In the quest for a smoother, brighter complexion, learning how to get rid of bags under the eyes can feel like an intimidating task. You might be wondering if it’s possible to smooth and de-puff bags for good, or if alleviating them requires a host of in-office treatments.
What are the causes of under-eye bags?
To start, let’s explore the causes of under-eye bags. “For many individuals, under-eye bags appear due to the loss of natural volume under the eyes as we age, resulting in puffy eye pockets under the lower eyelid,” explains dermatologist Dr. Michele Green. “This volume reduction is caused by decreased collagen and elastin production as we age, which helps keep skin firm and smooth.” Per Dr. Natasha Sandy, reduced collagen and elastin levels can begin as early as age 25. Experts also cite lack of sleep, genetics, lifestyle, eczema, or allergic reactions as other causes.
Oculofacial plastic surgeon Dr. Chaneve Jeanniton explains that “below the skin surface, there are layers consisting of muscle, connective tissue, ligaments, and fat that all contribute to the changes we see externally.” And although it’s tempting to simply start avid application of the latest under-eye cream (and that is one solution!), Dr. Jeanniton adds that “we have to approach the problem from a more holistic perspective.”
Is it possible to get rid of under-eye bags?
Like many skin conditions, the answer varies—oftentimes, dependent on how deep your under-eye bags are. Generally speaking, Dr. Green says, “There are many non-surgical treatments that can help reduce the appearance of under-eye bags and dark circles, although they are not permanent solutions.” She continues that these non-surgical approaches can be long-lasting and are an extremely effective option for those who are not ready for surgery. However, if topical treatments do not work, experts say a surgery called blepharoplasty might be best to rid of eye bags for good. In any case, always consult with your trusted skin expert (plastic surgeon Dr. Anil Shah advises consulting with both surgical and non-surgical specialists) to determine the right treatment for you.
Ahead, we’ve tapped eight of the industry’s leading doctors to detail the best ways to alleviate under-eye bags.
Check for underlying health issues
Believe it or not, many underlying health issues can cause eye bags, which is why it’s important to check with a health professional to ensure your eye bags aren’t related to a larger issue. “In particular, making sure that the thyroid function is balanced and that sinus dysfunction is not to blame is important,” Dr. Jeanniton says. “These conditions cause inflammation that can manifest as fullness under the eyes. Seeking treatment for the underlying condition is the first step to addressing the appearance of swollen eyes.” Although your menstrual cycle is not a health “issue,” it is important to take into account that your period can play a huge part in under-eye puffiness as well.
Improve your diet
“So, only intermittent eye-bags are going to respond to these at-home therapies,” Dr. Shah explains, citing that embracing a healthier, whole food-rich diet is a great first step. Salty foods are “common culprits of water retention,” Dr. Jeanniton says, and water retention is one factor that can affect the appearance of the under eye. “If you have a lot of salt in your body, then the water is going to move towards the area where there is more salt to decrease the concentration of that.” Collagen supplements, any foods with vitamin A, like carrots and peppers, as well as foods rich in vitamin C are helpful in counteracting this, as they are anti-inflammatory and water-soluble. Pineapples contain Bromelain “that prevents swelling and puffiness,” Dr. Sandy adds. “You can take these things throughout the day in vitamin form in juices, or as whole foods.”
“Drinking alcohol can dehydrate your body, weakening elasticity under the eyes,” Dr. Green explains. “If you suffer with this, you definitely want to decrease your alcohol intake,” Dr. Sandy adds. If you are going to drink, accompany any alcohol with copious amounts of water.
“Fluid retention is usually more to blame for under-eye puffiness but dehydration can also play a role,” Dr. Jeanniton says. “Dehydration can make eye bags look worse by amplifying the effects of excess salt, high alcohol, or poor sleep. Maintaining proper hydration enhances circulation, which helps remove excess fluid from the eye area.” Keep a water bottle on your desk or by your bed, and set a goal to refill it multiple times throughout the day.
Factor in allergies
“A lot of people have allergies and don’t even realize it,” Dr. Sandy says. “Even without having the itchiness that comes with allergies, or if you’re using contacts, it can sometimes irritate the eyes and cause fluid to build up under the eyes, creating the appearance of puffiness.” After consulting a doctor, she suggests antihistamines like Zyrtec and Claritin for those who have seasonal allergies to help decrease allergy-induced eye bags. Antihistamine eyedrops are also helpful when it comes to the bags and puffiness surrounding the eyes. Dr. Green recommends those struggling with allergies see an allergist for medical advice. She notes an OTC antihistamine like Zyrtec during the day, or Benadryl at bedtime.
“Develop good sleep hygiene to get a good night’s sleep because it’s one of the best prescriptions to combat eye bags,” says dermatologist Dr. Azadeh Shirazi. “Light at night, particularly blue light, is one of the reasons people don’t get enough sleep as it suppresses the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that influences circadian rhythms.” To help this, she recommends using dim red light at night (red light is less likely to shift circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin). “I also suggest sleeping on a couple of pillows if you are prone to eye bags to minimize pooling fluid to the eye area.” Furthermore, Dr. Sandy says that rest can decrease stress levels and, therefore, your cortisol levels, which ultimately prevent eye bags.
Stress levels affect cortisol levels, which, in turn, increase the appearance and intensity of puffiness and bags under the eyes. “That is also why those with high-stress levels experience acne,” Dr. Sandy notes. Meditation is one approach to reduce stress, as is exercise.
