One of the most common skincare questions I get, especially from readers who perceive themselves as starting to get older, is how to take care of the skin in the eye area. And for good reason: Our eyes are one of our most expressive features, and we want to keep the focus on what they say instead of how the skin around them looks for as long as possible. So here’s a holistic guide to taking care of your eye area so that the windows to your soul can stay fresh and bright for years to come.
We’ll get to the skincare next, but first, it’s important to consider our lifestyle.
Readers of all ages complain of puffy eye bags and dark circles. While these are sometimes genetic and difficult to improve without clinical interventions, they are often impacted by our lifestyles. Making a few changes can greatly freshen the appearance of your eye area (and you’ll likely feel better too!).
If you’re prone to puffiness around your eyes, reduce your sodium intake and drink more water. Water retention from excessive sodium consumption can cause or worsen puffiness; balancing your intake may reduce the eye bags. Please note that I’m not saying to cut all sodium or chug a gallon of water a day—just make changes in moderation, see how that affects your face and your body, and continue adjusting as needed. And while you’re at it, consider sleeping with your head slightly elevated so that fluids can drain from your face more effectively at night.
Speaking of sleep, get enough of it. Lack of sleep can make any eye area issue look worse, from dark circles and puffy bags to general dullness. Everyone’s needs are different, but I generally suggest shooting for at least six to seven hours. As a bonus, your mental and physical health will thank you. If you have a smart watch, consider getting a sleep tracking app: The data you’ll see on your sleep habits and sleep quality can help you figure out how to improve your nightly rest.
In theory, I’m a big fan of dedicated eye care products for the eye area, which often has thinner skin and different needs than the rest of your face. A lightweight eye serum to go under a moisturizing eye cream can provide some treatment ingredients to help with specific issues.
For dark circles caused by pigmentation (rather than anatomical traits like deep eye sockets or sunken tear troughs), brightening agents like vitamin C, niacinamide, and/or licorice root extract can help. Be careful with vitamin C and consider choosing a product that contains a vitamin C derivative like magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP) or sodium ascorbyl phosphate (SAP) rather than ascorbic acid, since ascorbic acid requires a low pH for effectiveness. In some cases, however, ascorbic acid can be fine. I’ve been using NIOD Fractionated Eye-Contour Concentrate for about a year without issues, and that contains some ascorbic acid (and niacinamide too).
Vitamin C is also a go-to for fine lines, wrinkles, and general loss of elasticity. So are retinoids. While I strongly do not suggest attempting to use prescription-strength tretinoin in your eye area, I do think a gentler retinoid like retinol or retinyl palmitate can be beneficial with long-term use.
The jury is out on whether topical caffeine can significantly reduce puffiness, but the most powerfully depuffing eye product I’ve ever used contains it: Amorepacific Intensive Vitalizing Eye Essence. This weightless gel applied with a cooling metal roller ball did more to depuff and lift my upper eyelids than anything else I’ve tried—the effects were absolutely worth putting up with the strong (yet somehow non-irritating, for me) fragrance and the steep price.
Hydration and Moisture
Don’t neglect the basics of hydration and moisture for your eye area. Simply beefing up your moisture routine can help plump up crepey skin and fill in some fine lines for a more refreshed appearance, and unless your face routine contains products that are too irritating to use around eyes—usually due to fragrance or strong actives like AHAs and BHAs—you can typically use them on upper and lower eyelids as well. I find layers of hydrating toner work especially well around eyes, followed up with an appropriately moisturizing eye cream to lock it all in.
While we’re on the topic of using regular face products around eyes, I do want to mention that using chemical exfoliants in the eye area isn’t the best idea. AHAs and BHAs can temporarily thin the appearance of skin, especially if overused, and that’s not usually a look we’re shooting for. Overexfoliation also accelerates moisture loss, another thing we generally don’t seek out. Finally, AHAs are photosensitizing. Using them around eyes without full and proper sun protection will cause your skin to suffer more sun damage than usual.
At this point, we’re all aware of the importance of sun protection when it comes to delaying visible skin aging. UV damage breaks down collagen and elastin in skin, leading to a loss of firmness, thicker and coarser skin texture, dark spots, and the development of sagging, fine lines, and deep wrinkles. The skin around our eyes is thinner and more delicate than that on the rest of our faces and can show this damage at a faster rate.
Unfortunately, many sunscreens are unsuitable for the eye area, due to ingredients or formulas that might run into eyes and sting, or irritate the skin. I suggest first trying to apply your normal facial sunscreen as close to your lash line as possible and see how that goes. If it works fine, that’s great! You’ve solved the problem quickly and easily.
If you find you do need a separate eye sunscreen, stick-type sunscreens are a great choice for eyes, since they tend to stay where they’re applied. In addition, a big sun visor or UV-blocking sunglasses will help further deflect the sun’s damaging rays from the most fragile part of your face.
Ready to take better care of your eyes? Get a good night’s rest and get started!