Lymphatic massage, retinol and drinking plenty of fluids: how to fix bags under the eyes
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Lymphatic massage, retinol and drinking plenty of fluids: how to fix bags under the eyes

Bags under the eyes are primarily a cosmetic issue. But they often say more about your lifestyle than you think. That’s why the first thing you’ll want to do is to find out what’s causing them.

Do you look older than you actually are and more tired than you feel? This optical illusion could be down to the bags under your eyes. When we look in the mirror every day, it can be frustrating to see puffiness under our eyes. The good news is there are steps you can take to combat this problem.

Dr Eva Wegrostek (site in German), a specialist in anaesthesiology, general medicine and expert in aesthetic medicine, gives us all the details.

Fat or water retention: what causes bags under the eyes to develop?

The unattractive name already gives you a good idea. Bags under the eyes are essentially down to swelling. There are two different causes: either fat or water stored under the eye – the latter is called oedema. And both are genetic. So being prone to bags under your eyes is hereditary. If the bags are filled with water, there’s usually underlying lymphatic congestion. The lymph nodes aren’t draining properly, which is why fluid builds up in the intermediate cell tissues.

What’s more, skin loses its overall elasticity and strength as we age. Muscles and connective tissue become weaker, making it easy for small fat deposits to accumulate in the already thin tissue around the eyes.

It’s not difficult to determine if the bags under your eyes are fat or water deposits, says Dr Wegrostek. «If your bags are more pronounced in the morning than in the evening, in 99% of cases, it’s due to lymphatic congestion – in other words, water retention. On the other hand, if the pouch always stays the same – morning, noon and night – then you can be pretty certain it’s fat.»

Risk factors: what encourages bags under the eyes?

We obviously can’t get the better of genetics – and with bags under the eyes it’s no different. However, your lifestyle as well as your genetic predisposition can negatively impact lymphatic flow. Dehydration, lack of sleep and too much alcohol can be the root causes of water retention. «The tissue around the eye stores an awful lot of water, which is the same for everyone,» explains expert Wegrostek. «If you drink a lot of wine in the evening or don’t give your body enough water, it compensates by storing even more water there.»

Nicotine also intensifies the bags under your eyes. This was confirmed by a high-profile study on twins in the journal «Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery». They studied twins where one smoked and the other didn’t. Both were interviewed about their nicotine use and then assessed for signs of ageing using portrait photos.

The result was that ageing in the smokers was more clearly seen in eyelids, bags under the lids and eyes, as well as nose and lip wrinkles than in those who didn’t smoke. Just as with alcohol, nicotine removes moisture from the body, causing more water to be stored in certain places.

Treatment: this helps with bags under the eyes

The most common form of bags under the eyes consists of trapped water. By contrast, only about 10% of cases involve fat deposits. If it’s causing you a lot of bother, our expert advises having the fat surgically removed. This is a minor procedure, in which an incision is made under the lash line and the fat is partially removed.

But if you’re one of the other 90% whose bags under the eyes are due to lymphatic congestion, treatment is more extensive and complicated. «You can’t inject away oedema or water retention. And you can’t cut it out either,» explains Dr Eva Wegrostek. So, what does help?

1. Lymphatic drainage for bags under the eyes

Releasing lymphatic congestion under the eyes improves the body’s ability to drain lymphatic fluid. «This helps train the lymphatic system, which becomes more energetic and better able to remove excess water,» says Eva Wegrostek. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to ask a doctor for professional advice even when it’s about harmless, cosmetic issues, such as bags under the eyes. They offer targeted lymph massages to counteract swelling effectively. But as the first step, there’s something you can try at home. Start by gently running two fingers from the root of your nose, to the inner corner of the eye and then to the outer corners in order to release any lymphatic congestion. You can also use the Gua Sha technique and a jade roller to stimulate the lymph at home.

2. Changing your lifestyle to reduce bags under your eyes

Our expert Eva Wegrostek also advises avoiding anything that could promote lymphatic congestion. She goes on to say that sufficient sleep, plenty of fluids and limiting your alcohol are already a good start. «The healthier you are and the more fluid you take in, the more likely you are to reduce the bags under your eyes.»

3. Cooling the bags under your eyes

As with all swelling, the first thing you’ll want to try is cooling the area. «This makes the vessels contract, stimulates blood flow and removes fluid quicker,» says Eva Wegrostek. Applying cooling eye pads, which also moisturise, can do the trick.

4. Tea bags to combat swelling

Another home remedy is placing damp black tea bags or coffee pads on your eyes. Both contain tannins and flavonoids, which have a decongestant, antibacterial and antioxidant effect as well as being soothing on the skin. Ideally, you let the tea bags or coffee pads cool thoroughly before putting them on your eyelids for several minutes. This lets the active ingredients as well as the cooling effect work their magic.

5. The right skin cream for bags under your eyes

You can also opt for the right skin and eye cream to help relieve lymphatic congestion. Dr Wegrostek explains that «retinol, for instance, causes the skin to thicken. When the skin around the eye is thicker, it exerts more pressure on the vascular system, which in turn improves water removal.» Retinol, a fat-soluble form of vitamin A, plays a role in cell renewal and stimulates the development of skin texture, which is why it’s used in so many products as an anti-ageing ingredient. Moreover, if you have bags under your eyes, creams containing retinol can provide extra support for the skin around the eyes.

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Olivia Leimpeters-Leth
Autorin von customize mediahouse

I'm a sucker for flowery turns of phrase and allegorical language. Clever metaphors are my Kryptonite – even if, sometimes, it's better to just get to the point. Everything I write is edited by my cat, which I reckon is more «pet humanisation» than metaphor. When I'm not at my desk, I enjoy going hiking, taking part in fireside jamming sessions, dragging my exhausted body out to do some sport and hitting the occasional party. 

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