What's The Difference Between Eye Cream And Moisturiser?

Photo: Guy P.

It’s pretty obvious to even a casual observer that the skin around our eyes is a little different from the rest of our faces. But is it different enough to merit a whole other product? Some people swear by eye cream and others say it’s a waste.

The answer depends on who you ask — and to an extent, how much you’re up for spending. Eye creams tend to be more expensive and come in smaller packages than regular moisturiser, and their concentrations of active ingredients are specially formulated for sensitive skin. But many of the ingredients are the same.

If you feel like it, you can spend $450 on just 20ml of La Prairie Skin Caviar Luxe Eye Lift Cream at Neiman Marcus. For about $27 on Amazon, you can buy a Garnier SkinActive Clearly Brighter Anti-Puff Eye Roller. You can also slather from a good old $8 tub of Pond’s Dry Skin Cream from Chemist Warehouse.

But is any of this necessary? Despite its proximity to our eyes, it’s just skin — right? Keep it clean, moisturised, and screened from the sun and it’s all good?

Dermatologists are pretty clear that it isn’t that simple.

“Eyelid skin is the thinnest skin in the body,” says Debra Jaliman, a board-certified dermatologist in private practice in New York City.

She explains that the delicate skin around your peepers is less than a millimetre thick. The typical day’s 28,800 blinks, she says, are also a source of stress on the skin. Add to that a low supply of oil glands and our grubby fingers moving from iPhone screen to train pole to our itchy, tired eyes, and there’s a lot working against the area.

Beyond just being highly susceptible to signs of ageing, the skin around our eyes is among the most noticeable on the entire face, board-certified dermatologist Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology and founder of Elite MD in San Francisco points out — we look at each other’s eyes when we talk, after all. It’s also often the first place where eczema shows up.

And for most of us, surely there’s no need to even bring up the current annual horror that is spring allergies, rendering even the most youthful and supple-skinned among us puff-eyed monsters. Papri Sarkar, a board-certified dermatologist in private practice in Brookline, Massachusetts, says she’s seen patients asking about eyelid surgery for their allergy faces — she recommends neither surgery nor cream for that, but patience and an antihistamine.

It’s all enough to make you want to hide behind huge, wraparound shades. (Jaliman highly recommends that, for the record.)

All three derms agree that the area will certainly benefit from a little TLC, both preventatively before crows start making tracks, and after fine lines have already begun to appear. Eye cream is one way to do it, but it’s not the only way.

(While all our conversations were about eye cream, each of the doctors hammered home than sun prevention is one of the most important ways to protect your skin, aesthetically and medically, from head to toe. So now we’re hammering you with it, just in case you didn’t get the message. Sunscreen, yo. Get some.)

The Difference Between Eye Cream and Moisturiser

You can certainly use whatever moisturiser you’re using on the rest of your face to treat your eyes. It will effectively moisturise the skin. But eye creams typically differ from regular facial moisturisers in a few key ways.

For one, active ingredients such as retinol appear in lower concentrations in order to be less irritating to delicate eye skin. Eye creams are also almost always fragrance-free, which cuts out another possible irritant. Many brands, Jaliman points out, are tested by both dermatologists and ophthalmologists.

Some ingredients that often appear in eye creams can offer quick and temporary fixes to problems specific to the eye area. A popular one is caffeine, which constricts the blood vessels around the eye, Jaliman says.

Studies have shown that caffeine is effective as a vasoconstrictor, meaning that it stimulates blood flow immediately when applied topically to the skin, ideal for a quick fix the morning after a rough night. One study showed clear results — both immediate and cumulative — with a three per cent caffeine concoction.

“Caffeine, to me, is a superstar product for eye cream,” says Sarkar. “The molecules are small enough that they can get through the pores. You can take topical collagen and throw it on your skin all day but it doesn’t actually make a difference—it won’t get into the pores.”

Badreshia-Bansal says peptides stimulate collagen so they’re good as a wrinkle preventative. Polypeptides and oligopeptides have been shown to increase collagen production, and the decrease of collagen in ageing is one of the main culprits in sagging and wrinkling skin. Jaliman is a fan of hyaluronic acid, an effective humectant having a moment in commercial skin care right now, as a non-irritating plumping and moisturising ingredient. And vitamin C products, says Sarkar, brighten the skin.

All three said no harm will come to you if you use eye cream on your whole face, other than maybe to your bank account. But it won’t be especially beneficial to be using a lower concentration of an active ingredient such as retinol on parts of your face that can tolerate and benefit from a higher one.

Using your regular moisturiser as eye cream can come with its own issues. It can be a little too greasy, says Jaliman, and she has seen patients who go this route end up with milia, stubborn little white bumps that are best removed with a scalpel or laser.

“You can buy a $20 eye cream at the drugstore,” Jaliman says. “It’s a good investment.”

How to Get the Eye Cream Experience Without Shelling Out

While there is plenty of science behind common eye cream ingredients, there are other ways to baby your skin that don’t come with a high price tag.

“I don’t think you have to spend $200 for an eye cream,” Jaliman says.

Badreshia-Bansal says that part of the appeal of eye creams is the physical act of applying something special.

“People also really prefer the vehicle it’s found in,” she says. “It goes on smoother, it feels more luxurious.” If feeling fancy is important to you, you can certainly find eye creams that help.

The roller devices that some eye serums come in can feel enjoyable and are a good way to distribute the product, Badreshia-Bansal says. If kept in the refrigerator they can be extra cooling. Sarkar says a cold compress will do the same thing for free, though.

Sarkar likes eye cream, but it isn’t on her three-item must-have list. (That, of course, is cleanser, sunscreen and moisturiser.) If you don’t want to shell out or sacrifice cabinet space for another product, she says you can use products you already have and simply dilute them by about half with a plain moisturiser.


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