The skin around our eyes is freakishly fragile, which is why countless signs of aging are so quick to take up residence in the area. Fine lines, darkness, and crow’s-feet generally settle in around our early- and mid-20s and never budge after that, only worsening as we age. Cool stuff.
Even if you’re young (or just genetically blessed) enough to not yet have the threat of wrinkles looming on the horizon, eye cream is more than just an unnecessary step to add to your skin care routine. But not all are made alike, and choosing the right one is key: Not to freak you out, but an eye cream that doesn’t jibe with your skin could end up doing way more harm than good by causing dryness, irritation, and even inflammation, all of which can advance the aging process.
“Fragrance and artificial coloring are generally the biggest cause of irritation,” says dermatologist Marina Peredo, MD. You’d think skin care companies would make an effort to create products that don’t involve putting perfume compounds near your eyes, but there’s still a lot of that going on, which means that sensitive skin types could have a real issue finding a cream that won’t drive their skin crazy.
The weight of your eye cream should also be considered. If you have oily, acne-prone skin, a thick, heavy cream probably isn’t for you, whereas drier types may need exactly that. Surprisingly, the product’s texture is also a pretty significant variable: Dr. Peredo says people who live in warm, humid climates are better suited to gel formulations, whereas a dry winter in a place like New York warrants a richer, creamier version.
Many formulas often contain retinol, which sounds like a good thing—and most of the time it is, provided your skin isn’t sensitive. A powerful antiaging ingredient, retinol can wreak absolute havoc on thin, sensitive skin … which is exactly the type of skin we have around our eyes. Unless your skin can take that kind of heat, you should be looking for ingredients that offer light moisture. Dr. Peredo says to look for glycerin, hyaluronic acid, squalene, dimethicone, and plant oils, like those in Caudalie Resveratrol Lift Eye Lifting Balm ($62). Thicker ingredients, like shea butter and petrolatum, are best left to those who need really intensive care. NeoCutis Lumière Bio-restorative Eye Cream ($90) is perfect for this—packed with lipids and proteins, it covers all the bases for moisture and firmness while fighting wrinkles too.
Packaging is also important: As with most moisturizers, look for an eye cream that’s contained in a pump or a tube, not in a jar. “Dipping your finger into a jar can cause bacteria [to build up] and [contaminate] the product,” Dr. Peredo warns.
Bottom line: Know what kind of treatment your eye area needs, read the list of ingredients like your life (or eyes) depends on it, and whatever you do, don’t put your finger in it.