Causes of Under Eye Bags – Top 11


Written by Ali Waychoff, Reviewed by Dr. Justin Harper, MD

Undereye bags can make any person look decades older than they really are. Almost every one of us has looked in the mirror and noticed that we have some puffiness or dark circles under the eyes.

Here we explain the top 11 causes of undereye bags.

1. Aging

Aging is the number one cause of undereye bags, the upside is that we all go through it!

As we age, we lose muscle and bone mass, collagen from our skin and our fat pads separate and thin out, sounds lovely right?

With age, muscles that support our eyelids weaken allowing underlying fat pads to migrate into the lower eyelid area causing a puffy appearance.

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Like the bones in the rest of the body that reduce and lose density, leading to higher risks of fractures in older adults, we lose bone mass in our face just the same.

The loss of bone and fat pad mass around the eyes can cause the undereye area to appear hollow and dark.

Additionally, as we grow older, the body’s production of collagen slows way down. When we lose collagen, the skin around the eyes becomes lax causing wrinkly, crepey skin that looks saggy and fragile.

2. Fluid retention

Spoiler alert! Even if you stopped eating all salty foods tomorrow, if you have eye bags, they are probably not going to go away.

Salty foods and not drinking enough water can contribute to water retention all over the body, including under the eyes.

When we eat too many salty foods, it causes our body to hold on to more water, which causes weight gain as well as undereye bags.

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Processed and canned foods have extreme amounts of salt and should probably be avoided, not just to prevent under-eye bags, but in general.

These foods include canned soups, frozen dinners, deli meat, and cheese, sauces and dressings that come in bottles and don’t need to be refrigerated like hot sauce, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, pickled things and all types of fast food.

Interestingly, drinking more water actually makes you retain less water. So stay hydrated and drink those two liters of water per day, and avoid salty foods to minimize the impact of your diet on your eye bags.

3. Lack of sleep

It’s a myth that adults only need five hours of sleep per night – sorry (again).

We grown-ups actually need closer to seven to look, feel, and function our best. When we don’t sleep as much as we should, our eyes fail to generate much-needed tears that clean, renew and moisten our eyes throughout the night.

A sleepless night can cause the blood vessels located in the thin layer of skin beneath the eye to dilate, resulting in a purple-ish tint.

Fluids can also leak out into the skin and cause puffiness. If you are suffering from insomnia, or if you simply had a late night, you can wake up the next day to find dark bags under your eyes.

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4. Allergies

It’s that time of year; and, you’re noticing your allergies flare-up. With allergies, dark circles can form under the eyes.

The thinness of the skin under the eyes can make the appearance of this discoloration more noticeable.

Dark circles under the eyes due to allergies are a result of the increased pressure from congestion in your nasal passages that blocks blood flow.

The delay of blood flow back to the heart causes fluid to pool under the eyes. This blockage causes a darker appearance known as allergic shiners which can also cause puffiness under the eyes.

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Allergic reactions can be caused by an array of reasons such as foods, chemicals, and season changes.

When an allergic reaction occurs, the body releases chemicals known as histamines. Histamines increase flow to the affected area and allows your immune system to step in.

For example: If you have seasonal allergies that are from pollen, your body will release histamines.

It signals your nasal passages to create more mucus and increase blood flow to the capillaries near your eyes leading to a stuffy nose and watery, itchy eyes.

If you experience dark circles under the eyes, it is recommended you observe when this is more noticeable. Is it during a particular season? Is it when you ingest certain foods?

If so, you can note what the cause is to avoid it. Sometimes it is difficult to eliminate the cause, especially if it is season-related.

Some steps you can take to alleviate allergic symptoms include taking over-the-counter antihistamines and use of eye drops to improve darkness and swelling under the eyes.

5. Sinus problems

Have you ever woken up with a stuffy nose only to look in the mirror and see that, on top of feeling nasty, you are also carrying literal luggage under your eyes? Us, too.

Undereye bags can be caused by several things, including sinusitis. When your sinuses, air pockets in the skull lined with mucus become inflamed, undereye bags can develop or worsen as a result.

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They are usually caused by an irritation of the ethmoid sinuses, located beneath the eyes and behind the bridge of the nose.

A blocked or irritated sinus can lead to headaches, soreness, and, of course, fluid retention and mucus buildup. This buildup is what causes the eye puffiness we all hate so much!

6. Smoking

We all know the risks and damage smoking can do to the body and skin – are we really telling you anything new here?

While smoking creates tons of debris inside your body, it’s easy to shake off because you can’t see it. Out-of-sight-out-of-mind, right? Totally wrong!

