Why do we get bags under our eyes?

Asks William from California

What causes bags under the eye? [CREDIT: NATIONAL EYE INSTITUTE, NIH]
By | Posted October 13, 2008
Posted in: Ever Wondered?, Health
Tags: , ,

** Editor’s Note: Happy Columbus Day! This article originally appeared September 14, 2008.**

If the eyes are the window to the soul, then what do those hefty bags beneath your eyes say about you? Co-workers, loved ones and even your coffee shop barista might be quick to point out that they make you look like a sleepy soul.

While people often associate under-eye bags with lack of sleep, one main cause may actually be much more fundamental: gravity. The gravitational pull weighs down on all Earthly objects, including your skin. The longer you’re exposed to gravity (i.e., the older you get) the more your facial tissues sink toward the floor.

But prolonged exposure to gravity is not the only bag-forming effect that the aging process bestows on us. As we get older, the tissues around our peepers change.

The upper and lower eyelids are composed of skin, muscle and fat. With age, the muscles weaken and can’t hold up the skin as tightly. Skin also changes because the collagen inside it degrades. Collagen is a protein that gives structure to our cells. In skin, it provides elasticity. With less collagen, the skin starts to wrinkle and sag.

Beneath the skin and muscle, the main culprit for under-eye puffiness is fat. “As you get older, your fat, like everything else, starts drooping,” says Dr. Melanie Grossman, a dermatologist in New York.

Fat deposits around our eyes help protect them. But in our 40s and 50s, these cushiony fat pockets can escape from the membrane that normally contains them. As the membrane weakens with age, the fat slips out and occupies new spaces under the skin. “When people have puffiness it may be misplacement of the fat,” says Grossman.

A new study by plastic surgery researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles shows that this long-accepted theory may be off the mark. Rather than the membrane weakening with age, the scientists report that the amount of fat beneath the eyes actually increases to cause baggy lower eyelids. More research is needed to pin down the exact mechanism to explain droopy lower eyelids, but scientists agree that as the calendar pages turn, the bag-forming process naturally progresses.

So is it fair when friends point fingers at your puffy eyes and tease that you’re not sleeping enough? Dr. David McDaniel, a dermatologist in Virginia Beach, says that while there is no proof of a relationship between snoozing and under-eye bags, it does seem that a lack of sleep affects the severity of the condition.

Some other behaviors that appear to affect puffiness are eating salty foods, which causes your body to retain water, and rubbing the eyes because of allergies. Irritants in the air such as pollutants and mold also seem to exacerbate the bags.

But changing your behavior won’t obliterate sagging lower lids from your face. There is a genetic factor at play as well. If your parents puffed up, then you probably will too at around the same age.

Envy those lucky individuals whose genes predict that their eye fat will remain at bay and the skin below their eyes will stay nice and tight. For the rest of us, there are remedies that people claim can at least minimize the bags.

Plastic surgery called blepharoplasty can remove or reposition the fat that creates under-eye bags. Sometimes surgeons pair this with Botox or facelifts to revitalize the face. Some specialty eye creams found on drugstore shelves claim to reduce puffiness.

Cheaper alternatives include folk remedies like cucumber slices and tea bags laid on top of closed eyes. People use them because they think the cooling from the cucumbers or the natural anti-diuretic in caffeinated tea might help. But there’s no proof that these techniques work, says Grossman. It’s not clear whether the caffeine can even penetrate the skin and, if it can, whether it has any effect.

If you’re genetically predisposed to get under-eye bags, there is not much chance of avoiding them. But maintaining the health of your skin can play down their appearance. “Overwhelmingly, good diet, exercise and sleep are probably the things you can do to help yourself,” Grossman says.

While there’s no definitive link between healthy behavior and smooth skin surrounding the eyes, that advice seems to echo the common refrain from doctors. “Your eyes reflect the health of your skin and your body,” says McDaniel.

And one more thing: dark circles under the eyes often coincide with bags, but these two ugly features occur separately. Aging is partially responsible for both. So what we see in others seems to be older (not sleepy) souls.

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  1. Interesting article! It makes sense, as we get odler all areas of our body start to sag ): Gravity does have an impact. I guess that staying thin will help? I guess that means I have to limit my snickerdoodle intake??? Also a well written article!

    Sean, October 17, 2008 at 4:04 pm
  2. Like Sean above me has stated, very interesting. I never knew that gravity has an impact which cause bags under our eyes to be produced. It does all make sense. Great article and great website! (That’s it! No more getting old for me! XD)

    Thien, January 16, 2009 at 1:31 pm
  3. very helpful . thanks

    martin, January 23, 2009 at 8:22 pm
  4. I already knew the gravity thing but the fluid retention is something new but makes sense. Thanks.

