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When it comes to beauty for the eyes, we think of a slew of face-changing products: mascara, eyeshadow, false lashes, and eyeliner to name a few. But what happens when these products cause our eyes some irritation?
From redness to dryness, our eyes can go through the wringer—and with these new concerns come a plethora of recommendations. The first thing you’ll reach for is eye drops. And while it may seem simple enough—just run into the drugstore and grab one, right?—there’s actually more to those tiny, liquid-filled vials that are meant to soothe your eyes. Are you wearing contacts? An eye solution that'll keep your lenses hydrated and your peepers comfortable is key. And if irritation from allergies is a problem (with pollen-induced eye puffiness making it a bigger problem) antihistamine formulas can clear things up. Whether it’s a gel-like texture or the ability to cool your eyes instantly, there is an ideal eye drop formula for you.
Here, the best eye drops for dry eyes to give your eyes the relief they need.
Best Overall: Systane Anytime Protection Lubricating Gel Eye Drops for Dry Eyes Symptoms
Active Ingredients: Polyethylene glycol 400, propylene glycol | Concerns: Dryness | Dosage: 1-2 drops ad needed | Size: 0.34 oz.
A favorite of Drew Barrymore (on Instagram, she called them her favorite eye drops!), this lubricant drop feels as natural as your own tears. If you suffer from severe dryness, a gel consistency works best to deliver long-lasting moisture without having to constantly reapply. While the texture is on the thicker side (which indicates it'll provide longer-lasting relief), it doesn’t feel jarring when dropped into the eye—a huge plus in our book.
Best for Allergies: Bausch & Lomb Opcon-A Eye Drops
Active Ingredients: Naphazoline HCI, pheniramine maleate | Concerns: Itchiness, redness | Dosage: 1-2 drops up to 4x daily | Size: 2x 0.5 oz.
Suffer from allergies? This formula boasts ingredients like an antihistamine to help with flare-ups, whether it's due to pollen, pet hair, dander, or even grass. A reviewer loved that it not only calmed her itching but also whitened the whites of her eyes quickly and efficiently. While these are certainly effective, it's worth noting that board-certified ophthalmologist Dr. Diane Hilal-Campo doesn't recommend using products with naphazoline (a vasoconstrictor, which constricts the blood vessels in your eyes) too regularly, as they have potential to cause damage to blood vessels and cause more redness over time. Reach for these only when necessary.
Best for Moderate Dryness: TheraTears Eye Dry Eye Therapy Lubricant Eyedrops
Active Ingredients: Sodium carboxymethylcellulose | Concerns: Dryness | Dosage: 1-2 drops as needed | Size: 1 oz.
After nearly two decades of research, created by an ophthalmologist, these lubricant eye drops deliver much-needed relief for dry eyes. The unique electrolyte-balanced formula is equal parts gentle and active thanks to its preservative-free solution, a perk that reviewers who are allergic to preservatives especially appreciate. These are also a favorite of Dr. Hilal-Campo, who considers these to be "best in class" for a simple ingredient formula that uses sodium carboxymethylcellulose, a safe lubricant, as its active ingredient. "The only downside to this product is that it's not long-lasting," she says.
Best for Redness: Lumify Redness Reliever Eye Drops
Active Ingredients: Brimonidine tartrate | Concerns: Redness | Dosage: 1 drop every 6-8 hours | Size: 0.08 oz.
Ready for your eyes to sparkle? This redness reliever works in under 60 seconds to whiten and brighten the whites of your eyes. Active ingredient brimonidine specifically reduces the appearance of redness so that your eyes literally radiate. Dr. Hilal-Campo explains that this formula works differently from other vasoconstrictors because it constricts the veins of the eye, rather than the arteries, and may not cause the same potential damage to blood vessels. Plus, the reviews speak for themselves—one user notes that this is the only product that’s helped to battle her chronic red eyes.
Best Budget: Visine Red Eye Comfort Redness Relief Eye Drops
Active Ingredients: Tetrahydrozoline HCI | Concerns: Redness | Dosage: 1-2 drops up to 4x daily | Size: 0.5 oz.
