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Do you really need an eye cream?

Find out if this specialized product deserves a spot on your vanity.

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A robust skincare routine only needs three things: a cleanser, a moisturizer, and a sunscreen, Dr. Fran Cook-Bolden, a dermatologist based in New York City, previously told Reviewed. However, you can choose from plenty of more specialized products, and one of the more popular are eye creams, which promise to offer targeted moisture while being more gentle for that delicate skin. But are they really necessary, or are they just another (pricier) form of moisturizer? We asked Dr. Farah Moustafa, a dermatologist and the director of laser and cosmetics at Tufts Medical Center, to find out.

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What is an eye cream, and how does it differ from a face cream?

Person smiling as they apply moisturizer cream dots onto face under their eye.
Credit: Reviewed / Getty Images / Beauty Agent Studio

The skin underneath your eye is delicate, treat it with care.

Simply put, eye creams are moisturizers that are designed for the delicate skin near the eye, says Moustafa, but she adds that “the term in general is very expansive and non-specific.” A facial cream could work just as well when tending to the skin around the eye, she says, but eye creams’ formulas are tailored to address specific under-eye concerns, including “dark circles, fine lines, [and] puffiness.” In fact, “eyelid skin is very sensitive and the thinnest skin on our whole body,” she says, making this area even more vulnerable to skin conditions like eczema, in addition to skin-related allergic reactions.

Is using a face cream as good as a dedicated eye cream?

If you’d like to moisturize your under-eye skin sans shelling out money for an eye cream, you can probably get by with most of the face creams out there, says Moustafa. However, using a face cream under the eyes may have its drawbacks. “You may lose some of the benefits of using an eye cream and may be more prone to having itching or burning skin with use of products not meant for the [more delicate] eye area,” she says.

So if you’ve decided to try an eye cream, determine first the eye-area skin concerns you want to address. “[Some] ingredients can help deliver some results for you based on those concerns/needs,” Moustafa says.

What ingredients help treat under-eye circles?

Floating white skincare bottles.
Credit: Reviewed / Getty Images / Veronika Zimina

The secret to vibrant, glowy skin is with ingredients like caffeine and retinoids.

To combat the appearance of dark circles, look for an eye cream that contains caffeine, vitamin K, retinoids/retinols, mica, sica, or titanium dioxide. Caffeine “helps vasoconstrict [or narrow the] blood vessels leading to brighter, more awake eyes,” while vitamin K and retinoids and retinols “help build collagen and create a barrier of skin between the underlying blood vessels, which contribute to dark circles,” she explains.

For a product that claims to reduce the look of dark circles, consider trying the Origins Ginzing Vitamin C & Niacinamide Eye Cream, which comes in both a “cool” and “warm” color iteration. This cream uses caffeine and panax ginseng in tandem to “[improve] natural skin cell energy to help revive radiance.” One Ulta reviewer writes: “I have really dark under-eyes, and they definitely brightened after using this product. A little went a long way.”

Get Origins Ginzing Vitamin C & Niacinamide Eye Cream at Ulta for $34

What ingredients can reduce eye-area puffiness?

If puffiness is your primary concern, caffeine, seaweed, and silicates—“a salt compound [that] contract[s] as it dries, giving a short-term improvement and ‘de-puffing/tightening’ to the under-eye area”—may help relieve puffy under-eyes, according to Moustafa.

The Peter Thomas Roth Instant FIRMx Eye Temporary Eye Tightener uses both silicate and seaweed in its “Firm-A-Tite” complex, which purports to induce “instant temporary tightening.” An Ulta reviewer sang their praises for the product’s puffiness-reducing benefits, writing, “Reminder it is temporary, but it really firms and tightens under eye bags. It does leave visible residue. I mixed it with my under-eye cream and it smooth[ed] out a lot better. Pat pat pat it on!”

Get Peter Thomas Roth Instant FIRMx Eye Temporary Eye Tightener at Ulta for $38

What ingredients help reduce the look of fine lines and crow’s feet?

The third common eye-area issue among Moustafa’s patients is the emergence of fine lines or “crepey skin.” Similar to dark circles, eye creams with retinoids or retinols can smooth the look of fine lines, as can peptides and hyaluronic acid. And like retinoids and retinols, peptides “can also build collagen and elastin,” while the hyaluronic acid “can cause an instant plumping effect to temporarily efface the fine lines,” she says.

RoC’s Retinol Correxion Under Eye Cream utilizes both retinol and hyaluronic acid in its formula. In addition to curbing the appearance of wrinkles, it claims to diminish puffiness and dark circles. “I am in my early 30s and noticed an increase in crow’s feet and wrinkles around the eyes, especially with these iPhone 11 photos—they show everything,” one Amazon reviewer writes. “I’ve noticed an increase in the tightness of my skin around my eye as well as the fine lines and wrinkles diminishing.”

Get RoC Retinol Correxion Under Eye Cream on Amazon for $20

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.