Typical morning grogginess aside, there are all sorts of reasons why you might notice swelling around your face and eyes when you first wake up. And while you can certainly shrug it off and move on with your day, it may be worth looking into the various reasons why it occurs, especially if it seems to happen all the time — or if it's been getting worse.
Waking up to a puffy face is super annoying, but rest assured it's usually just a side effect of the build-up of fluid in the tissues of the face from lying down all night. But it could also point to other things, including underlying health issues like allergies or hormonal imbalances.
If the puffiness is bothering you, there are things you can do to quickly feel more refreshed. "Cool compresses are helpful in the morning to wake you up and de-puff the skin, as it constricts the blood vessels to decrease the puffiness temporarily," Dr. Purvisha Patel, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visha Skincare, tells Bustle. "Cool tea bags and cucumbers have been used for the caffeine and vasoconstriction effects as well."
For some types of puffiness, however, the cure often lies in the cause, and discovering what's going on will be key. Read on below for the many reasons why your face could be puffy, as well as what to do about it.
1. You Slept On Your Face
One of the most common causes of morning puffiness? Sleeping face down on your pillow. "Gravity wins when we sleep on our faces," Patel says. The lymphatic fluid in your body flows downward and pools when you sleep, which results "in puffy eye bags and a swollen appearance."
To easily prevent it, Patel recommends sleeping on your back whenever possible, or using a pillow to slightly elevate your head to counteract the effects of gravity. Sleeping this way will help the lymphatic fluid flow downward, away from your eyes and cheeks, so you wake up actually looking refreshed.
2. Your Allergies Are Acting Up
Pollen, dust, animal dander — it's all swirling around endlessly, and it can turn you into an allergic mess. As Patel says, "Congestion caused by seasonal allergies [...] can cause increased inflammation in the skin, especially the face." So if you're constantly sneezing and rubbing your eyes before bed, this may be the culprit.
"Those with dust allergies and [those who are working from home] or in quarantine may be getting even more allergies lately," Patel says, due to all the extra time spent indoors. "Taking an antihistamine before bedtime helps with this," she says, as does making sure your environment is allergen-free by dusting, using air filters, and even changing your pillowcases more often.
3. Your Skincare Is Too Powerful
If you have an extensive nighttime skincare regime, or have recently added a few new products, go ahead and read the labels. "Using skincare that have strong active ingredients, such as retinol, benzoyl peroxide, or alpha hydroxy acids cause the skin to exfoliate — a wanted result," Patel says.
But if these products get too close to your eyes and mouth, where the skin is thinner, "they can be more irritating than wanted, and cause eye swelling," she says. "Ease into any new skincare that you have, using strong actives initially once a week, then increasing over time to once a day."
4. You Have A Sinus Infection
If you have a sinus infection, aka sinusitis, you very well may wake up with a puffy face. Symptoms include "pain, typically accompanied by swelling and pressure around your eyes, cheeks, or even forehead," Dr. Vivek Cherian, MD, an internal medicine physician, tells Bustle. "This occurs when the space inside your nose becomes inflamed and swollen, which in addition to swelling and pain, may make breathing through your nose difficult."
Acute sinusitis is typically caused by the common cold. While you may need antibiotics if it doesn't go away, "most cases of acute sinusitis get better on their own," he says. "Some things that you can consider to help with symptoms [are] over the counter pain relievers, nasal prays with saline, corticosteroids, or decongestants." You may also want to pick up a humidifier to turn on while you sleep, which can help reduce symptoms.
5. You Have Cushing Syndrome
Another possible cause could be Cushing syndrome, "which occurs when your body is exposed to high levels of the hormone cortisol for a long period of time," Cherian says. "This syndrome can be caused when you use oral steroids (commonly used to treat conditions such as asthma or inflammatory bowel disease, among others) and also sometimes your body is actually producing too much cortisol."
Other symptoms, besides a rounded or puffy face, include a hump between your shoulders, and purple stretch marks on your skin, Cherian says. It's something that can be treated by your doctor, so don't hesitate to ask about it if these symptoms sound familiar.
6. You Have A Tooth Infection
While it might not seem related, a tooth infection often results in a puffy face. As Cherian says, "A dental infection formed at the base of a tooth can cause a pocket of fluid/pus to form at the tooth root (an abscess), which if left untreated can lead to facial swelling if the infection spreads to your face (facial cellulitis)."
