The Best Eye Drops

The best eye drops should target the root cause of your dry, red, or itchy eyes without worsening existing irritation. To find the best, we interviewed optometrists and ophthalmologists to get their take on preservatives, redness-reducers, and other common ingredients. Then we scrutinized labels and packaging and tried several popular brands for ourselves. You’ll need a doctor’s diagnosis to find the underlying cause of your dry eyes, but all of our top picks offer gentle, easy-to-apply relief for a variety of needs.

The 4 Best Eye Drops

Best for
General Use
Blink Lubricating Eye Drops for Mild Moderate Dry Eye
Blink
A water-based drop with soothing ingredients that mimic the qualities of natural tears.
Pros
Natural lubricant
Oxidative preservatives
Easy application
Cons
Pricier preservative-free version

Why we chose it

Natural lubricant

If you’re looking for a gentle way to treat occasional dryness, Blink Tears is a safe bet. It was the only aqueous drop we tested that contained sodium hyaluronate, a lubricant that’s produced naturally by our eyes in response to ocular surface damage. Sodium hyaluronate helps control inflammation, retain water, and lower viscosity when you blink — which decreases the sensation of having “something in your eye.”

Oxidative preservatives

The preservative in Blink Tears’ multi-dose bottle is also one of the gentlest on the market. Manufactured under the brand name OcuPure, it’s what’s known as an oxidative preservative. Unlike more common chemical preservatives, oxidative preservatives break down into natural tear components when exposed to light, which means they don’t linger in the eye.

Easy application

Blink Tears were easy to apply: The multi-dose bottle squeezed out individual drops with no squirting or leaking, and the preservative-free vials had caps that twisted off easily, creating a tiny “bottle” that dispensed its tears evenly.

Blink Close-up for Eye Drops

Points to consider

Pricier preservative-free version

Dr. Whitney Hauser, doctor of optometry at the Southern College of Optometry, points out that “while oxidative preservatives tend to be more gentle than chemical ones, both are still preservatives, and preservative-free is the most gentle to the ocular surface.” If you have sensitive eyes, it’s wise to seek out preservative-free. Blink Tears does offer preservative-free formula that has the exact same active ingredients, though the price-per-ounce doubles: 0.5 ounces of regular Blink Tears costs around $11, while the $10 preservative-free formula only gives you 0.25 ounces.

Best for
Frequent Dryness
Bausch & Lomb Soothe Preservative Free Lubricant Eye Drops
Bausch & Lomb
A lipid-based drop that may offer relief if aqueous drops aren't helping.
Pros
Preservative-free
Strengthens tear film
Instant relief
Cons
Single-use

Why we chose it

Preservative-free

If you suffer from persistent dryness, a lipid-based product is sometimes more effective than an aqueous drop. Because Bausch & Lomb Soothe is preservative-free, it’s gentle enough to be used on a regular basis — and despite being preservative-free, it’s around the same price as many of the preserved drops we tested.

Strengthens tear film

Bausch & Lomb Sooth Preservative-Free Eye Drops relies on two active ingredients to soothe your peepers: glycerin and propylene glycol. These reduce inflammation, promote cell growth, and, most importantly, thicken the natural lipid layer of the tear film.

Instant relief

The Bausch & Lomb vials are easy to twist open and squeeze, and our testers noted an instant soothing sensation upon contact with their eyes. By contrast, Visine All Day Comfort Dry Eye Relief — the cheapest lipid-based drops we tested — made our eyes water immediately upon contact.

Bausch and Lomb Close-up for Eye Drops

Points to consider

Single-use

Bausch & Lomb dispensers are single-use. Although this may be convenient for on-the-go application, there’s no way to re-cap a single-use dispenser once it’s been opened. This means you either need to use the whole dose, discard any unused portion, or carefully preserve the dispenser for later use.

Best for
Redness Relief
Clear Eyes Pure Relief Multi-Symptom Eye Drops
Clear Eyes
Constricts blood vessels to reduce the appearance of redness.
Pros
Preservative-free
Standard ingredients
Cons
Slightly unpleasant experience

Why we chose it

Preservative-free

Bearing in mind the risks of overusing redness drops, we found Clear Eyes Pure Relief Multi-Symptom Eye Drops to be the best of the bunch. It didn’t have much competition — 17 out of the 20 redness drops on our contenders list were eliminated because they contain BAK. Of the three that don’t, Clear Eyes Pure Relief is the only one that’s fully preservative-free, minimizing the risk of irritation after use.

Tip Comparison for Eye Drops

The Clear Eyes bottle (left) features a built-in filter and a smaller opening than other options.

