The Real Reason You Get Bags Under Your Eyes

If you've ever wondered if the world could see how exhausted you were just by looking at the bags under your eyes, the answer, unfortunately, is yes. Humans can literally see sleep deprivation on another person's face. That's because, as skincare specialist Dr. Carol Clinton told Live Science, "When people are tired or stressed, blood circulation in the eye area tends to slow, allowing blood to pool there." The tiny blood vessels around the eye cause both swelling and that deep purple color — signs from Mother Nature that you need to relax.


But not everyone who skips a night of Zs will experience these same eye bag challenges. Multiple factors determine whether your under-eye bags will be monstrous or manageable. According to a 2005 study in the Journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, "eyelid bags do not have a single anatomic basis," but, as Clinton noted in Live Science, "genetics is the biggest culprit." 

Still, good sleep and skincare routines can help reduce puffiness and discoloration, making you look fresh as the morning sun.

You may be genetically prone to bags under your eyes

Like it or not, your genes play a role in determining whether or not you have bags under your eyes. Cosmetic dermatologist Paul Jarrod Frank, M.D. told Allure, "There is a strong genetic component to dark circles, which is out of people's control." For example, if you're fair-skinned or the skin around your eye is fragile, it's much easier to see the pooled blood around your lower eye.


If swelling is your concern, that too is genetic. As we age, gravity pulls on our skin. The proteins that keep us looking young disappear, further contributing to eye bags. Certain people are also predisposed to subluxation, where the fat stored underneath the eye moves forward onto the face. For those folks, "A person can get 9 hours of sleep a night, but still have eye bags," Dr. Carol Clinton informed Live Science.

Don't let your genes deter you from trying to fix your under-eye bags. How you sleep, what you eat, how you wash your face, and what's happening in your environment can all affect the appearance of bags under your eyes.

Your environment and personal hygiene can help or hinder eye bags

If you're already prone to bags under your eyes, environmental allergies can make them even worse. "When the body is exposed to allergens," Dr. Carol Clinton told Live Science, "it releases immune proteins known as histamines. These substances can cause blood vessels in and around the eyes to swell." Histamines — chemicals that defend your body from outside allergens — can also cause darker circles. Help fix this by taking an over-the-counter antihistamine. "I like to take a Zyrtec at night," dermatologist Kavita Mariwalla, M,D. told Allure. Dermatological surgeon Rebecca Tung, M.D. suggests propping your head up at night on pillows to help keep fluids from settling under your eyes (via Allure).


Additionally, protecting your skin from sun damage can mitigate further thinning of the skin, according to Clinton (via Live Science). Another great (and easier said than done) tip is to avoid rubbing your eyes which inflames the blood vessels, causing further swelling. This is especially important during face cleaning and makeup removal. As Joshua Zeichner, M,D. of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City told Allure, "Undereye skin is among the thinnest on the body, so any trauma or irritation can cause skin inflammation." 

Stay away from heavily salted foods, which can cause water retention, and get good sleep. The real reason you have eye bags is because life can be hard, so treat yourself well and the world will see that self-care on your face.