Hot take: You don’t really need a retinol eye cream. If you’re using retinol or derm-grade retinoids on your face, you’re already covered by your current skincare routine. But it can be a good idea, in some cases, to use a retinol eye cream to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles around the eyes.
We caught up with dermatologists Dr. Sheila Krishna and Dr. Lana Kashlan to get the low down on why most people don’t need a retinol eye cream and got their best tips for smoothing out the fine lines around the eyes.
Most people don’t really need a retinol eye cream
If you’re already using retinol or dermatologist-grade retinoids as part of your daily skincare routine, “there’s really no reason to use an additional retinol eye cream,” says Dr. Krishna. Dr. Kashlan adds, “Most tretinoins will spread locally beyond the area of direct application.” So even without applying your retinol or derm-grade retinoid to your eye area, the wrinkle-reducing effects will spread there without the risk of irritating the delicate eye area.
Because the skin around the eyes is more sensitive, Dr. Kashlan recommends that her patients avoid the eye area altogether. For patients with sensitive skin, she suggests applying Vaseline to the eye area to protect the skin from irritation before using retinol or retinoids on the rest of the face.
That said, if you find you’re just not meeting your skin goals, it can be helpful to use a separate serum for the eye area. Dr. Kashlan recommends using lower-concentration retinol, retinyl ester, or retinaldehyde.
So, how do you get rid of fine lines and wrinkles around the eyes?
Crow’s feet and other fine lines around the eyes appear because of the natural drop in collagen and elastin — proteins that help skin stay structured and supple — as we age. But unprotected sun exposure accelerates this process 1. The sun’s UV rays generate free radicals — cell-damaging atoms — and are responsible for up to 80% of skin damage 2, ultimately leading to premature fine lines and wrinkles.
With a few simple tips, you can slow down premature skin aging that leads to fine lines around the eyes while protecting your skin for years to come.
1. Don’t skip your SPF
Because the sun is responsible for about 80% of skin damage, sunscreen is one of the most important steps in any skincare routine. It is your first line of defense against premature skin aging and the fine lines it creates around your eyes. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher 15 minutes before you go outside as the last step in your skincare routine. Then re-apply every two hours.
2. Fend off free radicals with antioxidants
Topical antioxidants are great to pair with sunscreen. Use a vitamin C serum in the morning to shield your skin from free radicals throughout the day. Plus, vitamin C can also help brighten dark circles and reduce puffiness, giving it double the value.
Niacinamide is another antioxidant that combats free radicals and is particularly useful as part of your routine to repair DNA after sun damage 3.
3. Keep the skin hydrated
Dry skin means damaged skin cells, and that means more wrinkles 4. Hydrated skin is also plumper, which helps fill in those lines around the eyes.
Nourish your skin with a hydrating moisturizer as part of your morning and evening skincare regimen. A face lotion with ceramides will help improve your skin barrier, protecting the skin from damage 5. If you want an extra boost of hydration, Dr. Krishna notes that hyaluronic acid and niacinamide are gentle, moisturizing ingredients that won’t irritate the eye area.
4. Avoid strong chemical exfoliants
Maybe even more important than what you do put on your skin is what you don’t put on your skin. Dr. Krishna says, “Stronger products that peel the skin should not be used.” Chemical exfoliants like AHAs and BHAs can be helpful for deeper exfoliation, but Dr. Krishna doesn’t recommend them for the sensitive skin around the eye.
5. Boost collagen production with retinoids
Since the retinoids you use on your face will diffuse under the skin, you don’t need to apply retinoids directly to the eye area recommends Dr. Kashlan. Retinoids (the broader family of vitamin A derivatives that includes retinol, tretinoin, adapalene, and others) counteract a loss in collagen6, ultimately providing the structure your skin needs to minimize the fine lines around your eyes.
Instead of an expensive retinol eye treatment, just start with a retinol or derm-grade retinoid for your face and avoid the eye area for now. Tretinoin, or retinoic acid, is the retinoid Dr. Krishna recommends and is a more potent retinoid than retinol. Retinol bought in stores goes through a conversion process to become retinoic acid, so it takes longer to reduce the appearance of wrinkles than tretinoin does.
As you’re getting used to your new retinoid serum, start slow with a low concentration about every three days as part of your nighttime skincare routine. Build up to a daily frequency as your skin adjusts to your new skincare products. If needed, apply Vaseline to the eye area to protect against irritation, as Dr. Kashlan recommends. After eight to twelve weeks, you should start to see results, and you can consider whether you need a separate eye serum.
If you do opt for a retinol eye cream, Dr. Kashlan adds, “Apply the eye cream before the other steps in your routine to avoid transferring potentially irritating ingredients to the under eye area.”
Get the right concentration of retinol or retinoids
Now that you’ve got a handle on how to adjust your skincare routine to reduce fine lines and wrinkles around the eyes, it’s time to get the right formulation of retinol or retinoids for your face if you choose to use one.
If you’re totally new to retinoids, we recommend talking to a provider to determine the right concentration of retinoids for your skin. Dear Brightly can help with this. Share your skin story and a certified provider will evaluate and tailor the right concentration of retinoid serum for your skin, if prescribed. Lastly, Night Shift — a dermatologist-formulated retinoid serum tailored to your skin — will get delivered to you in the mail. You get the ease of an online doctor’s consultation without the cost of an in-person visit.
Depending on your skin and skin history, you may be sent a starter strength before increasing to the strength that’s ideal for your skin. This will give you the opportunity to see if there are any differences in how the skin around your eyes tolerates the retinoids compared to the rest of your face.
Night Shift is paraben free, fragrance free, alcohol free, and hypoallergenic, making it ideal for the delicate skin around the eyes. It’s formulated with hyaluronic acid for extra moisture retention and to combat dryness, which is more likely to happen in the skin around the eyes.
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- Shanbhag, S., Nayak, A., Narayan, R., & Nayak, U. (2019, August 1). Anti-aging and sunscreens: Paradigm shift in cosmetics. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6773941/
- Poljšak, B., & Dahmane, R. (2012, February 29). Free radicals and extrinsic skin aging. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3299230/
- Thompson, Benjamin C, et al. (2014, July). Nicotinamide enhances repair of ultraviolet radiation-induced DNA damage in primary melanocytes. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24798949/
- McCoy, K. (2014, July 14). The truth about hydration and wrinkles. Retrieved from https://www.sheknows.com/living/articles/1040899/myth-busters-drinking-water-hydrates-your-skin/
- Coderch L; et al. (2003). Ceramides and skin function. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12553851/
- Griffiths, C., et al. (1993, August 19). Restoration of collagen formation In photodamaged human skin By Tretinoin (Retinoic Acid): NEJM. Retrieved from https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199308193290803