Are Eye Creams Safe?
Yes, if you avoid these three common pitfalls.
For many women—and an increasing number of men—eye creams are an essential part of their daily skin 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 hazards to avoid—plus simple strategies that will help you do exactly that.
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 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.
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, antiaging 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 antiaging 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.
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 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.