A version of this story originally appeared on the Strategist U.S.
We’re not going to sit here and pretend that eye creams can work genuine magic. Some dark circles are hereditary, and not all pigment needs to be “fixed.” But the skin under our eyes is wildly fragile and thin, meaning it can need more attention than regular moisturisers provide. Dr. Adeline Kikam, founder of Brown Skin Derm, says, “It’s better to use creams specially formulated to be gentle around this highly sensitive area — be selective.” That means incorporating an eye cream with the right ingredients suited to your skin and skin-care routine. For options that make them worth the purchase, we spoke to Dr. Kikam and other experts for the best picks for sensitive skin, puffiness, dark circles (yes, really), and more.
Best overall | Best for dark circles | Best less expensive for dark circles | Best for sensitive skin | Best less expensive for sensitive skin | Best moisturising | Best illuminating | Best less expensive illuminating | Best for mature skin | Best less expensive for mature skin | Best retinol | Best less expensive retinol
What we’re looking for:
Texture: As we mentioned, the skin under your eyes is much thinner than on the rest of your face. That means your ideal eye cream may not actually be a cream. We’ve included a range of picks, from lightweight gels to thicker creams. Whichever one works best for you will depend on your skin type and, to an extent, your age. As a general rule, go for something more rich if you have drier under-eyes, and a more lightweight formula if you tend to get oily there.
Active ingredients: Chances are, you’d turn to active ingredients, like chemical exfoliators, to address a specific need for the skin on your face. Your under-eyes are no different. A brightening eye cream might use niacinamide or contain lots of hyaluronic acid if hydration were the biggest draw. Speaking to our sister site, Dr. Hadley King, clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, said caffeine tends to help depuff eyes because it constricts the blood vessels, keeping fluid from building up in what we see as eye bags. Again, what works for you will depend on your particular needs, so we’ve highlighted the main actives in each cream.
Value for money: Eye creams are often pricey — you can easily spend well over £50 for one at somewhere like Cult Beauty. But according to nine experts we spoke to (including three aestheticians and five dermatologists), you don’t have to. You can pick up most of the eye creams they recommended at your local Boots or Superdrug, many for less than £30.
Best overall drugstore eye cream
Cream | Caffeine, hyaluronic acid | £66.40 per 100ML
You know them when you see them: those folds of puffy skin met by shadowy discolouration that we call “bags.” Generally, under-eye bags are caused by fluid retention, as well as the skin sagging and losing its natural elasticity over time. Sometimes they appear after a late night; some of us are born with them. In either case, Hada Labo Tokyo Age Correcting Eye Cream is full of caffeine to help tighten them up. Hada Labo is also unique for its use of super hyaluronic acid, which, according to Joomee Song, esthetician and CEO of Faceworks Inc., contains twice the moisture-retention capacity of regular hyaluronic acid. Those ingredients combined help to hydrate, restrict blood vessels, retain moisture, restore radiance, and lessen dark circles, she says, which in turn will help reduce the appearance of “bags.” The texture is also superlight, so you can reapply throughout the day without having to worry about ruining your makeup, she promises. However, if your eye bags are pretty much constant — which can happen as you age — they are likely the result of a drooping fat pad under the eye. If this is the case, an in-office procedure is your best bet to fixing them permanently.
Best for dark circles
Gel | Caffeine, niacinamide | £146.67 per 100ML
If you’re dealing with raccoon eyes, Dr. Noelani Gonzalez, director of cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai West, recommends this option from La Roche-Posay. According to celebrity aesthetician Jordan Mattioli, the best general application method is to dab a few dots of cream under the eye and tap it in gently to avoid pulling or tugging on the skin. “Apply to the area under the eye and the sides of the eye, but avoid your upper eyelid,” she adds.
Best less expensive for dark circles
Cream | Caffeine, hyaluronic acid | £110 per 100ML
For a similar product on a budget, Song recommends the Glow Baby eye cream from Pacifica. Containing “some of the most effective ingredients for dark circles” like caffeine, vitamin C, and hyaluronic acid, Song says that this product’s depuffing abilities are especially effective for use “after a long day in front of the computer.” Puffiness can be genetic, caused by dietary factors — an excess of salt has often been linked to puffiness all over the body — or can be part of an inflammatory response from sensitive skin or allergy season.
Best for sensitive skin
Gel | Hyaluronic acid | £166.6 per 100ML
If your skin is sensitive, you’ll already be used to carefully reading product labels. This fragrance-free one from Olay should tick several boxes. Song frequently reaches for it, keen on its hyaluronic acid “for fast absorption” alongside ceramides and niacinamide. Dr. Karen Hammerman of Schweiger Dermatology Group explains that not only are these ingredients extremely gentle for people with sensitive skin, but they also “restore and maintain the skin’s natural protective barrier and help to keep the eye area hydrated and smooth.”
Best less expensive for sensitive skin
Cream | Hyaluronic acid | £71.29 per 100ML
“This is a fragrance-free eye cream loaded with hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and niacinamide — a great combination of ingredients to treat signs of aging, even on those with extremely sensitive skin,” says Mattioli. At under £10, you can be generous with slathering it on, and the formula is nongreasy and noncomedogenic — meaning it won’t clog your pores — so it’s also a good bet for those with oily or acne-prone skin.
