If you want to improve the look of fine lines and wrinkles around your eye area, there is no ingredient more scientifically proven than retinol. Yes, every dermatologist’s favorite ingredient is raved about for its ability to help stimulate collagen, retain water, and smooth the texture of the skin. But retinol is very powerful and can cause some irritation, so it needs to be used carefully and in the right potency, especially around the eyes. We asked New York City dermatologists Jeremy Fenton, MD, and Morgan Rabach, MD, for their advice.
"The skin around the eyes is naturally thin and fragile, making it more susceptible to the aging process as collagen and elastin fibers break down with age,” Fenton explains. “We also have a lot of movement in the area as we smile, squint, and rub our eyes, which further induces the formation of wrinkles.”
New York City dermatologist Morgan Rabach, MD adds that retinol increases collagen production. This means that it can minimize the look of crepey skin by thickening it while improving fine lines and wrinkles around the eyes.
But not all retinol eye creams are created equally, so we tried a number of top-rated formulations. After using them for weeks at a time, our testers rated each formula's texture, skin feel, and how well it diminished the signs of aging around the eyes. We then combined these results with the recommendations of board-certified dermatologists while considering options for a range of budgets, skin types, and concerns.
Read on to find the best retinol eye creams clinically proven to smooth away fine lines.
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Triple Correction Eye Serum
Protects against pollution
This is a favorite for both Byrdie Associate General Manager Lindsey Metrus and Dr. Rabach. Along with the boosting properties of retinol, you also get a healthy dose of ferulic acid, a potent antioxidant known for its ability to protect against pollution. It targets fine lines and wrinkles in three key ways: Phyto-Retinol Blend™ helps firm the look of the skin while boosting hydration and improving the appearance of wrinkles on the upper and lower eyelid. We also love how fast it absorbs into the skin.
Price at time of publish: $99
Active Ingredients: Ferulic acid, vitamin E and amino acids, retinol | Benefits: Plumping, moisturizing, anti-aging | Size: 0.5 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Value: Okay | Style: Pump bottle | Sheerness: Goes on sheer
Best Overall, Runner-Up
Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Serum
Can be used on eyelids
Not suitable for very sensitive skin types
As a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t put any eye cream (especially a retinol-based one) on your eyelids unless the directions specifically say that it’s okay to do so. This formula is one of those rare ones that can be applied around the entire eye, including on the lids, ensuring you get a 360-degree anti-aging effect. Because it’s a serum, the silky texture sinks into the skin beautifully. And as far as retinol goes, this formula touts a retinoid complex that combines a time-released version of the ingredient with a fast-acting one, plus a booster that ups the efficacy of both. Reviewers do note that this can cause irritation on very sensitive skin, so it’s probably not suitable if you have eczema or psoriasis-prone skin type.
Price at time of publish: $89
Active Ingredients: Retinol Tri-Active Technology, cotton wool grass extract, marine kelp complex | Benefits: Anti-aging, moisturizing, lifting | Dosage: Apply a thin layer nightly | Size: 0.5 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Value: Okay (on the pricier side) | Style: Pump | Sheerness: Goes on sheer and easily sinks in
Olay Eyes Pro Retinol Eye Treatment
Reviewers note results aren't drastic
The drugstore is a treasure trove of great retinol eye creams, and this is one of the best. It’s a favorite of New York City board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, MD, who lauds the very moisturizing formula. It also works fast, decreasing the look of even super deep fine lines and wrinkles in just four weeks. Some reviewers say, however, that while it does make a noticeable difference it doesn’t reap quite the same results of higher-potency retinol treatments.
Price at time of publish: $30
Active Ingredients: Pro-Retinol, vitamin B3, vitamin B5 | Benefits: Anti-aging, moisturizing | Size: 0.5 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Value: Good | Style: Tube | Sheerness: Goes on sheer
RoC Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Eye Cream
Cannot be used on eyelids
Reach for this to knock out all of your eye area concerns, including helping to fade age spots and diminish wrinkles. “RoC is a well-known producer of a variety of retinol creams, and this one also contains a mineral complex that has other benefits to improve the appearance of skin,” says Fenton. (Namely, reducing dark circles and puffiness. Yes, please.) Both he and Rabach also laud it for being gentle. Just be careful where you apply it, though, as it isn’t suitable for the eyelids.
