What do your eyes reveal about your health?

What Do Your Eyes Reveal About Your Health?


MH900448626When I first told family members and friends I was going to school to become an aesthetician, I was surprised with this common response:  Good, then you can help me fix the puffiness and dark circles under my eyes.  More than any other concern (acne and acne scars coming in at a close second), most of my requests for skincare advice are about the eye area: specifically puffiness on the lids and under the eyes (bags), dark circles, and redness under the eyes, and what the heck are these tiny white bumps around my eyes?

Most people are looking for a miracle eye cream or gel to apply to the area to improve the appearance of whichever of the above they are experiencing some even want tried and true home remedies. What people don’t ask about though is WHY they are experiencing these eye symptoms and what they can do to eliminate the cause. It’s not their fault we live in a society dominated by allopathic, or Western Medicine which focuses on treating and alleviating symptoms after they appear rather than actually finding the underlying causes, eliminating or reducing those, and preventing the symptoms from returning again in the long term.

In the more preventative and holistically-minded practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), most practitioners can look at a person’s physical features, especially those on the face, and get a general overview of the person’s condition. Different areas of the face are governed by different organs and systems inside the body, therefore inflammation or other symptoms in certain areas can indicate an imbalance, malfunction, or even disease in the organs/systems associated with them. So what does TCM say to do about these eye symptoms?

Puffiness on the lids and under the eyes (bags):

Baggy EyesIn TCM, puffiness in the eye area is either caused by a pool of liquid or a pool of mucus (yuck); both of which are caused by issues with the kidneys. The type caused by pools of liquid is often caused by excessive liquid intake overworking the kidneys with frequent urination, leading to inflammation. This type is less likely in Western cultures though, since the majority of the general public is perpetually dehydrated.

The second type, caused by the accumulation of mucus and fat directly correlates to built-up mucus and fat in and around the kidneys and other organs in that region of the body. If this build-up is not removed from the area, puffy eyes are the least serious of the symptoms that can occur. Bacterial and fungal overgrowth in this area can lead to health issues such as inflammation of the prostate glands, uterus, and ovaries; which can eventually develop into cysts and tumors, some of which can be cancerous.

What causes these deposits of mucus and fat? The consumption of mucus and fat-containing foods such as dairy products, meat, poultry, sugar, refined grains, and oils. The Standard American Diet (SAD) recommends multiple servings of these foods on a daily basis, which is unfortunate, but could explain why so many Americans suffer from disorders of the kidneys, and also are willing to spend an arm and a leg on expensive products and procedures to eliminate eye bags. According to TCM, greatly reducing or eliminating these foods from one’s diet will not only reduce or eliminate puffy eyelids and eye bags, but will also correct the internal cause. Regular detoxification efforts will also be beneficial.

How do you know if your puffiness is caused by liquid or mucus? Think about whether or not you drink enough water on a daily basis for your weight; also take an honest and unbiased look at your diet. How much milk, yogurt, and cheese do you consume? How much meat and poultry? The honest answers to those questions will help determine the type and cause of your eye puffiness.

Discoloration of the skin around the eye area:

Dark-Circles-Under-EyesIn TCM, a person whose skin color around the eye area does not greatly differ from that of the rest of his or her face is considered to be a manifestation of good overall health and balance. However, if someone has dark circles under the eyes, redness, or a purplish hue, a yellowish tone, or even a grayish color, the practitioner automatically knows that something is out of whack.

Dark, bluish circles are typically indicative of problems or disorders with the kidneys, and adrenal and gonad hormones. These problems can stem from issues with sexual/reproductive or excretory functions which are often caused by the excessive consumption of salty, roasted, baked, or dried foods. If you have any of these issues, you might want to consider limiting your consumption of these foods and replacing them with whole, raw, living foods.

