Are genuinely visible improvements from eye creams merely in the eye of the beholder? Fancy bottles and ingredients that appear publicity-driven, instead of scientifically driven (tomato extract, anyone?), leave us wondering about real results. Do price tags in the double, occasionally triple, digits have us wishfully noticing changes—lightened dark circles, de-puffing and reduced wrinkles—that aren’t really there? We consulted a few of our favorite experts in the worlds of medicine and makeup to find out more about these topical rejuvenators. And even they didn’t see eye to eye.
Caffeine, Fennel and Parsley: Are They Gimmicks?
Among some of the major cosmetic brands with eye cream in their product lines, M.A.C.’s Fast Response contains caffeine, NARS Nourishing Eye Cream flaunts fennel as a feature and Clarins, with their Eye Contour Gel, pushes for persimmon and parsley. So is this beauty school, or cooking school?
“Although they may seem like gimmicks, these unique ingredients do provide the skin with multiple benefits.” says Howard Murad, M.D., author of The Water Secret: The Cellular Breakthrough To Look and Feel 10 Years Younger. “Caffeine helps decrease puffiness and dark circles by reducing inflammation. Fennel soothes the skin, while improving circulation and fighting water retention and puffiness. Persimmon contains high levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. And parsley seed extract has significant protective and restorative benefits for the skin.” In fact, wild yam, soybean and olive extract are listed among the recipes, er, formulas for the eye creams in his own popular skincare line.
Anti-Acid: Why You Should Beware
Many eye creams also contain acids, which sound like they’d be too harsh for the fragile under-eye skin. And Ben Johnson, M.D., founder of Osmosis Skin Care and author of Transform Your Skin, Naturally, cautions buyer beware. “Immediately after application, the acids cause inflammation that makes the wrinkle look less noticeable,” he says. “Everyone knows inflammation is not going to make your skin younger, but we get addicted to the plumping.” And he goes so far as to say there may be serious consequences over time: “Exfoliating increases skin cancer risk, so it should be avoided, especially for the delicate skin around the eyes.” Yikes.
But Dr. Murad says these products are specifically designed for this sensitive skin: “There is no need to fear exfoliating agents in eye creams as long as they are used in formulas created specifically for the eye area.” He adds, “Using these ingredients may help prevent lines and wrinkles from becoming visible [in the first place]. Some exfoliating agents can also firm skin and encourage new skin cell growth.”
Secret Agents: The Good and the Bad
Dr. Johnson attributes eye puffiness and dark circles to stress and overindulging in alcohol and caffeine. He blames wrinkles around the eyes on skin that’s thinned over time and on smiling frequently—and he pointed us to collagen-building eye cream, such as his own Osmosis Refresh. “Avoiding plastic surgery is all about maintaining the thickness of our dermis,” he says. “Botox, acids and most peptides have not proven to be a long-term solution. The eye cream has to improve protection from damage and actually build more collagen and elastin, not just plump temporarily.” So you may want to seek out an eye cream with an SPF.
The Benefits of Eye Cream (Though It Doesn’t Work Miracles)
Regardless of the specific product you choose, Maya Michelle Shapiro, a Manhattan-based makeup artist who’s worked on such television shows as the Real Housewives of New York City and Tweets beauty tips @mayamshapiro, suggests that you include eye cream in your makeup routine for its moisturizing benefits. “If your skin is dehydrated, it will absorb the moisture it needs from your makeup,” she says. “Prepping the skin with eye cream will help your concealer go on more smoothly and stay on longer.” But she says you can’t expect miracles.
“You always have to take care of your skin. You can’t be out boozing until 4:30am and then expect a miracle from your eye cream.” In the case of such an emergency, look for products with light-reflecting properties, like the Rexaline Hydra-EyeZone Hyper-Hydrating Anti-Wrinkle Smoothing Eye Contour Cream sold at Sephora. It may or may not help in the long run, depending on which doctor you ask, but it can give your face a boost temporarily. “The reason why eye creams with light-reflecting properties are popular is because people want to see some kind of immediate improvement,” Shapiro says.