Even if you know how important skin care is, coming up with the right regimen for your unique needs can be a bit of a puzzle. There's a lot of buzz on social media about lengthy and sometimes complicated routines, adding even more overwhelm.
There's one question that leaves the internet divided: Do you really need eye cream? After all, eye creams are small, pricey per ounce and have a similar consistency to regular face moisturizers. No one wants to buy products they don't actually need.
Video of the Day
To get to the bottom of this debate, we asked several board-certified dermatologists for their expert opinions. Keep reading to find out if experts think eye cream is necessary and whether you can get away with simply using face lotion under your eyes instead.
Do Eye Creams Work?
The short answer is yes, they do work. The nuance is that not everyone has a need for eye cream, but they can be beneficial for people with specific under-eye concerns.
Products made for the under-eye area, such as eye serums, can help diminish the visible signs of aging, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
"Eye creams formulated with clinically proven ingredients do work, meaning they can provide visible benefits to the skin," says Blair Murphy-Rose, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "There are several different concerns that may be addressed by different active and inactive ingredients, ranging from boosting collagen to reducing vascular congestion to plumping and hydrating to conceal fine lines."
Essentially, it comes down to the eye cream's ingredient list. When looking for an eye cream, choose one that contains active ingredients that target your specific concerns, per the Cleveland Clinic.
That said, the claims on over-the-counter eye creams aren't rigorously tested because these products aren't considered medicines by the FDA, according to the Mayo Clinic. The results you'll see are likely to be subtle, not dramatic.
Here are common under-eye concerns and the best active ingredients to improve them:
1. Caffeine and Witch Hazel Reduce Puffiness
Puffiness generally isn't a medical concern, but cosmetically, dermatologists recommend eye creams formulated with ingredients like caffeine and witch hazel.
"Caffeine is great for puffiness, and it works relatively quickly," says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. "It works by [temporarily] causing vasoconstriction and decreasing the swelling of fluid that accumulates under the eyes."
Stacey Tull, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologic surgeon in Cottleville, Missouri, recommends eye creams with witch hazel. It's an anti-inflammatory agent that also has antioxidant properties, according to a June 2022 review in Antioxidants. A type of antioxidant in witch hazel, known as tannins, may help reduce puffy eyes by constricting blood vessels, Dr. Tull says.
2. Antioxidants Brighten Dark Circles
The go-to ingredients for any kind of darkness, dullness or discoloration are antioxidants. Vitamin C in particular is hailed for its ability to boost brightness. Retinol, a derivative of the antioxidant vitamin A, is up there with it, especially for softening fine lines around the eyes.
Dr. Nazarian says antioxidants are a bonus in an eye cream because they're universally beneficial: "They protect against environmental damage and help preserve skin from premature aging."
Eye creams containing antioxidants can help brighten dark circles under the eyes, but their efficacy can depend on what's causing the darkness.
"Dark circles caused by vascular congestion can be targeted with caffeine, vitamin K and arnica," Dr. Murphy-Rose says. "Dark circles caused by true hyperpigmentation can be treated with retinol and vitamin C-containing eye creams that help to brighten and fade discoloration."
While these antioxidants are the gold standard for brightening, Dr. Tull is also a fan of formulas that contain licorice root extract and kojic acid.
Licorice, not just a tasty treat, is a common skin-lightening ingredient that may be more effective at depigmenting the skin than hydroquinone (a common ingredient used in products meant to lighten areas of skin), according to a February 2022 study in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. The study also mentions kojic acid as a depigmenting agent that researchers believe is similar in efficacy to hydroquinone.
3. Retinol and Hyaluronic Acid Improve Fine Lines
Collagen and elastin — compounds that give skin its structure — decline over time, leading to the formation of wrinkles and fine lines around the eyes. They're purely cosmetic, but if you want to smooth them out, the dermatologists we spoke to recommend two key ingredients: hyaluronic acid and retinol.
Hyaluronic acid is a humectant, so it draws water deeper into the skin. "It helps to conceal fine lines by plumping the skin," Dr. Murphy-Rose says.
Retinol works a bit differently: It's beneficial for brightening, but it's the go-to option for reducing wrinkles. "Retinol is one of the best ingredients for treating fine lines around the eyes," Dr. Murphy-Rose says. "It works by boosting your skin's own collagen production."
Are Eye Creams Any Different From Regular Face Lotion?
