Eye creams are a big business, with massive growth expected through 2026 (source). And it’s no wonder why: With fewer oil glands and thinner skin than the rest of the face, the undereye region is one of the first places on the face to show fine lines, wrinkles, discoloration, puffiness, and other signs of aging.
Yet, after researching and writing about skincare for fifteen years, I have concluded that the vast majority of eye creams just aren’t worth it. Here are some reasons why:
Use the Concentrated Ingredients Where You Need Them: Under Your Eyes
First of all, eye creams tend to be somewhat diluted to extremely diluted, compared to their concentrated counterparts that are made for all-over-the-face use. For instance, Skinceuticals, a brand I love, makes a 5% L-ascorbic acid eye cream, their Skinceuticals AOX+ Eye Gel. On the other hand, one of Skinceuticals’ best-selling serums for all over the face is a 15% L-ascorbic acid serum, Skinceuticals CE Ferulic.
Let’s assume for a minute that all of the studies are correct, and that topically-applied vitamin C does in fact increase collagen production in a dose-dependent manner (Yale Journal of Biological Medicine). Meaning, the more vitamin C as L-ascorbic acid you apply to an area, the more collagen you produce in that area, and hence, the firmer and less wrinkled that area will theoretically be.
Why, then, would you ever apply more concentrated vitamin C to the rest of your face, and diluted vitamin C around the eyes, where you need more collagen the most?! That’s like asking to have your undereye skin be saggy, wrinkled, puffy, and loose (or sullen-looking) compared to the surrounding skin — at least with regular dedicated use over time.
And don’t get me wrong. Skinceuticals is one of my all-time favorite brands, and I don’t want to throw them under the bus here. But, I personally use Skinceuticals CE Ferulic all over my face, including the undereye area, and I have for the past 16 years. It’s one of the reasons why I think I don’t have a noticeable “eye box” region underneath my eyes. If I had used a less-concentrated serum in the undereye region, I don’t think it would’ve held up as well, honestly.
Irritation is a Concern if Using Full-Strength Facial Products Under the Eyes, But Most of the Time, Only Temporarily
The concern that normally arises about using full-strength products under the eyes is irritation. Because there are fewer oil glands and there is typically thinner skin under the eyes, this area is prone to irritation.
My answer to that is as follows:
1.) Start with lower concentrations. For instance, for retinol, you might want to start with 0.025%.
2.) Start with lower frequency. You might want to start with once/week. Then, after 2-3 weeks, if that is tolerated well, move to twice/week. Then, if that is tolerated well, bump it up to every other day. Eventually, over the course of a few months, you should be able to get to daily use.
When I use a new product, I typically start with Sundays. Then, if it is tolerated well, I typically use it Sundays and Wednesdays. After a few more weeks, it’s Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays; eventually, it’s every night. I’ve been doing this for years, with great results.
3.) Eventually, the goal is to have the serums/creams used under the eyes match the strength of the ingredients in the serums/creams used on the rest of your face and neck. Not only is it convenient, but it guarantees you’re stimulating the skin all over the face the same amount — not less around the under eyes, where you very well may need it most.
Eye Creams Are Usually, Quite Frankly, a Rip-Off
Another reason I don’t like eye creams? They tend to be more expensive, ounce for ounce, than other facial moisturizers or lotions, and less concentrated.
Take, for instance, this list:
- Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Vitamin Eye Cream is $65 for 0.50 ounces (or $130 for 1 ounce); Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Vitamin C Power Serum is $98 for 1 ounce. You’re paying 32% more for a less-concentrated eye cream.
- Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Eye Serum is $85 for 0.50 ounces (or $170 for 1 ounce); Murad Retinol Serum is $89 for 1 ounce. You’re paying 95% more for a less-concentrated eye serum.
Also, don’t get me wrong. I actually really like the science-based approach of the brands listed above, as well as numerous products from each of them. However, if you want to get the effects of their concentrated ingredients and hydrate, protect, and soothe the delicate undereye area, you can do so without paying a premium. Instead, buy the concentrated product for all-over-the-face, apply it under the eyes as well (as tolerated — build up to daily use!), and use a soothing eye product on top of it with ingredients like hyaluronic acid, ceramides, oat extract, etc.
I’m Not the Only Skincare Expert to Feel This Way
I’m not the only skincare expert to feel this way. Paula Begoun, founder of Paula’s Choice, has harsh opinions as well: “Eye creams often claim to have been formulated ‘specially’ for the thin, sensitive skin around the eyes. Brands claim they will help you get rid of bags under the eyes, dark rings and saggy skin, but eye creams are no miracle cure. They often do not contain sun protection and tend to feel thick and heavy. These thick eye creams may cause your concealer and foundation to seep into the lines around your eyes, making your wrinkles even more visible.” (source)
There are a Few Times I Will Use an Eye Cream
There are a few exceptions when you may want to use an eye cream.
The first is if you have dark circles under your eyes. If you have dark circles under your eyes, they are likely due to blood pooling under the eyes, or hyperpigmentation, or a combination of both.
To determine whether or not the dark circles under your eyes are from blood pooling or hyperpigmentation, gently press on the skin underneath your eyes. When you press, does the darkness disappear? If yes, it’s likely that your dark circle is due to blood pooling. On the other hand, when you press, is the skin still dark? If yes, it’s likely hyperpigmentation. If it’s a bit lighter but still noticeably darker than the surrounding skin, it’s likely to be a bit of both.
For dark circles caused by blood pooling, I recommend an eye cream with Haloxyl or algae.
For dark circles caused by hyperpigmentation, I recommend a combination of vitamin C and E by day, and vitamin K and retinol under the eyes at night.
Puffiness: If your under eye area is puffy, I recommend a mix of topical skincare and gentle massage and application of cool temperatures.
Eye creams tend to be less concentrated than products meant for all-over-the-face use, with valuable skincare ingredients like retinoids, vitamin C, AHAs, peptides, and growth factors, and tend to contain high amounts of hydrators instead.
If irritation is a concern, many people can use full-strength products around the eyes, starting with one night a week, and gradually working up to twice a week, every other night, and eventually nightly use.
I personally don’t like the idea of using weaker-strength eye creams — if the ingredients do what the studies suggest, why would you want less collagen production or cellular turnover where you need it the most?!
Ounce for ounce, eye creams tend to be 50-250% more expensive than their serum/moisturizer counterparts for use all over the face.
The only eye creams I recommend are for specific uses:
- Puffy eyes — Eye creams with caffeine. Bonus points if you apply using the bottom of a cold spoon.
- Dark circles — If caused by hyperpigmentation, I like Peter Thomas Roth Power K Eye Rescue, over a retinoid serum. If caused by blood pooling, I like products with Haloxyl or algae. If a mix, I use all of the aforementioned products, starting with the lightest consistency, and moving up to the heaviest consistency.