Exactly How to Apply Eye Cream, According to Dermatologists

Knowing how to apply eye cream isn't as obvious as it seems.

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Eye cream might sound high maintenance or like something reserved for people "older" than you, but the truth is that everyone can benefit from an eye cream.

The skin on around your eyes and your eyelids is the thinnest on the body, and, as such, is super fragile and delicate. That also means "it loses water faster than other areas on your face or body, making it more prone to dryness," says New York based-dermatologist Kavita Mariwalla, M.D. That dryness can also make signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles, more apparent, says Dr. Mariwalla.

And, no, you can't just use any old moisturizer as an eye cream. "The products you use on the rest of your face are not meant for the eye area," explains Caroline Robinson, M.D., founder and CEO of Tone Dermatology in Chicago. Using a product that's specially formulated for the eyes is imperative for not only warding off potential irritation of that delicate skin but also ensuring you get the best anti-aging, hydrating results.

With that being said, you might have some questions on how to apply eye cream, including how to pick the right product in the first place: Do you put it on your eyelids? What ingredients to look for in an eye cream? Here's a helpful breakdown for how exactly to choose and use an eye cream.

Step 1: Pick your product.

Both Dr. Mariwalla and Dr. Robinson suggest choosing an eye cream based on your particular skin concerns.

Annoyed by fine lines and crows' feet? Look for formulas that use retinol and/or peptides, two proven wrinkle-fighters. Dr. Robinson likes the Olay Eyes Retinol24 Night Eye Cream (Available at Ulta.com). Dealing with dark circles? Seek out brightening ingredients, such as niacinamide, as well as caffeine to help boost circulation and combat the sluggish blood flow that can make dark circles appear worse, she says. (Bonus: If your peeper problem is puffiness, caffeine is also great for that.) Score caffeine in Sunday Riley's Auto Correct Brightening and Depuffing Eye Contour Cream (Available at Dermstore.com) or find both in First Aid Beauty Eye Duty Niacinamide Brightening Eye Cream (Available at Sephora.com).

When in doubt, seek out multi-tasking formulas that address all of the above and more — the easiest way to ensure you're getting the most bang for your buck. Both derms here recommend the Revision Skincare DEJ Eye Cream, (Available at Dermstore.com). "It's one of the most comprehensive eye creams available and addresses hyperpigmentation, fine lines, redness, and bags, thanks to ingredients such as peptides, brightening vitamin C, and many more," says Dr. Robinson.

It's also worth noting that all of the above ingredients and products are great not only to treat existing issues but also to use as a preventative measure if you want to be proactive. (Another spot with super thin skin that needs TLC? Your neck.)

Step 2: Wash your hands.

The best way to apply eye cream is with your fingers, so always make sure you wash your hands (correctly) first. The last thing you want is to introduce germs around your eyes. Your skin should be freshly-washed, as well, adds Dr. Robinson. This will ensure that the active ingredients in the eye cream are better able to penetrate and aren't impeded by other products, dirt, or oil.

how to apply eye cream
Leana Macaya (design)

Step 3: Use the right amount.

You'll want to follow the directions of the particular product you choose, but generally speaking, a pump or half a pump of eye cream per eye is typically enough, says Dr. Robinson. If your eye cream comes in a jar, scoop out about half a pea-size amount per eye, advises Dr. Mariwalla. It may not seem like enough, but keep in mind that eye creams are usually super concentrated; most eye creams are much more hydrating than other skin-care products because the delicate skin around your eyes needs more moisture, explains Dr. Robinson. Similarly, they typically contain higher amounts of anti-aging ingredients, adds Dr. Mariwalla.

Step 4: Apply eye cream correctly.

Squirt or dab the cream onto the back of your hand, to act as a sort of paint palette. Then dip a finger into the cream and use that to make a semi-circle of dots, starting just below the inner part of your eyebrow and moving sideways and upward along the orbital bone that surrounds your eye, says Dr. Mariwalla. Then, tap the eye cream gently into the skin. "I recommend applying eye cream with your ring finger, which provides the least amount of pressure on the skin, and gently patting the cream into the skin," suggests Dr. Robinson.

Avoid rubbing it in, as this can irritate the fragile eye area and ultimately cause irritation and/or end up exacerbating the issues you're already dealing with. (For example, overzealous rubbing can cause broken blood vessels that can make discoloration look worse and end up causing more puffiness, says Dr. Mariwalla.) While some eye creams may come with applicator tools, both dermatologists advise passing to avoid accidentally applying too much pressure and damaging the delicate skin. (If you want a quick fix for dark circles, consider these $4 holographic under-eye masks that Madelaine Petsch loves.)

Step 5: Apply product in the appropriate spots.

"All eye creams are formulated to be used underneath and around the eye, but not all of them can be used on the upper lids," says Dr. Robinson. As a general rule of thumb, use the orbital bone as a guide.

Start applying your eye cream in the inner or outer corner of your under-eye area, right on top of the bone. Gradually work your way across the under-eye area and a bit upward toward the eye, gently tapping the cream in as you go. Be sure to stop a few millimeters underneath your lower lash line; the eye cream will naturally spread a bit as you open and close your eyes, so leave some space under the lashes so that it doesn't make its way into your eye, notes Dr. Robinson.

Next, move on to the outside of your eye near your temple. Continue to gently tap in the eye cream moving inward and upward, along the orbital bone (it extends upward, underneath your eyebrow) just under your eyebrow. If your product specifies that it can be used on upper lids, you can tap the product down your lids as well; just be extra gentle and stop a few millimeters above the lashes. (If you find there's not much space between your upper eyelid and your orbital bone beneath your eyebrow, you'll just stop at the outer edges of your eye to avoid any eye contact with the product.)

Step 6: Know when to use it.

Most eye creams are meant to be used both morning and night and will be most effective when applied appropriately and consistently, says Dr. Robinson. (This is especially true when it comes to reaping their hydrating benefits.) If you want to apply just once a day, do so at night, suggests Dr. Mariwalla. Your skin naturally goes into a reparative and regenerative mode overnight, making this a great time to give it an extra boost with the anti-aging ingredients found in many eye creams. (Consider adding these derm-recommended night creams to your routine as well.)

However, some eye creams offer a cosmetic brightening effect using reflective particles or caffeine. These are best suited for daytime use since those benefits are for immediate appearance vs. longer-term skin adaptations.

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