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Eye cream: Does it really work?

closeup of eye cream application under eye

Eye creams make many promises — such as getting rid of crow’s feet, plumping up dry skin, banishing dark circles and shrinking puffiness under the eyes. Though not all eye creams live up to their claims, they are more than just moisturizers. 

Eye creams are safely formulated for the delicate, thin skin around the eyes, with ingredients like antioxidants, skin-healing ingredients, emollients, fatty acids and collagen. Eye cream formulations also hydrate and nourish without blocking pores around the eyes. Blocked pores can lead to unsightly, tiny, white bumps called milia.

The skin around your eyes can dry out easily and is quick to show age, fatigue or the effects of a late night out. Fine lines and wrinkles usually start to show up around the eyes when you’re in your late 20s and 30s. 

In addition, the thin skin around the eyes is vulnerable to swelling, discoloration, eyelid dermatitis, bags under the eyes and puffiness. The proper eye cream can help address many of these issues. Eye creams can help build collagen, keep skin cells healthy, lighten discoloration and dark circles, and restore moisture and a healthy skin barrier.

The best way to apply any eye cream

No matter which eye cream you choose, it’s important not to rub it in, but to gently pat it onto the skin. You may find that using your ring finger will be both gentle and precise. Use a small amount. Don’t apply too close to the lashes. Wait a minute or two while the cream is fully absorbed. 

Eye cream should be applied before moisturizer, sunscreen or concealer.

What ingredients are in quality eye creams?

Eye creams can contain highly specialized ingredients intended to nourish and restore delicate skin around the eyes. Some of the ingredients to look for include:

  • Peptides – Specialized proteins that are building blocks for the collagen and elastin fibers in your skin. Peptides can help improve the fullness of skin around the eyes. 

  • Ceramides – Compounds composed of fatty acids. They are emollients. They help form a barrier that locks moisture into your skin, preventing dryness.

  • Beeswax or mineral oil – May be included to form an inert layer on the skin and protect it from evaporation and water loss.

  • Niacinamide – A form of vitamin B3. It can function as an antioxidant and has both brightening and hydrating action.

  • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) – A potent fat-soluble antioxidant that our own bodies make. It declines with age. CoQ10 can help protect the skin from sun damage and lessen the appearance of wrinkles.

  • Hyaluronic acid – A popular ingredient in skin creams. It attracts water, which hydrates dry skin. It is called a humectant. Glycerin also binds water.

  • Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) – Naturally occurring, organic acids found in many foods and milk sugars. These gentle acids are used in many cosmetic formulations to improve skin texture and tone and smooth fine wrinkles. They include lactic acid, glycolic acid, malic acid, citric acid and others. 

  • Retinoids and retinol – Derivatives of vitamin A that can reduce the appearance of wrinkles. Eye creams with retinoids are carefully designed for the delicate skin under the eye. 

  • Ferulic acid – An antioxidant that boosts the action of other antioxidants and helps reduce fine lines.  

  • Ellagic acid – An antioxidant found in fruits and berries that helps improve and brighten the skin’s appearance

  • Vitamin C – A classic antioxidant that is thought to support collagen and brighten skin.

  • Vitamin E – Moisturizes and soothes the skin.

  • Vitamin K – Sometimes included in formulas to improve circulation and lessen dark circles.

  • Caffeine – Decreases puffiness and can help constrict blood vessels

  • SPF (sun protection factor) – Helps prevent sun damage and wrinkles.

The best under eye cream for dark circles

Dark circles under the eyes are often due to fatigue or a lack of sleep. They can also be due to genetics, where the skin beneath or around the eyes is naturally a darker hue.  Sun exposure, allergies, menstrual cycles and age are also important factors. 

As we age, the already delicate skin around the eyes can become even thinner, and blood vessels beneath the skin will be more visible. This can give the impression of darker pigmentation.

To conceal dark circles caused by genetics and hyperpigmentation, a moisturizing eye cream with brighteners, followed by a concealer is a good option. A hydrating, moisturizing eye cream plumps up wrinkles and smooths the surface of the skin. 

For any kind of dark, under-eye circles, you may look for creams containing antioxidants, Vitamin C and retinoids. These support healthy collagen and improve the appearance of under-eye skin. Caffeine helps to constrict blood vessels if they are contributing to the appearance of dark circles. 

The best eye cream for puffiness 

Puffiness often goes along with dark circles under the eyes. Eye puffiness can be due to: 

  • Aging

  • Stress

  • Fatigue or poor sleep

  • Overconsumption of salt

  • Sinus problems

  • Stress

  • Crying

Puffy eyes can also be more noticeable when you wake in the morning. This is because you have not blinked all night, and fluid has accumulated under the skin. In addition, as we age, fatty tissue can push forward into the area under the eye. 

No matter what the cause, puffiness is due to a buildup of fluid under the eyes.

The best puffy-eye creams will help improve circulation and shrink slightly swollen tissues. Caffeine is known to help improve circulation. Green tea extract can help tighten skin. In addition, refrigerating your eye cream will keep it cold, and cold can help lessen puffiness.  

The best eye cream for dry skin

For the delicate, dry skin around your eyes, creams with ceramide can hydrate and mimic the skin’s natural moisturizing ability. Ceramide also improves the skin’s barrier function, which helps it retain moisture. Eye creams with fatty acids can help improve hydration as well. Beeswax and mineral oil can also help retain water.

Eye cream for crow’s feet and wrinkles

As you age, the oil-producing glands in your skin may produce less oil. Your skin may dry out and you may notice more fine lines and wrinkles. Look for emollients that can help plump up the skin and reduce the appearance of wrinkles. 

Retinoids are also well known for reducing fine wrinkles and helping skin regain a more youthful appearance. Retinol contains a lower concentration of the active ingredient and can be gentler on sensitive skin around the eyes. 

Humectants and moisturizers should also be in the cream. Plus, you’ll want ingredients that support collagen, such as vitamin C and specialized peptides. They can help maintain skin elasticity and address wrinkles and crow’s feet.

Don’t forget sunblock 

Look for an eye cream that includes sunblock, with an SPF of 30 or higher. Mineral sunscreens, rather than chemical sunscreens, are safer for the vulnerable eye area.

The skin’s barrier. Giornale Italiano di Dermatologia e Venereologia. December 2009.

Peptides and skin health. Oregon State University. October 2012.

Ceramides and skin functionAmerican Journal of Clinical Dermatology. Aug 2012.

Topical treatment with coenzyme Q10‐containing formulas improves skin’s Q10 level and provides antioxidative effects. Biofactors. December 2015.

Dual effects of Alpha-Hydroxy acids on the skin. Molecules. April 2018.

Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clinical Interventions in Aging. December 2006.

Periorbital hyperpigmentation: A comprehensive review. Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. January 2016.

Skin hydration is significantly increased by a cream formulated to mimic the skin's own natural moisturizing system. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology. October 2018.

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