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Banish the Bags Under Your Eyes

Tired of being told you look tired? Here's how to get rid of eye bags, puffiness, dark shadows, and circles.

By Shelley Levitt

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD

WebMD Feature

Noticing bags or dark circles under your eyes ? You're not alone.

Dermatologists and plastic surgeons get asked about dark circles and under-eye bags all the time. "I hear patients voice complaints several times a day," says dermatologist Valerie Goldburt, MD, PhD, of NYU Langone Medical Center.

Good news: There are fixes for under-eye flaws. The first step is figuring out just what the problem is.

Morning-After Puffy Eyes

Seasonal allergies, a cold, a sinus infection: These are some of the things that can lead to water building up under the eye.

"We have the thinnest skin around our eyes, so it's the area that's most influenced by the in-and-out flow of fluids," Goldburt says.

A dinner heavy with salty food or a night of crying while watching a tearjerker movie can also cause morning-after puffiness. The reason is osmosis. "Water always travels from areas in the body where there's low salt concentration to tissues where there's more salt, Goldburt explains. That principle holds true whether the salt comes from tears or from soy sauce.

Simple Fixes for Under-Eye Bags

Addressing the underlying cause will help treat these temporary eruptions of puffiness.

Here are steps to try:

  • Treat hay fever, if that's the problem. There are non-sedating, over-the-counter allergy medications that may help. If you have or suspect hay fever, talk with your doctor about how to treat it (whether or not it's affecting your eyes' appearance).
  • Try a neti pot. Irrigating the nasal cavity with a neti pot -- a device that looks like a small teapot -- can help relieve fluid buildup caused by allergies, sinus congestion, or a cold.
  • Switch your sleep position. Your sleep position may be contributing to under-eye bags. Thanks to gravity, sleeping on your side or stomach can encourage fluids to collect under your eyes. If you're a side sleeper, you may notice a heavier bag on the side you sleep on. Goldburt advises her patients who wake up with puffy eyes to sleep on their back and add an extra pillow under their head.

Changing your sleep position takes some getting used to, says Goldburt, a self-described "former eye-bag sufferer" and stomach-sleeper herself. Still, she says, "The earlier you start changing your sleep position, the better, because after a few years under-eye bags can became permanent."

Other everyday habits, including rubbing your eyes frequently, going to bed with makeup on, and excessive drinking, can contribute to under-eye bags, too. "Sleeping in eye makeup can irritate your eyes, causing fluids to pool," Goldburt says. Heavy alcohol drinking causes dehydration . That weakens the delicate skin around the eyes, making it more likely to sink into a pouch.

Eye bags are very common, and are usually not related to your health. But if your bags appear suddenly and you're not suffering from allergies, a sinus infection, or a cold -- and they don't ease up when you try the lifestyle steps mentioned above -- it's a good idea to see your doctor. Some thyroid or kidney problems can cause under-eye fluid retention, notes New York dermatologist Craig Austin, MD.

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