Do You *Really* Need An Eye Cream?

We went straight to the pros for answers.
By Souzan Michael Galway
Do You *Really* Need An Eye Cream?

(Photo: iStock)

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 delicate and sensitive skin around the eyes. Others argue that it’s an unnecessary—and expensive—extra step.

Unlike some skincare non-negotiables like sunscreen and removing makeup at night, there’s still no clear answer on whether you really need eye cream.

To help you decide if it's worth the splurge, we asked two beauty pros to share their views on the subject.

A close-up of a woman with green eyes and freckles applying eye cream. (Photo: iStock)

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 double board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor at the University of British Columbia's Department of Dermatology and Skin Science. “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. This area is delicate and prone to showing signs of aging. Because of this, 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, an eye cream can have moisturizing, anti-inflammatory or antioxidant effects [which]. 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's 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,” she adds.

Hania Shehadeh, head esthetician at the beauty brand  Odacité, agrees. “Moisturizers tend to have heavier oils and acids that can cause eye and skin irritation.”

When is the right time to start using eye cream?

“An eye cream can be started anytime,” says Dr. Li, noting that they are best for 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 with consistent application over time.”

What's the best technique for applying eye cream?

Don't apply eye cream too close to the eyes, such as on the eyelids or directly under your bottom lashes (despite its name). “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 include hyaluronic acid and ceramides [to], retinol [to], vitamin C [to] and caffeine [to].”

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.

Are retinol eye creams safe to use around the delicate eye area?

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." She suggesting using a retinol-based eye cream at night, and opting for a light, hydrating eye cream in the day.

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 formula. However, “eye creams that contain heavy creams or oils, in combination with the build-up of dead skin” can cause it. “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.

CeraVe Eye Repair Cream, $16

CeraVe Eye Repair Cream, do you really need an eye cream

Formulated with ceramides (the brand’s star ingredient), hyaluronic acid and niacinamide, this soothing eye cream contains everything needed to hydrate and brighten the under-eye area without causing irritation.

Burt’s Bees Sensitive Solutions Gentle Eye Cream, $24

Burt’s Bees Gentle Eye Cream, do you really need an eye cream

Squalane, aloe, rice milk and honey create a soothing combination that’s ideal for sensitive skin types.

RoC Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Eye Cream, $28

RoC Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Eye Cream, do you really need an eye cream

Fine lines? Dark circles? Puffiness? This retinol-infused eye cream targets all three, and is gentle enough for daily use.

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Dermallergo Eye Cream, $36

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Dermallergo Eye Cream, do you really need an eye cream

If your skin is reactive and allergy-prone, give this lightweight, fragrance-free eye cream a try. Made with the brand's signature mineral-rich thermal water, this velvety product soothes and calms down irritation.

The Inkey List Caffeine Eye Cream, $12

The Inkey List Caffeine Eye Cream, do you really need an eye cream

Caffeine in skincare can temporarily reduce puffiness by restricting blood vessels. In this affordable eye cream, the hero ingredient is paired with hyaluronic acid to plump up the skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines.

Caudalie Vinoperfect Brightening Eye Cream, $70

Caudalie Vinoperfect Brightening Eye Cream, do you really need an eye cream

Caffeine, niacinamide and viniferine work together to visibly brighten the under-eye area. Viniferine is purported to be even more effective than vitamin C when it comes to targeting hyperpigmentation.

Guerlain Abeille Royale Double R Renew & Repair Eye Serum, $175

Guerlain Abeille Royale Double R Renew & Repair Eye Serum, do you really need an eye cream

Apply on the eye contour, eyelids and eyelashes, this serum’s cream and serum components are combined as you pump it out. It contains hydrating hyaluronic acid and peptides, as well as radiance-boosting white honey.

Biossance Squalane + Peptide Eye Gel, $73

Biossance Squalane + Peptide Eye Gel, do you really need an eye cream

Thanks to a gel texture, this eye cream—which features squalane as its star ingredient—cools, soothes and de-puffs without feeling greasy.

Live Tinted Superhue Brightening Eye Cream, $40

Live Tinted Superhue Brightening Eye Cream, do you really need an eye cream

The copper applicator provides a cooling sensation in this lightly tinted brightening eye cream made with vitamin C, niacinamide and caffeine.

The Body Shop Vitamin C Eye Glow Serum, $28

The Body Shop Vitamin C Eye Glow Serum, do you really need an eye cream

With vitamin C, bakuchiol, caffeine and hyaluronic acid, this eye treatment really does it all. This eye serum’s milky texture is perfect to layer under moisturizer and makeup.

Originally published in 2020; updated in 2023.

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