5 min

How to get rid of eye bags

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Bags under eyes affect most people

Bags under eyes are a widespread cosmetic concern, affecting many people at some point. They are caused by various factors, including genetics, ageing, lack of sleep, diet, and stress. They can also be symptoms of an underlying medical condition, such as allergies, sinusitis, or fluid retention.

While not usually harmful, bags under the eyes can be unsightly and affect a person's self-esteem. This article discusses several treatments to reduce the appearance of bags under the eyes, from lifestyle changes to cosmetic procedures.

Dark Circles Under Eyes - Causes & Treatment

“Bags under the eyes are caused by various factors, including genetics, ageing, lack of sleep, diet, and stress”

How does Ageing cause eye bags?

Ageing is a natural process affecting all body parts, including the skin. One of the most noticeable effects of ageing is its changes to the skin around our eyes - which is particularly vulnerable because the skin is thinner than other body parts.

Firstly, the skin itself undergoes changes. The dermis, the layer of skin that lies beneath the surface, contains proteins, including collagen and elastin. Collagen provides the skin with firmness, while elastin gives it elasticity, allowing it to return to its original shape after being stretched or contracted. As we age, the body's production of these proteins decreases. This reduction leads to a loss of skin elasticity and firmness, causing the skin to sag and form bags under the eyes.

Secondly, ageing affects the structures beneath the skin. The orbital septum, a thin membrane that holds back the fat around the eyes, weakens over time. As this happens, the fat can push forward into the lower eyelids, contributing to the appearance of bags.

How does Ageing cause eye bags?

Additionally, the muscles that support the eyelids can weaken with age. When these muscles slacken, normal fat that helps support the eyes can move into the lower eyelids, causing them to appear puffy. Fluid can also accumulate in the space below your eyes, adding to the swelling.

Ageing can also lead to redistribution or loss of fat in the face, emphasising the appearance of bags under the eyes. The hollow area that forms can create a shadow, which appears as dark circles under the eyes.

Lastly, the ageing process can lead to a reduction in the body's production of hyaluronic acid. This substance helps the skin retain moisture. This decrease can cause the skin to become drier and more prone to wrinkling, further accentuating the appearance of bags under the eyes.

“Smoking can contribute to the formation of bags under the eyes by reducing blood flow to the skin and damaging the skin's elasticity”

Do your Genetics cause Eye Bags?

Genetics play a significant role in many aspects of our health and physical appearance, including the likelihood of developing bags under the eyes - as we can inherit skin structure and composition traits from our parents.

The skin around the eyes is particularly delicate and thin. Some people naturally have thinner skin in this area due to their genetic makeup. This thin skin can make blood vessels more visible. It can also make the area more prone to the effects of ageing and environmental damage, leading to the formation of bags under the eyes.

Do your Genetics cause Eye Bags?

Another genetic factor contributing to under-eye bags is fat distribution around the eyes. The human face has several fat pads, and their size and placement can vary between individuals. Some people may genetically have larger fat pads beneath their eyes or a weaker membrane holding back the fat. These fat pads can protrude into the lower eyelids as they age, causing a puffy appearance.

Genetics can also influence how our bodies respond to environmental stressors. For instance, some people may be genetically predisposed to retaining more water, which can lead to puffiness under the eyes. Others may have a genetic predisposition to hyperpigmentation, which can cause dark circles under the eyes.

Moreover, certain inherited health conditions can lead to bags under the eyes. For example, people with thyroid disorders, which can run in families, may experience changes to the skin and tissues around the eyes, leading to puffiness.

“High salt intake raises blood sodium, causing water retention. If salt intake is consistently high, the kidneys can't excrete excess sodium & water efficiently, leading to fluid accumulation - which can cause eye bags.”

How does lack of Sleep cause eye bags?

Sleep is a vital physiological process that allows our bodies to rest, repair, and rejuvenate. When we don't get enough sleep, it can have visible effects on our skin, particularly the delicate area around the eyes. Lack of sleep can lead to puffiness, swelling, and bags under the eyes.

One of the primary reasons for this is fluid accumulation. When we sleep, our bodies redistribute hydration. This process can be disrupted without adequate sleep, leading to fluid build-up in the tissues around the eyes. This fluid retention can cause the skin in this area to swell and appear puffy, contributing to the formation of under-eye bags.

How does lack of Sleep cause eye bags?

