Dermatologists explain why you need to use an eye cream, and share their favorite product picks.

By Melanie Rud
August 06, 2020
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If you've been pondering whether or not you need a dedicated eye cream, think about this: "The skin around the eyes is the thinnest and most delicate on the body," says board-certified dermatologist Morgan Rabach, M.D., co-founder of LM Medical in New York City and assistant professor of Dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. This means that it's the most susceptible to damage—from things such as sun exposure, pollution, and blue light from screens—and where signs of aging can show up first. Yep, that's why you may start to notice crows' feet and crinkly lines around your eyes, even while the rest of your face is still wrinkle-free.

So why can't you simply slather on whatever anti-aging face cream or fountain-of-youth serum you're already using? Because the skin here is so thin, it's also more prone to irritation. You want to make sure that any products you're using with active ingredients are specially-formulated for this area, advises Dr. Rabach. And eye creams are, well, designed specifically for the delicate area around your eyes. (Related: The Best Anti-Aging Eye Creams, According to Dermatologists)

When it comes to choosing an eye cream, it's a good move to seek out some of the same heavy-hitting anti-aging ingredients you'd look for in any other skin-care product. So it's no surprise that retinol is on the list, considering its ability to help build collagen and elastin, which helps minimize fine lines and wrinkles, points out Dr. Rabach. Also great: Peptides and hydrating hyaluronic acid, if you're looking for an instant plumping effect, says New York-based dermatologist Kavita Mariwalla, M.D. And if you're dealing with dark circles and/or puffiness, pick a formula that contains caffeine, adds Dr. Mariwalla.

As far as the application goes, less is more. Dr. Mariwalla notes that a pea-size amount, split among both eyes, is plenty. She suggests tapping (not rubbing) it onto both the upper and lower eyelids, using your ring finger. "You can't apply as much pressure with this finger, which ensures you're being gentle with this fragile skin," she explains. (Related: The 5 Key Steps That Should Be In Your Morning Skin-Care Routine, According to a Dermatologist)

To make things even easier, consult the guide below to the best eye creams that dermatologists swear by for everything from nixing puffiness and brightening dark circles to options that are ideal for sensitive skin and feature SPF to protect you from UV rays.

Best Drugstore Eye Cream: RoC Retinol Correxion Eye Cream

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It's true—you don't have to shell out the big bucks for an effective eye cream. Don't believe it? The one from RoC is one of Dr. Rabach's picks, which uses that beloved retinol to smooth out lines and wrinkles, but also address puffiness and dark circles, giving you even more bang for your buck. (Related: The Best Retinol Products for Every Skin Type, According to Top Derms)

Best for Brightening: SkinCeuticals A.G.E. Eye Complex

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Credit: SKINCEUTICALS

New York City dermatologist Marnie Nussbaum, M.D., lauds this formula for containing light-reflecting mineral pigments, which create the illusion of a brighter under-eye area. "They essentially act as a filter for the skin, instantly illuminating the area," she says. Both she and Dr. Mariwalla also gave it big points for containing peptides to reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles, plus protective antioxidants to ward off future damage. And both skin experts also rave about the creamy, balm-like texture that imparts plenty of hydration.

Best Eye Cream for Sensitive Skin: La Roche-Posay Toleraine Ultra Eye Cream

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The thin skin around the eye area is extra susceptible to irritation, particularly if you have sensitive skin. That's where this pick, which Dr. Nussbaum often recommends to her patients, comes up huge. "It's free of skin irritants such as fragrance and drying alcohol, and has been tested on allergy-prone skin," she says. "It also contains soothing, hydrating ingredients such as shea butter and niacinamide." (Related: Everything You Need to Know About Niacinamide and What It Can Do For Your Skin)

Best for Firming: Neocutis Lumière Illuminating Eye Cream

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"The peptides in this formula truly improve the texture of under-eye skin, delivering both firming and brightening benefits," says Dr. Mariwalla. The addition of growth factors is also noteworthy—another effective ingredient for helping to both firm and repair skin—as is the use of plumping hyaluronic acid and skin-protecting antioxidants.

Best Retinol Eye Cream: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Eye Cream

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There's no arguing that retinol reigns supreme in the skincare world, with a long-proven track record of delivering very legitimate anti-aging benefits. Unfortunately, that potency comes with the potential for some very irritating side effects, making it all the more essential to only use it in products specially formulated for the eye area. Dr. Rabach likes this option, because it's gentle on sensitive skin, and boasts a special type of retinol that delivers results faster than ever. (Related: Best Retinol Creams You Can Buy Over the Counter)

Best for Dark Circles: Colorescience Total Eye 3-in-1 Renewal Therapy

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Credit: AMAZON

Whether it's a late night, an early morning, or that dreaded combination of both, reach for this eye treatment to minimize the look of telltale raccoon eyes; it's one of Dr. Mariwalla's top picks for addressing dark circles. A subtle tint instantly camouflages discoloration, though the formula also boasts Aldavine 5X, an ingredient that keeps capillaries strong and healthy, helping to tamp down both puffiness and discoloration in the long run. Speaking of, Dr. Mariwalla notes the rollerball applicator is also great at knocking down swelling, another added plus on sleepy mornings.

Best for Hydrating: It Cosmetics Confidence In An Eye Cream

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"The rich texture of this cream is amazing if your skin is really in need of hydration," says Dr. Mariwalla. Credit heavy-hitting moisturizing ingredients such as avocado, ceramides, and squalane. (And remember, well-hydrated skin is always going to look plumper and more youthful.) While it can be used twice daily, Dr. Mariwalla is a big fan of using it in the morning, noting that it helps makeup go on more evenly. (Related: Everything You Need to Know About Squalane Oil—Plus the Best Skin-Care Products)

Best Eye Cream for Wrinkles: Alastin Restorative Eye Treatment

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Dr. Rabach says you can truly see the anti-aging effects of this eye cream. It's specially formulated to both clear out damaged collagen and elastin (the proteins responsible for keeping our skin firm, smooth, and youthful), while also promoting the production of new, healthy collagen and elastin. Credit a patented blend of active peptides.

Best Option with SPF: Supergoop! Bright-Eyed 100% Mineral Eye Cream SPF 40

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Credit: AMAZON

Most eye creams can be used morning and night, but this is a particularly good pick for AM use because it contains SPF. "Zinc oxide helps protect the skin from damaging UV rays and defends against future photo-aging," says Dr. Nussbaum. "The blendable, fast-absorbing formula also features probiotics, pomegranate, and caffeine to help reduce the appearance of under-eye dark circles and puffiness." Yes, please to all of the above.

Best Eye Cream for Puffiness: DefenAge 3D Eye Radiance Cream

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Credit: LOVELY SKIN

The cooling, metal applicator tip on this product allows you to effortlessly massage it in, helping to tamp down puffiness almost instantly, says Dr. Mariwalla. She also calls the proprietary peptide blend in the formula, "truly fabulous," and says it helps improve skin texture and firmness as well. (Related: Thousands of Shoppers Swear by This $24 Gel To Calm Their Puffy Eyes.)