Best Retinol Eye Creams - The Dermatology Review

Best Retinol Eye Creams

SKIN CARE REVIEWS

03.26.21DISCLAIMER

As the skin around our eyes is the thinnest on our entire body — and it doesn’t have sebaceous (oil) glands — it’s one of the first places we notice the early signs of aging — especially if you haven’t been protecting your skin from sun exposure. And those dark circles? They’re not only from poor sleep habits and dehydration. As we get older, these rings (known as periorbital hyperpigmentation) are due to the thinning of the skin, degeneration of malar fat, and the enlargement of the bony orbital space. This process is called tear trough deformity, which causes dark circles and thinner, more lax skin.

While there are many effective treatment options such as fillers, lasers, chemical peels, light technology, and even a surgical eye lift (blepharoplasty), a topical eye cream is typically the first defense measure. If you really want to rejuvenate the eye area (who doesn’t?), look for a formula containing retinol. 

Best Retinol Eye Creams

A favorite among dermatologists, retinol for skin is one of the best ingredients for softening and preventing fine lines and wrinkles, encouraging collagen production, lessening the appearance of brown spots, increasing cell turnover, and improving skin’s texture. It’s also an ingredient composed of smaller molecules, so it’s able to penetrate the skin deeply.

While some skincare specialists would tell you it’s okay to apply a tiny amount of the retinol you use on your face or even mix it with your regular eye cream, there’s potential for danger here. Eye creams formulated with retinol typically contain a lower, safer dose and contain other safe ingredients for this delicate area while targeting additional concerns like puffiness.

The List

Best for Aging Skin: Urban Skin Vital eyez Rx Retinol + Vitamin C Complex, $48

Best for Sensitive Skin: RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Eye Cream, $22.69

Best 24-Hour Power: Dr. Brandt 24/7 Retinol Eye Cream, $55

Best for Fighting Free-Radical Damage: Charlotte Tilbury Magic Eye Rescue, $60

Best for Crepey Lids: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Triple Correction Eye Serum, $69

Best With SPF: Murad Essential-C Eye Cream SPF 15 PA++, $70

Best K-Beauty: Peach & Lily Retinoic Eye Cream, $42

Best for Deep Lines: NEOSTRATA Comprehensive Retinol Eye Cream, $54

Best for Dark Circles and Puffiness: Dr. Zenovia Skincare Retinol Recovery Eye Cream, $64

Best Budget-Friendly: The Inky List Retinol Eye Cream, $10

Best Drugstore Buy: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Anti-Wrinkle Retinol Eye Cream, $22.49

Best French Pharmacy Find: Eau Thermale Avène Retinal Eyes, $49

What Causes Under-Eye Wrinkles and Crow’s Feet?

Intrinsic (chronological) aging is an unavoidable, predetermined process that results in fine lines, wrinkles, crow’s feet, dark circles, and a hollowed appearance. However, there are other contributors to aging eyes, including: 

 

Sun Exposure

Sun exposure is hands-down the number one reason eye wrinkles appear (sun exposure is the number one cause of aging skin). Even more, it’s completely preventable if you wear sun protection every day, sport protective sunglasses when outdoors, avoid direct exposure to the sun (especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.), and forgo tanning beds.

 

Smoking

Lighting up ages the skin in general, but the thin skin around the eyes is likely to be one of the first targets. The nicotine in cigarettes obstructs blood flow to the skin. Decreased blood flow means your skin isn’t getting as much oxygen or vital nutrients like vitamin A, so you’re basically zapping the life out of it. Not to mention, people tend to squint while smoking, which can also create fine lines and wrinkles due to repetitive movement — which leads us to our next point.

 

Facial Expressions

This is a bit of a tough one as it can be difficult — if not impossible — to control your facial expressions. After all, it’s not as though you can go through life without smiling or laughing. When it comes to eye wrinkles, you can take preventative measures to stop squinting, such as wearing sunglasses and/or a hat with a wide brim, ditching the cigarettes, and updating an out-of-date eyeglasses prescription (or getting glasses if you need them.) 

 

Sleep Habits

If you’re a side or stomach sleeper, hear this: You’re apt to get more wrinkles — and sooner — than those who sleep on their backs. The repetitive movement of your face crushed next to your pillow causes collagen to break down, which in turn prompts wrinkles. There are special “body pillows” to help train you to sleep on your back. Placing a bolster on your knees (like at the spa) is another option, and it takes the pressure off of your back. 

 

Rubbing Your Eyes

Whether you’re putting on your makeup and eye cream too aggressively, or you’re constantly rubbing your eyes due to allergies or out of habit, make a conscious effort to stop. Rubbing the thin and delicate skin under the eyes can cause it to stretch, which leads to a breakdown of elastin and the formation of fine lines and wrinkles. 