This iconic formula flushes the redness out of your eyes for a clearer look. With 60 years of expertise, Visine is pretty much everyone’s go-to when it comes to eye irritation—and with good reason. The formula acts almost immediately—within 60 seconds—to constrict the small blood vessels in your eyes, which quells the redness. One important thing to note, however, is that Dr. Hilal-Campo doesn't recommend using these longterm, as she says they can cause rebound redness and damage to blood vessels when used for prolonged periods of time. These are best used more infrequently, only when needed.
Best Drugstore: Refresh Relieva
Active Ingredients: Carboxymethylcellulose, glycerin, sodium hyaluronate | Concerns: Dryness | Dosage: 1-2 drops as needed | Size: .33 f.l. oz.
Major hydration meets a gentle formula in these eye drops. Another favorite of Dr. Hilal-Campo, these drops are the only preservative-free formula available in a bottle. “It uses carboxymethylcellulose and glycerin, as well as sodium hyaluronate,” she says. “The sodium hyaluronate creates an even thicker formula, which makes it last longer and feel extremely soothing.” She points out that users may experience a bit of blurring upon insertion, but this dissipates quickly and the eyes are left feeling relieved.
Best for Mild Dryness: Blink. Lubricating Eye Drops
Active Ingredients: Polyethylene glycol | Concerns: Dryness | Dosage: 1-2 drops as needed | Size: 1 oz.
Have you ever felt a “gritty” feeling underneath your eyelids? No, you aren’t imagining things. Unfortunately, that uncomfortable sensation can follow dryness, making for a very rough experience. This particular formula eradicates that feeling. Plus, it uses a unique visco-adaptive formula that not only provides immediate comfort the second you put it on, but it's formulated to stay in the eye longer, providing long-lasting relief for hours to come. Also nice: According to the brand, this formula causes less blurring than other lubricating eye drops.
Best for Severe Dryness: GenTeal Tears Tears Lubricant Eye Gel for Severe Dry Eye Symptom
Active Ingredients: Hypromellose | Concerns: Dryness | Dosage: 1-2 drops as needed | Size: 0.34 oz.
For the times when dryness actually starts to hurt, a heavy-duty formula like this one is needed. It's formulated with hypromellose and has a thicker texture than traditional eye drops, meaning it will fully lubricate the entire eye for hours of relief. Rather than using during the day, these drops are also ideal for overnight use—simply add a drop or two to each eye before bed and the formula will do its magic all through the night.
Best for Irritation: Rohto Cool Max Maximum Redness Relief Cooling Eye Drops
Active Ingredients: Polysorbate, naphazoline hydrochloride | Concerns: Redness, burning, dryness | Dosage: 1-2 drops up to 4x daily | Size: 0.4 oz.
Nothing beats the intense cooling sensation that these drops provide—a cooling sensation that instantly soothes and cures redness as soon as it touches your pupils. The micro-emulsion formula targets all three layers of the natural tear film to successfully lubricate your eyes for up to eight hours. Plus, we love that the bottle is designed to easily dispense one drop at a time, making for a mess-free application. Again, due to the naphazoline, Dr. Hilal-Campo doesn't recommend using these too regularly.
Best Multitasker: Similasan Complete Eye Relief Eye Drops
Active Ingredients: Belladonna, euphrasia officinails, mercurius sublimatis | Concerns: Redness, watering, burning, dryness | Dosage: 2-3 drops as needed | Size: 0.33 oz.
If you tend to experience several types of eye irritation then this complete, all-in-one formula is exactly what you need. It relieves everything from redness, excessive watering, dryness, burning, and grittiness. Even better? Instead of harsh chemicals, the homeopathic formula is packed with natural active ingredients, like wildflower Eyebright. Plus, it doesn't contain any vasoconstrictors, which Dr. Hilal-Campo says can cause adverse effects over time. Holy grail, much?
Best for Itchiness: Pataday Once Daily Relief Extra Strength Eye Drops
Active Ingredients: Olopatadine | Concerns: Itchiness | Dosage: 1 drop once daily | Size: .085 oz.