Furthermore, sleep deprivation can lead to changes in the skin itself. During sleep, the body boosts blood circulation, which helps remove excess fluid and toxins from the skin. Lack of sleep can impede this process, leading to a dull complexion and the accentuation of dark circles and bags under the eyes.

Lack of sleep can also cause the body to produce more stress hormone cortisol. Elevated cortisol levels can break down collagen, the protein that keeps skin smooth and elastic. This breakdown can cause the skin to lose its firmness and sag, further contributing to the appearance of bags under the eyes.

Additionally, when we're tired, our bodies may produce more of a hormone called vasopressin, designed to help regulate fluid levels. However, this hormone can also lead to fluid retention, particularly in the area around the eyes.

“Histamine is a key player in allergic reactions. It causes blood vessels to expand & the skin to swell, leading to puffiness and bags under the eyes.”

Do Allergies cause Eye Bags?

Allergies are an immune response to typically harmless substances, such as pollen, dust mites, or certain foods. When a person with allergies encounters an allergen, their immune system releases chemicals like histamine. These chemicals can cause various symptoms, including inflammation in different body parts. One of the areas that can be affected is the skin around the eyes, leading to swelling and the formation of bags under the eyes.

Histamine is a key player in allergic reactions. It causes blood vessels to expand and the skin to swell, leading to puffiness and bags under the eyes. Histamine can also cause itching, which can exacerbate the problem. Rubbing itchy eyes can inadvertently cause inflammation and swelling, making under-eye bags appear more pronounced.

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Do Allergies cause Eye Bags?

In addition to histamine, other inflammatory substances released during an allergic reaction can cause fluid to leak from blood vessels. This fluid can accumulate in the soft tissues around the eyes, leading to puffiness and under-eye bags.

Allergies can also disrupt sleep, another factor that can contribute to bags under the eyes. Allergic symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, or a runny nose can make it difficult to get a good night's sleep. As discussed earlier, lack of sleep can lead to fluid accumulation and puffiness around the eyes.

Moreover, some people may have dark circles, often called "allergic shiners," and under-eye bags. These dark circles are due to congestion of the small blood vessels beneath the skin in the area around the eyes, which occurs during an allergic reaction.

Dark Circles Under Eyes - Causes & Treatment

“Sun damage can cause the skin around the eyes to become thin and saggy, forming bags”

Can Dehydration cause Eye Bags?

Dehydration, when the body loses more fluids than it intakes, can impact various functions and visibly affect the skin, especially around the eyes, leading to sunken, saggy skin and under-eye bags. Water, constituting around 60% of our body weight, is essential for skin health, delivering nutrients to skin cells, maintaining cell function, and ensuring skin elasticity.

Dehydration can cause the body to conserve water for vital functions, leading to skin moisture loss. This can result in skin losing elasticity and plumpness, causing sagging and wrinkles, particularly around the eyes. Dehydration can also make blood vessels under the skin more visible, leading to dark circles and more pronounced under-eye bags. It can also cause an electrolyte imbalance, leading to water retention in areas around the eyes, causing puffiness and swelling.

How does your Salt Intake cause Eye Bags?

Salt, vital for body functions like fluid balance and nerve conduction, can cause fluid retention when consumed excessively. This retention can lead to puffiness and under-eye bags. High salt intake increases sodium in our bloodstream, prompting the body to retain water to restore balance. The kidneys usually regulate this by excreting excess sodium and water. However, consistently high salt intake can overwhelm the kidneys, causing sodium and water accumulation. This excess water can cause swelling around the eyes, leading to under-eye bags.

Additionally, high salt intake can cause health issues like high blood pressure, indirectly contributing to under-eye bags by causing capillaries under the eyes to leak fluid. While salt is essential, limiting intake to no more than 2,300 milligrams per day is recommended.

“Blepharitis can cause symptoms such as red, swollen eyelids and crusty eyelashes. Blepharitis causes swelling and inflammation, which cause eye bags.”

How does Smoking cause eye bags?

Smoking, a known health hazard, adversely affects the body, including the skin, particularly around the eyes. It contributes to under-eye bags by reducing blood flow and impairing skin elasticity. Nicotine in tobacco smoke constricts blood vessels, especially tiny capillaries supplying blood to the skin. This constriction reduces blood flow, depriving the skin of oxygen and nutrients, leading to dullness, sagging, and wrinkling.