 

Dehydrated Skin

When you’re not drinking enough water, you’ll know it. Not just because of how you feel (lethargic, headachy), but how your skin looks and feels: dry, flaky, and tight. The circles under your eyes will appear to be darker, too, so be sure to get that daily quota of H20 in.  

 

Heredity

You may have your parents, grandparents, or some other descendant of your family to thank for your under-eye wrinkles, circles, and bags as genetics play a role in the severity of physical aging. However, the good news is that it’s more influenced by extrinsic (lifestyle) and environmental factors, which are a lot easier to control. 

What is Retinol?

Retinol is a particular type of retinoid in the vitamin A family. However, in most cases, retinol is deemed as a less potent version of vitamin A. When you hear the term “retinoid,” it’s referring to more robust prescription products such as Retin-A, Adapalene, or Tretinoin. But make no mistake, even though retinol isn’t as intense as more potent retinoids, it doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly useful when it comes to fighting the signs of aging skin.

The importance of retinol (vitamin A) was discovered during World War I. Substantial research shows that its deficiency in the body gives rise to xerosis and follicular hyperkeratosis. However, the modern history of retinoids began in 1909 when an essential factor in the viability of an embryo in the fatty extract of the egg yolk, called vitamin A, was discovered. Retinoids were finally introduced into the treatment of skin conditions (including photoaging) more than two decades ago.

How to Correctly Use a Retinol Eye Cream

 

Conduct a Patch Test

Even if your skin has never had a problem tolerating a new product, it’s never a bad idea to conduct a patch test with a retinol eye cream due to the sensitive nature of the delicate eye area and retinol’s strength. 

 

Only Apply it at Night

Retinol makes the skin more sun-sensitive, so always apply it at night and use a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 during the day. The only exception would be if the retinol eye cream contained sun protection, but it’s still safer to use it at night. 

 

Start Slow

Many people make the mistake of hitting the ground running because they’re anxious to see results. For most, this application method is problematic since the skin is still adjusting to the product. Even though retinol eye creams are not as strong as face creams, start using one every two to three nights and gradually build up a tolerance. Stop altogether if you continuously experience adverse side effects such as peeling and irritation. 

 

Be Mindful of Application

You only need around a couple of dots under each eye to reap the effects of retinol; a little goes a long way! Also, never apply it too close to your lash line to avoid eye irritation. 

 

Exercise Patience

There’s no such thing as a quick fix, and consistency is vital if you want to see results. This goes for all skincare products, not just eye cream. If you need a bit of motivation for sticking with retinol, studies show that after four weeks, epidermal thickness increased. In twelve weeks, there was a significant reduction in wrinkles, so stick with it. 

Best Eye Creams With Retinol

Best for Aging Skin: Urban Skin Vital eyez Rx Retinol + Vitamin C Complex, $48
Not only does this power-packed serum contain retinol, but it also features three additional anti-aging powerhouse ingredients; vitamin C, peptides, and caffeine. It’s an excellent pick for those who are past the first signs of aging and have graduated to sagging, pouching, more prominent lines, and ruddiness. It effectively softens wrinkles, brightens, and diminishes puffiness and dark circles. While you can’t turn back the clock, this eye cream comes pretty close.

Best for Sensitive Skin: RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Eye Cream, $22.69
While eye creams formulated with retinol consider that the eye area is sensitive, this one takes things a bit further by catering to those who have sensitive skin in general. It’s dermatologist-recommended because it softens fine lines and wrinkles and reduces dark circles’ appearance sans any irritation. If your skin is ultra-delicate, always do a patch test regardless of how a product is marketed just to be on the safe side.

Best 24-Hour Power: Dr. Brandt 24/7 Retinol Eye Cream, $55
This incredibly impressive eye cream brightens, protects against environmental stressors, and softens the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, thanks to time-released retinol and proprietary Ruby Crystal Complex. A Hydra-Balance Complex (lemon tree honey, phospholipids, and an amino acid deeply hydrate and prevent moisture loss.

Best for Fighting Free-Radical Damage: Charlotte Tilbury Magic Eye Rescue, $60
It took 20 years to formulate this eye cream, and let’s just say, good things come to those who wait. Like Tilbury’s Magic Cream, this retinol eye complex has a cult following — and with good reason. It brightens dark circles, reduces puffiness, protects against free radicals, and increases collagen and fiber levels. It dramatically improves texture, firmness, and elasticity while providing immediate and long-term hydration with regular use.

Best for Crepey Lids: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Triple Correction Eye Serum, $69
Many eye creams aren’t meant to be applied on the lid, but this one’s an exception. This light-weight gel formula is perfect for the delicate skin around the entire eye and eyelid where we’re prone to crepiness. Retinol softens fine lines and wrinkles, ferulic acid brightens, and willow bark extract soothes and reduces puffiness.

