Puffiness, bloodhound-type bags and dark circles can all provoke morning-after eye dramas. Fortunately, even small lifestyle changes can make a big difference to the state of the ‘mirrors of your soul’.

Problems can be due to lifestyle or nature, or a mixure of both. Lack of sleep, or, conversely, too much, over-indulgence in alcohol, allergies such as asthma or hayfever, food sensitivity, water retention or even the common cold can all wreak havoc on your eyes. Heredity plays a significant part, too. In some women, dark circles are simply the result of a high amount of pigment under their eyes, and there is undoubtedly a familial tendency to under-eye bags and folds.


Bags are unlikely to disappear permanently unless you have surgery, but these simple remedies can reduce excess baggage:

  • Our grandmothers swore by cold teabags and slices of cucumber to reduce puffiness, but it is now clear that it’s the chill factor – not the ingredients – which diminish bags by constricting the blood vessels; try holding an ice cube wrapped in cling-film to the puffiness, or wrap some crushed ice in a tea towel and lie under an ice eye-mask for a few minutes (but be careful if you suffer from broken veins). Or experiment with ice-cold teaspoons, kept in the freezer. (Stainless steel is better than silver, which warms up too fast.) We have also heard good reports on the effects of raw potato.
  • Practise a ‘tapping’ massage to disperse bags: with your middle finger, tap the under-eye area lightly but swiftly, moving from the inner corner to the outer corner of your eye and back again in a semi-circular movement; just a minute of this can lead to visible results.
  • Vigorous exercise reduces general puffiness; so does cutting down on salt and alcohol.
  • Dr Goldwyn advises using an extra pillow; the angle keeps under-eye fluids from accumulating overnight and so prevents puffiness.
  • You may be sensitive to certain eye products: drops, make-up, contact lens solution. Switch to different brands (one at a time to identify the culprit). Look for ‘fragrance-free’ or ‘hypoallergenic’ on the label – although this is no guarantee that these will be trouble-free, just an indication that known irritants have been screened out.
  • Your regular skin creams may be triggering puffiness; on the eye area substitute special eye gels which are light and cooling, instead. u If you prefer the richer feel of an eye cream, proper application will prevent it seeping into the eyes at night: rub a dab between thumb tip and forefinger to soften it, so that you smooth on only a thin layer. Then pat along the bony ridge beneath your eyes, not directly under the lashes. Next, very lightly dot cream along the browbone, under the eyebrow. It will still deliver benefits, without irritating eyes.
  • Food allergies and sensitivities can also be a cause of puffiness and dark circles.

Dark circles

Some people are born with dark circles under their eyes but these only really become noticeable as skin ages and loses elasticity. Irritants such as cigarette smoke, dust and other pollutants may cause dark circles – as well as red-eye – by triggering the release of chemicals in the body which enlarge the blood vessels in and around the lids, in an attempt to dilute the aggravating substance. As blood enters these vessels, it darkens the area under the surface skin and puffs it up. Some eye products may provoke a similar sensitivity reaction in susceptible women. Lack of sleep is famous for having the same effect, although when you catch up on lost zzzs, the circles usually disappear like magic.

Meanwhile, your best bet may be camouflage. Your usual concealer isn’t ideal for under the eye because it’s heavy, and may well be the wrong colour. Look for words such as ‘lightweight’ and ‘light-reflective’ on the packaging. Make-up artist Jenny Jordan advises dabbing a tiny dot onto darker areas and blending carefully.

Put the sparkle back in

Most of us have woken up at some time with rabbity-red eyes. They usually go away once you get some sleep and fresh air. But if your eyes are often red (unless it’s due to a hangover), try these steps:

  • First, embark on a little detective work. Experiment with different brands of make-up and skincare, or go without, then add products one at a time. Even hair products, and nail varnish, can be culprits.
  • If you regularly use eye drops to get rid of bloodshot eyes, you may want to think about trying a different make. Some contain decongestants or vasoconstrictors, which temporarily shrink blood vessels; these should be used sparingly because it’s possible that, in time, the blood vessels will come back bigger and redder than ever. You may get on better with ‘artificial tears’ instead, which simply lubricate the eyes, giving them the chance to recover.
  • There are common-sense ways to prevent red-eye: wash your hands before applying make-up, use disposable eyeshadow applicators, cotton wool swabs or washable sponge applicators. (And if they’re washable, do wash them regularly).
  • If you work at a VDU, remember it can bring on red-eye, because the static it gives out attracts dust to the area in front of the monitor. You could invest in a screen for it, and an ioniser for your desk.


Should we use special eye creams? Some ingredients regularly used in facial moisturisers – fragrance, emulsifiers and emollients – may cause smarting in the ultra-sensitive eye area. So if you slather your usual moisturiser around the delicate eye area, you could end up with weepy, irritated eyes. Rich moisturisers can block the oil glands around the eyes, where glands are fewer in number, and smaller. The result can be unsightly little white or yellow cysts. So, the answer is yes; the eye area does need special attention, and an everyday moisturiser may not be the best choice.