Clinique Pep-Start eye cream review: it really delivers but watch out for one flaw

Considering buying Clinique Pep-Start eye cream? Here's everything you need to know

Clinique Pep-Start Eye cream
(Image credit: Clinique)
Woman & Home Verdict

An eye cream for realists that’s refreshing in every sense – just watch out for that squirty applicator

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Hydrates effectively

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    Skin-energising peptides

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    Lightweight texture

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    Works well with make-up

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Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Applicator can waste product

As the pioneers of the three-step routine and fragrance-free products, Clinique has hung its hat on skincare simplicity from day dot. So, it should come as no surprise that Pep-Start Eye Cream falls right in line with that M.O. If it’s straightforwardness you seek, this could very well be the best eye cream for you. 

In contrast to a market awash with complex, over-promising and under-delivering products, Pep-Start says this: I will hydrate your eyes and make them look refreshed. I’ll throw in a nice little massage and be easy to use anywhere, thanks to my bobbly applicator tip. Sound good? 

There are no promises here of dramatically brightening dark circles, reversing lines and pigmentation, or doing the impossible-without-surgery job of firming the lax skin that causes puffy eyes. This is an eye cream for realists who are fairly happy with their eye situation, but feel it could use a bit of a, well, pep-up. And pep up it does very nicely indeed without mucking around with potentially irritating skincare acids or allergens. How refreshing. 

In fact, the only thing not to like about this is a minor foible with the applicator nozzle, where it’s possible to lose a smidgen of product after applying. 

Don’t worry, if you’re still keen there’s an easy workaround for that. 

At a glance

Price: £24

Targets: Dehydration, signs of fatigue,  rough skin

Star ingredients: Several peptides, squalane, algae, hyaluronic acid

Formulation 

It’s as straightforward as it promises to be on Clinique’s own site, where the entire product description reads, “3-second eye fix. Hydrates, brightens, smooths the way for makeup. Apply whenever.” 

A scan of the ingredients list reveals all boxes ticked in that regard, the hydrates bit via skin-plumper hyaluronic acid and glycerin, which works in much the same way as HA to draw water into the skin and replenish its natural moisture levels. Another great inclusion for skin replenishment is squalane, a plant-powered ingredient usually extracted from olives or rice bran. This extract helps boost our natural squalene (with an “e”), a lipid in our skin that helps us feel plump and moisturised but which can deplete with age. 

The brightening bit isn’t a promise to magic away dull skin – well, actually, it is, but not in a way you need to wait months for. Instead the formula is enhanced with a selection of light-reflecting minerals like mica and titanium dioxide. These give it a soft-focus blurring opacity that reflects light away from the area. 

As for the smooth bit, this comes down to a combination of natural skin softeners like whey protein and algae, plus one of my favourite ingredients for use around the eye, peptides. These amino acids come in many forms and all do different jobs, but essentially communicate with skin cells to get them to behave as if they were younger. 

Peptides can work on smoothing, soothing and on fine lines, they play well with other ingredients and can be teamed up for multifaceted effects. As this group of ingredients is so varied with many different names, it’s tricky to know exactly which one does what, but I spotted at least three on the ingredients list here, which is a good thing no matter which way you slice it. 

Texture and immediate effects 

Swatch of white eye cream

(Image credit: Getty images)

Pep-Start feels incredibly light – almost more of a lotion than a cream. It blends nicely and sinks in swiftly, so would definitely suit skin that’s oily or breakout-prone, or anyone who doesn’t like the feeling of a rich cream on the thin skin around their eyes. It has an ever so slightly cooling feel and a lightly refreshing almost minty smell – nothing artificial, I should add, as Clinique is a fragrance-free brand. 

In terms of instant effects, the brightening box is certainly ticked. My slightly rough-textured undereye looked a bit perkier and smoother, thanks to those blurring minerals. Obviously, this isn’t a concealer or even a cosmetic, so it’s important to be realistic with your expectations in that department, but I saw an incremental improvement on a make-up free day. 

A surprise benefit with Pep-Start is how nicely it plays with make-up. No greasy pigment-melting layer left behind here and no pilling or separating into little balls when I applied foundation over the top. 

Another unexpected effect came courtesy of the bulbous applicator nozzle. Squeeze some cream out on to the end and you can apply it directly on to the eye contour while giving yourself a nice little massage into the bargain. I found this a very effective morning depuffer, particularly the morning after a white wine or two, which always seems to cause the fluid to collect under my eyes overnight and hang around until noon. Keep it in the fridge for extra tightening and depuffing effects. 

Clinique Pep-Start eye cream packaging 

Let’s start with the good bit: The tube is lightweight, airtight and, with that Seville orange hue, should always be easy to find in your skincare drawer. As previously mentioned, the spherical applicator offers an opportunity to massage as you apply, plus it means you don’t have to use your fingers to apply, if that kind of thing is important to you. 

Now to the bad – and probably the only thing about this eye cream that I really didn’t like. In order to use the nozzle, you have to pull it out away from the tube, then squeeze the tube to release the cream. So far, so fun. But, then, once you’re finished applying and pop the nozzle back in place, an extra little dribble shoots out the end. It’s not a lot, but at this point you’ve used all of the eye cream that you wanted to, so you’re left with the choice of either loading on a superfluous amount or wiping it away, therefore wasting product. 

In all fairness, it is a tiny amount of product, but with skincare this good, who wants wastage? After a couple of tries, I knew what to expect, so devised a workaround, where I applied enough cream for one eye, then popped the nozzle back in and used the extra for the other. All in all, it’s not a fatal flaw. The good points of Pep-Start far outweigh this little packaging foible, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t mention it. 

Who should buy Clinique Pep-Start eye cream? 

Anyone who appreciates the beauty of simplicity and a realistic approach to skincare should get on well with this. You’re not looking to do anything as dramatic or, frankly, unachievable as reverse the clock – you just want to hydrate a bit, smooth any rough texture and make the area look perkier in the first instance. 

The lightweight tube and no-hands application would suit anyone who travels a lot or just finds themselves applying skincare on the go, for whatever reason. As premium eye creams go, Pep-Start is pretty good value, coming in under £25,  so would work well for anyone starting on a skincare journey or simply not looking to remortgage just to moisturise. 

This sweet spot price, gentle formulation and colourful packaging would also make Pep-Start a nice gift for someone you know who is interested in skincare but isn’t quite sure what their skin needs. This “someone” could very well be you – treat yourself! 

Fiona McKim

As woman&home's Senior Beauty Editor, Fiona Mckim has tried more products than she’s had hot dinners and nothing makes her happier than raving about a brilliant beauty find on womanandhome.com or her instagram grid (@fionamckim if you like hair dye experiments and cute shih-tzus)

Fiona joined woman&home as Assistant Beauty Editor in 2013, working under legend Jo GB, who taught her everything she needed to know about the industry (clue: learn about ingredients and employ extreme cynicism). 


In a previous life, Fiona studied journalism back home in bonnie Scotland and honed her skills as a magazine features writer, with a brief and terrifying stint on the showbiz gossip pages of a tabloid newspaper in between. She's a skincare fanatic who can’t resist adding an extra step to her routine if it’s all the rage in Japan, loves fragrance, has fun with makeup and never turns down the chance to test a new hair tool. Basically, she loves it all.

When not slathering herself in self tan or squinting at a tiny ingredients list on a moisturiser, you’ll probably find Fiona enjoying something to do with food - cooking it, eating it, cajoling her friends into trekking across London to try a hyped pop-up in a dirty car park.