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I’m not sure if it’s anxiety or sheer loneliness, but I’ve never cried so much in my life.
Before we hit the “pause” button on the world, I hadn’t used many eye care products.
I never thought about applying cooling gel patches under my eyes every day. I was lucky to have never dealt with dark circles from lack of sleep, either.
These days, my cried-out eyes have become my number one skin concern.
I wake up with eyes so puffy, I have a hard time seeing through them in the morning. My skin turns bright red and blotchy every time I start to tear up, and the color doesn’t subside until I apply a cooling gel or a bag of frozen peas to my face.
If you’ve also been riding an emotional roller coaster lately, know that crying is a healthy emotional release. Plus, there are easy ways to quickly reduce puffiness and redness around your eye area post-cry.
I spoke to three eye care specialists to get the details on what happens when you cry, and how to care for those over-cried eyes.
Believe it or not, there’s a lot going on behind your eyeballs when you tear up.
“When your eyes produce a lot of tears, the lacrimal drainage system gets overwhelmed and tears spill out of your eyes,” explains Hadley King, MD, a board certified dermatologist in New York City.
Not only does crying cause the waterworks to kick in, but it can also cause redness around the eyes and sometimes the entire face.
“Because tears are made from our blood, vessels carrying blood to our eyes can dilate or become bigger to allow for more passage of blood to the area — this can contribute to redness and puffiness of the eyes, eyelids, and surrounding skin,” says Jason Brinton, MD, a board certified LASIK surgeon in St. Louis.
“It can certainly dry out your eyes and lead to mild irritation in the short-term as well as irritate the skin around the eyes, but none of those effects should have any long-lasting changes on the eyes or the skin around them,” Dhingra says.
If your eyes are wet even when you’re feeling fine, you might want to talk to your doctor.
“If the eye is watering even in the absence of emotion, this can paradoxically be a sign of dry eye syndrome,” says Brinton.
You’ve probably seen caffeine as a popular ingredient in eye products, and for good reason — caffeine is a natural vasoconstrictor, meaning it reduces the dilation that leads to bloodshot, puffy eyes.
“[Caffeine] will decrease puffiness by decreasing how much fluid is traveling to the eye area,” says Dhingra.
Dhingra suggests Revision Skincare Teamine Eye Complex, which contains caffeine to decrease puffiness and reduce roughness.
King loves The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG, which contains high-solubility caffeine and green tea catechins for reducing pigmentation and puffiness.
King also recommends First Aid Beauty Eye Duty Triple Remedy A.M. Gel Cream, which contains peptides, seaweed extract, and red algae extract for reducing fine lines and supporting the skin barrier.
Anything cooling can also help restrict blood vessels, further reducing redness and puffiness around the eyes, according to Brinton.
“We commonly recommend to patients that they take frozen vegetables from the freezer, wrap them with a paper towel, and place this over the closed eyes. The back of a spoon that has been placed in the freezer can also be soothing,” says Brinton.
Other natural ways to cool down your overheated eyes include cold tea bag compresses, cool cucumbers, or teething rings straight from the refrigerator.
Colorscience’s Total Eye 3-in-1 Renewal Therapy SPF 35 is another favorite of Dhingra’s. It helps soothe under-eye puffiness with ingredients like jojoba, hyaluronic acid, and panthenol. It also masks redness with a little tint (ideal when crying happens at an inopportune time).
Dhingra is also a fan of Peter Thomas Roth’s Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Hydra-Gel Eye Patches with marshmallow root and caffeine.
King loves MASK Skincare’s Under-Eye Nourishing CBD Patches. “[These patches] contain pumpkin seed extract to help depuff the under-eye area,” King explains. “For an extra boost, the patches can be placed in the refrigerator prior to using.”
Facial rollers are always a good option to help cried-out eyes.
King recommends trying out Jenny Patinkin’s Rose on Rose Face Roller Petite, which is made of rose quartz and will stay cool after refrigeration to help constrict blood vessels to decrease puffiness.
“The small size is perfect for using around the eye area,” says King. “Gentle rolling under the eyes from the midline toward the sides can help decrease fluid accumulation.”
Use your roller in slow, upward strokes to promote lifting, paying special attention to the eye area and forehead, between the eyebrows and laugh lines.
When nothing else works
When nothing else seems to work, it may be time to talk to your doctor to see if an underlying issue might be affecting your eyes.
Products containing potential irritants, including vitamin C, retinols, acid-based products, and witch hazel should be avoided under the eyes.
“If you irritate the area with something harsh, that can increase puffiness and redness even more,” explains Dhingra.
Hemorrhoid cream is an oft-recommended product to decrease redness and puffiness around the eye area, as the phenylephrine reportedly helps to constrict blood vessels and the 1 percent hydrocortisone can temporarily reduce puffiness.
But King argues against it, noting that some brands contain ingredients that can “cause injury if you accidentally get some in your eye and cause irritation to the sensitive skin around the eyes.”
Brinton also advises against using redness-reducing eye drops regularly, because they can become habit-forming. They can also lead to increased redness and irritation of the eyes over time.
“These drops include decongestant ingredients like tetrahydrozoline, pheniramine, and naphazoline, and we end up telling someone every week in our office to stop using these drops,” he says.
“When used on occasion once in a while — like before giving a presentation or taking family photos — they are effective and probably okay,” says Brinton. Just don’t overdo it.
During these difficult times, shedding tears can help release a lot of pain, sadness, and frustration, but you don’t have to worry about long-term effects.
While crying often may temporarily cause your eyes to swell, get red, or develop under-eye circles, the results can be diminished with helpful products and ingredients.
If one form of relief doesn’t do much for your eyes, consider trying another until you find what works for you. And of course, make sure to take care of your mental health and safety in addition to your tired eyes.
Daley Quinn is a beauty and wellness journalist and content strategist living in Boston. She’s a former beauty editor at a national magazine, and her work has appeared on sites including Allure, Well + Good, Byrdie, Fashionista, The Cut, WWD, Women’s Health Mag, HelloGiggles, Shape, Elite Daily, and more. You can see more of her work on her website.