The old English proverb reminds us that “the eyes are the window to the soul.” Puffy eyes and dark circles are two common problems that many men and women experience, both old and young. The appearance of unhealthy eyes can make you look older, ill or sleep-deprived.
If you have ever experienced puffy eyes, bags or dark circles, you are not alone. In fact, these issues are so common that many European luxury cosmetic companies offer high-priced creams and serums that promise miraculous results. However, if expensive miracle creams are not in your budget, then read this article for more cost-effective tips on how to banish the bags and create glowing, radiant eyes.
Why is the skin around my eyes so sensitive?
The skin around the eyes is very thin. This means that the slightest change in your diet or sleep schedule can cause puffiness and dark circles. Dark circles refer to the round, shadowy pigmentation of the skin underneath the eyes. In fact, dark circles are sometimes called “allergic shiners” – meaning that allergies are often the cause for congested sinuses.
Inflamed sinuses affect the normal blood flood in the capillaries behind your eyes and nasal cavities, creating swollen blood vessels. Swollen blood vessels cause the veins behind the eyes to dilate and darken, giving the appearance of dark circles. When this delicate area is constantly swelling and shrinking, the eyes can become puffy and irritated.
What are the symptoms of puffy eyes and dark circles?
To test whether your eyes are swollen, gently press two fingers on the soft, cushy areas below your eyes, on either side of your nose. This is where the maxillary sinuses are located. Beneath the skin, these sinus cavities filter out dirt and bacteria through mucus drainage. In the case of infection, the cavities are unable to filter out dirt and the mucus stays blocked in the sinuses, causing inflammation. Due to their location, when the sinuses swell, so do your eyes, giving the appearance of bags or puffiness.
What causes dark circles and puffiness under my eyes?
Dark circles and bags under the eyes may result from several different factors. Understanding the underlying cause will help you determine the best treatment method. Often times, there are multiple causes, meaning that integrating both lifestyle and health changes into your daily routine will yield the best results.
Read below to pinpoint which issue(s) are to blame for your dark circles.
Lack of Sleep / Fatigue – Not getting enough rest each night, or working long hours without time to recoup, is a common cause of dark circles. Your sinus cavities are located directly below your eyes, and drain during sleep. Lack of sleep prevents the sinuses from draining completely, creating swollen eyes and dark circles.
Sinus Problems – Sinus issues are a root cause of dark circles and bags under the eyes. If you suffer from chronic or acute sinusitis, despite sleeping 6-8 hours each night, congestion can still cause drainage problems due to the increased blood flood in the maxillary sinuses.
Treating your sinus infection will not only create healthier sinuses, but will also decrease the likelihood of bags, dark circles and puffiness.
Seasonal allergies – Seasonal allergies, like hay fever, are often to blame for puffy eyes and skin discoloration. Gluten intolerance (allergy to wheat flour) is also known to cause dark circles. Some allergens can be treated with prescription or over-the-counter medication. Other allergens must simply be avoided.
Enlarged adenoids – The adenoids are small tissues found near the back of the throat, directly above the tonsils. Your dark circles may be a result of enlarged adenoids if you breathe more frequently through your mouth instead of your nose.
Eczema – Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a common skin condition known to cause dark circles under the eyes and skin irritation on other parts of the body. Eczema that flares up under the eyes results in dark circles because of the delicate nature of the skin. If itched, the skin can become inflamed, patchy, discolored and flaky. If you have eczema under your eyes, never itch, as you could create further pigmentation problems and lengthen the healing process.
Genetics – Genetics can feel like a blessing when you inherit your mom’s full lips or your dad’s hazel eyes, but it can also feel like a curse when you inherit dark circles. Dark circles under the eyes are hereditary in some families and different cultures, so if you don’t suffer from sinus or sleep problems, then your particular ethnicity might be to blame. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to prevent dark blemishes under the eyes, however you can follow certain tips on how to disguise them or make them less noticeable. For example, use a creamy concealer similar to your skin tone, and dab it under your eyes with your fingertips until completely blended.
How should I treat my puffy eyes and/or dark circles?
After pinpointing the cause of dark circles or puffy eyes, the next step is to craft a treatment plan. Read below for different tips and decide which one(s) suit you best.
Treatment Method 1: Make an appointment with an allergist or ENT doctor
Dark circles are often referred to as “allergic shiners.” Allergic reactions hinder blood from flowing properly, thereby expanding and darkening the veins that drain from the eyes to the nose. An ENT doctor can help alleviate dark circles by testing for the conditions that are causing the problem. For example, if you suspect allergies are to blame, he or she may perform an allergy test.
Your ENT might also look for swollen adenoids. If found, he or she may prescribe a medication to help reduce the swelling and break up sinus congestion so that you can breathe normally from your nose.
Treatment Method 2: Use Almond Oil
Stop by your nearest health food store, general nutrition store or vitamin shop and pick up a bottle of almond oil.
Before bed, apply a thin layer of oil over your dark circles. In the morning, remember to wash it off with cold water. Almond oil is a natural emollient, meaning that the properties contained within it work to moisturize the skin and provide it with nourishment. Almond oil also contains Vitamins E and K, which are known to reduce blemishes and inflammation under the eyes. This oil also contains certain fatty acids that help to revitalize dry skin.
Note: If you have a nut allergy, DO NOT use almond oil.
Treatment Method 3: Take a sinus decongestant medication
Preventing your sinuses from swelling is key to healthy-looking eyes.
