Health & Wellness

Puffy-Eye Problems

I moisturize the skin around my eyes with a cream specifically intended for that area, but I still have bags under my eyes. Do you have any solutions to suggest?

By Wendy Haaf

First, while some people equate the terms “puffy eyes” and “eye bags,” they’re not exactly the same thing, and unfortunately, eye creams don’t effectively reduce the appearance of either.

Let’s start with puffiness. It’s caused or at least exacerbated by fluid retention, and topical products can’t reverse that. (If the puffiness is significant, consult your doctor, since this can sometimes signal that your thyroid isn’t working properly.)

According to Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, dermatologist and founding director at the Bay Dermatology Centre in Toronto and a spokesperson for the Canadian Dermatology Association, there are a few low-tech strategies you can try to minimize puffiness. For starters, if you smoke, skimp on sleep, eat a lot of salty foods, or drink more than a moderate amount of alcohol—all of which increase fluid buildup—you may want to work on breaking these habits. Applying cold packs and/or eye cream or gel that’s been stored in the refrigerator shortly after you wake up may also slightly decrease puffiness.

Under-eye bags, on the other hand, “are a bit of an age phenomenon and also genetic,” says Skotnicki, who is also a co-author (with Christopher Shulgan) of Beyond Soap: The Real Truth About What You’re Doing to Your Skin and How to Fix It for a Beautiful, Healthy Glow (Penguin Random House, 2018). “We have a fat pad under the eye, and in some people, it gets a little larger with age,” she explains. The supporting skin loses tone as we get older, so it sags, taking the pad with it. At the same time, the underlying bone recedes a bit, which can loosen the skin even more.

The degree to which these three things occur, however, is influenced by our genes. “There are a lot of people who are very old and don’t have bags,” Skotnicki says. This means that creams can’t banish under-eye bags any more than they can lift jowls, which are caused by the same process. “There’s not a lot you can do preventively or topically,” she says.

What does that leave? “The definitive treatment is to remove them with a surgery called lower blepharoplasty—that’s the gold standard,” Skotnicki says. The cost is roughly $5,000 to $8,000 for both eyes. And, like any operation, it carries a risk—albeit slim—for complications, including injury to the muscles that move the eye.

Skotnicki typically steers away from using dermal fillers under the eye. Initially, “it may look great,” she says, but the filler may move over time, with less than desirable results. “Under the eyes is very unforgiving.”

So, what can creams actually do? Products containing ingredients such as vitamin C and retinols can help soften the appearance of fine lines, but they can also be irritating and very drying, particularly around the eye, where the skin is thinner and more sensitive. A dermatologist can provide you with personalized advice on what type of care regimen best suits your skin, what kinds of results you can reasonably expect from various products and cosmetic procedures, and whether you’re a good candidate for any of the latter.


Photo: iStock