Price at time of publish: $28
Active Ingredients: Pure ROC Retinol | Benefits: Anti-aging, reduced puffiness, fades dark circles | Dosage: Apply small dots around the area | Size: 0.5 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Value: Excellent | Style: Tube | Sheerness: Goes on sheer
What Our Testers Say
"Overall, I was very happy with RoC’s Retinol Correxion Eye Cream. I didn’t experience any irritation with it and saw some pretty immediate results as far as reduced dark circles and puffiness." — Leigh Weingus, Product Tester
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Eye Cream
Doesn't work as fast as promised
“This lightweight formulation also has hyaluronic acid that pulls in moisture to help to rehydrate the skin, further reducing the appearance of fine lines,” says Fenton of another one of his picks. King is a fan, too, noting that the formula also contains glycerin, another humectant ingredient that can help hydrate. Bonus points for the featherweight feel and fast-acting effects; thanks to a unique retinol booster in the formula, you may start to see some results in as little as just one week. Other reviewers, however, said it took them a little longer to see great results.
Price at time of publish: $21
Active Ingredients: Retinol SA, Glucose Complex, and hyaluronic acid | Benefits: Anti-aging, fades dark circles, moisturizing | Dosage: Dab a small amount around the eye area | Size: 0.5 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Value: Excellent | Style: Tube | Sheerness: Goes on sheer
What Our Testers Say
"Despite some initial redness and stinging, my eyes felt super soft the next morning." — Jenna Igneri, Product Tester
Kate Somerville +Retinol Firming Eye Cream
If you’re looking for both fewer wrinkles and firmer skin around your eyes (and really, who wouldn’t want that), reach for this cream, a staple among beauty editors. It relies on both retinol and a plant-based compound from babchi seeds that has similar firming and smoothing effects. There’s also a blend of natural oils that help increase skin’s elasticity, and you can use it both under and around your eyes, as well as on the upper brow area. The best part might be the applicator, though, a gold tip that feels cooling and makes it easy to gently massage in the product.
Price at time of publish: $98
Active Ingredients: Retinol, bio retinol, hyaluronic acid, natural blend of bidens pilosa extract, lime pearl | Benefits: Firming, smoothing, radiance-boosting, anti-aging, moisturizing | Dosage: Pat a small amount around the eye area morning and night | Size: 0.5 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Value: Okay (it's pricey but the applicator adds value) | Style: Tube | Sheerness: Goes on sheer
Best for Sensitive Skin
La Roche-Posay Redermic R Retinol Eye Cream
Reviewers note it can be drying
Yes, you can still use a retinol eye cream even if you have sensitive skin–you just have to be slightly more judicious. Dr. King says this one is a great choice, given that it’s both fragrance- and paraben-free, as well as allergy-tested. It combines retinol and retinyl linoleate, another vitamin A-derivative, in a concentration that’s enough to be effective but without making your skin totally freak out. These ingredients, combined with caffeine, can also help combat dark circles. Some reviewers say that it left their skin a little dry, so you may want to follow it with a touch of barrier cream to retain moisture.
Price at time of publish: $48
Active Ingredients: Pure retinol, caffeine, glycerin, dimethicone, La Roche-Posay Thermal Spring Water | Benefits: Anti-aging, lifting, fades dark circles | Size: 0.5 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Value: Good | Style: Tube | Sheerness: Goes on sheer
Best for A.M.
First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Eye Cream With Triple Hyaluronic Acid
Works well under makeup
Great for sensitive skin
Cannot be used on eyelids
Microencapsulated retinol in this formula helps to fight fine lines and wrinkles, but it’s the other ingredients that make it an A.M. go-to. Namely, three kinds of hyaluronic acid that hydrate and plump fine lines (and also make this blend extra soothing, notes King), plus finely milled pearl extract that delivers a subtle luminosity. The two combined help create the ideal base over which to apply foundation and concealer, helping you appear bright-eyed and wide-awake. Like we said, just make sure you’re wearing an SPF 30+ sunscreen anytime you use any retinoid during the day—doubly important in the summer. You also can’t apply it to the eyelids, so just be careful when applying it.
Price at time of publish: $44
Active Ingredients: Skin Saver Complex, microencapsulated retinol, triple weight hyaluronic acid, micro-pearls | Benefits: Anti-aging, reduces puffiness, fades dark circles, firming | Size: 0.5 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Value: Good | Style: Tube | Sheerness: Goes on sheer
Best for P.M.