When it comes to anti-itch eye drops, Dr. Hilal-Campo considers these best in class. “Pataday was a prescription for many years and just became available over-the-counter a few months ago,” she says. Also known as Patanol, she explains that it’s found in two formulations, one to be used once a day, and another to be used twice daily. “It’s a bottle, so it has preservatives, but once daily use can be really helpful [for extra itchy eyes],” she says. “It contains the ingredient olopatadine, which is both an antihistamine and mast cell stabilizer.”
Best Single-Use: Refresh Optive Sensitive Lubricant Eye Drops
Active Ingredients: Carboxymethylcellulose, glycerin | Concerns: Dryness, burning, irritation | Dosage: 1 single use vial when needed| Size: .01 fl. oz. per vial
Dr. Hilal-Campo stresses the importance of using a preservative-free formula whenever possible, which usually comes in single-use vials rather than a bottle. One of her favorites is this one, another favorite from Refresh that relieves dryness, burning, and irritation. “It uses carboxymethylcellulose and glycerin,” she says. “The glycerin makes it thicker, so it lasts a little longer, making it a great product for someone who needs longer lasting relief.” The formula also uses HydroCell Technology which enables rehydration of dry, damaged cells in the eyes. Also nice: It’s recommended for the dryness caused by Lasik surgery, making it a great option for post-procedure discomfort.
Best for Contact Wearers: Bausch & Lomb Sensitive Eyes Rewetting Drops
Active Ingredients: Boric acid, sodium borate, sodium chloride | Concerns: Dryness/irritation from contacts | Dosage: Steady stream on contact lens for 5 seconds | Size: 1 oz.
Taking all the eye conditions we’ve talked about so far—dryness, redness, itchiness, and grittiness—there’s one that can make these concerns even more difficult to treat. Contacts. Enter: A mild formula that works to keep your contacts and your eyes hydrated without causing irritation. Meant to “rewet” your lenses, it also helps to remove particles that can get stuck in your contacts as well as prevent build-up. Overall, reviewers note that these drops are ideal for everyday use and wear.
When it comes to treating dry, itchy eyes with ease, we’re giving top honors to the Systane Anytime Protection Lubricating Gel Eye Drops. The formula feels as natural as your own tears, delivering long-lasting moisture without having to constantly reapply. For itchiness and redness brought on by allergies, the Bausch & Lomb Opcon-A Eye Drops will calm flare-ups like a pro, thanks to the antihistamine in its formula. Finally, if you tend to suffer from any and all signs of eye irritation, the Similasan Complete Eye Relief Eye Drops is a great option to always have on hand. It relieves redness, excessive watering, dryness, burning, and grittiness—and does so with natural active ingredients.
What to Look For in Eye Drops for Dry Eyes
The first thing Dr. Hilal-Campo recommends looking for when shopping for eye drops is a preservative-free formula. However, it’s important to note that most eye drops sold in bottles will contain some form of preservatives, so they’re best not used too frequently. “All preservatives are irritants and toxic to the ocular surface” she says, adding that they will only perpetuate symptoms in the long run. If your eyes are especially sensitive, she recommends only using preservative-free formulas, which are typically sold in single-use vials.
Antihistamines and Mast Cell Stabilizers
If your eyes are itchy in addition to being dry, Dr. Hilal-Campo recommends opting for products that contain antihistamines and mast cell stabilizers (which help prevent the release of histamines) to help "get the itch out." This includes ingredients such as olopatadine, an antihistamine and mast cell stabilizer, and ketotifen, an antihistamine.
Glycerin and Sodium Hyaluronate
According to Dr. Hilal-Campo, both glycerin and sodium hyaluronate help to thicken a product’s formula, which makes it much more lubricating and longer lasting. If you’re looking for much-needed relief that will last you all day, reach for products that contain these soothing ingredients. She also mentions mineral oil as another soothing ingredient that can make a product last longer, however it should be avoided if you’re allergic to it.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Diane Hilal-Campo is a board-certified general ophthalmologist based in Oakland, New Jersey. She specializes in both medical and surgical eye care.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find any eye drops from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at email@example.com and we will evaluate the product ASAP.