Even though smoking can cause some pretty crazy stuff to go on inside our bodies, it’s the outside that we notice.

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The nicotine inside tobacco disrupts our natural sleep pattern which can cause fluids to collect and mingle beneath the eyelids – wait for what?!

That’s right, nicotine robs our bodies of specific vitamins leaving our skin dehydrated and aging right under our noses or our eyes shall I say!

It’s essential to keep your skin in mind no matter your daily activities. Be sure you are staying hydrated and obtaining at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

7. Vaping and e-cigarettes

Okay, so we all know that vaping lacks in nicotine but don’t let that fool you into thinking vape companies didn’t do anything to fill that hole!

Vapes are filled with harsh chemicals that are masked by different flavors housed on shelves of vape shops. What these shops aren’t telling you is that these vapes are not only working a number on your insides but on your skin as well.

Vaping starves our skin of oxygen and constricts blood flow which results in the break down of our natural collagen and elastin. As if that wasn’t enough, it speeds up the aging process by creating deep wrinkles and sagging skin.

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Our skin is the protective layer for everything underneath so, it’s important to make it look and feel it’s best, despite our daily regimens.

8. Heredity

Maybe you were born with it – you can totally blame your genetics for this one! Noticing undereye baggage in your 20’s can be such a buzzkill!

No worries there, we’re here to tell you that there’s most likely a reason for this extra baggage.

Since the skin under the eye is so thin, it’s easy for that area to appear translucent and show off the underlying veins, especially for those who are fairer complected.

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Those with darker skin tones can appear to have a darker color pull through and can create extra pigment around the eye.

When you pair that with a dash-of-lack-of-sleep, you’ve got a hereditary undereye baggage cocktail!

If that wasn’t enough, the simple shape of your face could be a contributing factor as well.

The shape of the undereye area affects the depth of the under eye creases and chances are if you have these traits as a little tyke, you are more likely to appear more tired looking as you reach adulthood.

9. Sun damage

Okay, you know the drill: To prevent sun damage you have to wear sunscreen and be sure to apply it every two hours like clockwork if you want to keep your skin looking youthful and healthy as ever.

While that sun-kissed bronze look might be a summer dream, there are many more effects it can have on the skin that isn’t as inviting.

Other than creating freckles, sun, and age spots that aren’t harmful to the skin but show up after some fun-in-the-sun.

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Sun exposure can break down the skin’s collagen and elastin – two key factors which make up the skin’s firmness and structure.

With prolonged sun exposure, the skin can be emptied of vital moisture needed to function correctly on a day-to-day basis which can lead to sagging skin and puffy under eyes – which no one wants.

Since this area of skin is thinner and weaker than the rest of the skin on the face, it is crucial that we treat it as a VIP and give it the love it deserves!

Be sure to slap on a little extra sunscreen on those under eyes before you walk out-of-the-house in the morning to keep those undereye worries at bay.

10. Sleeping with eye makeup

We’ve all been there, we’ve all done it. A night or two of sleep with makeup on doesn’t sound that bad, right? We will just get it in the morning – wrong!

Sleeping in makeup can not only clog pores and ignore any chance for our skin to naturally repair itself while we sleep.

It can lead to blackheads and wrinkles over time, but it can also make a pretty significant impact on our under eyes that makes us do a double take the next morning.

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Since mascara and eyeliner can be smudged around from our pillows, it can end up in our eyes and cause severe eye irritation.

If that isn’t bad enough, it can even lead to the clogging of tiny hair follicles and oil glands on our eyes. Once these become clogged, it leaves tons of room for bacteria to set-up shop and causes a ruckus.

As a result of this bacterial house party, small cysts can begin to form on the eyelids and can require treatment from a doctor.

11. Drinking

Who doesn’t love a few glasses of champagne? We do! However, an overindulgence of alcohol can make undereye puffiness and dark circles more apparent.

Alcohol can be an inflammatory substance to the body. Drinking generally has a diuretic effect, which can lead to dehydration.

In return, your body will retain water for future use which causes overall puffiness that is specifically noticeable in your under eyes due to the thinner, delicate skin in that area.

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Also, a buildup of fluid in this area makes the small superficial blood vessels fuller and more noticeable, causing dark circles to look worse after a few too many cocktails.

A night of drinking can also disrupt sleep, which can make the under eyes appear even more noticeably swollen and darker the next day.

Moderation is key and staying well hydrated with water when consuming alcohol can help to prevent this type of dehydration.

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