To treat it, you'll obviously need to mosey on over to the dentist, who will likely tell you to swish salt water around your mouth, and may prescribe antibiotics. From there, you'll want to "follow up with a dentist or oral surgeon (usually within 24 hours after starting antibiotics) as it might be necessary to have the infection drained," Cherian says.
7. You Didn't Sleep As Well As You Thought
Even if you feel like you got enough rest, your puffy face may tell you otherwise. "Sleep is when the body has time to recharge and repair and re-equilibrate," Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist, tells Bustle. "Tossing and turning all night can leave you with sunken eyes or a swollen puffy face."
To sleep better, try minimizing stressors before bed, she says, which includes not checking work emails, having long conversations, watching the news, etc. Instead, dim the lights, reduce distractions, and climb into bed at the same time each night, so your body can fall into a rhythm — and get deeper sleep.
8. You Had Salty Snacks
If you spent the evening crunching away on delicious savory snacks, you may pay the (small) price of a puffy face come morning. "Eating salty food can retain water in your body including your face," Patel says, "so no surprise late night night nachos can make you puffy."
Basically, your body holds onto extra fluid in an attempt to dilute the salt. But you can help flush it away by drinking lots of water after you snack, Patel says, as well as cutting back on these types of snacks before bed.
9. You're Dehydrated From Drinking Alcohol
In a similar vein, drinking alcohol before bed can mean waking up to a surprising degree of puffiness. Dr. Marina Peredo, a board-certified dermatologist, says it's due to alcohol's dehydrating effect, which causes your skin to hold onto any water it has, creating swelling and oftentimes redness. The fix can be as simple as avoiding alcoholic beverages before bed, as well as upping your water intake so the body doesn't have to over-compensate.
10. You Cried The Night Before
It's such a relief to cry before falling asleep, as letting your emotions out is cathartic. But it can mean waking up to swollen eyes due to a temporary condition called periorbital edema. It happens when the salt in your tears irritates the skin around your eyes, resulting in mild swelling.
While you shouldn't stop yourself from crying, if that's what you need need to, you can lower the chances of waking up to puffy, irritated eyes by upgrading your tissues to a softer brand, Dr. Brooke Jackson, a board-certified dermatologist, tells Bustle. She also says it's best not to rub your eyes. But if you do wake up with swelling anyway, applying a cool compress will help reduce it.
11. You Have Contact Dermatitis
If you fall constantly asleep with makeup on, join the (not very exclusive) club. It happens to the best of us, and isn't the end of the world. But it can cause skin irritation — which (you guessed it) means waking up with a puffy face.
"Sleeping in eye makeup, lash strips, or a full face of foundation can leave your skin irritated and itchy and even swollen," Shainehouse says. "This may not be a true allergic reaction, but rather an irritant contact dermatitis."
The simple fix is washing your face before bed, "no matter how late or how tired you are," Shainhouse says. If you forget, apply a cool compress as soon as you wake up — using a gel eye mask kept in the fridge is a nice trick, Shainhouse says — or simply drunk your face in a sink full of cold water.
12. Your Hormones Are Out Of Whack
As Cherian says, "Having an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can also lead to swelling around the eyes," so if you constantly wake up with puffiness in this area, it may be worth looking into. "A simple blood test can determine if your thyroid hormone levels are normal," he says.
Whatever the underlying reason, fluctuating hormones are one of the top causes of facial swelling. "This is one of the reasons it’s not uncommon for pregnant women to have puffy eyes," he says, "due to the constantly changing hormone levels in their bodies."
13. You Have PMS
Speaking hormones, PMS may also be to blame. That's because "hormone surges during different parts of your menstrual cycle can lead to you to retain fluids," Shainhouse says. "Progesterone plays a role in this, which is why you tend to feel bloated the week before your period."
To find some relief, "try to exercise, and adjust your diet (minimize salty foods and simple carbs) during this week, to help reduce fluid retention," she says. It may also help to get more sleep, drink more water, and take an OTC anti-inflammatory.
While most of these aren't a big deal, sometimes a puffy face can be a sign of an underlying medical problem, so be sure to talk to your doctor if any new or worsening symptoms crop up.
Dr. Purvisha Patel, board-certified dermatologist
Dr. Marina Peredo, board-certified dermatologist
Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist
Dr. Vivek Cherian, MD, internal medicine physician
Dr. Brooke Jackson, board-certified dermatologist