Additionally, tobacco smoke's numerous chemicals can damage collagen and elastin, the skin's structural fibres, causing loss of firmness and elasticity. The physical act of smoking, with repetitive facial expressions like squinting and pursing lips, can cause premature wrinkles. Furthermore, smoking can disrupt sleep, leading to sleep deprivation, another factor contributing to bags under the eyes.

Why does Sun Exposure cause eye bags?

Sun exposure, while beneficial in moderation for vitamin D synthesis, can cause skin damage, particularly around the delicate eye area. Excessive sun exposure can thin and sag the skin, leading to under-eye bags. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation, the main offender in sun damage, impairs the skin's collagen and elastin fibres, causing a loss of firmness and elasticity. UV radiation also stimulates melanin overproduction, leading to hyperpigmentation and pronounced dark circles.

Prolonged sun exposure can dehydrate the skin, exacerbating dryness and wrinkling and intensifying under-eye bags. Squinting in bright sunlight can cause fine lines and wrinkles around the eyes, further contributing to under-eye bags. Despite sunlight's health benefits, excessive exposure can damage the skin and cause under-eye bags. Using sunglasses and sunscreen, especially products for the eye area, can help prevent this.

Protect Your Eyes From Ultraviolet (UV) Light Damage

What Medical Conditions can cause eye bags?

  • Dermatitis is a skin condition characterised by inflammation, causing symptoms such as redness, swelling, and itching. When dermatitis affects the skin around the eyes, it can lead to significant puffiness due to the inflammatory response. This inflammation can cause fluid to accumulate in the tissues around the eyes, leading to the appearance of under-eye bags.

  • Dermatomyositis is a rare inflammatory disease that primarily affects the skin and muscles. It often presents with a distinctive purple or red rash, which can occur around the eyes. This rash, combined with the general inflammation associated with the disease, can cause the skin around the eyes to swell and become puffy, contributing to the formation of bags under the eyes.

  • Renal disease, or kidney disease, can disrupt the body's fluid balance. The kidneys play a crucial role in regulating fluid levels in the body. Excess fluid can accumulate in the body when its function is impaired, including around the eyes. This fluid retention can cause the skin around the eyes to appear swollen and puffy, forming under-eye bags.

  • Thyroid eye disease is an autoimmune condition in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the tissues around the eyes. This attack triggers an inflammatory response, causing the tissues around the eyes to swell. This inflammation and swelling can lead to bags under the eyes.

  • Sinusitis, an inflammation or swelling of the tissue lining the sinuses, can also lead to bags under the eyes. The inflammation can cause fluid to accumulate in the sinus cavities and around the eyes, leading to puffiness and under-eye bags.

  • Periorbital cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the eyelid or the skin around the eyes. It can cause symptoms such as redness, swelling, and pain. The swelling associated with this condition can lead to the formation of bags under the eyes.

  • Blepharitis, an inflammation of the eyelids, can cause symptoms such as red, swollen eyelids, crusty eyelashes, and a feeling of something in the eye. The swelling and inflammation associated with blepharitis can contribute to the appearance of bags under the eyes.

  • How do you prevent & reduce the appearance of eye bags?

  • Getting enough sleep is essential for overall health and well-being. It can also help reduce the appearance of bags and dark circles under the eyes. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

  • Add an extra pillow or prop up the head of your mattress. This helps prevent fluid from accumulating around your eyes as you sleep.

  • Try to limit your alcohol intake. Alcohol causes your body to dehydrate, which in turn causes your organs (which includes your skin) to 'fight back' by retaining water.

  • After boiling tea bags in hot water, let them cool down in the fridge, then gently place them over your closed eyes. The caffeine's antioxidant properties will help boost blood circulation around your eyes.

  • When your eyes are dry, cucumbers help hydrate them - reducing dryness and redness. You can also use potatoes slices.

  • Put some (clean) spoons in the fridge overnight or for half an hour in a freezer. Gently massage the back of the spoon over and around your eyes for about 10-15 minutes. The spoons will help drain fluid pooling under your eyes and minimise puffiness.

  • Use a preservative-free eye sprays and drops to keep your eyes well moisturised. The majority of patients with dry eye have chronic inflammation (swelling) in the tear glands (lacrimal glands) that line the eyelid and in the conjunctiva (the thin lining on the inside of the eyelids and the front part of the eye).

  • Assuming you have no medical restrictions, aim to drink about 2 litres of water daily, but reduce drinking fluids before bedtime.

  • Eat a balanced diet that contains foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Fresh fish, nuts, seeds, etc.

