Bags Under the Eyes?

Woman With Dark Glasses

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Got Bags under the Eyes? Or, put another way, Eye Bags?

That is to say, puffiness, or mild swelling or oedema in the area of your face right under your eyes.

Bags under the eyes can range in colour from pale to dark, and if dark, they can look like dark rings which you are glad to hide behind dark glasses.

What do these mean and what can you do about them?

This site tries to explain Chinese medicine in English. Chinese medicine is very different to Western medicine. Each has benefits but it is all-too-easy to overdose or over-treat yourself with Western medicine: less so with Chinese medicine. And Chinese medicine sees connections unrecognised in Western medicine.

It turns out that Chinese medicine can explain a good deal about bags under the eyes.

Once you understand the underlying theory, you can probably work out what you've been doing wrong. Then you can change it.

But ... a word of warning. Bar surgery and/or massive amounts of makeup, getting rid of bags under the eyes the 'natural' way takes a while. You're going to have to do some healthy living.

But, trust me, you'll feel better for it!

The Underlying Theory behind Eye Bags

Over several thousand years, Chinese medicine has noticed that certain bits of our anatomy relate to each other in ways that don't, on the face of it, make sense.

For example, if you said to a practitioner of Chinese medicine: "eye problems, IBS, and irritability?" he or she would probably instinctively suspect that your Liver energy was faulty. Of course, this would be a first reaction, possibly wrong on further discussion, but still, often useful.

If you said, what about "knee pain, back pain and tinnitus - noises in the ears?" it's the Kidney energy that comes up. And under Kidney energy, you could add bags under the eyes.

Not that everyone with Kidney energy problems gets bags under the eyes or course. They might be due to something else. But as a general rule, Kidney energy problems often manifest here.

Kidney Energy

If you're new to Chinese medicine, getting your head round a different way of thinking takes a while. OF course the ancient Chinese did understand pretty well what the kidney organs (most people have two kidneys) do.

But their thinking went much further.

They thought that your Kidneys (note the capital 'K' in Kidney to differentiate it from the organ, 'k' for kidney organ) acted like a repository for templates for you and your body. In a way, it is your inherited know-how, including genetic know-how.

They also thought you had a large, but limited, amount of energy behind it. (You can read more about this concept under Jing.)

This energy got used up, for example ...

  • through life, ie as you age
  • by living at the extreme too much
  • through serious diseases, especially long-term or wasting
  • through faulty habit patterns
  • as a result of bad diet or eating habits over a long period

As it gets used up certain Kidney 'deficiency' signs accumulate. One of these can be bags under the eyes.

Three main headings

1. Out of Harmony

You may find this a bit old-fashioned. After all, in the modern 24-hour world, aren't we all free, or at least more free, than our ancestors?

They mostly lacked good light at night, so they slept.

They could only travel comparatively short distances in a day, so had no problems with time zone travel.

Remember 'Around the World in Eighty Days', the film based on the Jules Verne novel?

In it, the hero, Phileas Fogg, bets he can circumnavigate the world in 80 days.

Various calamities slow him down so that he arrives back in London one day late, due to lose all his money.

However, at the very last moment, he realises that by travelling round the world in an Easterly direction he has actually gained a day, so (it's a film!) he walks into his club to present himself as the club clock strikes the very hour at which 80 days have passed. (And gets the money and the girl too.)

And not once during those 80 days did he have time-zone problems even though he had passed through them all.

So, no bags under his eyes!

So any activity which separates you frequently from these age-old living patterns of behaviour may lead to Kidney problems - eventually.

"Yes, but WHY?" I hear someone tiresome at the back of the class, keep saying.

Well, time for an analogy, which may satisfy some people.

Suppose you have an old grandfather clock (OK, it could be a grandmother clock, I really don't mind!) which has been beautifully serviced, oiled and maintained for hundreds of years and, importantly, keeps good time as long as it's kept still, in the same corner, out of the way of wayward drafts of cold or hot air. And of course, assume it is wound up correctly every seventh day at the same time.

Now, I'm not a clocksmith but if you look after it properly, there's little reason why it should fail to keep good time for you and your heirs just as it has for your grandparents  and their forbears.

