Eye Care: Are Eye Creams Safe?

Eye creams are great for your skin — not your vision. These simple eye care strategies will help you stay safe.

A woman applying eye cream

For many women—and an increasing number of men—eye creams are an essential part of their daily skin- and eye-care routine. Applied morning and night, these products work like magic, making dark circles, crow’s feet, and puffiness disappear. Poof.

What’s not to love? Well… 

These creams and your eyes should not mix. Here are the three biggest eye care hazards to avoid—plus simple strategies that will help you do exactly that. 

Have questions about your eye health or vision? Your America’s Best optometrist is here to help. Click here to find an exam time that fits your schedule.

Eye Care Hazard No. 1: You Have a Previously Unknown Allergy

Eye creams contain chemical ingredients that you may be sensitive to. If you’re trying a new product, there’s a chance that your eyes and the surrounding skin will have a reaction, causing stinging and burning.

Your stay-safe strategy: Start by testing any new product on a less sensitive area of your skin—the back of your hand, say—before applying it near your eyes.

If a new eye cream does cause irritation around your eye, remove your contact lens (if wearing) and flush your eye gently with sterile saline or tap water. Call your doctor if the stinging or burning persists.

If you’ve had reactions in the past, or know that you have sensitive skin, choose hypoallergenic products or ask your optometrist for a recommendation.

Remember: Skip all eye cosmetics if you have an eye infection.

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Eye Care Hazard No. 2: You Clog Your Glands

Eye creams with retinol may block the meibomian glands in your upper and lower eyelids. These important glands infuse your tears with soothing oils to create a film that covers the eye, reducing evaporation and protecting the eye from debris and airborne pollutants.

If the glands become plugged with cream or makeup, your eyes may look red and feel gritty or itchy. In addition, your vision may become blurry.

In animal studies, anti-aging eye creams that contain an ingredient called retinoic acid (you might see the words “retinol” or “retinoid” on the label) have been more likely to clog these glands. The results haven’t been duplicated in human trials, but researchers have asked eye doctors to be wary of this increasingly popular anti-aging ingredient.

Your stay-safe strategy: Stick with “eyes-only” products. Your eyelids are thinner than the skin on the rest of your body. All-purpose face creams or body lotions may penetrate the delicate eye area more deeply than creams that are developed specifically for your eyelids.

Eye Care Hazard No. 3: You Apply Too Close to Your Eye

Even if you carefully dab on your beloved moisturizer and everything feels great, you can still run into trouble later. That’s because these creams can slowly drip into your eyes as you go about your day, thanks to sweat and gravity. 

“What you put around your eyes—makeup, face creams, and so on—will end up in the eyes,” says Jennifer Craig, Ph.D., an associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of Auckland School of Medicine in New Zealand, where she is an expert on tear film dysfunction.

If this happens, the long list of ingredients in eye creams, including fragrances, preservatives, resins, emollients, and antioxidants, can irritate the surface of your eyes. This could leave your eyes inflamed and irritated, according to a 2018 review in the journal Clinical Optometry. It may also mess with the tear film, says Dr. Craig, who co-authored the review.

Your stay-safe strategy: Always wash your hands first, and then put a tiny bit of cream on your fingertip—a dot the size of a pea or smaller is enough for the skin around both eyes.

Gently apply it along the orbital bone just below your eyebrows, on the skin at the sides of your eyes, and under your eyes. Stay about a half-inch away from your eyes themselves. 

Unless you are using a product that is formulated for use on eyelids, don’t put anything there or directly under your lashes, beauty experts recommend. Getting too close boosts the risk of migration into your eyes.

Looking for more great tips to take care of your eyes? Press play to learn how to reduce dry eye symptoms:

Has it been a while since your last eye exam? Now’s the time to book an appointment!