Why Buying Eye Cream Is a Waste of Money, According to a Dermatologist
Read this before you shell out for a pricy miracle eye cream—or any eye cream at all.
Reduce Under Eye Bags and Puffiness!
Fade Away Those Dark Circles and Rings!
Wipe Away Fine Lines and Wrinkles Around Your Eyes!
Those are the slogans you’re likely to find plastered on eye creams sold in department stores, local pharmacies, and online. And although many of us want to know how to prevent and treat wrinkles, as a dermatologist, I will tell you that no amount of money you spend on eye cream is going to keep fine lines around the eyes at bay forever.
The truth behind eye creams
The majority of eye creams on the market are formulated with the same ingredients as most facial moisturizers. There are no special ingredients in eye creams that are specific to the skin around the eyes, but you should make sure you follow these dermatologist-approved rules for using moisturizer. Like the overwhelming majority of facial moisturizers on the market, eye creams are water based—water is often the first ingredient on the ingredients list. They contain humectants, like glycerin, that help draw water into the skin surface, and occlusives, like petrolatum or dimethicone, that limit water evaporation from the skin into the environment. Emollients are added to make the skin feel smooth and silky, adding aesthetic value to the product so the consumer likes how the product feels. Emulsifiers are added so the water and oil components of the emulsion don’t separate. All water-based products require a preservative to prevent overgrowth of mold and bacteria. Manufacturers also add thickeners, as eye creams are expected to be thicker than most facial moisturizers. A “marketing tool” ingredient (discussed below) is often added to enhance sales, and sometimes fragrance is also added.
Yes, the skin around the eyes is thin. But under a microscope, a skin pathologist cannot distinguish skin taken from around the eye with skin taken from high on the cheekbone. One might argue that the thinnest eyelid skin is more susceptible to the damage of the sun’s ultraviolet rays, but ironically, most eye creams don’t contain sunscreen.
The myth of anti-aging
Science has yet to discover a single ingredient that can reverse the aging process. Often “marketing tool” ingredients like caffeine, peptides, or collagen are added to an eye cream formulation to enhance sales. But there is no scientific evidence that these ingredients have any real benefit or that they can reverse the aging process. On the other hand, dermatologists say these breakthrough anti-aging products are the real deal. The ability of an eye cream to improve the appearance of skin around the eye is more dependent on the product’s ability to increase the water content of the skin, which is basically its effectiveness as a moisturizer. In fact, a short-term trial reported in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology in 2017 showed decreased water loss after 14 days of eye cream use. The improvement persisted through the end of the study period 56 days later. And there was almost immediate improvement in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, also lasting for 56 days.
In the United States, Congress passes laws to protect consumers’ health and safety. The Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) clearly states “articles…intended to affect the structure or function of…” skin are considered drugs, and as such, must get FDA pre-market approval before going to market. In addition, the manufacturer must prove the safety and efficacy of that product. An eye cream, however, is not a drug—it is a cosmetic and doesn’t require FDA pre-market approval or need to demonstrate its safety or efficacy. Cosmetics are defined as “articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied…for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance.” By law, manufacturers of cosmetics, including eye creams, may claim that their product improves the appearance of the skin, as many well-formulated moisturizers temporarily do, but they cannot legally claim that their product actually alters the structure or function of the skin, as this would make the product a drug and require FDA pre-market approval.
Eye creams are usually packaged in very small jars and can cost anywhere from $13 for a 0.5 oz. jar at the local pharmacy to $100 per 0.5 oz. jar online or at a boutique store. That’s equivalent to $3,200 per pound!
As a moisturizer, an eye cream may increase the water content of skin and temporarily improve the appearance of the skin. But so will many well-formulated facial moisturizers for a fraction of the cost. Consider trying these home remedies for puffy eyes and dark circles instead, and make sure you’re educated on the secrets the beauty industry doesn’t want you to know to avoid getting swindled in the future.
- Fayne L. Frey, MD, dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon based in West Nyack, New York, and founder of the educational skincare website FryFace.
- Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology: "Efficacy and Safety of an Anti-aging Technology for the Treatment of Facial Wrinkles and Skin Moisturization."
- U.S. Food & Drug Administration: "Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act)"