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'Sushi face' is real, says Julianne Moore — and doctors agree

Experts weigh in on why we're anything but camera-ready after our favorite Japanese meal.
/ Source: TODAY

Last night you enjoyed sushi and drinks with friends. But when you woke up this morning, your face looked puffy and the bags under your eyes appeared darker. What happened?

It seems you’re experiencing what Hollywood actress Julianne Moore calls “sushi face.”

Julianne Moore
Julianne Moore says she puffs up with "sushi face" after eating the Japanese staple.Shutterstock

In an interview with New York Magazine, Moore described what happens to her face after she eats the Japanese dish, which is made by combining specially prepared rice with seafood and vegetables.

“It’s because of the sodium. My husband loves to have sushi in L.A. because it’s so good out there. But if I’m there for an awards show or something, I’m like, ‘No, I’m not doing it the night before the Golden Globes. My face will be puffy,” Moore told the magazine, which credited her with popularizing the term.

Is 'sushi face' real?

Moore's diagnosis here is pretty spot-on: eating sushi does cause sushi face.

But it’s hardly the only food that makes us puffy.

“Anything that contains lots of salt is going to cause you to retain water,” said Dr. Debra Wattenberg, a New York City dermatologist at NY Skin Rx. “People who are sensitive to salt are going to swell around their eyes and their lips.”

Group of attractive people eating and socializing at a restaurant
BCFC / Getty Images/iStockphoto

People might notice puffier faces and more pronounced bags under their eyes several hours or even a day after eating sushi because it can be a salty meal. Soy sauce contains loads of sodium; one tablespoon includes 900 milligrams of sodium, which is a big chunk of the daily allowance for sodium intake. (The American Heart Association recommends people eat no more than 2,300 milligrams per day but urges people to consider 1,500 milligrams, ideally.)

While soy sauce contains a whopping amount of sodium, sushi fish and sushi rice also contain salt. Eating all that sodium causes the cells to retain fluid.

“Your body wants to be in balance," said Dr. Adam Friedman, an associate professor of dermatology at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences. "Your body wants to hold onto more water so you have a balance of water and salt."

Sodium's effect on the body

For some people, this means the fluid pools at the ankles. For others, it settles in the face. The latter often occurs when people eat and then sleep face down or head down.

“Some people are prone to getting ‘bags’ under their eyes and too much sodium can absolutely aggravate that,” Dr. Whitney Bowe, a dermatologist at Advanced Dermatology in New York City, told TODAY via email. “People feel puffy especially in areas where skin is thin like around the eyes.”

Want to really exacerbate your sushi face? Drink a little saki, or any other alcohol, with your meal.

“You would be swollen and dehydrated,” Friedman said. “That combo is worse.”

sushi on a plate
Getty Images

While the puffiness may make people look tired, it is mostly harmless. Though, experts say frequent swelling and shrinking of the skin could cause wrinkles and lines.

“That stretching can certainly accelerate the aging of skin,” said Friedman.

Sushi face is temporary and people should look normal in less than 24 hours, Wattenberg said. If people notice they retain fluid for longer than a day, they should see their doctor.

The bottom line is that sushi face — which Friedman thinks should really be called salty face — illustrates just how much what we eat affects our overall wellbeing.

But it's no reason to ditch sushi altogether.

"People should not be scared of sushi. I think it is important to be salt conscious,” he said. “Be conscious of what we put in our bodies and the health effects."

Eating sushi? Here's how to decrease puffiness

Indulging in sushi or other salty foods? Here are five easy ways to prevent puffiness.

  • Drink more water. It flushes some sodium from the body.
  • Exercise. It helps restore the balance the salt and water.
  • Sleep at an incline. It prevents the fluid from pooling in the face.
  • Use a cold compress. It reduces swelling.
  • Avoid alcohol. It increases puffiness.