Silver Round Analog Clock

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Unless ...

  • you forget to service it properly
  • you use rapeseed oil instead of proper clock oil
  • you keep it on the back of your tractor as you plough the fields
  • you wind it up twice in one week and not at all the next week
  • you decide to take it on a round the world trip, correcting the time in each new time zone you cross
  • you carry it on your back as you go skiing, possibly making a name for yourself but discovering that perversely, the clock doesn't really like mountain-top freezing temperatures and winds, and not even skiing ...

So then, perhaps your beautiful old clock will start to misbehave!

You'll probably need a highly skilled clock smith to persuade it back to normality once you put it back in its comfortable old corner.

So ... you could say that your inherited know-how cannot be messed with indefinitely  without there being consequences, some of them tiresome.

Signs of Kidney energy mis-function are your body's way of showing that you are exceeding its design parameters. Although most people have lots of spare capacity for absorbing bad habits - up to a point - there comes a point when the system complains, and eye-bags are one of the lesser indications you may be pushing your luck.

Of course nobody is suggesting that the odd night out or emergency is going to skew your Kidneys or lead straight to bags under the eyes! Probably a million years or so have gone into evolving your Kidney energy, what with the worms, Neanderthals and humans. So the occasional disturbance is probably even good for you.

But not if ongoing, such as:

  • Night-shift work, especially when the shift times keep changing, or even where you don't work nights but are on early shift one day and late shift the next. This disturbs your sleep patterns and stops you ever really recovering.
  • Frequent time zone travellers (pilots, cabin staff)
  • Thieves and nightworkers
  • Actors who can't turn off after giving a performance and must party for a few hours before they sleep. Often they get bags under the eyes, a problem for their careers.
  • Some problems under this category slip over into the next category.

2/ Energy Over-use

Each of us being different, this is harder to diagnose.

But most people know when they've 'overdone' it. Whereas a good night's sleep will put you back together after a big effort, when you've overdone it, sleep is not enough: you may need quite a long period of rest and possibly help to recuperate properly.

Unfortunately, many modern drugs, including coffee, can hide this.

Have you looked seriously at your hard coffee-drinking friends who work all hours in a coffee-fuelled ferment?

They could probably work long hours without coffee, but as they know, lots of coffee wires them to higher levels of productivity, or so it seems.

From the point of view of Chinese medicine, coffee seems to stimulate yang energy, especially Kidney Yang energy. The problem is that in boosting yang, you use up yin. (Read more about yin and yang here.)

Then you become yin deficient, especially Kidney Yin deficient. That makes it harder to concentrate, to sleep, to relax, to settle.

You become more restless and frazzled, and probably more irritable.

Then you start getting headaches caused by yin deficiency, and so on. But by now you almost certainly have bags under your eyes!

Energy over-use occurs in many ways, even without coffee:

  • working longer hours than you can easily recover from
  • pushing yourself to achieve more and more targets
  • physical over-lifting or over-strain
  • taking too little good sleep for your needs
  • not allowing yourself to 'switch off' regularly, to let your mind wander, to take a few hours, a day or the weekend off
  • not taking holidays
  • trigger-happy responses to everything
  • having allergies that make you sneeze or cough or splutter or breathe asthmatically all the time. There are ways to clear these allergies or over-sensitivities without medication, because medication is basically suppressive which, long-term, is not good for you. But if you must take medication, take the least necessary and do realise that, if you are taking steroids, these put a heavy load on your Kidney energy long-term. So you'll get bags under the eyes again, one way or another.
  • keeping your smartphone or computer on at all times, so you are woken frequently by message or news chimes.
  • Sleep is really important. If you find sleep difficult, read our page on insomnia.
  • Not eating enough of the right food, which takes us into the third main category ...

3/ Poor Dietary habits

This is a big subject, and there's no point repeating other pages on this site like Nutrition, Hot foods, Cold foods, Damp-Heat foods etc.

