeup can irritate your skin or trigger an allergic reaction, which can contribute to dark circles. Get in the habit of removing your makeup before going to bed—try a micellar makeup remover. This, along with a skincare routine that includes cleansing, moisturizing, and treating your skin, can help do wonders for dark circles, acne, and other skin conditions like aging, rosacea, and hyperpigmentation. If you’re a Curology member, you can talk to your dermatology provider for more information.
Potentially! Retinol, or its prescription-strength big sister retinoidtretinoin, is a derivative of vitamin A. Retinol or retinoids speed up the skin cell life cycle and boost collagen production. At Curology, we use tretinoin in many of our prescription formulas for acne and anti-aging just for this reason. Treatment creams should be applied at night so that they can work while you sleep. Retinol and retinoids can leave your skin sensitive to UV rays, so never skip the sunscreen as part of your morning skincare routine.
Vrcek, I., et al. Infraorbital dark circles: A review of the pathogenesis, evaluation, and treatment.Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery. (April-June 2016).
Vrcek, I., et al. Infraorbital dark circles: A review of the pathogenesis, evaluation, and treatment. Ibid.
Cision PR Newswire. FDA approves JUVÉDERM® VOLBELLA® XC for undereye hollows. (2022 February 8).
Zoumalan, C. and Roostaeian, J. Simplifying blepharoplasty. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. (January 2016).
Morita, A. Tobacco smoke causes premature skin aging.Journal of Dermatological Science. (December 2007).
Oyetakin-White, P., et al. Does poor sleep quality affect skin ageing?Clinical and Experimental Dermatology. (January 2015).
Mac-Mary S., et al. Identification Of Three Key Factors Contributing To The Aetiology Of Dark Circles By Clinical And Instrumental Assessments Of The Infraorbital Region.Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. (December 2019).
Vrcek I., et al. Infraorbital Dark Circles: A Review of the Pathogenesis, Evaluation and Treatment. Ibid.
Hodgens, A., Sharman, T. Corticosteroids.StatPearls. (2022)
Kim H.S., et al. New insights into the mechanisms of polyphenols beyond antioxidant properties; lessons from the green tea polyphenol, epigallocatechin 3-gallate.Redox Biol. January 2014).
This article was originally published on December, 2020, and updated on December, 2022.
* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Trial is 30 days. Results may vary.
Donna McIntyre, NP-BC