Eye cream has long been at the centre of a heated debate in the beauty industry. Some dermatologists recommend using one to care for the particularly delicate and sensitive skin around the eyes, while others argue that it’s an unnecessary—and expensive—extra step. “Eye creams are just elegant moisturizers, formulated to match the pH of your tears so [they are] less irritating,” writes board-certified dermatologist Dr. Aegean Chan in an Instagram post. “My personal opinion is that any moisturizer is all you need in that area.”
Unlike some skincare non-negotiables like sunscreen and taking off your makeup at night, there’s still no clear answer on whether or not you should really use eye cream. To help you decide if it’s worth the splurge, we asked two pros to share their views on the subject. Read on to learn how a dermatologist and an esthetician recommend you care for your ever-so-delicate under-eye area.
What’s the difference between moisturizer and eye cream?
“A moisturizer is intended to maintain and/or increase hydration of the skin surface,” says Dr. Monica Li, a dermatologist and clinical instructor at the University of British Columbia’s Department of Dermatology and Skin Science. “As such, it can be used almost anywhere on the body.”
An eye cream, on the other hand, is specifically formulated to be used underneath the eyes, an area where skin is notoriously delicate and prone to showing signs of aging. As such, it tends to be lighter in texture and feature active ingredients—such as hyaluronic acid or vitamin C—that target specific concerns. “Depending on the ingredients [it contains], an eye cream can have moisturizing, anti-inflammatory or antioxidant effects [which helps protect the skin against environmental stressors that can cause premature aging, like UV rays and pollution]. It can also reduce puffiness, brighten the skin or reduce the appearance of fine lines in the area.”
Is it safe to use moisturizer as eye cream?
“It depends, and it is more about appropriateness rather than safety,” says Dr. Li. “Generally speaking, moisturizers can be used as an eye cream. However, the composition of a moisturizer may not be as suitable for the skin around the eyes, given how delicate and thin the area is. An eye cream is specifically formulated to be gentle. Keep in mind that the skin around the eyes is the first to show signs of aging (such as wrinkles and laxity), so a skincare product made to target these concerns can be both preventative and reparative.”
Hania Shehadeh, Odacité‘s Head Esthetician, agrees. “Moisturizers tend to have heavier oils and acids that can cause eye and skin irritation,” she explains.
When is the right time to start using eye cream?
“An eye cream can be started anytime,” says Dr. Li, noting that it’s best used on adult skin. “Mature skin [that shows signs of aging]—such as skin laxity, fine lines, dull tone or uneven pigmentation—may benefit more from its use and see more improvement with consistent application over time.”
What’s the best technique for applying eye cream?
Despite its name, eye cream should not be applied too close to the eyes, such as on the eyelids or directly under your bottom lashes. “Apply a pea-sized amount around both eyes, gently tap around the orbital bone with your ring finger and then smooth it out to the temple,” explains Shehadeh.
Need a little extra help to look your best after a long night? “You can use a cool Gua Sha or face roller after application to help with puffiness, firming and brightening around the eye area,” adds Shehadeh. She recommends storing your face tools in the fridge when you’re not using them for instant cooling and de-puffing.
What ingredients should consumers look for when shopping for eye cream?
“This will depend on [your] skincare goals,” explains Dr. Li. “Some key ingredients to look for include hyaluronic acid and ceramides [to hydrate], retinol [to target wrinkles], vitamin C [to treat dark circles] and caffeine [to reduce puffiness].”
Shehadeh suggests plant-based ingredients like aloe, hyaluronic acid, algae or seaweed extracts and lightweight oils like jojoba to soothe and hydrate, as well as green tea and caffeine extracts. “These ingredients have been shown to help protect the delicate eye area,” she adds.
Are retinol eye creams safe to use around the delicate eye area?
While they’re formulated specifically for the eye contour, retinol eye creams are potent and should be used with caution. “Over-the-counter retinol eye creams are relatively safe, as they contain lower levels of retinol,” says Shehadeh. “But I wouldn’t recommend using one for an extended period of time. If you are using a retinol-based eye cream, my suggestion would be to only apply it at night and use a light, hydrating eye cream for daytime use.”
If you skin is sensitive or reactive, avoid formulas that contain retinol and opt for gentle, hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid and aloe vera.
Can eye cream cause milia or make it worse?
Milia is a condition that causes small, painless white bumps to form on your face (often on the cheeks) or eyelids. They’re actually tiny cysts that form under the skin when keratin, a protein naturally produced by your body, becomes trapped, explains Dr. Li.
According to Shehadeh, eye cream shouldn’t cause or aggravate milia if you’re using the right one. If caused by products, the tiny bumps are “usually the result of eye creams that contain heavy creams or oils, in combination with the build-up of dead skin,” she adds. “If you think your eye cream is causing milia, substitute your current product for a water or aloe-based eye cream.” If it doesn’t solve the problem, you should consult a dermatologist.
Below, shop our favourite eye creams for every concern.
Originally published in 2020; updated in 2022