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Is Eye Cream Necessary? When to Consider Using an Eye Cream (and When You Probably Don’t Need One)

It's complicated.
Is eye cream necessary

Do you need to use an eye cream? Ask a bunch of dermatologists and estheticians to weigh in, and you're bound to get conflicting answers.

Some experts insist that eye cream is essential if you hope to slow down the signs of aging (and who doesn't?!). But others claim it's only a marketing ploy, and no better than your regular moisturizer.

So who's right? Is eye cream really necessary?

In this tutorial, you will learn the differences between eye creams and face creams, when to consider using an eye cream and when you probably don't need one, and which eye creams I recommend most for sensitive skin, wrinkles, puffiness and more.

Why Treat Your Eye Area?

Before we get into what to use, let's talk about why your eye area needs extra care.

The skin around your eyes is different from the rest of your face for these reasons:

  • It's thinner: The eyelids and under-eyes have the thinnest skin on the entire body, at only 0.5 mm thick.
  • It's drier: Unlike your forehead, chin, nose and cheeks, there are virtually no oil glands in the eye area, making it much more prone to dryness.
  • It's more sensitive: Thin, delicate skin tends to be more reactive. Even if you don't have sensitive skin anywhere else, it's common for the eye area to become irritated when exposed to certain products or ingredients.
  • It's the first area to show signs of aging: The skin around the eyes is under constant stress, thanks to facial expressions, squinting and even blinking (which we do as often as 28,000 times per day!). This study also found that wrinkles are deepest in the areas where oil glands are less concentrated—which is why crow's feet are a typical first sign of aging.
  • It gets puffy: Because the skin is thin underneath the eyes, fluid retention appears more prominent.
  • It's prone to milia: Also known as "milk spots," milia are tiny white bumps comprised of hardened keratin. They're a frequent occurrence around the eyes, and often triggered by the use of heavy creams.

Is Eye Cream Any Different Than Face Cream?

So is eye cream the same thing as face cream—just in a smaller jar with a higher price tag? 

Not necessarily.

  • Face creams have one main purpose: to treat dryness by trapping water in the skin and preventing it from escaping. However, they often target other concerns as well—such as dullness, pigmentation or signs of aging—using active ingredients like acids and vitamin C. They also come in a range of textures, from lightweight gels to heavy creams.
  • Eye creams, on the other hand, are only meant to be used on the fragile skin around the eyes. As such, they're typically formulated without the usual irritants, such as fragrance. Still, they often have active ingredients to combat crow's feet, puffiness and dark circles—just in low concentrations. As for texture, it varies. Some eye creams are light, non-greasy and fast-penetrating, while others are rich and intensely moisturizing. 

When to Consider Using an Eye Cream

You should think about using an eye cream if...

✓ Your Face Cream Is Too Irritating to Use Around Your Eyes

Even if you love your regular moisturizer, it might be too harsh and irritating for your sensitive eye area. These are some of the ingredients that can be a problem near the eyes:

  • Fragrance and essential oils
  • Alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids 
  • L-ascorbic acid and ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate (vitamin C)
  • Retinol
  • Avobenzone and oxybenzone (sunscreens) 

You don't have to give up your moisturizer if you're tolerating it well on the rest of your face—just invest in a separate eye cream that is free of these triggers. Of the many eye creams I've tested, the best formulas for sensitive skin include Caudalie Resveratrol-Lift Firming Eye Gel Cream, Odacité Ultra Effective Eye Cream and Dr. Barbara Sturm Eye Cream.

✓ Your Face Cream Is Too Lightweight or Too Heavy to Use Around Your Eyes

Another reason to use an eye cream is because the texture of your face cream may not be quite right. 

Maybe you've got oily skin, so you only have light gel or gel-cream moisturizers in your routine. But your eye area—since it doesn't have all those oil glands—probably needs a lot more moisture than the rest of your face. So it makes sense to apply a more nourishing cream there, such as Versed Zero-G Smoothing Eye CreamGoop Beauty GOOPGENES All-in-One Nourishing Eye Cream or Sisley Paris Sisleÿa L’Intégral Anti-Age Eye & Lip Contour Cream (the ultimate!).

On the flip side, your moisturizer might be too heavy and greasy for your eye area. This can make it difficult to apply eye makeup, but that's not all. Thick creams can seep into your eyes (especially when you're lying down at night), leading to irritation and puffiness. They can also cause milia bumps. If you're experiencing these issues, try a lightweight eye cream like Dr. Barbara Sturm Eye Cream, or even an eye serum like Indie Lee I-Waken Eye Serum (reviewed here).

✓ You Want to Treat Fine Lines or Puffiness

If you're concerned about crow's feet and eye bags, you'll get better results from a targeted eye cream with active ingredients, versus a face cream that is only intended for hydration.

For wrinkles, retinoids are the gold standard, so look for eye creams made with retinol, retinaldehyde or retinoic acid esters. They won't be as potent as formulas intended for the rest of the face, but over time, will help to normalize collagen and smooth out lines. Avène RetrinAL EYES Eye Contour Care with retinaldehyde is my top pick, but also check out Dr. Zenovia Retinol Recovery Eye Cream and First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Eye Cream.

For puffy eyes, caffeine and green tea extract can help to temporarily constrict blood vessels to decrease swelling. They're usually found in eye treatments, not face creams. Try The Inkey List Caffeine Eye Cream or The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG (reviewed here).