    T.Daws, February 1, 2009 at 11:14 pm
  5. I know now that the bags under my eyes are hereditary, coz my mum has it too and im already having at the age of 25! Though im interested in blepharoplasty, it scares me to go under the knife especially around my eyes. Is blepharoplasty a safe procedure?

    Viki, February 11, 2009 at 10:41 pm
  6. Knowing this information will allow those younger folks who haven’t yet experienced the effects of gravity to use common sense when caring for their bodies, both inside and out. Particularly if genetics show that under eye bag droops are inevitable, appropriate sleep, proper nutrition, exercise and a simple awareness of their heredity will go a long way in dealing with this pesky problem.

    Joanna, February 11, 2009 at 11:49 pm
  7. Hereidity is going to be the main reason you experience under eye bags. The people I’ve talked to that have it the worst say it runs in the family. Like you said, good health, proper sleep and water intake are all going to help and practicing good health will make a difference in the long run. But i sincerely believe that while you practice and maintain proper health, a good eye cream rich in vitamins and antioxidants will give you the quick relief you are looking for so that you can step out in the morning without being self-conscious about your eye issues.

    Alyssa, February 12, 2009 at 12:50 pm
  8. I used to get bags under my eyes all the time mostly due to my inability to fall asleep easily. I would stay up late thinking about something then wake up early next morning only to see little bags under my eyes. I somehow managed to kick the habit of staying up late but my eye bags wouldn’t go away.I then recently read an article about a woman who supposedly got rid of her eye bags using a particular eye care product. I tried it and it worked really well. I managed to get rid of my eye bags in 3 to 4 weeks.You can read more about the lady’s article at the link below

    http://www.eyebagscure.com/

    Jennifer, February 14, 2009 at 12:11 am
  9. This is a very nice article. It does make a lot of sense as to why people get eye bags

    Staph Infection, February 24, 2009 at 6:05 am
  10. Hi,

    I will confirm that eating salty foods does cause baggy eye lids. Last night I ate almost a full pack of salty nuts and crackers, today I woke up with a very noticeable bag under by left eye.

    I hope it goes away in the coming few days. I will never eat salty nuts again.

    Thanks.

    Ahmad Hasan, March 21, 2009 at 3:34 am
  11. hi im looking into this problem because i suffer from puffy undereyes i just turned 50th but folks think im 10 years younger or less but i look tired all the time and it saddens me because im tired of looking tired,im going to try the product dermitage i pray it will make me happy again. good luck to all which feel the same.

    sandra sanchez, May 23, 2009 at 10:11 pm
  12. i am also looking to a solution for my under eye bags. I am only 27, but they have become a noticeable problem. My boyfriend was the one who first poitned this out. He thinks that the bags make me look 10 years older!
    it makes me sad knowing this, so i want to try anything possible to make those bags go away.

    which means excercising more, and doing a major diet makeover.
    good luck to all those out there that have the same problem, i hope that the solutions that have been suggested, work out for you

    jessica, May 27, 2009 at 12:38 pm
  13. Downer.

    unknown, July 30, 2009 at 4:42 am
  14. I HAVE AN UNUSUAL SITUATION. MY EYES HAVE BAGS – MY HEAD WILL FEEL “CONGESTED”. THEN – WITHOUT ANY WARNING – THE BAGS WILL SUDDENLY DISAPPEAR – LIKE THEY HAVE BEEN DRAINED OF FLUID – AND MY HEAD WILL FEEL CLEAR. THEN – JUST AS QUICKLY – MY BAGS WILL FILL UP WITH FLUID AGAIN – AND MY HEAD WILL FEEL CONGESTED! I HAVE BEEN TO SEVERAL EYE SPECIALISTS WHO HAVEN’T THE SLIGHTEST IDEA!!! OH -THEY STILL CHARGE ME HOWEVER FOR NO ADVISE AND NO RESOLUTION.

    HELP!!!

    BRUCE JOHNSON, August 26, 2009 at 2:48 pm
  15. Bruce, it sounds like you may be having an attack of sinusitus, could even be allergic, have your docs rule that out (if they haven’t already). I have suffered from the same for several years for which i have now found a simple cure. If interested feel free to write to me offline at jasleen65@gmail.com.

    All the very best!

    Jasleen, October 12, 2009 at 5:30 am
  16. I have eye bags since I was 20. I used to drink two or three cus of water in the evening, and forced to go to washroom during sleepness at night. Do that habit makes my eye bag bigger or worse?

