“Unfortunately, most available topical creams do very little to permanently reduce under-eye bags,” said Kally Papantoniou, a cosmetic dermatologist in New York, telling me something many hundreds of dollars and hours at the bathroom sink have already resoundingly declared. Even clinical-strength gels only tighten the skin or reduce inflammation temporarily, she said. If they do, I haven’t noticed.
The most blissful time was college, when the lighting in our dorms made everything look like an overexposed photograph from 1995, and the bags seemed to recess into the general, faded glow that illuminated my face. I got a boyfriend and pretty much didn’t think about them for four sweet years.
But then, of course, I moved out of the dorms. I got dumped. It was easier to blame it on my under-eye bags than the literally thousands of other problems with our relationship, such as the fact that he liked to wear whimsical hats to bed. When a phalanx of allergists and ENTs and endocrinologists couldn’t help me—during one appointment, the doctor exclaimed “you look like a vampire!”—I began Googling plastic surgeons.
I was interested in a procedure called “lower lid blepharoplasty,” where the bag of excess fat is sucked out through a small cut on the inside of the eyelid. The surgery would be a couple thousand dollars, and I intended to splurge all my savings on it.
The surgeon, a man who looked to be in his 60s, sat behind a big wooden desk in a dark, cluttered office. He told me I would know he was good because he could draw two dots on a piece of paper exactly an inch apart, without measuring it first.
He pulled out a sheet of printer paper and drew two tiny circles in the middle of it. Then he reached for a ruler and lined it up against the marks.
He was way off. I left quickly and never followed up.
At the time, surgery was the only permanent option, but Papantoniou told me about a less-invasive alternative that might be forthcoming. An ointment called XAF-5, designed for glaucoma, was found to also deflate fat cells under the eyes. It’s in clinical trials and could be available next year if it’s approved. An effective under-eye cream would be a minor miracle, of course, but I’ll believe it when I no longer look like I’ve pulled 40 consecutive all-nighters.
I have stopped caring, mostly. Or, at least, I care so much less than I used to that it feels chill and empowered by comparison. (Perhaps it’s because, like my grandmothers before me, I’ve lately become worried about Nazis.) I’ve gone to Starbucks without concealer on—and given them my real name for the cup! Out of pure compulsion, I still roll my Garnier wand over my lower eyelids each morning, though I increasingly feel like some sort of Sisyphean steamroller, doomed to forever try to flatten out lumps that are, it seems, not going anywhere.
I never did beat the other girl in the class rankings. I did, however, use my plastic-surgery money to get a new denim jacket.