✓ Your Anti-Aging Treatment Is Too Irritating to Use Around Your Eyes

It could be you're already using a treatment like retinol, L-ascorbic acid or an alpha- or beta-hydroxy-acid on the rest of your face, but you just can't tolerate it near your eyes. In this case, eye creams with non-irritating active ingredients are the next best choice if you still want to do something for signs of aging around the eyes. 

Drunk Elephant C-Tango Multivitamin Eye Cream (reviewed here) is a good choice because it contains a mix of peptides and vitamin C derivatives (which are milder than L-ascorbic acid) to firm and brighten. There's also niacinamide, which has an array of benefits and can be found in First Aid Beauty Eye Duty Niacinamide Brightening Cream.

When You Probably Don’t Need an Eye Cream

You might not want or need a separate eye cream if...

✗ You Can Tolerate Your Face Cream Around Your Eyes

If your existing face cream is working well for you, then an eye cream is a "nice to have"—but not a must-have. As long as you like the texture and you're getting your desired results without irritation, then there's no reason your moisturizer can't be applied all over your face, including the eye area.

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From The Skincare Edit Archives

✗ You Can’t Tolerate Most Eye Creams

Even though eye creams are specifically made to be gentle, they can still cause annoying irritation for certain people (including myself). As someone with a sensitive eye area, I've found that many eye creams give me dry, crepey skin under my eyes, even though they promise to moisturize!

If this has happened to you, too, then you might consider foregoing eye cream in favour of a simple serum-oil combination instead. In my experience, there's little risk of a reaction because you're exposing the skin to only a few ingredients. 

Even though it's not marketed for the eyes, I swear by Consonant HydrExtreme (reviewed here), a blend of glycerin and a polysaccharide—that's it! (Timeless Hyaluronic Acid Pure is another simple hydrating serum that shouldn't cause issues.) I then seal in the serum with a tiny drop of Indie Lee Squalane Facial Oil (reviewed here), but you could use any pure oil you tolerate. Whenever I test products that cause my eye area to act up, I always revert back to this combo!

Also keep in mind that topical products aren't the only way to treat your eye area. I love to do microcurrent sessions with the ZIIP Nano Current Device, and red light therapy with the Red Light Man Red Light Device (all about it here).

✗ You Can Tolerate Your Anti-Aging Treatment Around Your Eyes

Contrary to what you might think, you can apply retinoids and L-ascorbic acid underneath and around your eyes. 

So if you've been able to use your go-to anti-aging treatment all-over, then consider yourself lucky! Compared to an eye cream, it will have a much higher concentration of active ingredients—which means better and faster results. Personally, I've been able to use A313 Vitamin A Pommade (reviewed here) under my eyes nightly, without experiencing irritation. 

Just be sure to go slow, and always protect your eye area (as well as the rest of your face) from the sun, since retinoids can increase photosensitivity. Your regular sunscreen will do, or try Supergoop! Bright-Eyed 100% Mineral Eye Cream SPF 40, one of the few eye creams with zinc oxide.

✗ You Want to Treat Dark Circles

If you were thinking about investing in an eye cream solely to fade darkness, that might not be the best strategy. Some of the most common causes for dark circles are food allergies, low thyroid function and hollowing under the eyes—and in these cases, an eye cream won't help at all.

But if the darkness is actually hyperpigmentation, then an eye cream could be useful if it contains brightening ingredients such as vitamin C, kojic acid or niacinamide. Check out Farmacy Cheer Up Brightening Vitamin C Eye Cream, SkinMedica Uplifting Eye Serum or Dr. Dennis Gross Stress SOS Eye Cream.

The Best Eye Creams for Your Skin

Alright, now for a few product recommendations! If you do want to go ahead and use an eye cream, these are some of the best ones I've found.

For Light Hydration: Dr. Barbara Sturm Eye Cream

Dr. Barbara Sturm Eye Cream

Dr. Barbara Sturm Eye Cream

Dr. Barbara Sturm Eye Cream was a new addition to my routine this summer, and I'm already planning a repurchase. Believe the hype—it's incredibly light yet mega-hydrating, perfect under makeup, and packed with macadamia oil, botanical extracts and vitamin E. I might even call it a Holy Grail!

For Sensitive Skin: Caudalie Resveratrol-Lift Firming Eye Gel Cream

Caudalie Resveratrol-Lift Firming Eye Gel Cream

Caudalie Resveratrol-Lift Firming Eye Gel Cream

Caudalie Resveratrol-Lift Firming Eye Gel Cream has a gel-cream texture that's great under makeup, and it's especially formulated for sensitive types. It's fragrance-free, and features hyaluronic acid, peptides and the antioxidant resveratrol. I'm not sure about firming, but it most definitely hydrates and plumps.

For the First Signs of Aging: Drunk Elephant C-Tango Multivitamin Eye Cream

Drunk Elephant C-Tango Multivitamin Eye Cream

Drunk Elephant C-Tango Multivitamin Eye Cream

Drunk Elephant C-Tango Multivitamin Eye Cream is a good place to start if you're beginning to notice fine lines or a loss of firmness. This one has a creamier, more nourishing texture, and is made with a blend of eight peptides and five types of vitamin C derivatives. It's also fragrance-free and dispenses through a convenient airless pump.