When it comes to ingredients that help slow down the signs of aging, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that’s created as much of a buzz in the beauty industry as retinol.
It’s regularly cited as the gold standard in the category—a great all-rounder for face serums in particular, but does the same ring true when it comes to creating (and finding) the best eye cream?
“It most certainly does,” says consultant dermatologist Dr. Justine Kluk. She argues that retinol and other topical retinoids (vitamin A derivatives) are essential ingredients to look for in eye creams as they're primed to address the delicate eye area and periorbital skin. Naturally, leading brands, Murad, The Inkey List, and La Roche-Posay, have spawned retinol-infused iterations of their own; and many of the best eye creams for wrinkles and best eye creams for dark circles now leverage this hero ingredient.
With the choice increasing by the day, it makes sense to ask what exactly does an eye cream formulated with retinol have to offer that the rest of the pack doesn’t?
Here’s a rundown of the main benefits.
Retinol for eyes—the benefits
1. It works on fine lines and wrinkles
The skin around the eye area is about four times thinner than the skin on the rest of the body. As a result, this delicate layer is more susceptible to wrinkles that are often hard to target with a run-of-the-mill eye cream. Retinol provides a welcome upgrade, thanks to its ability to address a range of factors. “Retinol helps slow the natural collagen breakdown that occurs both as we age and as a result of external factors, such as sun exposure, smoking, and pollution,” explains Dr. Kluk.
“It also stimulates new collagen and elastin production, and increases cell turnover,” she continues, “meaning it helps the skin exfoliate itself more effectively.” The result? Smoother, firmer, and more supple skin.
2. It can reduce dark circles
Of all eye concerns, dark circles are among the trickiest to address. A range of factors can cause them including hyperpigmentation. Another common contributor is a loss of fat and collagen around the eyes, which causes the skin around them to become thinner, eyes to look more sunken and the veins underneath to appear more pronounced.
Dr. Kluk highlights that retinol can help with both of these problems, as its collagen-boosting abilities result in a plumping effect on the very thin skin of the lower eyelid. As retinol increases cell turnover and exfoliation, it can also make skin appear more even.
3. You’ll see results, but patience is key
Unlike many other eye creams that make big claims and rarely deliver, the prospects with retinol options look promising. That said, you won’t see results overnight. “Expect to see some improvement after three months of regular use,” says Dr. Kluk, explaining that this is the point where the skin might start to look and feel smoother.
It all depends on what you’re looking to address though. “More pronounced changes, such as a reduction in fine lines, tend to be seen over a period of 6 to 12 months or more,” she says.
Patience pays off though; when compared with other ingredients, the effects of retinol are likely to be longer-lasting. “Sometimes eye creams will also contain ingredients such as the moisturizing agent hyaluronic acid, which gives an immediate, albeit temporary, smoothing and plumping effect,” points out Dr. Kluk. “This would typically wear off by the following day.”
4. It’s got far-reaching appeal
Due to retinol’s ability to affect pretty much every aspect of how skin functions, it sits quite comfortably in most people’s skincare regime—although those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid using it.
“Anybody who is concerned with preventing premature aging of the skin around the eyes can benefit from using it,” says Dr. Kluk. As the cells that are key roles in collagen production and skin structure—fibroblasts—start to function and regenerate more slowly from our late 20s, retinol-based skincare can be a worthwhile addition from then onwards.
5. It can be tailored to your tolerance
Like most skincare ingredients, retinol works better for some than others. As a powerful ingredient, it sometimes gets a bit of a bad rap; its irritative side-effects, which can include peeling and extreme dryness. That's why careful product selection is key, plus understanding how to use retinol properly.
We recommend proceeding with caution but—here’s a little reassurance—most retinol eye creams are formulated with the sensitive skin around the eye in mind. As such, Dr. Kluk tells us that “most eye creams containing retinol will contain a low strength, for example, 0.1%, to allow for better tolerance. In comparison, the average starter retinol for the face tends to be around 0.3%.”
When using retinol, it’s best to see it as a marathon, not a sprint. ‘If you are new to using retinol, it’s always safest to start low and build up the strength gradually over weeks or months,’ says Dr. Kluk. Try applying it once a week before moving up to twice a week, and see how you get on. For best results, moisturizer is your friend; to provide an extra hydrating boost, Dr. Kluk recommends popping some on 15 minutes after applying your retinol at night.
If your skin’s particularly reaction-prone though, try a technique called buffering. “If the skin is sensitive and you want to reduce absorption at certain sites, moisturizer can be applied before the retinol as a semi-barrier,” says Dr. Kluk. This will help dilute the retinol slightly by preventing too much sinking in. If however, your skin just can’t get along with retinol no matter what you do, Dr. Kluk recommends considering other collagen-boosting alternatives, such as peptides or vitamin C which offer comparable results in a similar timeframe.
As a final note, it's worth remembering that although products containing retinol are usually applied at night, it’s essential to wear a broad-spectrum SPF, either UVA/UVB SPF30 or SPF50 in the mornings to counteract any photosensitivity that it might cause.
The best retinol eye creams
To help shop, we've compiled the best eye creams with retinol, each formulated to suit every skin type and budget.
Ayesha is a freelance contributor to woman&home who often covers beauty pieces. A fan of eyeliners and one-liners, a career in beauty journalism seemed inevitable for Ayesha. Her path wasn’t without its detours though. She originally planned on becoming a divorce lawyer, but decided to amicably part ways with that particular objective in her mid-twenties. It was a good decision all round and we're happy to report that both are better for it as a result.
Rather than referencing case law these days, Ayesha can be found writing about all things cosmetics, hair and self-care in her role as Senior Features Writer for Get The Gloss. As well as her daily features, she writes a monthly hair column called ‘Who, What, Hair’ (which combines her love of puns and buns perfectly), in addition to a column exploring the new and exciting options that are now available for women of darker skin tones called ‘Not Fair’. She’s also been shortlisted for a number of awards over the years - twice for Best Online Beauty Journalist at the Johnson and Johnson Journalism Awards and most recently, Best Digital at the Jasmine Awards. It seems swapping law for lipstick has been worth it (thank goodness!).
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