Claritin D or Allegra D are two popular medicines that elicit proper sinus drainage. Sudafed and Benadryl also work well to break up mucus in the sinuses and reduce swelling. All can be found at your local pharmacy or drugstore.
Decongestants contain antihistamines, which block the substances in the air that cause your sinuses to swell. If you suspect that you will be exposed to smoke or outdoor pollutants, protect yourself by taking one of these over-the-counter antihistamines before you leave the house.
Tip: Decongestants can often cause drowsiness, so be sure to take one before bed, or opt for the non-drowsy version of the product for relief during the day.
Treatment Method 4: Rosewater
Derived from rose petals and sepals, rosewater soaks up the toxins that cause puffy eyes and dark circles. You can find rose water at health food stores like Whole Foods. To use, dip a q-tip or cotton swab into the jar and gently apply it to your eyelids. Let it sit for 10 minutes. The rosewater will dissolve safely on your eyelids, so there is no need to rinse it off afterwards.
Tip: There are several different types of rosewater. The purest forms can be found at health food stores, but if you prefer a less astringent variety, look for a mixture that includes glycerin.
Treatment Method 5: Hydration
Increasing your fluid intake can have remarkable effects on dark circles. When your body is hydrated, the mucus inside your sinuses thins, facilitating drainage. This eliminates inflammation of the area around your eyes. To stay hydrated, Dr. Bennett recommends drinking one glass of water every hour, or drinking 8 total glasses sporadically throughout the day.
When your skin is dehydrated, it can sag, make fine lines and wrinkles more apparent, and cause dark circles to appear even darker.
Treatment Method 6: Maintain a healthy diet
Dark circles can also be attributed to nutrient or iron deficiencies in one’s diet. Maintain a healthy diet by including nuts, beans and leafy, green veggies in your meals, as well as whole grains and plenty of fruit. Avoid over-consumption of caffeine and foods high in sodium (which cause the body to retain water, causing eye puffiness.) Learn about foods that can help improve your breathing.
Treatment Method 7: Elevate your head at night
Propping up a few pillows behind your head will allow the sinuses to drain easier, promoting healthy sinuses and in turn, reducing the appearance of swollen, dark eyes.
You can purchase specialized pillows at your local home good store that are designed to elevate the head without causing neck pain or discomfort.
Treatment Method 8: Crushed mint leaves
Applying mint leaves to your eyes can soothe them and reduce dark pigmentation under the eyes. Crush them up and apply them to your dark circles for approximately 5-10 minutes. Rinse away gently with a clean, cold washcloth.
Treatment Method 9: Take a hot shower
The heat from shower causes mucus inside the sinuses to thin, much like the effects of staying hydrated. When your eyes are feeling puffy or sore, take a hot shower, or merely run the hot water in your bathroom with the door closed, and inhale and steam.
Tip: Install a humidifier in your bedroom to mimic the effects of a hot shower,
Treatment Method 10: Quit smoking
Cigarette smoke not only is responsible for dangerous health effects, but it is also proven to make skin appear dry and thin. Quitting now will not only improve the health of your lungs and sinuses, but will also have positive effects on your eyes, slowing down the aging process and reducing the likelihood or dark circles.
Treatment Method 11: Use a neti pot or sinus rinse system
Sinus irrigation systems like the one sold by NeilMed, and neti pots are two popular ways to rinse the sinuses and reduce puffiness and under-eye discoloration. When the sinuses are clear, the blood vessels near your eyes lighten in color and shrink.
Read more about neti pots here, including a step-by-step instructions for use. Invest in a neti pot and mix up a saline solution of water and sea salt (or simply buy ready-made saline solution packets).
Tip: To increase the effects of a neti pot, install a vaporizer in your bedroom or living room and reap the benefits of clear sinuses.
Treatment Method 12: Break bad habits
Everyday habits, such as rubbing your eyes frequently, going to bed with makeup on, and an excessive number of daily alcoholic drinks, can contribute to under-eye bags, too.
Alcohol causes dehydration, while forgetting to wash off eye makeup can irritate the eye area. Remember that the skin under the eyes is very delicate, and poor eye care can weaken the skin over time.
Treatment Method 13: Apply a cool compress
There are several different types of cool compresses that equally reduce sinus pressure: a washcloth dipped in cold water, chilled cucumber slices and chilled teabags. A cool compress has the effect of tightening the blood vessels under the eyes, thereby decreasing swelling.
Place the compress of your choice directly on your closed eyelids. Let the compress rest on your eyes for 10-20 minutes.
Tip: Out of cucumbers? Check the cupboard for potatoes. A half-inch thick slice of potato skin can double for a cold compress if chilled first in the fridge. No spuds? Frozen veggies wrapped in a washcloth can also double for a cold compress in a pinch. Same rule apples: place the compress over closed eyes for between 10-20 minutes.
Tip: Black tea bags chill faster and easier than other teas.
Tip: Cold metal spoons are another type of cold compress for which many people opt. Place two, heavy tablespoons or serving spoons in the fridge or freezer. After 30 minutes, or when they become cold, balance the back of the spoons on the eyes.
When should I see a doctor for my dark circles and/or puffy eyes?
If you try the above remedies and your dark circles or puffy eyes fail to show any improvement, you should make an appointment with your doctor. Always be aware of how long dark circles persist, and note whether treatments are effective. Also be cognizant of your breathing and congestion levels, as under-eye problems are closely connected to the sinuses.