The anti-aging benefits of retinol are often overlooked when talking about under-eye care. Remember that your eye area covers almost half of your face. So, half of the job is already done by dealing with crow’s feet, under-eye bags, and dark circles. And the best retinol eye creams can significantly improve your overall complexion by getting rid of hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, and puffiness around your eye area.
But this holy grail anti-aging ingredient needs extra caution if you want to use it around your eyes. So to make sure we’re on the same page, here’s the recap.
As a vitamin A derivative, retinol is one of the most researched skincare ingredients. And its anti-aging benefits are pretty much common knowledge (1).
It boosts collagen production, which decreases with age and results in the formation of fine lines and wrinkles. That’s why retinol is effective in treating wrinkles both on the face and around the eyes.
But retinol is equally famous for being irritating and drying for the skin. So it’s one thing when you’re using it for wrinkles on the face, but it’s another thing when you’re using it for wrinkles around the eyes.
Why? Because the skin around the eyes is the thinnest compared to the rest of the face (2). Even though that area is the first to show signs of aging, it’s equally sensitive.
And trust me, you really don’t want to further tire the skin around the eyes by experimenting with different retinol eye creams, especially if you have sensitive eyes like me.
I ended up using my first retinol eye cream as a retinol spot treatment for my face because it irritated my under-eye area. Because I was clueless.
But over the years, I’ve perfected my own method for sifting through the options and finding the right one. So if you’re not sure where to begin, here’s how to choose a retinol eye cream.
Knowing how to pick one will ensure you’ll find something suitable for your under-eye concerns and your unique skin type.
How To Choose a Retinol Eye Cream
Here’s what to keep in mind when choosing a retinol eye cream.
1. Your skin’s familiarity with retinol
This is important because retinol requires caution for beginners. So it’s not smart to use it around the eyes without even trying on the rest of the face. But you don’t have to.
So if you’re a beginner, choose a retinol eye cream suitable for beginners. In a retinol eye cream, that translates to low-concentration formulations.
But it also translates to retinol derivatives or retinol esters, which tend to be weaker than retinol but also gentler than retinol.
Additionally, you can try eye creams with encapsulated retinol. Encapsulation means that the ingredient is released slowly and gradually as opposed to instantly. That way, you use the real thing but with a significantly lower potential for irritation.
2. Your skin’s sensitivity
Under normal conditions, people with sensitive skin would choose products based on formulation. You’d go for a fragrance-free or alcohol-free eye cream and that would be it.
However, that’s not the case with a retinol eye cream. Because retinol itself is the irritant. So even if your eye cream is fragrance-free, a pure retinol eye cream can still be too much.
You can look for encapsulated retinol. But also, you should make sure that your eye cream contains anti-inflammatory ingredients to avoid irritation too.
3. Your specific concerns.
Reitnol is a multi-tasker. But if you have specific concerns, it’s better to keep that in mind too. For example, if you need a retinol eye cream for dark circles, you can additionally look for brighteners like vitamin C and caffeine in your eye cream.
If you have deep wrinkles around the eyes, you can try a retinol eye serum as serums absorb better, therefore are more effective.
The Best Retinol Eye Creams
Whether you’re dealing with wrinkles, fine lines, dark circles, or puffy eyes, below are the best retinol eye creams.
In my opinion, this is the best retinol eye cream to effectively target signs of aging around the eyes. It’s an overall satisfying formula for softening fine lines and under-eye discolorations. Its potent formulation consists of retinol, as well as a new generation retinol commonly knowns as Granactive retinoid. It’s known for being as effective as retinol but with fewer side effects.
And not just that, the eye cream also has bakuchiol, a plant-derived ingredient known for its retinol-like effects. All these anti-aging goodies come with a hydrating base made with aloe and hyaluronic acid. And I love the fact that I can use it above the eyes too as I have hooded eyelids and need all the lifting I can get. And it might seem frivolous, but I also love the gold applicator tip for reducing puffiness around the eyes when my jade roller is nowhere to be found. So if you can afford it, this can be your new go-to retinol eye cream.
Type of Retinol: Retinol, Granactive Retinoid, bakuchiol. Other Ingredients: Hyaluronic acid. Size: 0.5 oz
If you have sensitive eyes, this is the best one to use in that area. It’s also beginner-friendly. Because it contains sustained-release retinol to provide gentle under-eye care. It slowly speeds up skin turnover around the eyes for a healthier and smoother look. The blend of different molecular weight hyaluronic acid eliminates the potential flakiness, which usually happens when you use retinol.
