There are few anti-aging ingredients more beloved, recommended, and scientifically-proven than retinol. It works both on the surface of the skin, exfoliating to even out pigmentation and improve the look of pores, and in the deeper layers, stimulating collagen production. While it’s a choice ingredient to use all over your face, it can be particularly useful around the eyes, says New York City dermatologist Dr. Jeremy Fenton.
“The skin here is naturally thin and fragile, making it more susceptible to the aging process as collagen and elastin fibers break down with age,” he explains. “We also have a lot of movement in the area as we smile, squint, and rub our eyes, which further induces the formation of wrinkles.” By increasing collagen production, retinol can help thicken this thin skin and improve fine lines and wrinkles around the eyes, adds New York City dermatologist Dr. Morgan Rabach.
The big caveat? Retinol is infamous for its irritating side effects—redness, peeling, dryness—and the thin skin around your eye is even more delicate and susceptible to these irksome issues. That’s why if you want to use retinol around your eyes, both derms underscore the importance of choosing a product specifically made for the eye area; they’re specially formulated to be extra hydrating and minimize the likelihood of irritation.
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 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.
Related: Best Eye Cream for Wrinkles
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 increases. In twelve weeks, there was a significant reduction in wrinkles, so stick with it.
Ready to learn more about the best retinol eye cream for you? Here are 13 editor-approved picks for every budget and every age.
14 Best Eye Creams With Retinol
Best Eye Creams With Retinol Overall Fab Skin Lab Retinol Eye Cream
It's so important to keep skin hydrated when it comes to using retinol, and hyaluronic acid is a perfect pairing. This eye cream uses three different types of hyaluronic acid as well as colloidal oatmeal to make the eye area look luminous.
It also feels lush, making for a great eye cream that you can wear in the morning, applying beautifully for a makeup base — and one for the evening, as well.
More: The 10 Best Retinol Creams For Aging
Best Eye Creams With Retinol For Beginners The Inkey List Retinol Eye Cream
Usually the word “retinol” screams “pricey,” but the INKEY List comes in yet again to save the day with an eye cream that not only is good on your wallet, but effective. Beginners especially will love this time-released version of stabilized retinol, meaning it's not going to be massively irritating or cause flakiness on the undereye — the last place you want flakes or redness.
Most Eye Creams With Retinol Moisturizing Dr. Brandt 24/7 Retinol Eye Cream
This retinol eye cream from Dr. Brandt Skincare also uses time-released microencapsulation technology. It works over a gradual period of time rather than all at once, assisting in reducing the irritation and flaking sometimes associated with retinol.
Plus, the formula also includes lemon tree honey, phospholipids, as well as olive fruit pulp, which all work together to deliver and seal in moisture. Oh, and there's an illuminating Ruby Crystal Complex, which is just as magical on your skin as it sounds.
Best Drugstore Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Eye Cream
This eye cream is an editor's pick for a reason — it truly gets the job done, at an affordable price, and is easy to pick up when you run to any drugstore. It's gentle on the eyes, works hard to reduce dark circles and puffiness, and is hypoallergenic.
Plus, the mineral complex helps improve the appearance of the skin, and any dermatologist will tell you RoC makes some of the best retinols on the market. Trust and believe.
Best Retinol Eye Creams For Sensitive Skin Clinical Ceramide-enriched Firming Eye Cream
This product is retinol, but just barely with .01% of the active ingredient and full of ceramides to protect the skin barrier from irritation. It's ideal for those with sensitive skin or who are new to retinols.
You'll get all the good benefits of retinol, along with peptides and four different types of vitamin C — which can help brighten skin. But if you use this one in the daytime, be sure to follow it up with an SPF because vitamin C can make your skin sensitive to the sun.
The Luxury Pick Is Clinical Youth Eye Complex
At $105, this eye cream truly feels like the unicorn of retinol eye creams. It absorbs quickly, with no sign of stickiness, and a little bit goes a long way. Because it's developed for clinical use, its formula contains ingredients not typically found in more mainstream eye creams.
In addition to retinol, this cream has hyaluronic acid microspheres and glycosaminoglycans (a complex group of proteins), as well as copper tripeptide growth factor, all of which work all day to keep your eye circles hydrated and glorious.
Best Retinol Eye Creams For Fine Lines Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Under Eye Cream
Neutrogena has always been a consistent player in the skincare game, and it's no surprise their retinol eye cream is just as stellar as the rest of their products. But this one is extra special: It contains accelerated Retinol SA and a Retinol SA booster called Glucose Complex to speed up smoothing fine lines and texture.
The Makeup Artist's Pick Magic Eye Rescue Cream
Makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury knows what your skin needs to prep for makeup, and this eye cream is designed to prep for concealer and foundation. Tilbury spent nearly 20 years researching and formulating this eye cream, which is full of nourishing ingredients like red algae, vitamin C, and vitamin E, along with retinol.
Makeup lovers, pick this one up and watch the game change.
Best Night Eye Cream Retinol 24 Night Eye Cream, 2-pack
When they say 24 hours of hydration, they mean it: This night eye cream means you won't need one for daytime because it performs so well. It's airy and gentle, uses two different types of retinol, and your under eyes will love you for it.
A bonus: It’s fragrance-free, so you won't have to worry about any added irritation.
Best For Dark Skin Tones Vital Eyez Retinol + Vitamin C Complex
For those with darker skin tones, under eye circles can be harder to treat due to their skin having more melanin. Urban Skin Rx, a brand formulated for melanin-rich skin, filled this eye cream with retinol, vitamin C, caffeine, and peptides to help fix those fine lines and hyperpigmentation in a more targeted fashion.
Best Retinol Eye Serum Retinol Youth Renewal Eye Serum
A targeted serum just designed for your eyes? Count us in. This virtually-translucent eye serum is great on its own, but just as good under other serums and moisturizers, creating a stellar base for makeup. Dark undereye circles, as well as fine lines, will soon be gone.
Best Eye Stick Retinol Eye Stick
If you travel often, prefer a balm over a cream, or even if you just like a hands-free application, this eye stick is the dream for pretty much anyone. It also has moisturizing squalane and peptides, and the encapsulated retinol in a stick is delicate but won't feel like you're tugging at those sensitive lids. Just make sure to apply with gentle pressure.
Best Retinol Alternative Wrinkle Blur Bakuchiol Eye Gel Crème
Of course, retinol isn't for everyone, and in recent years, retinol alternatives have become extremely popular. For those with sensitive eyes or don't want to jump in with retinol straight away, try this skin-blurring power potion made with bakuchiol.
Bakuchiol is a plant extract that has recently gained buzz as a natural alternative to retinol. It has some of the same benefits as retinol, like softening fine lines and wrinkles, evening skin tone, and improving skin firmness, but with a less irritating formula. This cream is scent-free, too, and you'll get bonus conditioning benefits from the added peptides.