  • Smoking has been shown to weaken the skin under your eyes and reduce blood flow to the skin around the eyes, damaging the skin's elasticity.

  • If you think an allergy causes swelling under your eyes, ask your doctor, GP or pharmacist about allergy medication.

  • Foods and diets high in salt can give you fluid retention, and make the skin around the eyes appear puffy and swollen.

  • The skin around our eyes is very thin and fragile. Adding a high-quality cream to your daily routine will help hydrate, nourish and protect the area.

  • If you wish to mask your under-eye bags, try using makeup.

  • Try some eye exercises. Scroll down and read 'HOW TO RELAX YOUR EYES'.

  • How do you prevent eye bags naturally?

    At-home treatment

    • Cold compresses reduce inflammation and swelling by reducing blood flow. Use anything cold (ice pack, frozen vegetables, cold cucumber slices or spoons) over closed eyes for a few minutes.

    • Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor (constricting blood vessels) which reduces swelling. You could also try putting cold tea bags (caffeinated) on your closed eyes.

    Do Anti-wrinkle treatments help eye bags?

    Various wrinkle treatments can improve the appearance of puffiness under the eyes - including laser resurfacing, chemical peels and fillers. These can improve skin tone, tighten the skin and rejuvenate the under-eye area.

    If you have darker skin, laser resurfacing can cause permanent changes in skin colour - hyperpigmentation (darkened skin colour) or hypopigmentation (lightened skin colour). Your doctor or dermatologist can advise you on the risks of laser resurfacing.

    Makeup & Eye Health

    “Bags under your eyes shouldn’t be confused with dark circles. These blue-like rings are caused by tiny blood vessels bursting under your eyes.”

    Can Eyelid Surgery (Blepharoplasty) help eye bags?

    Depending on what's causing the eye bags, eyelid surgery, known as blepharoplasty (pronounced 'BLEF-uh-roe-plas-tee'), could be a final treatment option. It's a highly specialised procedure, usually done as a day case under local anaesthetic. There can be side effects and complications - from dry, watery eyes to bleeding and potentially sight loss.

    Blepharoplasty removes excess fat inside the lower eyelids. It can also repair:

    • Baggy or puffy upper eyelids.
    • Taking excess skin off the upper eyelid - if it interferes with your vision.
    • 'Fixing' droopy or removing excess skin on the lower eyelids.

    What's the best way to relax your eyes?

  • When we’re looking at screens, our blinking is incomplete and less frequent, which could lead to dry eyes. Avoid eye strain by blinking consciously, keeping your eyes closed for half a second before reopening. Repeat this about 20 times and you’ll notice that your eyes start feeling fresher as they rebuild their natural hydration.

  • Sit with your back straight and, without moving your head, slowly and purposefully roll your eyes in a clockwise direction, starting with the left, then to the ceiling, then to the right and finally look at the floor. Repeat this 10 times. And then reverse the roll (i.e. counterclockwise). This exercise will help with eye fatigue.

  • Looking away from your computer screen every 20 minutes at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds helps to reduce strain and fatigue on your eye muscles. This is known as the 20-20-20 rule.

  • You’ll need to use a screen (or a picture) for this exercise. Place the screen (tablet or computer) in front of you. Without taking your eyes off the, try to locate and touch all the objects around you (a glass of water, notebook, stationery etc.). Then, interact with the screen without losing sight of objects in your peripheral vision.

  • A gentle massage is a really effective way of relaxing your eyes after long periods of screen time. Put on some relaxing music , dim the lights and close your eyes. Gently use your fingertips to press your closed eyelids in a circular motion for about 10-15 seconds. Repeat the exercise 5 times or more. This massage should be done without contact lenses or makeup on.

  • “When we sleep, our bodies redistribute hydration. This process can be disrupted without adequate sleep, leading to fluid build-up in the tissues around the eyes.”

    What are the different types of eye bags?

  • This is where fluid accumulates in the tissues surrounding the eyes, causing swelling and puffiness. Various factors, including allergies, hormonal changes, and certain medical conditions can cause it.

  • The skin around the eyes is thin and delicate; over time, the fat that usually surrounds the eye can begin to bulge and cause bags. This is more likely to occur as we age and our skin loses elasticity.

  • The lymphatic system helps to remove waste and fluid from the body, but when it becomes congested, fluid can accumulate in the tissues and cause swelling, including under the eyes.

  • In some cases, bags under the eyes can also be caused by medical conditions, such as an infection, an autoimmune disorder, or a hormonal imbalance.

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