Eye problems affect us all, particularly puffy eyes and dark circles, hotly followed by dry, itchy eyes. Try this expert advice.

Dark circles, puffy eyes

If you’re short of sleep, get more and better slumber. Dark circles and eye bags are often linked to food allergies or intolerance, so if more sleep makes no difference, cut out wheat entirely for a week and see if that helps. (Sarah’s eyes can be practically invisible under the bags in the morning if she’s had pasta or sandwiches the day before.) If it doesn’t, try avoiding all cow’s milk products. There could well be other foodie culprits, so for details of an elimination diet, read Solve Your Food Intolerance by Dr John Hunter. Also, stick to fresh food, preferably organic; processed and/or conventionally grown foods may contain additives that you are sensitive to. Cut down on alcohol, sugar, and salt (often hidden in processed foods), and drink lots of still pure water to flush out toxins.
For an immediate rescue strategy, stroke ice cubes over your eyes. If you have time to lie down briefly – or somewhere to lean your head right back – brew a pot of chamomile tea with two tea bags, and lay the slightly cooled, slightly squeezed bags on your eyes. Slices of cucumber are also soothing, and raw potato contains an enzyme that helps de-puff skin – lay slices straight on your eyes.
Camouflage dark circles with a little concealer, patted on thinly with your ring fingers: don’t rub, pull or drag skin. If you use eye cream, be sure not to get it too near: products should be applied on the bone of the eye socket – from there they travel to the skin nearer the eye on their own.
Eye products and cosmetics may be another cause: if you suspect a culprit, bin it immediately. Remember that even natural ingredients can cause problems – Sarah’s eyes flare up if the herb eyebright gets near them. Puffy eyes respond brilliantly to an instant ‘bag-draining’ detox in the shape of a run or a vigorous treadmill session, followed by a sauna – or the low-tech solution: steam your face over a bowl of very hot water, with some essential oils such as rosemary to perk you up.

Red, bloodshot eyes

If you’ve excluded conjunctivitis (visit your doctor to make sure) and the veins in your eyes are always on show, the likeliest villain is lack of sleep. However, we have also noticed an amazing difference with a bit of light detoxing and green food supplements, such as algae, chlorella, and spirulina.

Tired, itchy, dry eyes

Firstly, the mucous membrane round eyes needs to be lubricated like every other part of your body, so drink more water – eight large glasses of pure still water between meals. Also make sure you eat plenty of essential fatty acids.
Secondly, dry environments will dry your eyes, so if you work in an office, put a bowl of water and/or an ioniser on your desk; if you have a centrally heated house, put a bowl of water near all the radiators. For instant help, try the chamomile tea bag trick described earlier. NB: If you have contact lenses, check in with your optometrist: there are now lenses that may help. Scientist Dr Linda Fellow recommends spraying Rescue Remedy flower essence on your lids and round tired eyes – a tip which Sarah loves

Computer vision syndrome

Long hours at the screen can lead to all sorts of problems: sore, tired, burning, itchy, watery or dry eyes, blurred or double vision, headaches and a sore neck. You may also have trouble when you try to shift focus between the monitor and papers on your desk. Some people notice increased light sensitivity or see fringes of colour, or after images, when they look away from the screen.
The first thing to do, according to integrative health expert Dr Andrew Weil, is to ensure that your computer is in the best position.
* Make sure you are sitting straight in front of it, about an arm’s length away.
* The top of the screen should be at eye level or below so that you’re looking down slightly (you can get a sore neck if the screen is too high or too low).
* Your keyboard should be directly in front of the monitor.
* Your reference papers and books should be placed at the same level, angle and distance from your eyes.
* To minimise glare from bright lights, put your light source at a right angle to the monitor.
* To reduce eye strain, take periodic breaks and focus on distant objects. Schedule a five-minute break every hour. Stand up and move around or just lean back and close your eyes for a few minutes.
* Blink frequently. If your eyes are dry, you’re probably blinking less than normal when you look at the screen. If that doesn’t help, get some artificial tears, which are available at any chemist.
* Try taking bilberry extract.
* Have an eye check every two years, annually if you have glaucoma in the family.

