Close up illustration of person crying
Web illustration by Yaja’ Mulcare

Crying is essential for eye health. It’s a natural biological process that helps you express and process pain and emotions. And no matter how frequently you shed tears, you might be wondering if crying is good for your skin, too.

As it turns out, practicing certain habits both during and after crying can make a difference in how your skin reacts. We spoke with several doctors to break down how good hygiene and skin care can keep your skin clean and clear, regardless of waterworks.

For most people, crying is inevitable. And while a box of tissue (or your shirt sleeve) can help wipe away some of the tears, it’s not uncommon to have mild facial irritation after a good crying spell.

One reason for this slight irritation, according to Melanie Palm, MD, a board certified dermatologist at Art of Skin MD, is that tears are isotonic (close to normal saline used in intravenous [IV] fluid preparations), but the pH of our tears is higher than that of our skin.

“Tears are typically close to 7, and skin is closer to 5.5 or 6,” Palm says. So, while short-term exposure to tears is not harmful, long-term exposure could cause changes in skin hydration or slight irritation due to pH difference.

What is pH?

“pH” stands for “potential hydrogen.” It refers to the level of acidity and alkalinity (base) in a substance. It’s measured on a scale from 0 to 14, from most acidic to most basic.

Both drinking water and human blood usually hover around 7, a neutral pH.

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But it’s not just the pH that matters. What you do during and after crying can make a difference.

“Rubbing your eyes or using certain tissues to wipe your face can affect your skin and cause inflammation, darken the skin, and even irritate acne in some cases,” cautions Angie Seelal, PA-C, of Advanced Dermatology PC.

The production of tears and shedding them has an affect on your entire face.

“When crying, the blood vessels around the eyes, face, and nose become dilated with increased blood flow leading to swelling, puffiness, and redness,” explains Dagny Zhu, MD, a board certified ophthalmologist.

To help constrict blood vessels and reduce symptoms after crying, Zhu recommends washing your face with cold water or applying a cold compresses over the eyelids.

Since crying dehydrates you through lost electrolytes, Seelal also advises drinking water and applying a moisturizer. She recommends using a moisturizer with squalene, ceramides, or hyaluronic acid to hydrate skin and reduce irritation.

In order to better understand how your skin responds to tears, it’s important to know what they’re made of. As the National Eye Institute explains, tears are mostly water, but they really have three layers:

  • mucous
  • aqueous
  • oily

The outer oily layer prevents tears from drying up too quickly, while the inner mucous layer allows for the tear film to stick to your eyes. Tear film is a thin layer of tears that are always coating our eyes around the cornea (clear outer layer of eyeball). The middle watery layer is the thickest, keeping the eyes wet, and nourishing their tissues.

There are three main categories of tears, defined by different triggers and compositions. Basal and reflex tears exist to protect the eye from debris or irritants, while emotional tears respond to feelings. Humans are actually the only species known to produce emotional tears.

Tears are also filled with electrolytes, which explains their salty taste.

Electrolytes are essential minerals that have an electric charge and are necessary to many bodily functions. They’re in your blood, sweat, and urine.

When you lose a lot of electrolytes via sweating, crying, or using the bathroom, you need to replenish them by drinking water and eating electrolyte-rich foods.

When tears arent working right

If tears are blocked, this can lead to several health conditions, especially dry eye syndrome. This is usually accompanied by itching, burning, or redness of the eye.

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It’s no secret that a good cry can feel really great. While at first you might feel exhausted after the tears stop flowing, crying has long been believed to have a number of physical and mental health benefits.

These include:

  • stress relief
  • boosting your mood
  • detoxifying the body
  • releasing endorphins (“feel good” chemicals)

Crying is the body’s natural way of dealing with pain and emotions. However everyone’s crying practices are different, and research is still ongoing.

It appears crying particularly helps soothe an individual when accompanied with outside support and comfort.

Crying too much or uncontrollably can be a symptom of a more serious physical or mental health condition. Regarding mental health, an increase in crying may be a sign you need more support right now.

Check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling if you’re experiencing one or more of the following conditions:

Don’t hesitate to reach out for help, especially if the issue is chronic or worsening.

The skin around your eyes is very thin and often prone to unwanted dark circles and puffiness. Many people worry that dark circles make them look older or constantly tired.

Several home remedies and over-the-counter products can help tame these kinds of inflammation. Here are several doctor-recommended tips and tricks for taking care of your eyes and surrounding skin.

Check your refrigerator

Seelal says some very easy and inexpensive ways to treat the skin around the eyes can be found in your refrigerator.

“A slice of potato and a cucumber can help relieve swelling and reduce dark circles under the eyes,” she says.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Start by applying slices of cucumber to your eye area for 5 minutes.
  2. Then, replace them with potato slices for 5 minutes.
  3. Repeat two or three times.

Cucumbers contain powerful antioxidants that reduce irritation, and potatoes contain an enzyme called catecholase that helps lighten skin.

Focus on blotting

Another tip, adds Seelal, is to focus on blotting under the eyes rather than rubbing. Blotting means gently, repeatedly dabbing your skin with a product or wipe.

“This reduces friction and inflammation to the area,” she says.

Seelal also recommends keeping creams for your face at a cooler temperature or even in the refrigerator, which can also help reduce puffiness and inflammation.

Sleep and stress

Getting adequate sleep and managing stress are key when it comes to caring for the skin under your eyes.

“Lack of proper rest or stressful life events can lead to physical changes around the eye areas, leading us to look more tired,” Palm says.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults generally need around 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.

Use a quality eye cream

“A proper eye cream used twice daily can be help improve skin texture and crepiness as well as [reduce] puffiness,” Palm says.

There are many eye creams on the market, so the best way to find the right one for you is to talk with your dermatologist or a skin care expert.

Diet and alcohol matter

Palm recommends avoiding excessive alcohol or salt intake, as this can aggravate circles or puffiness.

Eye care with allergies

If you want to reduce under-eye pigmentation, Zhu advises to avoid rubbing your eyes.

“Allergies may cause you to rub your eyes to relieve the itch, but rubbing causes the delicate skin around the eyes to sag, resulting in broken capillaries and darkens the skin around your eyes,” she says.

To help with eye allergies, she recommends using over-the-counter antihistamine drops and artificial tear eye drops to reduce the itch.

Alternatively, she says you can try eye creams containing caffeine, which constricts capillaries.

Crying is part of life. For some people, it happens regularly, while others may only cry every once in a while.

Regardless of how often you let the tears flow, caring for the skin under and around your eyes during (and after) crying can make a difference in how your skin reacts.

Whenever possible, avoid rubbing your eyes. This can increase puffiness and discoloration, and it can aggravate any acne you may have. You also risk getting dirt and bacteria in your eyes, which can lead to irritation or infection.

Instead, apply a cold compress, or gently wash your face with cool water after the tears are gone. Follow this up with a moisturizer and hydration to replenish electrolytes.