Eye creams can contain many of the same active ingredients found in other skin-care products, such as serums and moisturizers, so how different can they be? An ingredients list is like a recipe — it tells you what's in the final product but not how it was made. Eye cream is simply formulated differently than face lotions because it's intended for a very specific area of skin.
"The skin around the eye is much thinner, drier and more delicate than the rest of the skin on the face," Dr. Tull says. "Because of this, eye creams tend to be more moisturizing and contain no or lower concentrations of irritating ingredients." (Still, it's always smart to test a small amount on another area of your skin to see how your body reacts to a product before trying it around the sensitive skin near your eyes.)
The eye area is also less prone to breakouts, Dr. Murphy-Rose adds. This means eye cream formulas can be heavier (aka more moisturizing) but still tolerable for those who generally have oily or acne-prone skin on the rest of their face.
Alternatives to Eye Cream to Try
The right eye cream can help you get a jumpstart on certain concerns, but Dr. Nazarian says there are lifestyle changes, home remedies and professional treatment options that may reduce puffiness, lighten dark circles and smooth fine lines, too.
Simple tweaks can yield big results. For example, wearing sunglasses and remembering to apply sunscreen every day can help prevent skin cancer — which can affect the eye area — according to the Cleveland Clinic. If you have sensitive eyes or skin around them, which is common, Dr. Tull recommends using a mineral sunscreen instead of a chemical one.
Getting enough rest can go a long way to improving under-eye darkness and puffiness, because these concerns can be caused by a lack of sleep. Aim for seven to nine hours a night, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Other lifestyle changes include drinking plenty of water and reducing your sodium intake, according to the dermatologists we spoke to. If fine lines and wrinkles are a primary concern, avoid smoking and adopt a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, per the Mayo Clinic.
When you need a quick way to reduce puffiness and under-eye bags, apply something cool. Dr. Tull recommends eye products with a cool applicator, so you get the active ingredients your skin needs along with a blast of coolness that wakes up tired eyes.
One of Dr. Nazarian's favorite home remedies is to apply a cool green tea bag to the under-eye area. "This works by constricting the blood vessels, decreasing puffiness and calming inflammation," she says.
To prevent morning puffiness, Dr. Murphy-Rose recommends propping an extra pillow under your head. The added elevation prevents "pillow face," a term coined for the fine lines and wrinkles that arise from your pillow smushing your face overnight.
Professional Office Treatments
If you're not achieving your desired results at home, you can consider professional treatments. Your dermatologist or esthetician can help recommend the right option for you, Dr. Nazarian says, including:
- Laser treatments, which can improve elasticity, increase collagen and decrease wrinkles
- Chemical peels, which can brighten dark skin under the eyes and decrease pigment
- Hyaluronic acid filler, which can help improve hollowness and shadowing around the eyes
So, Do You Really Need to Use Eye Cream?
Eye creams and face moisturizers are both beneficial steps in many skin-care routines. Ultimately, they serve different purposes, so it's up to you to decide if the extra step is worth it. According to the dermatologists we spoke to, if you're concerned with puffiness, discoloration or fine lines, it definitely is.
A moisturizer's primary function is to provide hydration to the skin. It's typically the final step in your skin-care routine because it also seals in other products, such as serums. An eye cream has a much more targeted purpose. While it can also help increase hydration around the eyes, it's specifically formulated with other benefits in mind, such as improving puffiness, dark circles and fine lines that don't affect other parts of your face.
The bottom line is "regular moisturizing creams are not a substitute for eye creams," Dr. Nazarian says. They're specifically formulated for the thin, delicate skin under the eyes, and they uniquely address concerns in that area. That said, if you're already using a retinol or a vitamin C serum, you may be able to apply those around your eyes and skip buying yet another product (as long as they're safe for use on that sensitive skin and don't irritate your eye area).
"Eye creams are very helpful [for people] whose skin needs extra support, repair or prevention," Dr. Tull says. "For others, extending your regular skin-care routine to the skin surrounding the eyes is also fine."
- Cleveland Clinic: "How To Choose the Right Eye Cream"
- AAD: "Skin care in your 40s and 50s"
- Mayo Clinic: "Bags under eyes"
- Antioxidants: "Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Acne Effects of Hamamelis virginiana Bark in Human Keratinocytes"
- Cleveland Clinic: "5 Spots You’re Probably Forgetting To Put Sunscreen"
- CDC: "How Much Sleep Do I Need?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Wrinkles"
- Mayo Clinic: "Wrinkle creams: Your guide to younger looking skin"
- The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology: "Comparative Study on Depigmenting Agents in Skin of Color"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.