Do you need an eye cream?
Today's drugstore and department store shelves are overflowing with eye creams that promise to do everything from deflate puffiness and brighten dark circles to erase fine lines. But is it just marketing hype? It depends who you ask. Some experts say you can just use your regular facial moisturizer around your eyes; separate eye creams aren't necessary. For example, the experts at Marmur Medical, a New York City dermatology practice founded by Dr. Ellen Marmur, dermatologist and the first vice chair of surgical and cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, see no real ingredient differences between eye creams and face creams.
Other experts say eye creams really are different from facial moisturizers. Paula Begoun, skin-care expert and author of "Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me," had long argued that eye cream is usually just regular moisturizer, sold in a tiny container at a jacked-up price. But this year, Begoun has added an eye cream to her own line of skin-care products. "This is no repackaged facial moisturizer," Begoun says of her own eye cream. She says you can still use your regular facial moisturizer around your eyes; her eye cream, she says, is for people who "want something that goes beyond to provide your eye area with something extra." In this WebMD article by Sonya Collins, dermatologist Patricia Farris notes that eye creams tend to be thicker, with more oil in them and special active ingredients to treat the thinner, drier, quicker-to-age skin around the eyes.
What about dark circles and puffiness? Again, opinions differ. Collins says, that some studies report that caffeine can help circulation, and that could reduce puffiness. For dark circles, she adds, kojic acid and niacinamide (vitamin B3) can help lighten them, while sodium ascorbate (vitamin C) can thicken the skin and make dark circles less noticeable.
But Begoun says, "Shopping for an eye cream to treat dark circles, sagging, and puffiness is a lost cause." She points out only one such ingredient in her own eye cream: glucosyl hesperidin, which research shows has the potential to interrupt excess melanin formation (for people whose under-eye circles are due to excess skin pigment).
Ultimately, there's no conclusive evidence that these treatments are effective, but there's no evidence to the contrary, either. Caffeine, vitamin K and kojic acid aren't harmful in any way, so experts say you can safely use eye creams that contain these ingredients. That said, while many products can diminish the appearance of dark circles and puffiness, they aren't a cure-all. For complete eradication of these problems, skin-care professionals suggest cosmetic corrective procedures or surgery.
Effective eye creams at the department store -- and the drugstore
In reviews. more users swear by Clarins Super Restorative Total Eye Concentrate (Est. $60 for 0.5 oz.) than any other eye cream. Not only does it moisturize without stinging the delicate skin around the eyes (a test that many eye creams flunk), but users say it also really delivers on its promises: Skin looks smoother, tighter and brighter. "While it may take weeks to smooth crow's-feet, sleep-deprived testers swore their eyes looked more well-rested on the spot," say editors at Real Simple, naming it the best eye cream for mature skin.
This Clarins eye cream gets most of its rave reviews from women over 35, although plenty of younger users like it, too. It contains caffeine, which may help de-puff eyes, and users say it plays nicely under makeup -- no gumming up their concealer or making their eye makeup slide around. It's fragrance-free, eliminating a common source of irritation.
People who like Clarins Super Restorative Total Eye Concentrate tend to really, really like it. We found repeated comments from users who say this is the only eye cream that has ever worked for them, and they won't use anything else. It's a favorite of customers at Sephora.com and Amazon.com, as well as the user-reviewers at MakeupAlley.com. Complaints are few, although some users say this Clarins eye cream irritated their eye skin or didn't seem to really help their wrinkles.
Beauty expert Paula Begoun gives Clarins Super Restorative Total Eye Concentrate a mediocre score, however, saying it's not really anything special. "Although this isn't what we would consider a cutting-edge formula, it will make skin look smoother and feel softer," Begoun says. For the same price, she prefers StriVectin-AR Advanced Retinol Eye Treatment (Est. $60 for 0.5 oz.). It's chock-full of proven anti-agers, she says: retinol and antioxidants to help prevent wrinkles, moisture-binding peptides, and niacinamide to lighten dark circles.
In fact, StriVectin-AR would have earned Begoun's highest 5-star rating -- but it contains fragrance, a potential irritant. Also, although StriVectin-AR promises the benefits of retinol without the irritation, some users say it dried and reddened their skin anyway. Most report no problems, though, and StriVectin-AR Advanced Retinol Eye Treatment is a customer favorite at Amazon.com, as well as dermatologist Carlos Charles's top "splurge" pick for women over 50 at Marie Claire magazine.
If $60 for a half ounce of eye cream seems steep, La Roche-Posay Redermic R Eyes (Est. $40 for 0.5 oz.) is a somewhat less expensive option that wows experts and users alike. It won Allure magazine's Best of Beauty award in 2011, and is dermatologist Doris Day's go-to pick for crow's feet at Health.com. It's readily available at mass retailers like Target and Walgreen's.
Like StriVectin-AR, the La Roche-Posay eye cream contains wrinkle-fighting retinol (but no irritating fragrance). Like the Clarins eye cream, it has caffeine. Users at Amazon.com overwhelmingly love it, but Begoun gives La Roche-Posay Redermic R Eyes only a middling score. It has "an impressive amount" of collagen-boosting vitamin C, but otherwise, nothing you can't get from an ordinary facial moisturizer.