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How do eye creams relieve puffy eyes?

Like dark circles, puffy eyes can be caused by a number of things, including water retention, allergies and genetics. Experts say most cases can be treated with a few simple at-home remedies such as elevating your head while sleeping, and reducing salt and alcohol consumption. Cold compresses can also offer relief, since they constrict inflamed blood vessels.

For more persistent problems, some skin-care professionals suggest using eye creams that contain caffeine. It's commonly believed to be a vasoconstrictor, a compound that helps blood vessels to contract and expel excess liquid. The question is, does it perform this way when used on the skin? Mount Sinai Medical Center's Marmur says it's unlikely to have any effect when applied topically "since caffeine is probably not able to penetrate to the vessels." Begoun agrees, saying there's no published research showing topical caffeine to have such abilities.

Even so, many beauty professionals and users swear by eye creams containing caffeine. While there's no evidence supporting their effectiveness, no studies refute it, either. The bottom line: If you like a particular caffeine cream, there's no harm in using it, especially since caffeine has antioxidant properties, according to Begoun.

Our Best Reviewed Estee Lauder Idealist Cooling Eye Illuminator (*Est. $60 for 0.5 oz.) contains caffeine and has a patent-pending cooling ceramic applicator tip that reviewers say soothes tired, puffy eyes. The tip is designed to gently massage the under-eye area to help expel excess liquid. Begoun says, "To some extent, the coolness of the tip can help reduce puffy eyes," but it's temporary and can only ease puffiness caused by allergies, irritation and lack of sleep, not age-related swelling.

She says the formula contains some beneficial antioxidants but also irritating fragrant plant extracts. Still, while an eye cream isn't necessary, "if occasional puffiness is your concern you may find a product like this worth the expense," she notes. Several users at MakeupAlley.com say the formula does reduce puffiness but doesn't treat the issue long term.

Garnier Skin Renew Anti-Puff Eye Roller (*Est. $12 for 0.5 oz.) also contains caffeine and is praised for its metal roller-ball applicator, which Begoun says makes for easy application. It glides effortlessly across the skin so users can avoid the tugging that sometimes occurs when applying an eye cream. Editors at Allure magazine like the roller ball's massaging action and suspect that it helps reduce the swelling associated with puffy eyes.

Users at MakeupAlley.com and TotalBeauty.com agree. Several say the ball is cool to the touch and feels soothing, but give the gel only mediocre ratings in terms of effectiveness. Some say it reduces puffiness as well as dark circles while others see no difference at all, which could be due to individual differences in the severity of puffiness as well as reviewers' overall expectations.

Even proponents of caffeine creams insist that they can't completely reverse puffy eyes, only improve their appearance. Still, we list Estee Lauder's Cooling Eye Illuminator as a Best Reviewed product due to mediocre user ratings for the Anti-Puff Eye Roller. And if your puffy eyes persist despite the above suggestions, they may be part of the natural structure of your face: Some individuals have overly large fat pads surrounding their eyes. If this applies to you, experts say cosmetic surgery is the only way to eradicate the problem.

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Garnier Skin Renew Anti-Puff Eye Roller, 0.50 Fluid Ounce (Packaging May Vary)
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