Don’t dye your lashes

We have one thing to say about dyeing your lashes: please don’t. Jo acquired an eye infection from having it done at a reputable salon. Hair dye is commonly used, despite the fact that the manufacturers warn in the strongest terms against getting the product near your eyes because of the risk of injury, allergic reaction or blindness. There are now specific lash dyes on the market, but they contain basically the same ingredients as hair dye. Some may contain coal tar, too.

Fab idea

Your eyes thrive on nutrients called lutein (in green veg) and zeaxanthin (in orange and yellow ones), which help reduce your risk of age-related macular degeneration, the commonest cause of loss of vision. So eat lots of green leafy vegetables, particularly spinach and kale – the richest sources of lutein – plus orange capsicums, which are full of zeaxanthin; corn has a nice lot, too. Jo swears by a (delicious) mix of dried red fruits with her muesli – cherries, cranberries and, particularly, bilberries: bilberry extract has been shown to improve normal and night vision.

Smile with your eyes

According to psychiatrist Dr David Servan-Schreiber, watching the way people smile – with their eyes or not – is a simple test of whether they are really happy to see us. A forced smile – the sort we ‘put on’ at social situations where we really aren’t feeling at ease – mobilises only the muscles around the mouth, showing our teeth (not for nothing do we describe it as ‘the smile on the face of the tiger’). A ‘real’ smile, however, also uses the muscles around our eyes.
The order for smiling with your eyes comes from the deepest and most ancient region of your brain, known as the limbic system, which we can’t control with our cognitive brains. As Dr Servan-Schreiber says, “That explains why the eyes never lie – their folds tell us whether the smile is genuine. A warm smile, a real one, lets us know intuitively that the person we are talking to is, at that exact moment, in a state of harmony with what he or she thinks and feels.” In other words, they are happy to be there with us.
Of course, people who watch us smile are getting the same intuitive messages. If you aren’t quite smiling with your eyes, can we recommend you read Dr Servan-Schreiber’s book Healing Without Freud or Prozac? It’s on our very short list of books that can change your life. As well as giving an account of his personal search for natural ways to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression, it gives simple ways that we can all help ourselves – and others – to be happier. The key one? Be loving and kind. If you are, no matter what else is going on, people who look into your eyes will see “the sweet soul shining through them”, as one poet put it – and that’s real beauty in our book.

Treats for tired eyes

We’ve lost count of the women who’ve asked us if there really are products that put the sparkle back, while depuffing eye bags and/or fading dark circles. The good news? Yes, there are!
Dr Hauschka Eye Solace,
This product features eyebright, alongside fennel extract, woundwort, chamomile and rose essential oil in a cooling lotion that our testers unanimously found super-refreshing.
Comments: “Rested my eyes and took away the strained feeling at the end of the day”; “cooling and refreshing: red tired eyes much clearer”; “excellent before and after a big night out”; “great for a pampering lazy day”; “eyes felt ‘alive’ again”.
Aveda Green Science Firming Eye Crème,
Contains certified organic argan oil to restore skin’s moisture barrier, glucosamine to moisturise, boswellia and plai, two anti-inflammatory herbs, and organic cactus extract to stimulate collagen synthesis.
Comments: “Subtle brightening effect, effective on my computer- and contact lens-strained eyes”; “minimised morning puffiness”; “improves the appearance of dark circles”.
A’kin Ginkgo & Chamomile Eye Cream,
Eye creams can cost an arm and a leg, so we’re delighted this unfragranced cream is accessibly-priced. Our testers got fantastic results from its fusion of cornflower, alpha-lipoic acid, omega-3, -6, and -9 essential fatty acids, and ginkgo.
Comments: “I liked everything about this – using it was lovely”; “did not irritate my sensitive eyes”; “shadows round eyes less prominent, helped reduce dark circles”; “reduction in puffiness and fine lines smoothed”.

Josephine Fairley and Sarah Stacey are passionate about conservation, organics, and setting standards for natural cosmetics; they are also the authors of The Green Beauty Bible ($39.95; Kyle Cathie/Simon & Schuster), from which this extract is reproduced with permission.