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Most of us spend a good amount of time beautifying our eyes with mascara, false lashes, shadow, liner, and more. But, at the end of the day, if your eyes are dry, red, and irritated, no amount of makeup is going to help. “More people than ever are suffering from dry, irritated, red eyes that can feel itchy or gritty as if there’s a foreign body in your eyes,” says ophthalmologist Diane Hilal-Campo, MD. Credit not only the obscene amount of time we all spend staring at electronic screens but also the new norm of mask-wearing; masks cause air to flow upward toward the eyes and evaporate tears, exacerbating and even causing dryness, she explains.
Enter the beauty of a good eye drop. Even though you probably just pop into a drugstore or rummage through your medicine cabinet and grab the first bottle you can find, it’s important to note that not all eye drops are created equal. They rely on different ingredients and can have different functions and mechanisms of action, making it important to choose the right one for you.
Ahead, the best eye drops for dry eyes.
Best Overall: SYSTANE Gel Drops
Thick, gel-like consistency
Ideal for nighttime use
May temporarily blur vision
These lubricating drops (which are a favorite of Drew Barrymore’s, she sang their praises on Instagram), feel as natural as your own tears. Per the name, the texture is on the thicker side, more gel- than liquid-like, making it a great option if you want to ensure long-lasting moisture and minimize how often you need to use it throughout the day. In related news, they’re also great to use pre-bedtime to keep your eyes lubricated overnight.
Active Ingredients: Polyethylene glycol 400, propylene glycol | Concerns: Dryness | Dosage: 1 to 2 drops as needed | Size: 0.34 ounces
Best Budget: Refresh Tears Lubricant Eye Drops
A little goes a long way
Not very long-lasting
Super hydrating and super gentle (they don’t even sting when you first apply them), these check all of the basic moisturizing eye drop boxes. They work quickly, last a long time, and ring it at a very wallet-friendly price, in the event you want to stock up on multiple bottles to keep on hand at all times.
Active Ingredients: Carboxymethylcellulose sodium | Concerns: Dryness | Dosage: 1 to 2 drops as needed | Size: 0.5 ounces
Best Drugstore: Refresh Relieva
Easy to use
Expensive per ounce
As a general rule of thumb, Hillal-Campo says opting for preservative-free formulas is best, and this is one of her favorites. “It’s a great, all-around dry eye relief product. It contains carboxymethylcellulose and glycerin, which are commonly used, but also contains sodium hyaluronate, which makes it very soothing,” she explains. FYI, double-check to make sure you’re getting the preservative-free version, as there’s also a variant that does contain preservatives.
Active Ingredients: Carboxymethylcellulose, glycerin, sodium hyaluronate | Concerns: Dryness | Dosage: 1 to 2 drops as needed | Size: 0.33 fluid ounces
Best for Mild Dryness: Blink Tears Lubricating Eye Drops
Preservatives break down over time
Packaging can be messy
If your dryness is on the mild side, reach for these drops. Not quite as intense as some of the others on this list, they’re ideal if your eyes just feel slightly scratchy or gritty from time to time. A drop or two works instantly, making your eyes feel so much more comfortable.
Active Ingredients: Polyethylene glycol | Concerns: Dryness, itchiness | Dosage: 1 to 2 drops as needed | Size: 1 ounce
Best for Moderate Dryness: TheraTears Extra Dry Eye Therapy
Preservative breaks down on contact with eye
Not as hydrating as other formulas
For more moderate dryness, this formula is a great choice. Created by an ophthalmologist and the result of nearly two decades of research (color us impressed), it’s an electrolyte-balanced option that does a great job at hydrating the eye. Plus, it’s another option that’s preservative-free.
Active Ingredients: Sodium carboxymethylcellulose | Concerns: Dryness | Dosage: 1 to 2 drops as needed | Size: 1 ounce
Best for Severe Dryness: GenTeal Tears Lubricant Eye Gel
Ideal for overnight use
A little goes a long way
May temporarily blur vision
A thick gel-like this is best for the most extreme dryness, you know, the kind that can actually hurt. Just a tiny squirt fully coats your eye and delivers long-lasting relief, whether you’re using it day or night. Just FYI though, if your symptoms don’t improve after using these (or any other drops for that matter), see your eye doc, as you may need a prescription-strength option, notes Dr. Hilal-Campo.
Active Ingredients: Hypromellose | Concerns: Dryness | Dosage: 1 to 2 drops as needed | Size: 0.34 ounces
Best for Redness: LUMIFY Redness Reliever Eye Drops
More often than not redness and dryness go hand-in-hand. Enter these redness relieving drops, which on brimonidine, an active ingredient that completely knocks out redness in less than one minute. The results also last for eight hours, making these a great pick to use on bleary-eyed mornings.