Additionally, it locks water in with squalane, ceramides, and shea butter to avoid drying the skin on the under-eye area. But the best part is it has a blend of skin-soothers like oatmeal, aloe, allantoin, and vitamin E. That’s why it’s gentle enough for sensitive skin around the eyes. As an added bonus, it’s fragrance-free too!
Type of Retinol: Encapsulated retinol. Other Ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, ceramides, allantoin, aloe, caffeine. Good To Know: Beginner-friendly, fragrance-free. Size: 0.5 oz
If you have sensitive eyes but you’re on a budget, this is worth a shot. It’s by no means a dupe. But it’s also sustained release. Because of that, it’s less likely to irritate. And it has a very emollient base, almost like a balm, which also reduces the likelihood of irritation too.
And it has glycerin and hyaluronic acid as humectants to attract water as well. Texture-wise, it’s great for dry under-eyes that tend to look flaky. So while gently softening wrinkles around the eyes with slow-release retinol, you don’t need to deal with dry, irritated skin under the eyes.
Type of Retinol: Encapsulated retinol. Other Ingredients: Hyaluronic acid. Size: 0.5 oz
If you’re dealing with dark circles, this retinol eye cream has just the right antioxidant for that. Besides retinol to renew the skin around the eyes, it has four types of vitamin C. In case you’re not aware, vitamin C helps with collagen production and protects the skin from wrinkle-causing elements. But it’s also a tyrosinase inhibitor, meaning that it reduces discolorations (3).
So in your retinol eye cream, it can help amplify your results to brighten the skin and lighten dark circles. Additionally, signal peptides enhance the anti-aging benefits and improve the skin’s elasticity for a lifted appearance. Plus, it’s super moisturizing for the skin too all thanks to ceramides, squalane, and amino acids.
Type of Retinol: 0.01% retinol. Other Ingredients: Vitamin C, ceramides, signal peptides, licorice extract. Good To Know: Beginner-friendly. Size: 0.5 oz
If you’re a beginner, we’ve mentioned that you can try retinol derivatives. Sometimes called retinol esters, these tend to be much weaker than retinol. So right off the bat, they take longer to work. However, that’s why esters are more beginner-friendly. And sometimes, they’re means to an end. You have your skin get familiar with it. And then you upgrade to a retinol eye cream.
And for that, this one contains retinyl palmitate, the retinol ester that is gentler and less irritating than retinol. But it’s still effective in improving the appearance of crow’s feet. Additionally, the gentle eye cream has the antioxidant vitamin C, and caffeine to illuminate and brighten the eye area. Plus, it’s the perfect eye primer for easy, non-drying concealer application.
Type of Retinol: Retinol ester (retinyl palmitate). Other Ingredients: Vitamin C, caffeine, hyaluronic acid. Good To Know: Beginner-friendly. Size: 0.5 oz
If you have under-eye bags, a retinol eye cream can help tighten the skin around the eyes. And there are other ingredients that can help amplify your results too. But keep in mind that this is not easy when your problem is caused by genetics or age when the fat pads are there. So remember to manage your expectations.
This drugstore retinol eye cream utilizes caffeine to tighten the skin to reduce the look of under-eye bags and dark circles. And it contains a retinol ester to maximize the anti-aging benefits too. The light texture has hyaluronic acid for instant wrinkle benefits. Plus, this is fragrance-free. But it’s also oil-free. So if you have oily skin around the eyes and you’re prone to milia, this will eliminate them too.
Type of Retinol: Retinol. Other Ingredients: Caffeine, hyaluronic acid. Good To Know: Fragrance-free. Size: 0.5 oz
If you’re looking for a retinol eye serum, this formulation is a potent one to rejuvenate the skin around the eyes. Again, serums tend to be more effective, therefore potentially more irritating than creams. So keep this in mind. This cult-favorite one is made with retinol together with a retinol ester to enhance the overall efficiency. The light base delivers amino acids into the skin to hydrate the delicate eye area too.
