Here at Curology, we currently focus on the diagnosis and treatment of acne, rosacea, and anti-aging concerns. We do not treat many of the conditions mentioned in this article. This article is for information purposes only.
Some mornings, you may wake up with a bloated or puffy face, and you’re not alone. There are lots of reasons you may experience water retention in your face. Although it’s typically not dangerous, some of us prefer to avoid that swollen look!
We asked our skin experts about water retention in the face and body and how to treat it, and here’s what they think. If you ever find yourself asking, “Why is my face swollen when I wake up?” this one’s for you.
Water retention (edema) is a buildup of excess fluids in your body. This fluid retention can cause swelling in different areas of your body, including your face, arms, legs, hands, and feet.
Water retention—and feeling puffy—are no fun! Wondering what causes face bloating and eye puffiness? There are several reasons your face and body might retain water—here are some common causes:
Eating too much salt can make you thirsty, and it can make your body retain more water. When you drink more liquids after indulging in your favorite salty snacks, extra water remains in the body.¹ High sodium intake is also linked to an increase in blood pressure.²
You know the puffy eyes and face you get when exposed to something you’re allergic to, such as pollen or cats? During an allergic reaction, your body releases histamine in response to an allergen, and this causes fluid to leak from your capillaries into the surrounding tissues. The result is potential swelling and inflammation.³
Water retention may occur as a result of inactivity, most often in the legs. Peripheral edema (lower limb swelling) can cause pain, weakness, and a limited range of motion.⁴ Obesity, which may occur partly due to inactivity, is also linked to water retention. A study found that nearly 75% of morbidly obese patients also had chronic edema of the legs.⁵
Throughout the month, your hormones can fluctuate. For those of us who menstruate, the hormones released during the pre-menstruation phase, menstruation, and pregnancy may cause water retention.⁶ Water retention in pregnancy is usually harmless, although it can be a sign of other problems if your blood pressure is also high.
You may retain water if you’ve been standing or sitting for too long. Puffiness is common after a long flight, or you might notice it after sitting for long periods. This kind of edema is temporary and goes away without treatment.⁷ If you work at a desk, try standing up to stretch and walk around periodically throughout the day.
Many different drugs may cause a buildup of fluids. If you’re taking diabetes medication, antibiotics, anticancer drugs, antihypertensive drugs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), they might be to blame for your water retention.⁸
When you undergo a cosmetic treatment such as dermal filler in your face, you may experience facial swelling. Swelling following dermal filler treatment affects up to 50% of patients, but all patients are likely to develop some degree of edema. One study found that 87% of patients who received Restylane injections experienced swelling.⁹ If you have an appointment booked, now you know what to expect.
If your puffiness is accompanied by symptoms such as itchiness or dizziness, seek help from a medical professional, as this can be a sign of an underlying medical condition.
Wondering how to reduce your puffy face and body? One easy way is to try reducing the salt in your diet, as eating foods that are salty or high in sodium may contribute to a bloated face and body.¹⁰ Several other options may also help you de-puff and wake up feeling and looking fresher. In addition to reducing your sodium intake, our experts recommend the following to treat and help prevent water retention in your face:
Magnesium is an essential mineral that helps regulate blood pressure and muscle and nerve function.¹¹ In theory, increasing the amount of magnesium in your diet or taking a magnesium supplement may help reduce facial puffiness, as studies show that magnesium may help alleviate premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, ¹² which can include water retention. One study found that taking 250 milligrams of magnesium daily improved PMS symptoms.¹³ Whole grains, leafy greens, avocados, nuts, tofu, and dark chocolate (yes!) are excellent dietary sources of magnesium. Remember to consult a medical provider if you’re trying a supplement for the first time.
Water pills, which are available by prescription, can help reduce water retention. Avoid mixing these medications with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium drugs (e.g., Aleve).¹⁴
When you get a bump on your head or sprain your ankle, you ice it—so why not apply this logic to a swollen face? Applying ice, cold water, or a cold compress to facial swelling—or wherever you’re swelling in your body—may help it subside quicker.
As noted above, water retention may occur due to inactivity. This happens most frequently in the lower limbs (peripheral edema).¹⁵ To avoid swelling from inactivity, get moving! Find an exercise you enjoy, such as running, yoga, weightlifting, or pilates, and try to move your body a few times per week. If you’re not feeling motivated, it may help to exercise with a friend or partner.
Massaging your face or body where you’re retaining water may help reduce swelling. Try stroking the affected area toward your heart using firm—but not painful—pressure, which can help move excess fluid out of the area. If you’re feeling fancy, try using a jade roller or gua sha tool. Bonus: Facial massage is nice and relaxing, too!
Water retention may become more common as you age. Although Curology’s products cannot treat water retention or reduce facial puffiness, our dermatology providers can help take the guesswork out of your skin concerns. We’ll create a custom skincare routine for you to address the signs of aging, including fine lines and wrinkles.
Our experts can determine the products your skin needs and create a personalized prescription formula to help you achieve your skin goals. Some of our formulas include active ingredients such as tretinoin, a topical vitamin A derivative that can smooth the look of lines and wrinkles, along with other benefits.
Signing up is easy. Just answer a few questions and snap some selfies to help us get to know your skin better. If Curology is right for you, we’ll pair you with one of our in-house, licensed dermatology providers to start you on your skincare journey.
Water retention (edema) is a buildup of excess fluids in your body. This fluid retention can cause swelling in different areas of your body.
There are several reasons your face and body might retain water—here are some common causes:
Consuming foods high in sodium
Not enough exercise
A shift in your hormones
Standing or sitting too long
Dermal filler treatment
Bankir, L., et al. Relationship between Sodium Intake and Water Intake: The False and the True. Ann Nutr Metab. (2017).
Grillo, A., et al. Sodium Intake and Hypertension. Nutrients. (2019).
Yamauchi, K., Ogasawara, M. The Role of Histamine in the Pathophysiology of Asthma and the Clinical Efficacy of Antihistamines in Asthma Therapy. Int J Mol Sci. (2019).
Besharat, S., et al. Peripheral edema: A common and persistent health problem for older Americans. PLoS One. (2021).
Todd, M. Managing chronic oedema in the morbidly obese patient. Br J Nurs. (2009).
Water retention: Relieve this premenstrual symptom. Mayo Clinic. (n.d.).
Causes and signs of edema. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. (2008).
Kaizu, K., Abe, M. Drug-induced edema.Nihon Rinsho. (2005).
King, M. Management of Edema. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (2017).
Water retention: Relieve this premenstrual symptom. Mayo Clinic. Ibid.
Magnesium. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (2022).
Parazzini, F., et al. Magnesium in the gynecological practice: a literature review. Magnes Res. (2017).
Ebrahimi, E., et al. Effects of magnesium and vitamin b6 on the severity of premenstrual syndrome symptoms. J Caring Sci. (2012).
Water retention: Relieve this premenstrual symptom. Mayo Clinic. Ibid.
Besharat, S., et al. Peripheral edema: A common and persistent health problem for older Americans. PLoS One. Ibid.
Donna McIntyre is a board-certified nurse practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, MA.
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Donna McIntyre, NP-BC