Are Eye Creams a Must-Have?

Expert advice on what to dab on and when to keep hands-off.

Reviewed by Mohiba Tareen, MD on March 24, 2016

Going easy on the eyes when it comes to skin care seems like common sense, but how much special attention do you have to pay to this area?

Using a separate eye cream and facial moisturizer may be necessary, especially if you have sensitive skin, says S. Manjula Jegasothy, MD, founder of Miami Skin Institute. "The skin around the eyes is very thin, and most of us are more sensitive in the eye area than the rest of the face," she says.

"Thin eyelid skin is the first area to show signs of aging and environmental damage," says Noelle Sherber, MD, co-founder of Sherber + Rad. "The structure of the skin in the eye area is different from facial or body skin, and doesn't respond in the same ways to active ingredients and is more likely to be irritated when a product isn't a good match."

To avoid a bad reaction, look for products that are labeled "hypoallergenic" and less likely to cause irritation, Jegasothy says. Facial creams can cause stinging, inflammation, or other issues. Also, the fragrances or preservatives in some of those products can cause dermatitis, or irritation, on delicate skin.

Another school of thought says what's good for your face is also good for the eyes. "Eye creams often over-promise and under-deliver," says Marie Leger, MD, a professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine. "My general advice is to use a topical retinoid, an antioxidant serum with vitamin C, and a simple moisturizer in the eye area. Just make sure the products don't get into the eye."

Leger does think the eye area may need some special care. "Eyelid dermatitis is common, and while it's not always related to an allergy or irritant reaction, that's a common cause," she says. Her advice is to stop using any products that cause an itchy rash around the eyelids right away.

If you want to buy an eye cream, look for those made for sensitive skin, says Molly Wanner, MD, an instructor at Harvard Medical School. "Retinol and retinaldehyde are safe to use around the eye, but, in general, prescription Retin A is too strong for this area."

Age-Proof Your Eyes

An eye cream isn't the only option to fight the signs of aging. These tips can also help you prevent wrinkles, sagging, and dark circles.

Use a gentle makeup remover.

Daily rubbing and tugging can cause damage, Jegasothy says. She suggests using a makeup remover that "melts" off mascara and shadow like a cleansing oil.

Wear sun protection.

Most sunscreens are not tested for the eye area, so Sherber advises you apply SPF up to the orbital bone under each eye and wear sunglasses. Your shades should block 100% of UV rays and leave very little gap between the sunglasses and your face.

Keep your hands off.

Avoid rubbing (especially if you have allergies that cause itching), tugging, pulling, and otherwise handling the skin in your eye area.

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Manjula Jegasothy, MD, board-certified dermatologist; founder of Miami Skin Institute in Coral Gable Florida; clinical associate professor of dermatology at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

Noelle Sherber, MD, board-certified dermatologist; co-founder of Sherber + Rad in Washington, D.C.

Marie Leger, MD, board-certified dermatologist; professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine.

Molly Wanner, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital; instructor at Harvard Medical School.

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