If your undereye area could use a little TLC—maybe you’ve noticed some fine lines, dullness, or uneven texture—a retinol eye cream could be a great addition to your skin care routine. The skin around your eyes is thinner and more sensitive than the rest of your face, so it’s important to find a product that’s specifically formulated for this area. And there are lots of excellent over-the-counter options, including dermatologist-recommended workhorses and SELF Healthy Beauty Award winners. Here’s what you should know before you shop around.
What are the benefits of retinol eye creams?
If you’re new to retinol, here’s a quick rundown: Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives. They speed up skin cell production, which helps to unclog pores, reduce the appearance of fine lines, increase collagen production (which keeps your skin barrier firm and strong), even out hyperpigmentation or scarring, and generally brighten your complexion. As SELF has previously reported, over-the-counter retinol products are less potent than prescription retinoids like tretinoin, but that doesn’t mean they’re inherently less effective—it may just take a bit longer to see the results you’d like.
The potential benefits of retinol make it especially useful in eye creams, Blair Murphy Rose, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Laser & Skin Surgery Center of NY, tells SELF. Because the undereye area is so delicate, it can show signs of aging earlier than other parts of the face, she explains. Plus, if you’re prone to developing milia (small cysts that look like white, yellow, or flesh-toned bumps) around your eyes, retinol can help clear them up and prevent more from forming, she adds.
Most people can use retinol, even those with sensitive skin; start with products that have a lower concentration, between 0.1 and 0.5%, or ones made with encapsulated retinol, which is generally less irritating.
How to use retinol eye cream
There are a few tips to keep in mind when you start using retinol for the first time. First, it’s important to patch test any new product to ensure it won’t irritate your skin, Shari Sperling, DO, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Sperling Dermatology in Florham Park, New Jersey, tells SELF. Apply a thin, nickel-size layer of the eye cream on the inside of your forearm, then reapply it as the product’s label recommends; watch for reactions like redness, dryness, itchiness, peeling, or flaking in the next couple days.
Initially it’s pretty normal to see some minor signs of irritation, like dryness or peeling, but your skin should stop reacting over time as it gets used to the treatment. That’s why it’s essential to ease retinol into your routine: to help your skin build up a tolerance and mitigate potential irritation. Start by applying a retinol eye cream every other day—or every second day if you want to be extra cautious—and then work up to daily application. Finally, since using retinol products can make your skin more sensitive to the sun’s harsh UV rays, make sure you wear sunscreen daily.
The best retinol eye creams
Below, we’ve highlighted the best retinol eye creams, from top-rated, derm-approved brands like RoC, First Aid Beauty, Neutrogena, and more.