A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Does Preparation H cure baggy eyes?

March 5, 1999

Dear Cecil:

At a recent evening of "girl talk" with some of my friends, the subject of makeup tips came up. One of the women said her mother swore by Preparation H to reduce the dreaded under-eye puffiness we all get sometimes. We all laughed, but afterward I wondered: Does it really work? What's in it that shrinks hemorrhoids and under-eye bags? Is it safe to put it on your face? Why don't you hear Heloise or Tammy Faye or Dr. Laura discussing this sort of helpful hint? Cecil, I know you can get to the bottom of this beauty secret.

Cecil replies:

Better watch it with those puns, Melissa. This one could get ugly.

I guess it's only fitting that many of the people we consulted on this topic turned out to be flaming, uh, sphincters. We'd heard that Preparation H was a favorite trick of models, along with Vaseline to make your teeth shine brighter, surgical tape to create more cleavage, and body glue to keep your straps from falling down and your swimsuit from riding up. But when my assistant Jane called a modeling agency to inquire, the rhymes-with-rich who answered the phone huffed that the Prep H rumor had been around for years and that it was merely a joke made at the expense of models and actresses. Sorry, lady, thought Jane. Sounds like you could stand a little Preparation H yourself.

Jane wanted to experiment on her own person but rarely gets puffy eyes. However, she is a resourceful woman. From her report: "OK. Dick was out playing volleyball, the cats were fed, the phones were unplugged, the bath was drawn, and I started thinking. I thought about the phone call I'll get someday saying 'Daddy died.' I thought about how the nuns demeaned me as a child. I thought about all my other problems. And I bawled and bawled and bawled, hot tears splashing everywhere.

"OK, out of the tub. Boy, was my face blotchy and puffy. Hah! I gingerly patted some Preparation H around my eyes. Let me tell you, this is not a pleasant-smelling product for one's dainty little face. I looked hard at myself in the mirror, then five minutes later, and then in another five minutes, and another five, etc. Each time I saw the same thing looking back at me: not just puffy eyes, but puffy, shiny eyes. I felt like. . . ." Well, like a three-letter word for a donkey, but this struck me as an unfortunate choice of terms. Anyway, the stuff didn't work.

A spokesperson for Whitehall-Robins, maker of Preparation H, informed us that the product "helps shrink hemorrhoidal tissue and is not meant for the area around the eyes. There is no clinical evidence to support that it reduces eye puffiness." She said they get this question less frequently than they used to, perhaps because Prep H has been reformulated. One of the ingredients that supposedly reduced puffiness was "live yeast cell," but this is no longer part of the recipe.

Actually, it's debatable whether anything will help puffy eyes, which result from fluid retention caused by allergies, stress, etc. The ingredient in Preparation H that supposedly reduces swelling is phenylephrine HCl, which is used in nasal decongestants to constrict blood vessels. However, according to Paula Begoun, author of The Beauty Bible, Preparation H doesn't work where it's supposed to work, so what are the chances it'll work in the minimal concentrations you'd use on your eyes? Jane emphatically concurs, and Cecil politely assumes these women know whereof they speak.

So what does work? Paula's tips: (1) Sleep with your head slightly elevated to minimize fluid retention. (2) Avoid booze and salty foods, which can cause water retention. (3) If you have allergies, take antihistamines and don't rub your eyes. (4) Remove any makeup carefully to avoid getting particles in your eyes. (5) To avoid dryness that can lead to irritation and puffiness, use a moisturizer. If nothing works and this is a chronic condition, cosmetic surgery may be your only recourse.

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