Glow Recipe Avocado Melt Retinol Eye Sleeping Mask
Rich, thick texture
Sunlight can render retinol inactive and make the skin more photosensitive, so make sure you load up on SPF during the daytime. Or, to be safe, you can also reserve it for the evening and use this evening-ready pick from Glow Recipe. Just a tiny dab under your eyes (a pea-size dollop is enough for both) before you hit the sack, and let the encapsulated retinol do its thing while you snooze, helping to strengthen skin and smooth out the look of fine lines. Meanwhile, the namesake ingredient imparts plenty of hydration to counteract those potential drying side effects. Our only complaint is the container–we’d prefer a hygienic pump bottle rather than a jar.
Price at time of publish: $44
Active Ingredients: Avocado, encapsulate retinol, niacinamide, coffeeberry | Benefits: Anti-aging, radiance-boosting, moisturizing | Dosage: Apply a pea-sized amount around eye area morning and night; morning use SPF | Size: 0.5 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Value: Good | Style: Mask | Sheerness: Goes on thicker than most
What Our Editors Say
"While most of my face can tolerate potent, prescription-strength retinoids, my under-eyes are a different story. Most products with active ingredients leave my under-eyes feeling raw and red, but the Glow Recipe's encapsulated retinol eye cream is a completely different story. I can use it every night without experiencing even the slightest bit of irritation." —Holly Rhue, Byrdie Editor
Best Retinol Alternative
Alpyn Beauty PlantGenius Line-Filling Eye Balm
Great for sensitive skin
Alternative for those who can't use retinol
Yes, technically there’s no retinol in this formula but we think it deserves a place on the list because some people truly can’t tolerate retinol at all. Not to mention that it’s a no-no when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. The next best thing? Bakuchiol is a plant-based ingredient that’s been shown in studies to have almost identical anti-aging effects to retinol but without any side effects. It’s the star of the show in this creamy balm, which also boasts caffeine and algae to tighten, firm, and de-puff. There is also a slew of hydrating ingredients—hyaluronic acid, squalene, ceramides—that help to give this blend its pleasingly rich texture. This is one of the most expensive options on our list, but if retinol really doesn’t work for you, it’s well worth it for the results.
Price at time of publish: $62
Active Ingredients: Vitamin C, licorice root, bearberry leaf, bakuchiol, caffeine, algae | Benefits: Anti-aging, moisturizing, fades dark circles, firming, plumping | Dosage: Massage a small amount around the eye area morning and night | Size: 0.5 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Value: Okay | Style: Balm | Sheerness: Goes on sheer
Tata Harper Boosted Contouring Eye Balm
Rich, thick texture
Those looking to clean up their beauty routine and really splurge will appreciate this formula that's free of a litany of different chemicals. In fact, rather than containing synthetically derived retinol, it instead relies on plant-based ingredients that are natural sources of vitamin A, including rose seed oil. The benefits don’t stop there; peptides in the formula help to firm the skin, and a unique fruit extract assists in tamping down puffiness fast. We also love the cream’s rich texture and eco-friendly packaging.
Price at time of publish: $260
Active Ingredients: Lipopeptides, triple natural retinoic acid, java fruit | Benefits: Firming, anti-aging, moisturizing | Dosage: Small amount around the eye area morning and night | Size: 0.5 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Value: Not great (the price is very expensive, but it's packed with important ingredients, such as peptides) | Style: Balm | Sheerness: Goes on sheer
Best for Easy Application
Peace Out Retinol Eye Stick
Easy to apply
Ideal for sensitive eyes
Reviewers note results aren't dramatic
This solid formula is unlike any we’ve ever seen, a serum-balm hybrid that comes in a twist-up stick that looks more like concealer than eye cream. But don’t be fooled; it contains encapsulated retinol in the formula to smooth wrinkles, anti-aging peptides, super hydrating squalane, and astaxanthin, a super powerful antioxidant for extra protection. It glides seamlessly along the skin, with no pulling or tugging, and there’s no rubbing or patting required. It's also one of the most budget-friendly products on our list, making it a great option if you’re trying out a retinol eye cream for the first time.
Price at time of publish: $28
Active Ingredients: Encapsulated retinol, power peptide complex, vegan squalene, vegan astaxanthin | Benefits: Anti-aging, fades dark circles, improves texture, moisturizing | Size: 0.14 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Value: Excellent | Style: Stick | Sheerness: Goes on sheer and slightly glossy
Shani Darden Retinol Reform Treatment Serum
Lightweight texture absorbs easily
Gentle, time-release formula
Smoothes lines in 2 weeks
Some reviewers note formula stings
Developed by a Hollywood esthetician, this formula is featherlight and contains a time-release formula to deliver a steady stream of encapsulated retinol throughout the night to avoid irritation. Lactic acid also helps to brighten tired eyes, and a blend of antioxidants adds lightweight hydration. Together these ingredients help to smooth fine lines and de-puff the eye area in just two weeks, but some reviewers do complain that it stings a little on application.