Best With SPF: Murad Essential-C Eye Cream SPF 15 PA++, $70
While most skincare experts suggest you apply a retinol-based eye cream at night (more on that in a bit), this formula contains an SPF to protect against the skin-damaging effects of harmful UVA/UVB rays. Along with providing protection, retinol reduces the signs of aging, caffeine banishes puffiness, and avocado oil and shorea stenoptera butter deeply hydrate.

Best K-Beauty: Peach & Lily Retinoic Eye Cream, $42
Those who are a bit wary about putting retinol around their eyes will love this formula that’s made with 0.5% bakuchiol, a powerful retinol alternative. Additionally, a bevy of superfoods (think carrots, mangoes, spinach, and broccoli) helps reduce aging signs, including dryness, dark circles, lines, and wrinkles. Don’t be fooled by how light-weight this cream is. It packs a serious punch without causing milia, those pesky white bumps that appear when you’re using too heavy of eye cream.

Best for Deep Lines: NEOSTRATA Comprehensive Retinol Eye Cream, $54
While the best way to avoid prominent lines around the eyes is to prevent them in the first place, you can’t take back those teen years spent basking in the sun minus any protection. Retinol and NeoGlucosamine, two ingredients that exfoliate, target fine lines that have morphed into deeper creases, crepiness, and discoloration, resulting in a more refreshed, youthful appearance.

Best for Dark Circles and Puffiness: Dr. Zenovia Skincare Retinol Recovery Eye Cream, $64
When dark circles and puffiness accompany fine lines and wrinkles, there’s this potent retinol recovery cream. It’s formulated with time-release all-trans-retinol technology, green tea polyphenols, a proprietary REG-ulate360 Complex (containing retinol alternative bakuchiol), and caffeine to target wrinkles, dark circles, and puffiness dramatically — bonus points for the superior antioxidant protection.

Best Budget-Friendly: The Inky List Retinol Eye Cream, $10
Enthusiastic reviews prove you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get an effective retinol eye cream. It’s formulated with non-irritating slow-release vitamin A derivatives that support natural collagen production and visibly improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles with regular use. Additionally, hyaluronic acid gives the eyes a more hydrated, youthful appearance.

Best Drugstore Buy: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Anti-Wrinkle Retinol Eye Cream, $22.49
As with any skincare product, you have to use it regularly to see results, though some products take longer to get there than others. This popular drugstore retinol eye cream has been proven to show visible results in just one week — even more so over time. Retinol SA and a Glucose Complex (that serves as a booster) work together synergistically to dramatically fade stubborn lines and crow’s feet while improving skin tone and texture. Hyaluronic acid provides deep hydration to the delicate eye area.

Best French Pharmacy Find: Eau Thermale Avène Retinal Eyes, $49
This French pharmacy favorite (that you can find here in the States) is formulated with retinaldehyde (a stabilized form of retinol) to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and crow’s feet. Hyaluronic acid fragments plump the skin and encourage microcirculation, and dextran sulfate corrects signs of fatigue caused by aging skin. It’s an excellent choice for those with extremely sensitive and/or dry skin.

Best Retinol Eye Creams: The Bottom Line

When looking for the best eye cream, consider purchasing one formulated with retinol, a particular type of retinoid in the vitamin A family. Retinol benefits include softening and preventing fine lines and wrinkles, encouraging collagen production, lessening the appearance of brown spots, increasing cell turnover, and improving skin texture. It’s also an ingredient composed of smaller molecules, so it’s able to penetrate the skin deeply. 

While some skincare specialists would tell you it’s okay to apply a tiny amount of the retinol you use on your face or even mix it with your regular eye cream, there’s potential for danger here. Eye creams formulated with retinol typically contain a lower, safer dose and contain other safe ingredients for this delicate area while targeting additional concerns like puffiness. 

To Use a retinol eye cream correctly, first start by conducting a patch test to rule out any type of skin reaction. Always apply it at night only and wear sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 every day. Only use a couple of dots of product around each eye, and be mindful not to get it too close to the lash line to avoid eye irritation. When it comes to seeing results, be patient. It can take up to 12 weeks in some cases to begin to see noticeable changes.

Sources:
The Tricky Tear Trough,” The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, September 2015.
“Retinoids in the Treatment of Skin Aging: an Overview of Clinical Efficacy and Safety,”Dove Medical Press, December 2006.
“A Comparative Study of the Effects of Retinol and Retinoic Acid on Histological, Molecular, and Clinical Properties of Human Skin,”Pubmed.gov,November 2015.

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