Redness (which could eventually appear purple) is caused by dilation of the capillaries under the eyes. Capillaries distend when the area is lacking nutrition; they expand to try to take in more nutrients whether they are present or not. Dilated capillaries can also suggest excessive stress, nervousness, anxiety, or other mental disharmonies. In TCM, any of these symptoms can be linked to an overworked cardiovascular system due to the excessive consumption of yin foods and beverages such as sugar and alcohol. Regular consumption and absorption of certain chemicals and medications in addition to refined sugars can also interfere with the function of the excretory and nervous systems, and often present with purplish discoloration of the eye area.

A yellowish tone in the eye area is directly related to an over-functioning liver and gallbladder. Again, excessive dairy consumption can be the culprit of this discoloration, in addition to eating too many yellow or orange vegetables such as carrots and members of the squash family. Again, the yellowish discoloration can point to an excretory issue, but in serious cases can point to serious liver diseases like cirrhosis or hepatitis.

A gray discoloration can not only indicate an issue with the kidneys, but also with the lungs, endocrine and lymph systems, and reproductive system. These issues can be caused by excessive ingestion of yang foods such as salt, dairy, animal fats, and meat. It can also indicate a lack of oxygen in the body and is often present with smokers.

Those tiny white bumps around the eyes:

miliaThese are called milia. They are hardened deposits of fat or oil that are trapped underneath the skin’s surface. To treat existing ones, the safest way is to go to a trained aesthetician, cosmetic nurse, or physician and have them extracted with the assistance of a sterile lancet or needle. Each state has different regulations regarding the use of needles and lancets in aesthetics, so in certain states, you might have to go to a cosmetic or dermatologic doctor or nurse. However, unless you address the cause of the milia, they will most definitely come back.

In some cases, you may need to just change your eye moisturizer. The delicate skin around the eyes does not have the ability to absorb heavy creams or products containing ingredients with large molecules. In my Create Your Skincare course, students learn about how to create a customized eye moisturizer specifically suited to a person’s individual needs, but there are some high-quality brands out there as well. Look for a lightweight, high-quality eye cream or serum that is formulated with smaller molecules that will not get trapped and cause deposits underneath the skin.

However, the presence of milia can also indicate difficulty in eliminating certain foods. TCM considers milia to be hardened deposits of mucus, fat, and oil from a diet that consists of too many animal proteins and fats (dairy, oily fish, eggs, poultry, and meat), as well as sugar. Disproportionate intake of these foods also can lead to high cholesterol and other cardiovascular problems, which is why milia are sometimes referred to as cholesterol deposits in aesthetics. Aestheticians are often taught to suggest that clients with milia in the eye area have their cholesterol levels checked. Restricting these foods in one’s diet will help prevent future milia from forming, as well as the health conditions associated with them.

Aren’t most of these issues genetic?

In TCM, it is not a person’s genetic patterns that determine eye puffiness, dark circles, or the presence of milia; rather it is one’s inherited dietary and lifestyle routines that are responsible. Practitioners of TCM even associate the development of certain physical features with certain foods the mother consumes while pregnant. Often, one’s dietary and lifestyle choices and norms were learned from parents or cultural traditions. These choices and routines can be changed, which can then eliminate the causes of these eye symptoms.

With this knowledge, it is very easy to understand how the appearance of one’s eyes can reveal overall good health and balance, or point to disorders and disease. A lot of the health issues indicated by the eyes can be addressed by diet & lifestyle changes, but also by adjusting your skincare routine to properly align with your skin type.

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*Source: Kushi, Michio. Your Body Never Lies: The Complete Book of Oriental Diagnosis. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers, 2007.

**Image 2 from Joint Ventures Physical Therapy and Fitness; Image 3 from Helpful Health Tips; Image 4 from The Cove Spa.

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24 thoughts on “What Do Your Eyes Reveal About Your Health?”

  1. armando ronquillo

    My son has what it looks like a wart under his left eye and his skin is turning whiter around that area. My ex wife took him to dermatoligists and none have expressed concern nor can they tell me what it is. Please help.

    1. Armando, I’m so sorry to hear you haven’t been able to get answers for your son’s eye! I can’t make any diagnoses, but I would definitely recommend you take him to a holistic practitioner like a naturopathic or homeopathic doctor to have it looked at. They have a broader range of knowledge in different treatment options than allopathic doctors do. Good luck and thanks for visiting my site!