So while retinol softens the look of fine lines under the eyes, you get to plump them for instant benefits too. This is for nighttime use only. On a side note, I’m in my mid-30s. And my pharmacist snapped at me when I reached for this. She says this is for mature skin, or at least for people over the age of 40. Well, as an age-obsessed millennial, I agree to disagree.
Type of Retinol: Encapsulated retinol, retinol ester (retinyl propionate). Other Ingredients: Amino acid blend, cotton wool grass extract. Good To Know: Contains fragrance. Size: 0.5 oz
If you have sun damage around the eyes, antioxidants can maximize your anti-aging effects. They reverse and prevent free radical damage caused by UV and pollution. When they’re out of control, free radicals cause dehydration, hyperpigmentation, and of course, fine lines around the eyes. In addition, certain antioxidants work like boosters in your eye cream to make it work better. And that brings us to this antioxidant-rich retinol eye serum.
So both ingredient and texture-wise, it’s incredibly targeted. It’s made with retinol and bakuchiol. But it packs strong antioxidants like ferulic acid, coenzymeQ10, green tea, quercetin, licorice, and Centella Asiatica. So whether it’s wrinkles or loose skin around the eyes, this is one of the most effective retinol eye serums to manage age-related under-eye concerns.
Type of Retinol: Retinol, bakuchiol. Other Ingredients: Ferulic acid, coenzymeQ10, quercetin, green tea, caffeine, hyaluronic acid. Size: 0.5 oz
If you’re on a budget, you can’t go wrong with this drugstore retinol eye cream. Even though it’s not necessarily an antioxidant fest, it’s still a retinol eye cream. So if you don’t need extra care with anti-inflammatories or encapsulation, this minimal but effective cream is going to help.
It’ll help retexturize the skin around the eyes for a more youthful appearance. The light texture is also hydrating for the skin too. Besides glycerin, it has vitamin B5, aka panthenol, which is a humectant but also has soothing benefits for the skin. You can use the cream sparingly if you want to be preventative. Or you can use it daily as your main eye cream to actively target wrinkles around the eyes.
Type of Retinol: Retinol. Other Ingredients: Vitamin B5. Size: 0.5 oz
If you need something stronger, or if you have mature skin and you’re already familiar with retinol, I’ve got some good news. Retinaldehyde, aka retinal, is a vitamin A derivative too. But it’s stronger than retinol because it requires only 1 step to convert to retinoic acid whereas retinol requires 2. This makes it more effective than retinol.
And it’s great when you’re looking to kick things up a notch or if you have stubborn wrinkles. And for that, this retinaldehyde eye cream is perfect. It’s hypoallergenic and fragrance-free in case your skin is sensitive to those. And it’s super creamy too, which moisturizes the eye area and prevents wrinkles from dehydration.
Type of Retinol: Retinaldehyde. Other Ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, thermal spring water. Size: 0.5 oz
This concludes our round-up of the best retinol eye creams. If you need more guidance, we’ve answered a couple of frequently asked questions about retinol eye creams below.
Can you use a retinol eye cream every day?
The general rule with retinol is that you start using it once or twice a week at first to observe your skin’s reaction. With that in mind, it’s best to start using your retinol eye cream a few times a week at first. It’s to ensure that your skin’s tolerating it and not irritated by it. Once you feel comfortable, you can take it up to once or twice daily use.
Can you use a retinol eye cream during the day?
This depends mostly on your eye cream. So make sure to check the instructions for your product. Because some retinol eye creams are suggested for nighttime use only. But there’s no definitive answer to his. So if your eye cream says you can use it both AM and PM, you can.
When to apply a retinol eye cream?
Normally, we use eye creams before or after we apply moisturizer. It’s not a big deal. But as these are retinol eye creams, it’s better to apply them after applying your moisturizer. Because otherwise, you might move the product. But more importantly, always wear SPF when you’re using a retinol product. If your sunscreen is irritating and you can’t use it for the eye area, you can try these SPF eye creams.
How to apply retinol eye creams?
Get a teeny tiny bit of your retinol eye cream and gently dab it onto the skin. Start from the inner side and spread it out towards the outer corners. Don’t apply the eye cream too close to the lower lashline. If you use too much product, it won’t fully absorb. And that means it can move into the eyes and cause irritation. Additionally, some eye creams are suitable to use all around the eyes including the upper eye area and the brow bone. But make sure to check the instructions.
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