Standard ingredients

The drops use the vasoconstrictor phenylephrine hydrochloride to reduce redness — an ingredient you’ll also see in some over-the-counter cold medicines thanks to its ability to shrink blood vessels and reduce swelling. In addition to targeting redness, Clear Eyes offers “multi-symptom” relief from “itchiness, grittiness, burning, and watery eyes” via ingredients like glycerin, which are also used in many lubricating drops.

Points to consider

Slightly unpleasant experience

Although we were impressed with the Clear Eyes’ patented filtration tip, which promises to keep bacteria out, our testers did find the bottle harder to squeeze than most others we tried. Some noticed a very minor burning sensation for a few seconds after application — probably a reaction to the anti-redness vasoconstrictor. Nixing the red apparently comes at a cost.

Best for
Contact Lens Wearers
Refresh Contact Lens Comfort Drops
Refresh
A water-based lubricating drop safe for hard and soft contacts.
Pros
Versatile
Gentle-on-the-eyes preservative
Cons
Thick on the eyes

Why we chose it

Versatile

Refresh was the only brand of contact lens drops we tested whose formula was safe for both hard and soft lenses, meaning you’re covered no matter which type of contact lenses you wear.

Gentle-on-the-eyes preservative

Brand-named Purite, Refresh’s preservative is another oxidative preservative that dissolves on contact with light. This means it barely makes contact with your eye before breaking down — preferable to even the mildest of chemical preservatives, like the edetate disodium in Renu Multi-Plus Lubricating and Rewetting Drops.

Refresh Close-up for Eye Drops

Points to consider

Thick on the eyes

While Refresh drops induced no irritation, our testers thought that the drops felt slightly thicker in their eyes compared to other contact drops. That thick feeling may be a bit of an annoyance, particularly if you already have trouble with your contacts.

How to Find the Right Eye Drops for You

Know the cause of your symptoms

Dry, irritated eyes can result from a host of factors, including allergies, medications, tear film imbalance, and straightforward “computer strain” (a function of decreased blinking when you’re focusing on the computer screen). Without a doctor’s diagnosis, you’re largely confined to trial-and-error when it comes to choosing eye drops, since it’s hard to be sure whether you’re addressing the root issue.

Go preservative-free if you’ve just had LASIK

Some people experience dry eyes after LASIK or other eye surgery. Eye drops can help, but it’s important to do everything possible to reduce irritation. Even very mild preservatives can prolong your symptoms if you're using the drops often enough.

Start with aqueous drops

If you don’t know what’s causing the dryness in your eyes, it’s best to start with aqueous drops. However, these are only a short-term solution. If dryness persists, you should consult your ophthalmologist or optometrist to determine a diagnosis and move forward with a targeted treatment.

Eye Drops FAQ

What is tear film and how do eye drops use it?

The tear film that coats our eyes is made up of three layers: a mucin (mucus) layer on the surface of the cornea, an aqueous (water) layer on top of that, and a lipid (oil) layer on the outside of the eyeball, which helps prevent the water from evaporating. Aqueous drops replenish the watery inner layer of your tear film.

Will eye redness come back if I stop using eye drops?

If yo’ve relied too heavily on redness relief eye drops or vasoconstricting eye drops, you could suffer “rebound hyperemia.” If you’ve stopped using these eye drops and noticed red, irritated eyes, you should consult your ophthalmologist or optometrist to receive a diagnosis. They can discuss treatment. Recovery from rebound hyperemia varies based on how frequently you have used the eye drops.

What are the best eye drops for allergies and itchiness?

In its overview of treatment for eye allergies, the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology doesn’t recommend over-the-counter antihistamine drops at all. Instead, they suggest seeing an allergist for prescription medication. If that’s not an option, they also recommend using regular old artificial tears, decongestant eye drops, or an oral antihistamine. If you decide to go with this last option, check out our review of the best allergy medicines.

The Best Eye Drops: Summed Up

Blink Lubricating Eye Drops for Mild Moderate Dry Eye
Bausch & Lomb Soothe Lubricant Eye Drops
Clear Eyes Pure Relief Multi-Symptom Eye Drops
Refresh Contact Lens Comfort Drops
Best for
General use
Frequent dryness
Redness relief
Contact lens wearers
Price
$11.28
$18.49
$8.84
$7.14
Type
Aqueous drops
Lipid-based drops
Vasoconstrictor drops
Rewetting drops
Size
1.0 fl oz
0.02 fl oz/per single use
0.34 fl oz
0.4 fl oz