But, as a quick summary, poor dietary habits include:

  • Eating food that doesn't suit you
  • Not taking sufficient time over eating, to chew and digest food
  • Eating food that is unsuitable for your constitution
  • Eating food that is inappropriate for the weather, the season or your current state of health
  • Food that is poor in nutrition
  • Food that has additives to keep it longer or make it more tempting (herbicides, fungicides, preservatives, flavouring, colourings, sugars, salt, salts, sweeteners, fats ...)
  • Over-refined food
  • Eating when you are tired
  • Over-eating and eating too fast
  • Under-eating
  • inappropriately cooked food
  • Eating foods without healthy fats, such as from nuts and oily fish. (These healthy oils nourish your skin, making it supple, resilient and glowing.)
  • Eating when upset, emotionally disturbed, angry, worried ...

If you do this, eventually your body starts to use up some of the Jing energy mentioned above to compensate for dietary deficiencies. That drains your Kidneys, leading to Kidney syndromes.

Hullo - bags under the eyes!

OK, So that explains Bags under the Eyes!
Now, what to do about them?

  1. Long-term, live less intemperately! See, 1/ - 3/ above. Those are your first choices of action for bags under the eyes.
  2. Short-term: wear dark glasses.
  3. Exercise. Getting out of breath from physical exercise makes your body fitter and healthier. A side-effect is that it moves fluids around. That reduces the quantity of fluids stuck under your eyes. Exercise also makes your body more inclined to sleep, which is the best remedy for bags under the eyes.
  4. Exercise your face! Put some energy into facial pouts, grimaces, yawns, stretches, frowns ... And start laughing more (preferably at pleasurable humour, not cynical put-downs). Laughing can change almost anything.
  5. Consider cosmetic acupuncture. It's really pretty good for bags under the eyes, and can often make considerable improvements to appearance. But improvements won't last indefinitely unless you do something about harmony, energy over-use and diet, as above.
  6. Make-up. The skin on this part of your face is very thin - partly why it easily disfigures. Plastering on thick makeup won't do the skin any favours, nor bags under the eyes. Very gentle massage, with nourishing oils, is good for the skin and helps to drain the moisture. This moisture in Chinese medicine is called Damp. Click on the link to understand more about Damp, because you can often help yourself when you know more. 
  7. Clear off make-up before sleeping. That make-up has an effect on your skin, whether you are awake or asleep. If nobody will be looking at you during sleep, clean it all away, giving yourself a gentle massage at the same time. (GENTLE!)
  8. Among the worst things you can do is to smoke. Tobacco smoke has a drying, heating effect on your lungs and skin. The skin under your eyes is particularly thin: easily damaged. So ... avoid smoke and smokers. (Personally I suspect that e-smoke works in the same way, so beware!) Smoking is really bad for bags under the eyes!
  9. As mentioned, the skin under your eyes is thin. It needs protection from strong rays of the sun. (See dark glasses, above.) Consider ultraviolet sun screens on bright days or if sun-bathing. Otherwise the skin gets damaged, making bags under the eyes much harder to cure.
  10. If the skin is inflamed, remove all make-up and apply either a cool, wet tea-bag, a chilled spoon or a chilled slice of cucumber. Some would say raw chilled steak works too. The point is to remove the heat as fast as possible. Of the four mentioned, I would favour the tea bag, because it is also very mildly astringent. (But some people swear by bio-active yogurt for this).
  11. After cooling the inflammation, use a simple, oil-based, nutritional cream to feed the skin overnight. You'll have to experiment to find one that suits you. There is no shortage of possible treatments for bags under the eyes!
  12. Damp. As you'll read in the above-linked page, Damp usually occurs when your Spleen energy is challenged. (Something else to read up on.) You can help your Spleen by:
  • Avoiding obsessive thought patterns and worry
  • Avoiding food that is sweetened (sugar, honey, stevia, molasses, artificial sweeteners), raw, chilled, iced, full of dairy products, hard to digest, too rich: so that cuts out most salads, fruits, cold drinks, iced beer, gin and tonic with ice, and ice cream, for a start. If you have a tendency to bags under the eyes, these foods will rapidly worsen them. (They all strain Spleen Yang energy, which relies on good Kidney Yang energy, which you will already have been over-straining as otherwise you wouldn't be reading this page!)
  • NB! Alcohol is a kind of sugar! Admittedly that's not how you think of it, but that's in many ways how your body treats it. Cut down on alcohol! It leads straight to bags under the eyes!
  • Avoid too much Salt! You get eye bags from faulty Kidneys. Too much salt puts extra strain on your Kidneys. Salt is added to many food products. The easiest way to avoid too much salt is to cook food fresh yourself. Then you know how much, or little, salt you have put in it. Almost all foods bought in a prepared form, for quick heating at home, contain huge quantities of salt (and preservatives and colouring and sweeteners and ...!) Heating the food concentrates the salt even more. Not good for bags under the eyes.
  • Avoiding too much water. Some people drink amazing quantities of water, far more than needed: this may strain their kidney organs, specifically their Kidney Yang energy. Of course, some people need to drink more, but by and large in Northern temperate climates I suspect most people need less than some fashions suggest. For most of us, the colour of our urine is a good indicator. It should be water coloured or just slightly yellow through the day. (That assumes you aren't on medication or supplements that colour it.) Too much water leads to Damp, a sign of which is bags under the eyes!
  • making sure your sinuses are clear. Blocked or stuffed sinuses in the area under the eyes easily lead to eyebags. Clear sinuses by sniffing up weak, warm,salt-water, or use a Neti pot - but if you learn to sniff up salty water, you can do it almost anywhere and won't need the Neti pot: save yourself some money and become more self-reliant!
  • Sleeping with your head raised. Damp collects in low places, so raise your head slightly above the rest of your body and preferably sleep on your back.