Price at time of publish: $88
Active Ingredients: Encapsulated retinol, lactic acid, aloe | Benefits: Anti-aging, improves texture, moisturizing, de-puffs | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Value: Okay (the product is a bit pricey, but it will last a while) | Style: Pump | Sheerness: Goes on sheer
What Our Editors Say
"I love how gentle this time-release retinol formula is; I use it every night tapping it into the under eye area. It absorbs within seconds and works overnight to tamp puffiness." —Jill Di Donato, Senior Editor
No7 Lift & Luminate Triple Action Eye Cream
Brightens the under-eye area
Some reviewers note formula stings
This unique blend of vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, and hibiscus works to brighten and lift the tired undereye area, targeting wrinkles and fine lines in the process. Suitable for even sensitive skin, continued use leads to a lessened appearance of dark circles and under-eye puffiness. Some reviewers find that it stings a little, so you may want to do a patch test before fully committing.
Price at time of publish: $22
Active Ingredients: Matrixyl 3000+, hyaluronic acid, vitamin C | Benefits: Anti-aging, brightens the eyes, lifts | Size: 0.5 ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Value: Excellent | Style: Tube | Sheerness: Goes on sheer
Overall, our top choice is Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Eye Cream which absorbs quickly and uses an antioxidant that can help protect your skin from pollution. If you're looking for a more budget-friendly product, consider Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Eye Cream, which contains hyaluronic acid to plump thin, delicate skin around the eyes.
Meet the Expert
- Jeremy Fenton, MD is a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. He practices both cosmetic and general dermatology and is also a clinical instructor at Mount Sinai Hospital.
- Morgan Rabach, MD is a board-certified dermatologist, the co-founder of LM Medical in New York City, and a media expert on all things skin. She’s also an Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
- Hadley King, MD is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. She is also a Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University and specializes in both medical and cosmetic dermatology.
How to Choose a Retinol Eye Cream
Retinol can often have irritating side effects, including redness and peeling, so it's best to start slow and work your way up. Most experts recommend using a retinol product once or twice a week and slowly increasing the usage as your skin adjusts.
To ensure your skin doesn't get too irritated, look for retinol products that are formulated with moisturizing ingredients like niacinamide or B3, which help to calm inflammation. This is even more important when it comes to extra-sensitive parts of the skin. Fenton recommends choosing a product specifically made for the eye area if using retinol around your eyes. They’re specially formulated to be extra hydrating and minimize the likelihood of irritation.
What to Look For in Retinol Eye Creams
Type of Retinoid
Not all retinoids are considered equal. While retinol is the most popular over-the-counter option, there are also other options—retinyl palmitate, retinaldehyde—which have similar effects but are slightly less potent. If you have sensitive skin and/or this is your first time using a retinoid, it can be a good idea to look for these.
Given that retinoids can be irritating in and of themselves, it’s a good idea to steer clear of any other potentially irritating ingredients like fragrance.
What benefits do retinol eye creams have?
They’re great for combatting signs of aging, specifically wrinkles, given their proven ability to stimulate collagen production, says King. They can also help decrease discoloration, she says, so while they’re not addressing the root cause of dark circles necessarily, they can leave the skin around your eyes overall luminous and more even.
How do you apply retinol eye creams?
Dab a pea-size amount with your ring finger around both eyes, patting rather than rubbing, moving from the outside corner in. Don’t use it on the eyelid unless the directions specifically state that it’s okay to do so.
How often should you use retinol eye creams?
“When first adding any retinoid to your routine, I recommend starting with two to three nights per week,” suggests King. “Increase to nightly use as tolerated.”
Does using retinol dry skin?
Retinol can definitely dry the skin, which is why many experts suggest wearing it with moisturizer on top and adding it into your routine slowly (starting just once per week and gradually building up as your skin begins to better tolerate it).
Does retinol reverse aging?
No product can truly reverse aging, but retinol can improve the signs of aging (wrinkles, dark circles, uneven texture) with continued use.
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. She considered dozens of eye creams with retinol for this roundup. Our testers also evaluated top-rated formulas on texture, skin-feel, and how well they diminished the signs of aging around the eyes.
Catherine Hufton is an experienced lifestyle journalist and has been a contributing writer for Byrdie since 2022. She digs deep into all things fashion and beauty to find the very best shopping must-haves—from the most effective collagen serums to the best drugstore makeup essentials.
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