Gel | Hyaluronic acid | £36.47 per 100ML
For those who have extremely dry under-eye skin, Gonzalez suggests this gel-textured eye cream from Neutrogena, chock-full of hyaluronic acid, “a molecule which absorbs 1,000 times its weight in water and helps hydrate and plump the skin around the eyes.” If you want the same plumping formula, but with the additional anti-aging power of retinol, Dr. Morgan Rabach, a dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical NYC, also loves Neutrogena’s Rapid Wrinkle Repair Under Eye Cream.
Cream | Vitamins C and E | £310 per 100ML
This brightening eye cream, which we’ve written about before, has been reformulated for those with more sensitive skin and advocated for by influencers and makeup artists such as Nam Vo, Nikita Baffour, and Dana Alexia. What makes the eye cream special is the tint: It’s a sort of orangey-yellow hue and operates on the same principle as “banana powder,” which is a yellow powder makeup artists have long used to cancel out greyness and sallowness under the eyes. It contains vitamin E, glycerin, and vegetable collagen, which all add great surface hydration (which in turn helps smooth the appearance of fine lines), and it also has a small amount of vitamin C to help brighten the area.
Best less expensive illuminating
Cream | Niacinamide | £66.60 per 100ML
Medical aesthetician Sofie Pavitt, who counts Strategist U.S. contributor Rio Viera-Newton as one of her clients, loves this brightening eye cream from classic drugstore brand Olay. She calls it “a great textured eye cream” that moisturises and smooths under-eye skin. But what sets it apart is its peachy tint, which helps to colour-correct and brighten dark circles, both neutralising the dark shadows and providing an illuminating effect. It also acts as a good base to use under your usual concealer.
Best for mature skin
Gel | Vitamin C, ferulic acid | £513 per 100ML
As the skin is so much thinner and more delicate, the eye area is often the first to show signs of aging. “I love SkinCeuticals AOX+ Eye Gel,” said beauty journalist Ateh Jewel. “I love the light gel texture of this eye serum. I have combination skin, but I still want a product which packs an anti-aging punch, and that can be hard to find, especially for darker skin tones, which tend to be oilier. The nourishing blend of 5 percent vitamin C, phloretin, and ferulic acid (two antioxidants) makes a noticeable difference when it comes to my fine lines and firmness.” The light serum also includes caffeine to help brighten the eye area and diminish the appearance of dark circles. Veteran beauty writer Linda Dyett told us this seaweed eye cream is one of her favourite products to use at night. “It does an amazingly good job at keeping that lid skin dewy, maybe because it contains what may be an ideal blend of soothing, gel-like seaweed extract, cucumber extract (high in water content), and neem-leaf extract (a hydration booster),” Dyett wrote. “With this one, I wake up with eyelids that don’t scare me when I touch them.”
Best less expensive for mature skin
Cream | Sodium hyaluronate | £150 per 100ML
To target pesky fine lines often caused by dehydration over time, Song recommends DHC’s concentrated eye cream; since it contains “multiple deep hydrating oils” such as olive oil, it’s easily spreadable, helping you to avoid tugging on the skin. Song says she also likes that it contains ginseng and royal jelly extract, which “flush out the toxins that cause puffiness around the eyes.”
Cream | Retinol | £166 per 100ML
While retinoids are often thought of as being irritating due to their potency, the right one in an eye cream can help with everything from fine lines to dark circles. Consultant dermatologist Dr. Anjali Mahto said she personally used Murad Retinol Eye Cream, which uses less aggressive retinol esters. “This area is so delicate, but I can use the Murad Retinol Eye Cream every night. It gives lots of the benefits of retinol, so fine-line reduction and cell turnover without being too harsh.” The cream has a light texture, closer to a serum than a rich cream, and is suitable for the whole eye area, including the brow bone. It also has marine kelp extract to add lasting hydration.
Best less expensive retinol
Cream | Granactive retinoid | £188 per 100ML
If you’re looking to try out a retinol eye cream without making a large investment up-front, there are a range of budget-friendly options available. According to Dr. Adeline Kikam, founder of Brown Skin Derm, retinol first-timers should reach for a product with granactive retinoid, which she explains is “a less irritating form of retinol.” She recommends Zero-G Smoothing Eye Cream from Versed, which contains an encapsulated form of this retinoid alongside vitamin E and “moisture-retention improving” shiitake mushroom extract.
For those looking to use their retinol eye creams on the go, Kikam also suggests the easily transportable Peace Out retinol eye stick, another product featuring encapsulated retinol and moisture-boosting squalane.
Dr. Noelani Gonzalez, director of cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai West
Dr. Karen Hammerman, Schweiger Dermatology Group
Dr. Ateh Jewel, beauty journalist
Dr. Adeline Kikam, founder of Brown Skin Derm
Dr. Hadley King, clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University
Dr. Anjali Mahto, author of The Skincare Bible
Jordan Mattioli, celebrity aesthetician
Sofie Pavitt, medical aesthetician
Dr. Morgan Rabach, dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical NYC
Joomee Song, aesthetician and CEO of Faceworks Inc.
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