Every so often, I come across a home remedy that really works. Like finding a pearl in an oyster, it’s really a treat to find. Putting cool tea bags on your eyes to reduce puffiness is one of those home remedies. It actually works. But, let’s be clear here: puffy eyes are, for many people, a part of the aging process that’s caused by a redistribution of fat and this isn’t going to do a darn thing for that.
This particular remedy only works if you’ve got temporary swelling around your eyes. And, of course, there are other non-home remedy options that will work just as well or better (some of which might cost you less in the long run!).
Why Are My Eyes Puffy?
After a night of poor or little sleep, Ke$ha might wake up feeling like P. Diddy, but I usually wake up feeling like the loser in a championship boxing match. My eyes, in particular, seem all puffed up and bleary. Unfortunately, the cause of this eye swelling, aka periorbital puffiness, is often a mixture of unavoidable things: sodium (salt) intake, too little or too much sleep, stress, allergies, and hormonal changes.
Since the skin is thinnest under your eyes, the veins show through more easily, causing a darkened and swollen appearance. Whether because of crying or over-salting those fries last night, fluid retention plays a big role in this. But if you’re wondering why it seems worse at night, you can thank your cozy sleeping position. When you’re laying flat on your bed, the fluid is allowed to roam north where it wouldn’t ordinarily travel thanks to gravity, and then in the morning you wake up with the PIllsbury Dough Boy’s face (let’s be real, it’s only really cute on him).
If this is caused by salt, you might want to switch to low sodium soy sauce on that sushi. If it’s caused by allergies, you’ll want to make sure you nab some allergy meds to keep the sinus issues and sniffles at bay. No matter what the cause, you might want to consider sleeping with your head slightly elevated so you can let gravity work in your face’s favor as you slumber.
Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, But Tell Me ‘Bout the Tea Bags
OK, so how do tea bags help make your eyes look lovelier in the morning?
Dermatologists say that the caffeine in tea works as a vasoconstrictor to shrink the offending veins that cause eye puffiness in the first place, according to Dr. Leslie Baumann in The Skin Type Solution. It also works because because its main ingredient, theophylline, permeates the skin to reduce subcutaneous fat by dehydrating skin cells and reducing inflammation (Journal of Investigative Dermatology).
There aren’t studies specifically on tea bags that I could find; however, in a study testing a gel containing caffeine did equally as well as the gel base alone, suggesting that rather than the caffeine, it’s the cooling effect that reduces puffiness (Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Science). It makes sense since cold helps to reduce inflammation and, thus, improve the puffiness of eyes.
The downside of tea is that you have to be particular about which you choose. Earl grey can be irritating to skin, for example. And you’ll want to make sure you pick a tea with caffeine. But if you do decide to use tea bags, simply get them wet, wring them out, and leave them in the fridge to chill, then put them on your eyes for 10 minutes.
You Can Get These Benefits Elsewhere
If you want something more foolproof or sustainable (all those tea bags can cost you over time), or you just really prefer to drink your tea, then there are definitely other options that give you the benefits of tea in different forms.
You can also get this effect from a good eye cream, like Origins GinZing™ Refreshing Eye Cream ($31, amazon.com), but a tea bag can definitely do the trick if you’re in a pinch and don’t have a good eye cream.
Another option to reduce puffiness? A mask that you can toss in the freezer and remove to cool down eyes. I personally own the IMAK Eye Pillow ($12.99, amazon.com), which I love for cool down and de-puffing my eyes in the morning (and also for improving sleep!). The nice thing about this mask is that it has little beads that mold well to your eyes.
Technically, cold tea bags should reduce eye puffiness — as long as it’s temporary. They work in two ways: caffeine working to tighten skin and constrict veins to keep the dark circles at bay and cold working to reduce inflammation. But tea bags aren’t the only way to reduce puffiness and in the long run, you might want to consider lifestyle changes to reduce the amount of times you wake up looking like you just got K.O.-ed by your pillow.