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reasons face is puffy: woman looking at face in mirror

10 Possible Reasons Why Your Face Is Puffy

Sometimes, the cause a puffy face is as simple as the fountain of tears you cried while rewatching The Notebook. But often, the culprit is harder to pin down. A number of common issues that lurk beneath the surface may be to blame for facial inflammation—and many are surprisingly easy fixes. (Others signal greater health concerns seeking your attention, which we’ll cover.)

Here are 10 possible reasons why your face is not on its game, plus what you can do to send that puffiness packing.

  • ABOUT OUR EXPERTS: Dr. Chelsea Azarcon, N.M.D., is a naturopathic medical doctor. Lena Bakovic, M.S., R.D.N., C.N.S.C., is a registered dietitian with Top Nutrition Coaching.

Common Culprits Behind Your Puffy Face

In order to deflate your face and feel more like yourself, you’ve got to unravel why you’re looking so puffy in the first place. 

1. Salt Overload

Salt is everywhere (think snacks, frozen meals, processed meats, and condiments), making it all too easy to consume too much—and ultimately end up with an alarmingly puffy reflection in the mirror. In fact, excess sodium is one of the leading causes of a bloated face, says dietitian Lena Bakovic, M.S., R.D.N., C.N.S.C., of Top Nutrition Coaching. Going overboard on salt triggers your body to retain water to maintain a balanced concentration of electrolytes—and this excess water can cause swelling or puffiness, particularly in areas like the face where the skin is looser and can expand more easily. 

Action Steps:

  • Cut back on sodium: Reducing salt intake and limiting processed foods in your diet is the simplest way to help mitigate this effect, says Bakovic. Foods with the highest sodium include broths, cold cuts, cured meats, canned foods, pickled veggies, cheeses, fast food, and condiments like soy sauce and mustard. 
  • Read ingredient labels carefully: “When reading nutrition labels and ingredient lists, pay special attention to words listed beyond just the word sodium, such as celery salt, onion salts, MSG (monosodium glutamate), sodium citrate, or sodium alginate, all of which are just different sources of dietary salt,” says Bakovic.
  • Adjust your cooking routine: As much as possible, replace salty foods with those low in sodium, like fruits, veggies, fresh meats, and fish. Prepare food at home as often as possible (doing so allows you to control the sodium content) and try flavoring dishes with herbs and spices instead of salt.
  • Hydrate: Drinking more water can help flush out excess salt from your system, reducing puffiness. Other hydrating drinks include seltzer, fresh juices, coconut water, and herbal teas.

2. Inflammation

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury or infection—and while it serves an important purpose in acute situations, it spells trouble for your face (and beyond) when chronic. Yep, unchecked chronic inflammation often manifests as facial puffiness (in addition to symptoms like aches, pains, breakouts, and skin sensitivity), according to Dr. Chelsea Azarcon, N.M.D.

According to Blakovic and Azarcon, high levels of inflammation can stick around as the result of a diet high in processed, inflammatory foods, poor gut health, stress, autoimmune conditions, or some combination of these factors.

“Processed foods are high in colorings, oils, preservatives, and other additives that can trigger inflammation,” notes Azarcon. “Consumption of inflammatory ingredients can promote water distribution extracellularly, creating facial puffiness.”

Action Steps:

3. Dehydration

Ironically, not drinking enough water can cause your body to retain water, leading to puffiness, as well as fatigue, dry mouth, and sometimes headaches or dizziness. 

According to Azarcon, your body clings to any moisture it has when you’re dehydrated, pulling extra fluids into blood vessels, which can result in swelling. Simply drinking too little water, as well as losing fluids during illness, can both contribute.

Action Steps:

  • Increase water intake: Aim for at least eight glasses of water a day, or more if you’re active or live in a hot climate. “Most of us need at least 50 ounces of water daily plus additional water sourced from fruits and veggies,” Bakovic notes. To help your H2O intake really stick, consider leveling it up with a hydration supplement that contains electrolytes
  • Eat hydrating foods: High-water fruits and veggies include leafy greens, melon, cucumber, squash, tomatoes, and citrus fruits. Plus, they also provide nutrients that help fight inflammation, says Bakovic.
  • Limit diuretics: Beverages like coffee and alcohol can dehydrate you, so enjoy them in moderation and balance them out with plenty of water, Bakovic recommends.

