Is your eye cream just a glorified moisturiser? Here's how to choose an effective product

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  • Many brands claim their eye creams are the ultimate powerhouse for eye wrinkles.
  • But some of them are just 'glorified moisturisers without any biologically active ingredients in them', says a dermatologist.
  • Certain eye creams can be effective as long as they contain retinol and retinoids.

If your relationship with your skin is rooted in being skincare-obsessed, your daily skincare routine probably involves a host of products, from cleansers and serums to moisturisers and eye creams.

But the skin under and around our eyes requires a different level of care. It's the thinnest on our body, so it makes sense that it's also the most fragile and susceptible to various changes. These include creases, wrinkles and crow's feet that show up more prominently than other areas of the skin.

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While we can avoid sun exposure, smoking, a poor diet, and repeated facial movements all we want, there's no escaping these changes that come with ageing.

There are also thousands of products on the market that claim to hydrate the skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, so how do you know if they really work?

“Eye creams as a category is one of my biggest pet peeves,” Dr Sara Perkins, an assistant professor of dermatology at the Yale University School of Medicine, told the New York Times.

Some just ‘glorified moisturisers’

Perkins says that when talking about the effectiveness of eye creams, we shouldn’t lump all eye creams together. “Because some of them may just be glorified moisturisers without any biologically active ingredients in them,” she explains.

There are creams on the market that are known to be effective - those include retinol and retinoids but may require a prescription.

According to Harvard Health, retinoids - or topical vitamin A-based drugs - are the most used and studied anti-ageing compounds and have been shown to reduce fine lines and wrinkles. The first retinoid to exist was tretinoin (Retin-A) which was used as an acne treatment in the 70s until researchers discovered that it also evens pigmentation and speeds the turnover of superficial skin cells.

“Retinoids reduce fine lines and wrinkles by increasing the production of collagen … However, it takes three to six months of regular use before improvements in wrinkles are apparent - and the best results take six to 12 months,” it explains.

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Kerrin Birchenough, an esthetician in Oregon, US, also told Healthline: “As we get older, our skin cells don’t reproduce as quickly. Retinol helps speed up the process.”

Purchasing an OTC eye cream - what to look for

Perkins explains that retinol and retinoids generate hyaluronic acid, which has been proven in studies to improve the appearance of fine lines and smooth eye wrinkles.

“Every dermatologist I know, myself included, uses these as part of their skincare regimen,” Perkins told the Times.

If you’re looking for an over-the-counter eye cream that will give you the results you want, Perkins suggests a product that contains between 0.25% and 1% retinol. 

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Importantly, while eye creams must be used consistently to maintain their benefits, retinoids can cause skin dryness and irritation. So for the products that require a prescription, doctors recommend you use them only every other day at first and then gradually work up to nightly applications, advises Harvard Health.

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