    1. Hi Isabel, that’s a great question! Dark circles are often attributed to issues in the bladder and kidneys, but it’s the cause of those issues that you’d have to figure out to determine why the circles are there. Hormone imbalances can certainly put stress on the endocrine system as a whole–especially the adrenals which are located on top of the kidneys. Hard to say if it’s a pill or other issues with diet and lifestyle that are responsible…if you’d like more information, I’d be happy to Hash it Out with you in a phone or Skype session. Click HERE to schedule.

  2. Katherin keddington

    I have low cholesterol and I have had a couple milia- does that sound right? Can it be my makeup that is causing this? Is it possible to get it on your hands too?

    1. Hi Katherin, thanks for your question! Unfortunately I can only give general advice in this format–if you’d like personalized advice, please schedule a Hash it Out phone or Skype session! That way we can go through the different foods and products in your diet and regimen and see if we can find the culprit.

  3. Thanks for all of this information. I am pretty surprised lack of sleep has not been mentioned. Any reason why?

    1. Hi Lou! Lack of sleep is a given–and contributes to ALL health and skin conditions–but Traditional Chinese Medicine, which this article is based around points more to dietary imbalances leading to organ dysfunction and toxicity which causes these particular eye conditions. It’s certainly true though that lack of sleep prevents the body from performing its functions optimally and also hinders its natural healing process, so it certainly is an underlying factor. Great point! –Rachael

  4. Hmmm, I was told I have fatty liver. Though I wasn’t sold on that being why I have these sudden disgusting bags under my eyes. A kidney issue might make sense. Though I eat so healthy (almost vegan) that the diet part doesn’t correlate. I will look into my water intake. Your book looks good….. Going to have to check it out. Thanks for the info on here!

  5. I have puffiness in my eye lids and more often than not my right eye in the mornings gets so puffy it is affecting my vision. What is a good detox I can go through and do you recommend acupuncture/acupressure especially along the liver meridian?

    1. Hi Wendy, thanks for reading and commenting! I can give you personal recommendations in a Hash it Out session–click HERE to learn more and schedule your session.

  6. Hi Rachel, thank you very much for this article. I have been suffering from puffy eyes my whole life.
    I have been vegan for 3 years and my diet consists mainly of fresh fruit, green leaves and vegetables, some legumes and a bit of nuts and seeds. I don`t drink any alcohol or coffee and I don`t consume any sugar and only very little amount of salt. I try to drink enough water, but i don`t drink too much due to my over-active bladder. I also sleep for at least 8 hours every night. Recently I had my blood test done and everything is ok. I also got my muscle mass and fat measured and my body fat level is very low. I feel healthy and I don`t feel tired during the day, but my eyes are still very puffy. Can it be connected to my overactive bladder?

    I also have some milia and I think that they started to appear in the last few years since i improved my diet.

    Is there anything I am still doing wrong?

    Thanks a lot

    1. It may be do to allergies – dust mite, pollen mold – things that are in the environment and these allergens could be taxing the kidneys and the liver. Try sipping on nettle tea throughout the day (room temperature) for a couple of weeks, may a month and see if it helps.

    1. Glad you found it interesting, Sheebu! Yes, eyebrows/eyelashes do also correspond with health. Issues with growth in those areas may point to thyroid or other endocrine system imbalance.

  7. this is really helpful and is the first and only article that ,seems like, describes my eye problems.
    my eyes are always dull and discolored.skin around the eyes is also so dull. My eyes always look like I’ve not slept for many days or i am drunk or horny or i am so sad.. these are things i can observe that people think usually.
    It always looks like my eyes aren’t getting nutrition or something.
    even I’ve gotten my kidney checkup but everything, they say, is normal. Can you give me some advice?

    1. Hi Chetan, I am sorry you’re struggling. The only advice I can give would be to go see a holistic, naturopathic, or functional medical doctor or nutritionist to help you figure out what’s going on.

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