This is because the skin around the eyes is the thinnest on the face, making it more susceptible to irritation, dryness, and environmental damage, which can contribute to the appearance of aging skin. And that’s because the skin around the eye area doesn’t have as many oil glands and collagen as the rest of your face and body, making it more prone to dryness, droopiness, lines, and wrinkles, according to a study published in 2015 in Advanced Biomedical Research.
To help prevent those common eye concerns dermatologists stress the importance of using dedicated eye skincare products, as they’re formulated specifically for the delicate eye area.
“When treating any skin issue around the eyes, it’s important to properly diagnose what the issue is to begin with in order to get the best treatment and best outcome,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Fortunately, there are tons of products to choose from when it comes to skincare for the eyes, including serums, creams, oils, and tools. So if you haven’t been using any eye skincare products, don’t worry—it’s never too late to start, and these pro tips will lead you to the best solution for your needs.
From brightening dark circles to reducing puffiness, find expert-approved tips and product picks for treating common eye skincare concerns, below.
Soften fines lines and crow’s feet
Crow’s feet are the hallmarks of a happy life. These horizontal crinkles that form at the eyes’ outer corners are largely a result of the muscle movements that occur when we smile and laugh. If you’re interested in softening them, “a retinoid product can be very helpful,” says Ranella Hirsch, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Cambridge, MA. Retinoids can trigger collagen production within the skin to help smooth out some of the wrinkles. A prescription retinoid such as tretinoin cream 0.025% can be quite effective, though Dr. Hirsch suggests keeping to the area outside your eye socket (you can feel the orbital bone at the perimeter).
To treat fine lines under the eyes, you can try an over-the-counter eye cream with retinol, which is a lower-potency retinoid. Whether you’re using a prescription retinoid or an otc version, start by patting on a tiny dot one night a week and gradually work up to more nights of use to limit dryness and irritation. If you can’t tolerate a retinoid, consider a peptide eye cream, which may stimulate collagen too. Don’t forget to protect your skin by applying a product with a broad-spectrum SPF of 50 or more. (To avoid eye sting, Dr. Hirsch recommends using a stick sunscreen, which won’t run into eyes.)
Fade dark circles
Lack of sleep can make dark circles appear worse, but it’s typically not the root cause. “The main culprits in creating circles are excess pigment in the skin and hollowing around the eyes that occurs with age,” says Dr. Zeichner. To determine which kind you have, stand in front of a mirror in bright light. “Gently pinch a bit of the dark skin and pull it slightly forward,” he advises. “If the skin is still dark, that signals excess pigment. If the skin color looks normal, then hollowing around your eyes is creating shadows.”
For dark circles caused by pigmentation, Dr. Zeichner suggests an eye cream with vitamin C, which helps decrease skin’s production of melanin, (aka pigment). Choose a formula in a tube or pump bottle rather than a jar to preserve the ingredient’s potency, and apply it every day. “Think of vitamin C like exercise,” says Dr. Zeichner. “You have to be consistent and keep at it for a few months to see results.” For more pronounced dark circles, you may want to consider an in-office laser treatment, suggests Dr. Hirsch. Avoid rubbing your eyes, as chronic rubbing can provoke the production of more melanin, particularly in more melanated skin types.
Hollowing is a different issue that happens when fat under the skin in the tear trough (the area between your lower eyelid and upper cheek) diminishes with age, making the trough appear deeper and more shadowed. “An eye cream rich in hyaluronic acid can help by plumping the skin,” explains Dr. Zeichner. For more improvement, you may want to consider an injectable filler. Drinking water can also help—while water you drink doesn’t hydrate the skin directly, when your body is well hydrated, the sunken skin will be a little less noticeable.
Going to bed tipsy or shedding some tears can leave you with swollen eyes, but chronically puffy eyes are often the result of allergies. If you suffer from seasonal allergies, antihistamines can help interfere with the path that triggers puffiness—if you use them the right way.
“You don’t want to wait until you’re symptomatic to start them,” says Dr. Hirsch. “Ideally you want to take an antihistamine daily for two weeks before the pollen spikes so you stay ahead of the allergies.” If you have dust and dander allergies, Dr. Hirsch recommends getting an allergy pillow-protector case: “This can repel household allergens from sticking to your pillow, which can make a meaningful difference by eliminating that
prolonged exposure while you sleep.”
For an immediate fix, dab on an eye cream with caffeine, which is an anti-inflammatory that helps constrict blood vessels to flush out excess fluids under the skin. You can also apply popular de-puffing eye patches or try a cool compress on your eyes, since cold temperatures also constrict blood vessels. (Just be sure to prop your head up to encourage drainage.) “If you’re prone to puffiness, using a retinol eye cream daily will help firm the skin so swelling is less noticeable,” says Dr. Zeichner.
However, if you have what looks like a fatty undereye bulge that doesn’t go away no matter what you try, “that’s likely due to your cheek pad slipping down, which can’t be treated with skincare but can be made less obvious with an injectable filler or permanently fixed with a surgical procedure,” says Dr. Zeichner.
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