Prevent Puffy Eyes With These Expert Tips

Plus, the health issues that may be causing them—and (gasp!) they might be hereditary

woman looking at eyes in mirror Photo: Getty Images

Most of us have had the experience of waking up to puffy under-eyes in the morning. Usually, we can blame a late night out, or a poor night’s sleep. But sometimes the cause isn’t quite so clear. For instance, it took me years to realize that every time I indulged in a slice of pizza topped with anchovies, I was setting myself up for a little under-eye swelling the next day—payback for the high sodium content. 

To prevent more mornings spent bemoaning my face in the mirror, I spoke to some experts about the causes of puffiness in the eye area—and how to prevent it. Turns out, just a few easy lifestyle changes can reduce morning swelling.

What Causes Puffy Eyes?

"Puffy under eyes (also known as under-eye “bags”) is most often caused by an accumulation of fluid (edema) under the skin which is precipitated by aging," says Jennifer David, MD, Skin of Color Society member, board-certified dermatologist, and founder of Skin & Scripts Virtual Dermatology in Bensalem, Pa. "As we get older, we lose collagen and elastin throughout our body which leads to thinning of the skin and loss of skin tone/elasticity."

She adds that sometimes puffy under eyes are not caused by fluid, but from hereditary factors. Some people will be prone to a puffy appearance of their eyes due to a protrusion of fat from the eye socket. 

"This type of puffiness will not respond to traditional remedies," David says. Puffy eyes due to edema will ebb and flow—typically, appearing more pronounced in the morning and dissipating over the course of a day. If eye puffiness remains constant, a physician could help you determine if you’re a candidate for surgical intervention, such as eye surgery called blepharoplasty.

Puffy Eyes Can Be a Symptom of an Underlying Health Condition

There’s a difference between eye puffiness and eye swelling from an infection or medical condition, David says. If the eye swelling is accompanied by tenderness or redness—which could indicate an allergic reaction or an infection, such as pink eye or a sty—it should be evaluated by a physician, David says. 

She also notes that medical conditions such as Graves’ disease, a condition caused by an overactive thyroid, can cause "bulging eyes" as the fat pads from the orbital area get pushed forward.

More On Eyecare

"If a patient notices their eyes are more bulging in photos, then getting their thyroid levels checked by their primary care physician is imperative," David cautions. 

Meanwhile, traditional medicine often associates the eye area with the kidneys.

"In Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, under-eye puffiness is associated with weakness or some sort of blockage in the kidneys—due to genetics, eating too many of the wrong kinds of foods, or diabetes/chronic kidney disease," says Rachael Pontillo, president of the Nutritional Aesthetics Alliance and CEO of Create Your Skincare, which specializes in teaching people how to create their own natural skincare products. "In functional medicine or naturopathic medicine, they would look at the root cause in terms of nutrient deficiency such as B12 or K, as well as eating the wrong kinds of fats, too much sodium, etc."

But, if you’re like me and prone to puffiness after a slice of anchovy pizza or a late night out, there are some lifestyle changes you can make to prevent and remedy puffy under eyes.

Factors That Can Contribute to Puffy Under Eyes

Eating salty foods: "Foods that are high in sodium, such as canned meats and vegetables, cheese and processed foods, can cause excess fluid to accumulate in the body especially in areas such as the eyelids," says David.

Waking up from sleep: "Blinking is like exercise for the eye muscles which helps keep the blood, lymphatic fluids, and tears moving to prevent fluid accumulation," David shares. "When we sleep, we’re lying in a horizontal position and not blinking thus fluids will accumulate."

Lack of sleep: On the other side of the spectrum, not getting enough sleep can also cause puffy under eyes, says David. Fatigue can cause blood vessels to dilate thus leading to fluid cumulation.

Allergies: Allergies are caused when the body responds to a foreign substance and releases histamine as a defense mechanism. The histamine release will trigger vasodilation and itchy, watery, and/or puffy eyes, according to David.

Alcohol: Consuming alcohol will cause facial blood vessels to dilate and will lead to increased puffiness in the under eyes. David warns that alcohol consumption will also lead to skin dehydration and lead to the loss of skin turgor or tightness, especially in the thinner skin under the eye.

Genetics: Some people, based on their facial anatomy, will be prone to a puffy appearance of their eyes due to a protrusion of fat from the eye socket. In this case, David cautions that the prevention and remedies listed below will not be effective.

glass of water on tile surface
Drinking water throughout the day can help prevent puffy eyes.

Photo: Getty Images Photo: Getty Images

Pontillo's Tips for Preventing Under-Eye Puffiness

Cut down on salt intake. Table salt and salty foods can cause you to retain water, which can exacerbate puffy eyes. Pontillo suggests switching to more flavorful, mineral-rich salts such as pink Himalayan salt or Celtic sea salt, both of which may help people consume less sodium. 

Keep hydrated by drinking water throughout the day. If someone is chronically dehydrated, the body tends to hold on to water, which may accumulate in the under-eye area. Drinking more water might help flush the system.  

Limit fluids before bedtime. Too much water before bedtime can interfere with quality sleep—and tired eyes tend to retain water. Try to stop drinking liquids three hours before bed. 

Sleep with head elevated on a pillow. This can help prompt drainage for some people. However, Pontillo cautions people to make sure not to make the angle of elevation too sharp, which could cause kinks or subluxations in the neck, which would interfere with drainage.

Don’t smoke. Smoking depletes the skin of oxygen and nutrients, causing stagnation and inflammation, both of which contribute to puffy eyes. 

Limit alcohol. Alcohol is dehydrating and pro-inflammation. It also introduces toxins, empty calories, and sugar into the body, which the body tends to store in fat cells. If the under-eye circles are caused by either dehydration or fat deposits, alcohol consumption will make both matters worse.

Get enough sleep. Getting enough quality, lucid sleep is key for all the body’s functions to work properly, says Pontillo. 

Change your pillowcase and towels often. Do this at least every other day, Pontillo advises. These can hold particles like dust mites, mold spores, and bacteria that can further inflame/irritate the eye area. 

Swap out old products & clean your makeup brushes. Products like eye pencils, liquid/cream shadows, and mascara are very easy to contaminate and should be replaced every 3-6 months.

Avoid heavy occlusives in the eye area. Occlusives trap moisture, so skip products with waxes, petrolatum, mineral oil, or saturated fats. 

Avoid other irritants such as synthetic fragrances, essential oils, and concentrated active ingredients around the eyes. 

But sometimes despite all preventive measures (or maybe just because I can’t resist a slice of anchovy pizza), I still wake up with puffiness around the eyes. In that case, I pumped our experts for their best tips on how to reduce swelling fast

Headshot of CRO Author Laura Murphy (v3)

Laura Murphy

Just like you, I'm a consumer. I love to shop, and I'm obsessed with finding the highest-quality item at the best price. I want my products sustainably made with fair labor practices, and built to last, so I don't have to replace them every two years. I'm at Consumer Reports because I believe in harnessing consumer power to build a better world. Let's do this.