I’m a big believer in that if you focus on good skincare, you really won’t need a lot of make-up. – Demi Moore
The use of eye creams seems to be a highly debated topic. Some argue that an eye cream is just a glorified version of a moisturizer and that you can use your facial moisturizer under and around your eyes. Others argue that eye creams are different from regular moisturizer in that they are formulated to specifically address the issues we see with aging of the skin around the eyes.
Without doubt, there is enough evidence in the market to suggest that eye creams are a desired product by consumers (myself included). For example, if you run a simple search for “eye cream” on popular retail sites, you receive the following results:
Nordstrom: 322 results
Neiman Marcus: 475 results
Sephora: 521 results
Ulta: 152 results
Lord and Taylor: 56 results
Blue Mercury: 76 results
Macy’s: 126 results
Amazon: 12707 results!!
An eye cream is a specially formulated cream for use under the eye and on your eyelid. Eye creams address one or more of several issues consumers are most concerned about as it relates to the skin around their eyes, e.g. Suppleness, Anti- Aging, Age Spots, Dark Circles, Fine Lines, Wrinkles, Firmness, Puffiness, Bags, Dullness, Circulation, Smoothness, Elasticity, Hydration, etc.
So what exactly is an eye cream made of that makes it potentially worth the money?
Formulating an Eye Cream
Without having a formal chemistry background, I’m going to try my best to relay what I’ve researched and learned in conversations with chemists about how to formulate an eye cream.
Your basic eye cream contains ingredients that can be classified into roughly ten major categories: emollients, emulsifiers, actives, preservatives, thickeners and stabilizers, humectants, occlusives, solvents, pH balance, and fragrance and color.
Emollients are moisturizers responsible for how the product feels on the skin, they act to make the skin feel smooth, soft, and flexible.
Humectants are moisturizers that absorb moisture in from two places: humid conditions from the environment, i.e. drawing water in from the environment around you, and from the dermis layer into the epidermis layer. (See What is Skin – The Basics for a definition of the various layers of skin).
Occlusives are moisturizers that prevent water from evaporating, i.e. they act to keep water in. They can help retain moisture in the skin, can reduce irritation, and restore the skin barrier.
Emulsifiers helps keep unlike ingredients, like water and oil, from separating when mixed together. In cosmetics, you can have oil in water emulsions (mayonnaise is a good example of this) or water in oil emulsions. The way emulsifiers work is that when added to a formula, they change the surface tension between water and oil which produces a homogeneous and well-miked product with an even texture.
Active ingredients are responsible for delivering claims associated with the product. In the case of eye cream, these ingredients would address the appearance of dark circles, fine lines, wrinkles, puffiness, etc.
Preservatives are added to help prevent bacteria, mold, or yeast from growing in the formula. A big push these days is towards natural preservatives versus synthetically derived ones.
Thickeners and Stabilizers
A cream is composed of oil and water soluble ingredients which tend to separate over time. Even with an emulsifier, this separation needs additional support which is provided via thickeners and stabilizers.
These ingredients dissolve other ingredients and enable them to work properly. Water is an example of a solvent.
Some ingredients act to help adjust the physical properties such as pH. Our skin’s natural pH is around 5.5. Some formulas have ingredients added to help bring the pH of the cream to something closer to our skin’s natural pH to help improve how the skin reacts when the formula is applied.
Fragrance / Color
Some creams include ingredients for fragrance or color. Typically eye creams are not fragrant for fear of irritation to the eye but some creams do add color to either offset the dark hues of dark circles or improve the overall look of the product and make it more visually appealing, e.g. green for an avocado base or yellow for a banana base.
Five reasons why eye creams are worth the money
While the need for a special cream specially formulated for your eye remains a hotly debated topic, I am of the opinion that eye creams are absolutely worth the money for these five reasons:
- The skin around your eyes is different than the skin on the rest of your face and therefore warrants separate evaluation and treatment. Because of the delicate nature of the skin around your eyes and potential sensitivities that may with the eye itself, one should treat this area with special care, using products specially formulated to avoid irritation or adverse results.
- The skin around your eyes shows signs of aging faster than other parts of your face and therefore a special formulation should be used that is focused on addressing these issues. Eyelid skin is in constant motion and therefore needs to be thin enough for rapid movement but strong enough to protect the tender eye tissues. As a result, coupled with the loss of facial fat, collagen, elastin, hyaluronic acid, effects from UV exposure and gravity, and symptoms from allergies, our eyes shows signs of aging faster than other parts of the face. In fact, we know from our own experience and a multitude of studies that the appearance of the eyes and eyelids directly impacts how tired and old we look.
- Eye creams may provide an affordable alternative to cosmetic surgery. Eyelid surgery is the 4th most performed cosmetic surgery in 2018, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Now while no eye cream can claim to completely stop the signs of aging or provide the same level of benefits as say performing surgery on your eyelid, they can at least slow down the signs of aging by helping to address some of the underlying processes that play into the symptoms of aging. Eye creams run anywhere from $38.00 / .5 oz. to $215.00 / .5 oz. This amount will probably last you 2-3 months (maybe less or more depending on how much you use) which gives you a range of $0.42/day on the low end to $3.58/day on the high end. If I was able to find an eye cream that sat somewhere in between this average and had active ingredients backed by science, I would consider it a good investment of my money.
- Some eye creams may immediately enhance your appearance, i.e. a smooth and brightened look under your eyes. Some eye creams are formulated to reduce the signs of fine lines and dark circles under the eyes immediately on application, e.g. they have reflecting technology or include an ingredient that fills in fine lines. If the eye cream is intended to be used under concealer, this may help your concealer apply more effectively, giving you an even more youthful appearance.
- Good eye creams can create a luxurious ritual to start and end the day. I’m going to guess that you, like me, are constantly running against the clock, searching for that one or two minutes a day to just breathe and relax. Using an eye cream can force you to be present and give you a chance to breathe and relax for 5 minutes at the start and 5 minutes at the end of your day. For me, it is a very important part of my beauty regimen as it forces me to take a few minutes to myself to get a good start to the day and pamper myself at the end of a hard day.
- Basic Principles of Cosmetic Formulas, https://www.makingcosmetics.com/Basic-Principles-of-Cosmetic-Formulas_ep_54.html
- Jones, O.;Selinger, B”The chemistry of cosmetics”, The Australian Academy of Science, https://www.science.org.au/curious/people-medicine/chemistry-cosmetics
- Draelos, Z. D; Thaman, L. A. Cosmetic Formualtion of Skin Care Products, Cosmetic Science and Technology Series Vol 30, http://www.anme.com.mx/libros/Cosmetic%20Formulation%20of%20Skin%20Care%20Products.pdf
- New Statistics Reveal the Shape of Plastic Surgery, American Society of Plastic Surgeons (March 2018), https://www.plasticsurgery.org/news/press-releases/new-statistics-reveal-the-shape-of-plastic-surgery
- Sethi, A., Kaur, T., Malhotra, S. K., & Gambhir, M. L. (2016). Moisturizers: The Slippery Road. Indian journal of dermatology, 61(3), 279-87. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4885180/