Remedies for a Puffy Face: 4 Ways to Reduce Swelling
Just like our weight, our mood, and the weather, our face shows up differently day by day — sometimes inexplicably glowing, other times incredibly puffy.
Facial puffiness, also known as facial edema, is the accumulation of excess fluid in facial tissues. Common, frustrating, and driven by factors like inflammation, fluid retention, and vascular dysfunction, this is our body reacting to compounding decisions like a lack of good quality sleep, a few too many margaritas, ongoing stress, and a salt-heavy diet. It’s all just our body giving feedback about what’s working … and what’s not.
What is the science behind facial puffiness?
Facial puffiness is a combination of increased vascular permeability, shifting fluid retention, and an inflammatory response. Think of it as a complex cocktail of give and take as the body attempts to bring back fluid balance.
The accumulation of excess fluid is primarily driven by changes in vascular permeability. This is the ability of blood vessels to allow substances to pass through their ‘walls’ and enter surrounding tissues. Permeability is always fluctuating — at a steady state, blood vessel walls allow only essential substances to pass through while blocking unnecessary fluid or larger molecules from entering tissues. Permeability can be triggered by factors like inflammation and allergic reactions.
As vascular permeability ebbs and flows, internal pressure pushes fluid out (hydrostatic pressure) and draws fluid back in (osmotic pressure). When interrupted, fluid tends to remain in facial tissues, contributing to face swelling.
Inflammaging and Facial Puffiness
Inflammaging, chronic-low grade inflammation, is linked to facial puffiness — especially in older populations. When we exist in a constant state of inflammation, pro-inflammatory cytokines like interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFα) prompt a cascade of immune responses that not only contribute to facial puffiness via increased vascular permeability but accelerate collagen and elastin degradation.
If the body experiences inflammaging, skin loses support and firmness, impairing flexibility and making it easier for the skin to become puffy. Chronic inflammation can impact the functionality of the lymphatic system, which is responsible for draining excess fluids and waste products from tissues.
What prompts facial puffiness?
When it comes to the most common causes of facial swelling, there’s a wide range of contributing factors. Here’s a closer look at some possible culprits.
Certain underlying causes and health concerns can contribute to the look of a puffy or swollen face, such as:
- Aging → As collagen and elastin naturally reduce with age, skin loses its ability to maintain structure. Sagging, shifted fat distribution, and reduced lymphatic drainage follow, creating an opportunity for fluid accumulation. Generally, older individuals are more apt to experience facial puffiness
- Impaired lymphatic drainage → The lymphatic vessels are crucial in removing excess fluids, waste products, and immune cells from tissues. Any interruption to the lymphatic system — infections, surgery, underlying conditions — slow this fluid removal and prompt swelling
- Allergies and sensitivities → When allergens or irritants interact with the skin, the body immediately releases inflammatory mediators that cause blood vessel dilation. When blood vessels are dilated, they are more permeable, which can cause localized puffiness. Over-the-counter antihistamines may help with allergy symptoms, and it’s best to consult your doctor for medical attention and advice regarding treatment options
- Underlying medical conditions → Conditions like thyroid disorders (such as hypothyroidism), kidney dysfunction, and cardiovascular issues lead to fluid retention due to shifting hormonal levels that regulate fluid balance, the inadequate filtration of excess fluid, or chronic inflammation. Understanding and managing these conditions is essential to mitigate facial puffiness. Consult your healthcare provider for medical advice if you suspect a medical condition may be causing your facial puffiness
Certain lifestyle factors can also play a role in facial swelling or puffiness:
- Diet → How we nourish ourselves directly impacts the body’s processes. Diets with too much salt can lead to water retention as cells swell and can even contribute to health concerns like high blood pressure. It all comes back to inflammation: excessive amounts of proinflammatory foods and beverages promote chronic inflammation and leave the body lacking vital nutrients
- Dehydration → This imbalance of water disrupts the body’s normal function, decreasing how much water is available for essential body processing. In the face, this looks like localized puffiness as the body conserves water resources. When cells lack sufficient hydration, they shrink, amplifying swelling in facial tissues
