The Who, What, Where, & Why Of Eye Cream

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A question I hear come up a lot among my friends during discussion of skincare: Why do we use eye creams? We're told we need it. We buy it—the eyes are the windows to the soul of course. But as a (relatively) young person, it's hard to know if it's actually working. Do I need this? Could I just be using my other creams and spend less money?

The answer lies in the formulations. The under-eye area is thinner and much more delicate in structure than other parts of the face, and because of our constant eye movements and blinking—along with sun damage—it is highly susceptible to forming excess wrinkles early. Fluids gather beneath our eyes forming dark circles and puffiness (as we're all too aware), which can also be the effects of ineludible genes. Undereye pores are also much more prominent making the area seem rougher, and an optical illusion casts shadows forming deep, dark, unwanted craters. So, eye creams are formulated to target these concerns—deep, sagging dark circles that come down to our chins by mid-week. Then there are the anti-aging varietals with ingredients like retinol, aimed to increase collagen and elastin production and firm the eye area. These ingredients often have smaller molecules that penetrate deeper into the skin, and in turn, are able to effectively boost collagen and elastin beneath superficial layers.

But this all still begs the question: Is eye cream really a crucial part of our daily skincare regimen, or can we settle for something that has a similar line of active ingredients?

New York-based dermatologist, Dr. Roy Seidenberg, MD (recommended by ITG reader, EPN NYC) recommends using prevention methods first and foremost, eye cream or not. “The worst thing you can do is use an eye cream, but not use a sunscreen—it’s like going one step forward, but five steps back,” Seidenberg said.

If you’re looking for an anti-aging method, Dr. Seidenberg recommends using a prescription retinoid (or an over-the-counter retinol). Just make sure to apply a very thin layer of it before bed, avoid getting any in your eyes, and moisturize enough with other products, since the retinoid alone can be drying. Most of all, though, slather that sunscreen on your face (including undereyes), and wear sunglasses!

It's ultimately your choice whether to use an eye cream or not, but eye creams and thick moisturizers serve very different purposes. Although similar in consistency, eye creams are used to target our undereye concerns, while thick moisturizers are used to seal in hydration and leave a long-lasting, protective layer on the skin to keep the good ingredients in and harmful environmental factors out. Dr. Seidenberg says that moisturizers can provide day-to-day benefits in the short run, only for the appearance of fine lines, but not eliminate them.

If you choose the eye cream route, the best way to apply one is to tap or very gently massage it in with the tips of your ring fingers, which are the gentlest fingers. I like to use eye cream on my smile lines as well, but it’s your choice on how to do your skincare regimen (experiment and have fun with it!) Eye creams will not completely prevent aging, but remember that wrinkles are a beautiful indication of wisdom and experience acquired throughout our lives—embrace them.

—Stella Kim

Photographed by Tom Newton.