Caffeine Is the Industry Go-To For Undereye Puffiness — Here’s Why It Shouldn’t Be

If you’ve been searching for a solution to eye bags, you’ve definitely seen eye creams and treatments formulated with caffeine. The marketing will say that it helps “wake up tired eyes,” just like coffee wakes you up in the morning. But the truth is that caffeine is not a truly effective solution to undereye bags, and can actually become less helpful over time. Here, I’m breaking down what you need to know about the bags themselves and why caffeine is only a temporary fix, plus sharing three easy DIYs to deflate puffy undereyes.

The Two Types of Undereye Bags

Before understanding how caffeine eye creams work, it’s important to know how eye bags form. There are two conditions that create them, with the first being aging. The skin around the eye is incredibly delicate, as are the structures under the eye. One such structure is the orbital septum, which acts like scaffolding for the contents of the eye’s orbit, including fat pads under the eye. Over time, the septum gets weaker and the fat pushes forward, creating stubborn bags. No amount of eye cream can improve this condition — these undereye bags can only be treated with a plastic surgery procedure known as blepharoplasty.

However, undereye bags can also be formed by the dilation of blood vessels under the eyes, which can be triggered by allergies, high salt intake, and other factors. When those vessels dilate, they start to leak, which causes inflammation and swelling. While this form of undereye bag can be addressed by topical treatments, including caffeine, caffeine is not an ideal long-term solution.

How Caffeine Eye Creams Work

Caffeine is what is known as a vasoconstrictor — it works by tightening the muscles in the walls of blood vessels. When topically applied to undereye bags, caffeine helps to limit the blood flow and reduce leaking, helping create a temporary “deflated” effect. (This effect can be enhanced by using a product with a cooling rollerball applicator, which helps drain undereye fluid.) However, that reduction in puffiness is very short-lived, and considering that chronic caffeine use is dangerous, it’s not worth the risk.

Vasoconstrictors like caffeine can cause tachyphylaxis, which means that the body needs more and more of the ingredient to achieve the desired result. This typically results in long-term damage to the blood vessel walls. By weakening them over time with caffeine use, they could be more prone to leaking — meaning your undereye bag remedy could be ultimately contributing to your puffiness. 

DIY Treatments For Undereye Bags

The truth is that the most effective treatments for improving undereye bags are usually the most natural choices. For example, blood vessels naturally constrict when they’re cold, which means that treating puffy eyes with cold compresses can make a significant difference. Try wrapping some ice cubes in a hand towel, then placing that towel in a resealable plastic bag before placing it over your eyes. The towel and bag act as a buffer between the ice and the delicate skin of your eye, letting the cool temperature soothe your eyes without irritation.

Another natural way to reduce puffiness is by examining and making changes to your diet. Because sodium intake is a leading source of undereye puffiness (salt causes water retention), cutting back on salty foods can go a long way towards improving the appearance of bags — though it’s easier said than done! If you can’t give up your favorite salty snacks, be sure to significantly increase your water intake to help flush the sodium out of your system. 

If you seem to always have puffy undereyes when you wake up in the morning, but they’re gone by the afternoon, that could be due to water retention. While cutting down your sodium intake should help, you can also try sleeping with an extra pillow. This will help prevent that buildup and facilitate drainage for more rested-looking eyes in the AM — no coffee or caffeine necessary.