When it comes to ingredients that help slow down the signs of ageing, 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, who sees retinol and other topical retinoids (vitamin A derivatives) being as essential to formulations as heavy hitters such as sunscreen, vitamin C and peptides. Providing a bevy of benefits, these ingredients are primed to perform, addressing key concerns specific to the area around the eyes.
In recent years, brands such as Murad, The Inkey List and La Roche-Posay have brought out retinol eye creams and serums, each carefully formulated to suit delicate periorbital skin as well as a variety of skin types and budgets. 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.
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 to 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 moisturising 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 ageing 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, mean that careful product selection really is key.
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, moisturiser 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, moisturiser 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.