Active Ingredients: Brimonidine tartrate | Concerns: Redness | Dosage: 1 drop every 6 to 8 hours | Size: 0.08 ounces
Best Multitasker: Similasan Complete Eye Relief
Short shelf life
These standout drops address not only dryness but pretty much every eye problem we could think of: redness, watering, burning, grittiness, and irritation. But equally noteworthy is the fact that this is the only homeopathic option on the list, relying on natural ingredients such as wildflower known as Eyebright rather than chemicals.
Active Ingredients: Belladonna, euphrasia officinails, mercurius sublimatis | Concerns: Redness, watering, burning, dryness | Dosage: 2 to 3 drops as needed | Size: 0.33 ounces
Best Oil-Based: Ocusoft RETAINE MGD Ophthalmic Emulsion Eye Drops
Contains mineral oil
“It’s being increasingly realized that the majority of dry eye patients may have meibomian gland disease, meaning the oil layer of the tears isn’t produced as well,” says Dr. Hilal-Campo. For these people, drops that contain oil, like this one, are extremely helpful. In particular, this one contains mineral oil, which makes it long-lasting and soothing, she says. The caveat? Some people can be allergic to mineral oil, so discontinue use if you experience irritation.
Active Ingredients: Mineral oil | Concerns: Dryness | Dosage: 1 to 2 drops as needed | Size: 0.01 ounces
Best for Contact Lens Wearers: Opti-Free Replenish Rewetting Drops
Suitable for contact lens wearers
Dryness (and itchiness and redness and every other eye issue) only becomes more challenging to treat when you’re also wearing contacts. Enter this mild formula that instantly re-wets and moisturizes contact lenses (so there’s no need to take them out) and also removes any minuscule particles that may be irritating.
Concerns: Dryness | Dosage: 2 drops as needed | Size: 0.33 ounces
Best Single-Use: Bausch & Lomb Soothe XP Emollient (Lubricant) Eye Drops - Preservative Free
Contains mineral oil and preservatives
“Some people prefer drops that come in individual-use vials, which they find easy to carry and use,” points out Dr. Hilal-Campo. These fit the bill, another preservative-free drop that moisturizes the eye, prevents tear loss, and comes in single-use, sterile vials.
Active Ingredients: Mineral oil | Concerns: Dryness, burning | Dosage: 1 to 2 drops as needed | Size: 0.5 ounces
Best for Irritation: Rohto Cool Max Redness Relief Eye Drops
Menthol can irritate sensitive eyes
A secret weapon in the arsenal of many pro makeup artists, these drops instantly cool upon contact, a soothing sensation that can’t be beaten when your eyes are not only dry but also red and irritated. And per the dryness part of things, they rely on a micro-emulsion formula that targets all three layers of tear film to keep your eyes comfortably lubricated for up to eight hours.
Active Ingredients: Polysorbate, naphazoline hydrochloride | Concerns: Redness, burning, dryness | Dosage: 1 to 2 drops up to 4x daily | Size: 0.4 ounces
The SYSTANE Gel Drops (view at Walmart) are our overall favorite dryness-relieving drop, with a thicker texture that makes them extremely lubricating. The Refresh Relieva Eye Drops (view at Rite Aid) are inexpensive and preservative-free, as is the Bausch & Lomb Soothe XP Emollient (Lubricant) Eye Drops - Preservative Free (view at Walgreens), which come in handy, single-use vials. And for contact lens wearers the Opti-Free Replenish Rewetting Drops (view at Amazon), which you can drop in even while still wearing your contacts, can’t be beaten.
What to Look for in Eye Drops for Dry Eyes
According to Dr. Hilal-Campo, preservative-free drops, often marketed as preservative-free tears, are the best over-the-counter drops for dry eyes, given that preservatives can be irritating and actually exacerbate dryness for many.
Common ingredients used in these types of drops include carboxymethylcellulose, glycerin, polyethylene glycol, and propylene glycol. It is possible to have an allergic reaction to these, which is why it’s important to know which one you’re using. “It often requires some trial-and-error to find a product that’s best for you,” points out Dr. Hilal-Campo.
How often should you use eye drops for dry eyes?
Dr. Hilal-Campo says that you should never use eye drops for dry eyes more than four times a day. “They have preservatives in them that are toxic to the cornea and conjunctival epithelium when used more frequently,” she says. However, she notes that preservative-free formulas can be used as frequently as needed. “But, if they’re being used more than four times a day, you should consider going to your eye care professional to get a prescription medication,” she adds.
How many drops should you put into dry eyes?
How many drops should be inserted per dose will depend on each individual formula and what their directions indicate. According to Dr. Hilal-Campo, one drop per eye is typically considered a full dose; however, some formulas may indicate inserting up to three drops at a time.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. As a long-time contact lens wearer, she’s very familiar with a dry eye situation (and the best products that can help).
Meet the Expert
Dr. Diane Hilal-Campo is a board-certified ophthalmologist in Oakland, NJ. She is renowned for her expertise in correcting a wide range of disorders of the eye, both medically and surgically.
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.