Even if you’re a self-proclaimed beauty junkie, you’ve probably asked yourself at some point, “do I really need an eye cream?” Obviously, eye cream isn’t something you need like food, water, and shelter. But it certainly can help improve the overall appearance of your eyes. Here’s how:
The skin around your eyes is different, and regular moisturizer may not work for it.
You’ve probably noticed the skin around your eye feels a little thinner and more delicate than elsewhere on your face. That’s because it has less collagen and fewer oil glands, making it more prone to lines and dullness. But before you reach for your thickest, oiliest moisturizer to treat the area, take note: “people think that because the skin is thinner around the eye that you need a heavier moisturizer,” says Zoe Weisman, director of product development at Advanced Clinicals. “But the eye area is sensitive and prone to milia especially if you’re using products with too many occlusive moisturizers (for example, if lanolin or petrolatum are within the first three ingredients on the label). You want more humectants, like glycerine and hyaluronic acid.”
Another reason your regular moisturizer may not work: if it has active ingredients like retinol or vitamin C at high concentrations that the eye can’t tolerate. This can cause redness, irritation, or burning (fun).
Your eyes also come with a unique set of issues.
Lines, dark circles, and bags are the three most common concerns for the skin around the eyes. If you think about it, the skin around your eye is moving pretty much constantly: squinting, laughing, crying, widening in surprise. Even when you sleep, your eyes sometimes twitch. Combine this with an area that’s already prone to dryness (and only gets drier with age), and you have an explanation for why the eyes are usually the first area to show lines. (Sidenote: the eye, or “periorbital” if you want to get fancy, area’s tendency to wrinkle is also what makes it the first place researchers test anti-aging products on. “If it works on crows’ feet, it will work almost anywhere” is the logic, according to Weisman.)
Dark circles can be caused by melanin (dark pigmentation) or thin skin (which allows the vascular tissue below to show through). Want to find out which causes yours? Try this trick from Weisman: if you gently tug on your cheeks and your dark circles move, they’re probably caused by melanin. If you pull and they stay in the same place, then thin skin is at play.
As for eye bags, those can result from allergies, genetics, or lack of sleep.
When choosing an eye cream, focus on ingredients first.
Whatever issue you’re trying to treat, you’ll want to know what ingredients can counteract it. A good eye cream formula will combine the optimal concentrations of the right active ingredients to address lines, dark circles, or bags. How do beauty brands know exactly what those are? Typically, they’ll run clinical tests (whether with an in-house or third-party team) to assess the efficacy of specific ingredients. If you’re hoping to track down those studies to help you choose an eye cream, you may have a hard time. “Most beauty brands and companies don’t publish their studies,” says Weisman. “That tends to be confidential information, since setting up the protocol for a study is kind of an art—they don’t want another brand to steal or try to ‘one-up’ their methods.”
Your best bet is to confirm ingredients across multiple sources. We already did that in our review of the best eye cream, and you’ll find similar advice from the likes of Paula’s Choice and researchers at the Isfahan University of Medical Sciences. Here are a few best practices to keep in mind:
1. Avoid potential irritants like fragrance, parabens, and mineral oils. Weisman also recommends skipping silicones if you wear makeup, as they can cause pilling when layered underneath other products.
2. For lines, favor retinoids and peptides to stimulate collagen production, and hyaluronic acid to plump and hydrate.
3. For dark circles, caffeine, antioxidants, and light-reflecting mica work wonders. Remember our dark circle test? If melanin is the cause, Weisman suggests the antioxidant vitamin C or licorice. If you need a collagen booster, she recommends retinoids, vitamin C, and chlorella.
4. As for puffiness, try caffeine and antioxidants. But also check with your doctor that it’s not caused by allergies-an over-the-counter allergy medicine can help in this case.
Packaging and shelf life matter, but price doesn’t.
So you’ve found an eye cream that includes all the good ingredients and none of the bad ones. You’ll also want to make sure the product is packaged in an opaque and airtight container. This serves two purposes. First, it prevents contamination: the trouble with eye creams in jars is that every time you put your finger in, you introduce germs. It also protects the active ingredients from oxidizing (and becoming inactive) due to light or air exposure. In this regard, you’ll want to keep track of your eye cream’s expiration date. Flip over to the bottom or back of the container and look for an icon that resembles a small jar, with a number and letter printed in it. This shows the number of months (M) or years (Y) until the product expires.
Good news: you don’t have to shell out a lot of money for a super high-end eye cream. A luxury product with a big price tag is not necessarily going to perform any better than a well-formulated drugstore cream. And sometimes your best bet is to try a product out on your own skin to see how it works. “The combination of ingredients and overall delivery system can have an impact,” says Weisman.
Remember, we haven’t found the fountain of youth (yet).
Paula’s Choice recommends you “keep expectations realistic.” No eye cream is going to completely erase lines, circles or bags. However, with a good product you can expect to “see radiance or a bit of tightening instantly,” says Weisman. “Longer term results will take six weeks minimum.” Why? Your skin needs time to regenerate, especially for brighteners because those act on the melanin in your skin and it takes time for those pigments to cycle out.
For best results, be consistent and gentle (remember, eye skin is delicate) with application. And don’t forget the best offense is a good defense: wear protective eyewear and SPF, don’t smoke, sleep well, stay hydrated-in short, live a healthy lifestyle, and your eyes will show it.