As long as humans have been concocting beauty treatments, they have been trying to fight eye puffiness. Egyptian kohl was said to serve as eye protection just as much as decoration. Back in the 12th century, Pope John XXI, when he was still just Peter of Spain, wrote a full treatise on treatments for various eye problems and suggested that for a swollen eye, “chamomile placed over the eye has value. Blood of a goat with saffron and sugar, placed over the eye has value.”
These days, it is universally agreed (at least by magazines and stock photography) that sliced cucumbers have value. But are they the goat’s blood of the 21st century?
“My opinion is that the main benefit from cucumbers is a moisturizing effect on the skin,” Dr. Steven Xu, a dermatologist at Northwestern University, tells The Takeout. “With more water in the skin it plumps up. Cucumbers are high in water content. The other mechanism is probably a cooling effect. If the cucumbers are cool then it will cause local vasoconstriction of the blood vessels of the skin. This can help reduce the appearance of swelling.”
Xu says that the pope may have been onto something with chamomile, though. Maybe. Scientific papers have been written that have studied the efficacy of tea. But Xu himself is still not convinced that it’s anything more than the hydrating effects from wet teabags.
Both cucumbers and chamomile tea have been shown to contain vitamins and antioxidants that theoretically could improve one’s skin. “But,” Xu says, “I would caution that it’s difficult to show that the presence of these chemicals present in cucumbers or tea bags actually penetrate the skin in a meaningful amount leading to active changes in the skin itself.”
They don’t do any harm, though, so if it makes you feel better to lie back for a few minutes with something cool and moist and nice-smelling over your eyes, Xu says go for it.