Admittedly, there are a lot of skincare practices that don't necessarily need to occupy your time, like jade rolling, dermaplaning, or overtly fancy ingredients like gold and caviar. We do a lot in the name of beauty because a friend told us to or a celebrity swears by it or we saw it on Instagram, or, or, or… I'm game to try anything once, but I'm quick to call bullshit on products that seem like an obvious marketing ploy. And while I bought into eye creams for a few years, I hadn't noticed any difference in my under eyes—quite the contrary, actually. They seemed to look worse after I applied any of these (often expensive) formulas by way of puffiness and milia. I reasoned with myself that eye creams aren't a necessity and that instead I could just continue my usual serums, moisturizer, and oils up into my under-eye area and be better off.
In fact, when Glow Recipe co-founders Christine Chang and Sarah Lee didn't prescribe me an eye cream when I'd asked them for the ultimate hydrating routine, I was certain they were bogus. So much so that I ended up tossing my jars and bottles or giving them away to family and friends who swore they needed them (suckers). But, dear readers, after consulting with a few skincare experts to fact-check myself, I've since had to pull my foot from my mouth.
Eye Creams Do Work… for Some Things
Another one of my gripes with eye cream is that there's no instant gratification. I never notice a marked difference in the brightness or tightness of my under-eye area, even though I've seen many a headline claiming such short-term results were possible. In this case, I was right. Says celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau, "We are under the impression that eye creams will remove all lines and wrinkles and make the skin under the eyes smooth and youthful again," she explains. "If you're using an eye cream thinking it's a quick fix, unfortunately, I have bad news. They just don't work like this. More invasive treatments, such as Botox, can dramatically smooth eye wrinkles away quickly and effectively. An eye cream simply cannot do this."
In the case of long-term, preventative care, eye creams are much more potent and results-driven than just using your everyday moisturizer or serums: "Depending on the moisturizer, it may not have ingredients that the eye area requires," explains Rouleau. "Example: Maybe someone is breakout-prone and they use an oil-free moisturizer on the face. Since the eye area has very few oil glands, the face moisturizer won't be enough." She explains that because the skin under the eyes is so thin, your eye creams should have firming or thickening ingredients such as peptides in them, but these ingredients aren't necessarily accepted well by the rest of the face. Additionally, some serums and moisturizers are actually bad for your under eyes, which is why targeting the area with a specially formulated eye cream will serve you better. Lee explains, "Not all formulas are tested for the eye area, so we don't recommend bringing moisturizers or serums up to the eye area."
Apply eye cream first after cleansing so that the eye area is protected before you go into the rest of your routine.
So why didn't Lee and Chang recommend an eye cream to me? Because it isn't the most integral step in your regimen—for someone trying to get into the groove of a new, full-fledged routine, it's a bit less daunting to start without the added step. Says Chang, "When we start people off on new routines, we ease them into the Korean skincare basics first. The multiple steps can seem daunting, so we prescribe the basics before recommending eye creams to be applied after cleansing and toning."
Reading the Ingredient List Is Paramount
While I'd never personally found an eye cream that noticeably brightened my under eyes, the answer, of course, lies in the right formula. "Korean women really struggle with dark circles, and it is a huge need there," explains Chang. "This is why the eye market is so developed in Korea with different textures—we've seen new textures like milky eye essences, which are great for a quick eye-area massage, and different eye patches, like our Panda EyeEssence Mask from Wish Formula, that are drenched in fermented honey essence to brighten under eyes."
In addition to essences, fermented ingredients work wonders too. Says Charlotte Cho, co-founder of Soko Glam, "I travel often for work, and I combat dry air in airplanes and airports with the Benton Fermentation Eye Cream. It has fermented ingredients and anti-aging ingredients such as beta-glucans and adenosine to keep my eye area hydrated and soft. Bifida ferment lysate and galactomyces ferment filtrate are well-known in Korean skincare and help repair skin damage as well. I never forget my eye cream to help keep my eye area plump and prevent fine lines from forming."
Another reason my eye creams may not have worked for me is that I wasn't sloughing away dead skin first, which may block formulas from doing their job. Explains Rouleau, "One missing piece that people aren't totally aware of is the importance of exfoliating under the eyes. You must use a gentle exfoliant [Ed. note: Like Rouleau's Overnight Eye Serum, $49] around the eye area to actually remove the dryness and crepiness, so fresher, plumper cells can come to the surface of the skin and your eye cream can give better results. Trying to moisturize cells that are already expired won't get you very far—trust me on this one. While it's important to use eye cream, people hardly have ever been told that gentle exfoliation around the eyes can make a significant improvement in reducing the appearance of lines and wrinkles and smoothing away surface dryness."
As for ingredients to avoid, as mentioned previously, thick creams that may cause congestion are a no-go (Rouleau says that if an eye cream is too greasy, it can migrate into the eyes and cause under-eye puffiness. This then unnecessarily stretches out the skin, causing a weakening in elasticity.) Adds Cho, "I would advise not to use emollient serums/treatments or even a heavy facial moisturizer around the eye area, as this can cause milia to form. Milia is very difficult to get rid of at home, and involves laser removal for the most effective treatment."
Final thoughts: I admit that I was wrong. Eye creams are, in fact, an important step in your routine, so long as you exfoliate and use a light formula. Check out these dermatologist-approved creams to find your match!