Natalie’s puffy eye problem: I was wondering if you could tell me if it’s ok to use Preparation H for under eye puffiness on a regular basis. There is a variety that comes with hydrocortisone that I’m particularly interested in. Thanks.
Forebrain gets to the butt of the problem:
First of all, the Beauty Brains would never recommend using ANY medication for any purpose other than it’s intended use, especially around the eyes. Having said that, let’s take a look at causes and solutions for puffiness.
Causes of puffy eyes
Undereye puffiness is characterized by red swollen skin under the eyes and is usually due to one of these causes: bloating, dehydration, fatigue, allergies, hormones, or genetics. Because the roots of these causes are so varied, it is hard to say which physiological mechanism is behind the puffiness appearance, and therefore not all treatments will work equally well; however, since the redness is due to increased blood flow to the area a treatment aimed at restricting blood vessels should provide some temporary relief. The swelling however, may be for a variety reasons and the treatment for that is not as straightforward.
Is Preparation H the answer?
Some people believe that Preparation H is useful for treating undereye puffiness since it works by temporarily restricting the blood vessels in the area onto which it is applied. There are many different variations of Preparation H; however, they all basically perform the same function (they just use different ingredients to reduce the irritation). Preparation H with hydrocortisone contains a 1% concentration of the stuff, quite low considering that you can get hydrocortisone creams with concentrations up to 2.5% over-the-counter.
In general, although it may in theory seem effective, I would not recommend anyone to use any kind Preparation H on their undereye area for one big reason. If you accidentally get some in your eye, the other ingredients can seriously damage the eye, and then unfortunately undereye puffiness will be the least of your concerns. Besides that, I wasn’t able to find any conclusive scientific evidence on Preparation H being more effective than other methods of reducing undereye puffiness, basically meaning that this treatment is more of an urban legend than actual fact. The Straight Dope came to the same conclusion in their entertaining article on this topic.
What about hydrocortisone?
So what about using just hydrocortisone? As I have previously mentioned, you can get hydrocortisone creams without a prescription at a pharmacy at concentrations up to 2.5%. As a topical steroid, it has anti-inflammatory effects and could in theory temporarily reduce puffiness in the undereye region. However, as with Preparation H, there is a concern regarding accidentally getting the stuff in your eyes, in fact the manufacture state that you should NOT use the product in, or near, your eyes. Also, prolonged use of topical steroids like hydrocortisone has been shown to cause skin thinning, increase skin fragility, enlarged blood vessels, and prolonged use in large doses can result in problems with your adrenal gland (the natural steroid producer in the body).
So what’s a girl (or boy) to do?
So what should you do to treat undereye puffiness? While there are temporary treatments like applying cool water compresses to the area, sleeping with your head slightly elevated (you can use an extra pillow), the best way to get rid of undereye puffiness is to address the underlying roots of the problem. Are you getting enough rest? Seven hours of sleep per night is the recommended minimum. Also, often undereye puffiness is due to allergies. While it may not be pollen season, you can still be allergic to anything from airborn allergens like grass to certain foods that are a part of your diet. Get an allergy test done, or try eliminating foods from your diet to see if any relief occurs. Another big reason for undereye puffiness is bloating or dehydration. This can be hormonal like before menstruation, or because of diet. The best treatment in these cases is to take a diuretic (it will help you eliminate the extra fluids), as well as to drink enough water and consume healthy amounts of salt to stay hydrated but not bloated.
Finally, for some people, having puffy eyes is hereditary. In these cases, there really is not much you can do besides really invasive measures like cosmetic eyelid surgery, something I don’t personally advocate.
The Beauty Brains bottom line
As undereye puffiness can be a sign of a health issue like lack of sleep, allergies, or hydration problems in these cases, it is important to address the root issue and not just the symptoms. However, in cases where immediate relief is necessary my recommendation is to avoid Preparation H and hydrocortisone, and rather use a cooling compress, head elevation, and rest. (For info on puffy eyes check out this post.) Please remember to read cautions and warnings on packaging of products you are not sure about since they will usually give you a pretty good idea of where the stuff isn’t meant to go. And finally, if you’ve tried everything and the puffiness is still not going away, it might just be hereditary in which case there really isn’t much you can do besides a few make up tricks.
Fun Fact: A rumour exists in the US that Preparation H is the most shoplifted supermarket product since customers are too embarrassed to bring it to the cash register.