4. Lack of Sleep

Skimping on sleep doesn’t just leave you groggy; it can also lead to a swollen look under your eyes and around your face. In fact, studies show that sleep-deprived people generally appear less attractive and alert to others due to changes in how their faces look (especially their eyes and the area around them).

How come? Lack of sleep can alter circulation and lead to dilation of the blood vessels under the thin skin of your eyes, creating a darkened appearance and puffiness, as well as general facial discoloration, including paleness.

Action Steps:

  • Schedule more sleep: Ensure you’re getting seven to nine hours of good-quality sleep each night. Sleep experts recommend trying a sleep mask or blackout curtains, as well as a white noise machine, to help you drift off and rest undisturbed.
  • Elevate your head: Fluid can also accumulate in the face while lying down, leading to puffiness—especially upon waking. Sleeping with your head slightly elevated can prevent fluid from pooling in your face and allows you to breathe more easily, too, helping to prevent snoring.
  • Get help from a supplement: If sleep often evades you, consider enlisting the help of a supplement. Popular options include magnesium glycinate, herbs like valerian root, and the amino acid l-theanine.

5. High Stress Levels

Stress triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone that can lead to worsened inflammation, water retention, and increased blood pressure (among other issues), contributing to puffiness and other changes in how your face looks, explains Bakovic.

Read More: 6 Ways Stress Affects Your Long-Term Health

And as if that single hormonal impact of chronic stress isn’t enough, feeling strung out often can also exacerbate poor sleep and unhealthy diet choices and even contribute to conditions like acne or rosacea that worsen inflammation and swelling in the face, research suggests.

Action Steps:

  • Do things that calm you down regularly: Engage in stress-reducing activities like exercise, yoga, meditation, time spent outdoors, reading, journaling, or any hobby that relaxes you—and do so regularly.
  • Try adaptogens: Consider taking adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha or rhodiola, which can help you cope with stress better by supporting normal stress hormone production.

6. Allergies

Allergic reactions prompt your immune system to release compounds called histamines, which can increase blood flow and lead to inflammation in various parts of the body, including the face, says Azarcon. “During an allergic reaction, whether mild or severe, your blood vessels dilate, allowing fluid and immune cells to enter tissues, which leads to a puffy look,” she explains.

This response—which can be due to allergic rhinitis, seasonal allergies (hay fever), or something like a bee sting—can cause swelling around the eyes and cheeks, as well as redness, rashes, and sensitivity. Allergies can also lead to nasal congestion and sinus problems, further exacerbating facial puffiness and swelling, adds Azarcon.

Action Steps:

  • Identify allergens: Try to pinpoint your allergy triggers and avoid them. This might mean keeping track of dietary choices (like gluten or dairy intake) and how they affect you or paying attention to environmental allergens like dust or pet hair.
  • Consult a doctor: For persistent allergies, seek advice from a healthcare provider (ideally an allergy specialist) to determine which allergens are affecting you, how to eliminate them from your diet or routine, and how else to support your body.

7. Alcohol Consumption

If you’ve ever found yourself horrified at your reflection after a night on the town, you know this one to be true. “Facial swelling can be a definitive sign of excessive alcohol intake, as our skin attempts to retain as much water as possible to offset alcohol dehydration,” says Bakovic.

Not to mention, drinking alcohol contributes to inflammation, negatively impacts sleep, and even worsens hormonal imbalances—all pushing you further toward Puff City.

Action Steps:

  • Keep moderation in mind: Limit your alcohol intake to no more than one or two drinks per day, an amount that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests. When you do indulge, choose drinks lower in sugar and salt (skip the margaritas and fancy cocktails!), such as a simple glass of wine.
  • Avoid drinks that trigger symptoms: Some people respond poorly to compounds found in beer or wine. Look out for symptoms after consuming these that can indicate an intolerance (such as digestive issues and facial swelling) and avoid them, if needed.
  • Balance alcohol with water: Drink a glass of water between alcoholic beverages to stay hydrated and help mitigate puffiness.