“Skin-care products do a better job of preventing under-eye bags than treating them once they have already formed,” says dermatologist Dr. Blair Murphy-Rose. “Hyperpigmentation and vascular congestion are the causes of eye bags that are the most likely to be improved by skin-care products.” Retinol is the first ingredient our experts cite to look out for. “Retinol is a vitamin A derivate that works to exfoliate the skin, promoting cell turnover to reveal healthy new skin cells,” Dr. Green explains. “[It] also inhibits melanin and encourages collagen production to soften dark under-eye circles and improve fine lines and wrinkles.” Dr. Murphy-Rose is a fan of First Aid Beauty’s elixir, which treats the under-eye through a blend of retinol, hyaluronic acid, oatmeal, and aloe. RoC’s eye cream is a Vogue editor favorite to smooth fine lines, reduce puffiness, and brighten dark circles.
Incorporate vitamin C
“Additionally, vitamin C–containing products can help protect the skin from excessive sun exposure, reduce signs of premature aging, and stimulate collagen to restore skin firmness,” Dr. Green mentions of the next ingredient to incorporate. Dr. Murphy-Rose adds that products featuring the ingredient “should be stored in the refrigerator to prolong potency.” Her favorites? Drunk Elephant C-Tango Multivitamin Eye Cream and Ole Henriksen Banana Bright Eye Creme. Similarly, the Origins Ginzing formula pairs vitamin C and caffeine to smooth and depuff.
Apply topical caffeine
Experts say your daily caffeine isn’t just for energy: “Topical caffeine is a game-changer since it can constrict blood vessels and help expedite swelling,” says Dr. Shah. To give the ingredient a try, consider Clinique’s All About Eyes Serum which Dr. Shirazi notes “hydrates instantly making the skin appear smoother.” Then there’s the Pause Well-Aging Eye Renewal Treatment which leads with caffeine and ginkgo biloba leaf extract to increase circulation and de-puff, per Dr. Murphy-Rose. “Phylloquinone (aka vitamin K) is an antioxidant that helps to reduce inflammation and Acetyl Tetrapeptide reduces under eye swelling while firming, hydrating, and smoothing the skin’s surface.”
Consider a temporary fix
Every now and then, you might stumble upon a quick fix that temporarily tightens the under-eye to reduce the look of bags in seconds. Remember when Peter Thomas Roth’s Instant FirmX gel went viral on TikTok in 2020? Well, Dr. Shirazi still gives it her stamp of approval. “[It] uses sodium silicate, an inorganic salt that leaves a thin film on the skin,” she says. “When that film dries, it pulls the loose skin tight temporarily. The effects last for several hours.” Park Perfection’s serum has a similar skin-tightening effect. “It uses Pullulan Olivine Extract, also found in breath strips, a polymer that forms a sheer film and pulls the skin tight for an instant cosmetic effect. This plus sodium silicate temporarily provides an instant skin-tightening effect as it adheres to the skin making eye bags non-existent.” Just remember that these treatments only last a few hours, and might be tricky under makeup.
Try a cold compress
“Cold compresses are another popular home remedy that works to alleviate the appearance of dark circles and puffiness by shrinking blood vessels and reducing blood flow to the area to lessen inflammation,” says Dr. Green. “An ice pack, a frozen bag of vegetables, and refrigerated spoons are all practical tools that can be applied over the eyes for a few minutes to reduce swelling.” Or, you could pick up a cooling roller to practice a refreshing massage in the morning or whenever you’re experiencing puffiness.
Practice safe sunning habits
Dermatologist Dr. Macrene Alexiades stresses the importance of wearing sunscreen on a daily basis, and encourages patients to wear sunglasses to protect their eyes from harmful UV rays, which age the skin faster. “The eye area is also often neglected when people are putting on sunscreen as well,” Dr. Sandy says, adding that one should use at least an SPF30 at minimum. “UVA and UVB rays can not only cause skin cancer but can also cause wrinkles and aging as the sun breaks down collagen and elastin, leading to eye bags and sagging, puffy skin.”
Keep remedies in your kitchen
Dermatologist Dr. Suneel Chilukuri recommends applying cold cucumbers over the eyes for five minutes. The cucumber juice and the cold temperature act as anti-inflammatory compresses. Dr. Green adds that tea bags are an effective way to reduce the appearance of dark circles and under-eye bags, as they are rich in antioxidants, caffeine, and have anti-inflammatory properties that promote blood flow to the skin. Black or green tea is sufficient, here. According to Dr. Shirazi, you could even apply chilled cucumbers soaked in tea to reduce eye bags in the a.m. “Cucumbers have a high water content and act like a natural ice pack while the caffeine in black tea helps draw out the excess fluid,” she says. “The tea’s caffeine boosts circulation, soothes the area, and tightens the blood vessels in the under eyes, therefore reducing puffiness and inflammation.
Use the right tools
“Promoting lymphatic drainage is a technique that I teach my patients who are prone to fluid retention in the area,” Dr. Jeanniton says. She recommends a gua sha stone massage to the lower lid, focusing on an upward and outward motion to encourage lymphatic movement. “It’s such a beauty favorite these days, and for good cause: it’s especially beneficial combined with an eye serum or eye cream to the area to minimize unintentional friction to delicate eyelid skin.”