    Justin

    justin, October 12, 2009 at 2:21 pm
  17. yes its helpful, but u know i really could say that i get my eyebags of not sleeping at night, its a requirement for work anyway..i sleep at daytime and awake at nighttime but after few months i got really eyebags now and its huge now..im getting concious with it

    sally, October 27, 2009 at 4:46 am
  18. My bags under my eyes got a little bigger each year and now there are smaller bags below the larger bags. Now I can’t help wondering how many sets of bags my eyes will accumulate before I meet my maker.

    ereilad, December 7, 2009 at 8:49 am
  19. I have read that hemorrhoid cream reduces the bags under your eyes. Has anyone tried this before. Seems reasonable but I’m not sure I want to try it.

    Rob, December 20, 2009 at 11:40 am
  20. It is a DRAG being told you look tired when you’re not. This has been happening since my 20′s. I’m now in my 50′s and when my eyes are covered (sunglasses), I’m often mistaken for much younger. I’ve never been much for makeup, let alone plastic surgery, but I’m really getting tired of being told I look tired when I’m not! I’ve tried everything. Although it goes against my feeling that we should all accept our aging gracefully (and with gratitude!), I’m ready to look into the blepharoplasty. We all deserve to look at least as good as we feel!

    Ann, January 30, 2010 at 7:54 pm
  21. I suffered with eyebags since being in my twenties so on reaching 45 I booked into a private hospital and had blepharoplasty. I looked fantastic…until the swelling went down ! Five months on I look like I did prior the surgery..I’ve been back to my surgeon who stated “You are bound to have some bags still, I cannot pull the skin under your eyes too tight, it’s a very delicate area” He didn’t tell me that before he took my money ! I am so disappointed in the poor results

    Allison, April 2, 2010 at 4:40 pm
  22. AWWWW Man

    maryam, May 3, 2010 at 8:31 pm
  23. Hi Guys,

    I have that problem as well, and as soon as I do this simply trick, I look much better and people around me tell me I look good and refreshed. This has to do with that gravity thing, as well as blood flow. You are going to thank me for this. E-mail me to let me know at anastassiakou@hotmail.com if it works for you. This trick involves a simple yoga position. You have to learn how to do it. You can probably youtube or read about it to learn how to do it. It is the shoulder stand. If you are comfortable with the shoulder stand – you can try the plow position which means putting your feet on the floor behind the head. Youtube or google that as well. I DID hurt my back doing this because I did it without much practice and for too long. You cannot injure your back if you keep it completely straight as you do the exercize – it might hurt afterwards only because of the stretching (IF YOU DO THE PLOW). Hold for about 1 minute at first and then work it up to 2 and then 3. The blood flow down to your face and brain actually will over time give you the equivalent of a face lift. In eastern eaurope – where I am from – they call it the “beauty” pose – because it makes you beautiful! You are welcome.

    Anastasia, August 15, 2010 at 8:52 pm
  24. IT doesnt make sense…cuz it only means, there’s no remedy but surgery to your problem… funny it blames as the culprit , the too much gravity… you should be in moon to avoid eye bag you know…migrate there now! lol

    it doesnt make sense, September 11, 2010 at 7:57 am
  25. I’ve always wondered that. It makes no sense.

    Megadyne, February 2, 2011 at 2:33 pm
  26. This is an excellent article. My mum had been wondering the reason for these bags under her eyes. Thanks for the info

    Progeria, February 15, 2011 at 9:15 am
  27. moi aussi j’ai des petits amas de graisse sous les yeux on irai des verrue et c’est domage maintenant j’en ai de plus en plus je sui jolie mais avec ça je suis vraiment gene comment faire !!!

    chitout, June 24, 2011 at 8:50 am
  28. It’s not caffeine in teabags- it’s the tannins, which are astringent,that aid puffiness in the same way as haemorroid cream or witchazel

    wisekraft, October 17, 2011 at 5:20 am
  29. Guys, stop listening to this garbage. it is not cosmetics. It all has to do with water in your body. If you have a problem like alergies, stomach gastritis… and so on, basicaly everything that generates heat in the body (from traditional chinese medicine point of view)it will consume the fluids (water) in your body and unfortunately the body protects itself by retaining water wherever it can. Try this….eat only rice for 3-4 days..and see how you feel in the morning.. You will not feel that dryiness in your eyes anymore after 3-4 days, but the moment you start eating “normal” again things get back to what it was before. Your body is telling you something and you ignore it… I have this problem for the last 10-15 years and nobody was able to “fix” it so far. Unfortunately I cannot live with rice only….Goodluck

    Liviu, May 9, 2013 at 8:11 am
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