8. Hormonal Changes

Fluctuations in hormones (including those during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, or menopause) can lead to water retention all over, including in the abdomen, feet, and face, explains Azarcon. For example, feeling bloated and puffy before menstruating is a common PMS symptom that affects many women.

Action Steps:

  • Eat a balanced diet: Eating a diet rich in fiber from fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds, as well as healthy fats like olive oil, and lean protein can help you manage hormonal imbalances such as estrogen dominance that can worsen symptoms like puffiness. Foods rich in phytoestrogens (like flaxseeds) and magnesium (like leafy greens) might also help here.
  • Consult a healthcare provider: If hormonal fluctuations are significantly affecting your life—such as by messing with your mood or reproductive health—seek advice from a healthcare professional for possible treatments.

9. Certain Medical Conditions

Health problems related to the kidneys, adrenals, thyroid, or heart can lead to puffiness due to the roles these glands and organs play in metabolism, circulation, and fluid balance, explains Azarcon. Hypothyroidism, for example, can create a characteristic “moon face” appearance (in which the face looks very round and swollen) due to its effects on hormones that regulate sugar, salt, and fluid balance, she notes. 

Meanwhile, kidney disease can lead to edema (swelling) all over, especially in the lower legs and also in other body parts like the face or abdomen. The kidneys’ main role is to filter waste products from the blood before converting them into urine, to help manage fluids, and to maintain normal blood pressure. When the kidneys aren’t working properly, waste and fluids build up, creating a cascade of issues, including edema, fatigue, and shortness of breath.

Read More: 4 Lifestyle Factors That Decrease Your Risk Of Dementia

Another potential factor is a heart condition, such as heart failure or high blood pressure, that affects fluid levels. Facial swelling in addition to symptoms like sudden weight gain, coughing, loose stools, nausea, and feeling full when not eating a lot can all indicate a serious heart problem.

Cushing’s Syndrome is another rare condition that causes your face to get a rounded, swollen look due to the adrenal glands pumping out too much cortisol, which causes fluid accumulation.

Finally, you might notice swelling when taking oral steroids, as these drugs can interfere with normal sugar, salt, and fluid balance, notes Azarcon.

Action Steps:

  • Schedule regular medical check-ups: Staying up to date on routine check-ups can help you catch and address any underlying issues that can affect fluid balance early. Simple blood tests, for example, can reveal kidney or thyroid function issues.
  • Ask your doctor about your medications: If drugs such as steroids are causing side effects like puffiness, discuss alternatives with your provider. 
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Support your organ health with a balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate hydration. Avoiding toxins, such as excessive alcohol and tobacco, can also make a big difference in organ function and subsequent swelling.

10. Poor Lymphatic Drainage 

You might not think much about your lymphatic system, but poor lymphatic drainage can play a role in puffiness. “Your lymph fluid, which cleans your blood of pathogens and toxins, drains into blood vessels located beneath your collarbone,” explains Azarcon. “When lymph is congested, I often see facial lymphatic networks drain more slowly, leading to swelling.” 

Action Steps:

  • Get moving: Exercise and movement (including even simple yoga and walking) help to support lymphatic drainage, says Azarcon. If you’re feeling swollen, it’s smart to make an effort to move more throughout the day.
  • Try ice and massage: Holding a cold compress against your face for above five to ten minutes can help improve fluid drainage. Some also swear by using facial rollers and dry brushing to improve lymphatic drainage, although these tricks are backed more by anecdotal evidence than scientific studies.

Key Takeaways 

While a puffy face can be a nuisance, it’s often your body’s way of waving a flag that something’s up. By tuning into these potential causes and taking proactive steps, such as simply drinking more water or cutting back on alcohol and salt, you can help deflate the puffiness and feel more like yourself again.

Remember, if your puffiness is persistent or accompanied by other symptoms, it’s wise to consult a healthcare professional to rule out any underlying conditions. Here’s to waking up looking less like a pufferfish and more like your radiant self!

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