What else?

So, you ask, what about colloid, retinol, caffeine soaks, chocolate, green tea, grapeseed oil and vitamin C (just for starters!)? And micro-surgery?

I doubt I can cover everything:

  • Colloid injections or creams purport to thicken the skin, to make it more resilient. Sounds good! But I suspect your body, unless you take care, will soon break through, needing more colloid. So apply cautiously and infrequently.
  • Retinol is really Vitamin A, which is known to benefit the skin, though people tend to over-dose. Be careful.
  • Caffeine soaks. I speculate that the aim is to increase the cortisol, and stress hormone, tightening up the area. In general, I'm against coffee, although it does temporarily help young Kidney Yang deficient people. As you grow older, however, your body lacks the resources to support the effect of the caffeine and you become 'wired', as one patient puts it. So, I would only suggest caffeine soaks on the eye-bag area very occasionally, and only if you are young and a little yang deficient.
  • Chocolate on your eyes? One patient suggested this, but I'm not so sure. Chocolate is very creamy and warming, probably not what is needed on eye-bags. If taken internally, however, it stimulates Yang, though perhaps less obviously and quickly than coffee. However, as we all know, a little easily leads to a lot. And a lot contains lots of sugar, which does your Spleen no favours, and is easily turned into fat.
  • Green tea? Should be Ok. It is mildly astringent and diuretic. Can be applied locally. Probably needs a good moisturising cream afterwards - gently applied.
  • Grapeseed oil. Mildly astringent. I would favour green tea if it came to a choice between the two of them.
  • Vitamin C? If you are deficient in Vitamin C you will have all sorts of health problems beyond the range of this page. For a start, eat more lightly cooked green vegetables and, in summer, more fruit. Consider a supplement, but one that supplies Vitamin C in a form with other nutrients, all plant-based, that enable better absorption as a whole. Pumping high doses of pure Vitamin C into your body doesn't suit everyone and can produce side-effects. Besides, it's hard to keep it up. Linus Pauling did amazing work on the benefits of Vitamin C, for which he earned a Nobel Prize, but he was using quantities that are hard to get hold of, let alone inject.
  • Micro-surgery. As anyone knows, damaged skin repairs itself, sometimes for the better. You could say that cosmetic acupuncture does this, but of course any good acupuncturist would also do other supportive treatment elsewhere on the body to back up what was being done on the face. Just doing micro-surgery on the face, say with a derma-roller, may have a short-term effect, but if you fail to heed the long-term suggestions on this page, the problem will recur. Then you may need proper surgery - expensive! And even that won't last forever unless you make life-changes.

Best Advice?


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