- Alcohol and caffeine consumption → Both beverages are known as diuretics, which increase urination and result in fluid and electrolyte loss. Dehydration is commonly linked to alcohol and caffeine consumption, compounding as cells lose necessary hydration. Alcohol is recognized to dilate blood vessels, congest vascular function, and prompt fluid leakage
- Poor sleep → Those nights tossing and turning, where you’re unable to drop into a REM sleep stage, prompt a stress response that results in swelling and inflammation. This is because poor sleep, or a lack of sleep, disrupts the body’s natural fluid balance and lymphatic drainage processes. Normally, the parasympathetic nervous system drains excess fluids from soft facial tissues back into the veins
- Chronic stress → Existing in a state of chronic stress can lead to the release of stress hormones like cortisol that encourage water retention and inflammation. Inflammatory mediators, like cytokines, dilate blood vessels, while chronic stress can disrupt sleep habits and diet
- Smoking → The act of smoking can constrict blood vessels, reducing blood flow and oxygen supply to the skin. This leads to a dull complexion and fluid accumulation, alongside inflammation and oxidative stress
- A sedentary lifestyle → A life without movement is a life without adequate circulation. If the body is unable to efficiently remove excess fluid from tissues due to impaired circulation, the face will look consistently puffy. Sedentary habits are also associated with a higher likelihood of fluid retention
4 ways to reduce swelling
If your face is habitually in a state of puffiness, it may be worth deeply considering how to alleviate factors contributing to this condition. If facial puffiness persists or worsens despite lifestyle changes, we advise reaching out to a healthcare professional and your dermatologist to assess if there are any underlying medical conditions or allergies.
1. Consider your sleep habits
In our eyes, great sleep is the answer to most of life’s ailments — sickness, burn-out, and even facial puffiness. Our sleeping positions actually play a key role in influencing facial swelling. Research shows that sleeping on your back is the best way to prevent fluid accumulation in facial tissues. When we sleep on our sides, gravity may cause fluid to pool in certain areas around the face — especially around the eyes. Simple adjustments, like using a silk pillowcase to reduce irritation and elevating your head slightly, can encourage fluid drainage
2. Physically promote circulation
Promoting circulation and encouraging lymphatic drainage through techniques like facial massage increases blood flow to facial tissue. This enhanced circulation prompts the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to cells while helping remove excess fluids. Physical circulation (we love using a Gua Sha) makes the lymphatic system more efficient while stimulating collagen production and reducing facial puffiness. Regular exercise promotes endorphin release, which is linked to wellness benefits like reduced stress and improved sleep quality, known as aggravators of facial puffiness
3. Prioritize hydration
Ensuring your body is adequately hydrated can make all the difference when easing facial puffiness. Consistently drinking water supports the balance of electrolytes in the body, reducing the need for fluid retention. Skin that exists in a hydrated state is generally more resilient and less prone to inflammation. As a reminder, dehydration leads to the body retaining fluids as the body tries to compensate for a lack of water. For mornings when the puffiness is unbearable, we look to submerging our faces in cold water — this is incredibly effective as cold water causes blood vessels to constrict, reducing blood flow and inflammation
4. Explore the pantry
We repeat: it’s all about inflammation. You’d be surprised to learn that the kitchen pantry contains a number of home remedies that can reduce puffiness. A cold tea bag compress (especially green or chamomile) leverages anti-inflammatory compounds to constrict blood vessels and soothe puffy skin. Applying slices of chilled cucumber or potato slices introduces antioxidants, high water content, and enzymes. Mixing honey and aloe vera into a skincare mask deeply moisturizes the skin and reduces inflammation
- What Causes A Puffy Face in the Morning? | Medical News Today
- Inflammaging in Skin and Other Tissues — The Roles of Complement System and Macrophage | NIH
- Salt, inflammation, IL-17 and hypertension | PMC
- Decreased collagen production in chronologically aged skin: roles of age-dependent alteration in fibroblast function and defective mechanical stimulation | PMC