Do Eye Creams Actually Work for Wrinkles?

Q: Does eye cream really prevent wrinkles?

Whether it’s from aging, sun exposure, smoking or repetitive squinting, smiling, laughing or frowning, nobody is immune to the skin creases and fine lines that come with age. And the area around the eyes is particularly susceptible to such changes. “The skin under and around the eyes is delicate and thinner,” said Dr. Sara Perkins, an assistant professor of dermatology at the Yale University School of Medicine. “It is a place where wrinkling and lines can show up more prominently than other areas of the skin.”

While some people don’t care much about their eye wrinkles, others may want to slow down that aging process and keep their skin looking younger. This may lead them to wonder: Are those tiny, expensive jars of eye cream worth it? Here’s what the experts say.

Dr. Perkins and Dr. Zakia Rahman, a clinical professor of dermatology at Stanford University, said there is evidence that eye creams — and even regular facial moisturizers — can help prevent and repair wrinkles. But there’s one big caveat: They must contain some key active ingredients: retinols (or prescription retinoids) or vitamin C.

“When we’re talking about the efficacy of eye creams, it’s not fair to lump all eye creams together,” Dr. Perkins said. “Because some of them may just be glorified moisturizers without any biologically active ingredients in them.”

Retinols and prescription retinoids are closely related chemical compounds derived from vitamin A. Retinoids are typically prescription strength, while retinols are generally found in over-the-counter products. These substances can increase cell turnover, prevent collagen breakdown, produce new collagen and create more hyaluronic acid (a substance the body produces naturally that helps keep the skin hydrated). Experts say there is good evidence that these compounds can help prevent and improve wrinkling. “Every dermatologist I know, myself included, uses these as part of their skin care regimen,” Dr. Rahman said.

The two experts noted that both retinols and retinoids — but particularly retinoids, which are more potent — can cause skin irritation, though that should diminish over time. If you’re buying an over-the-counter product with retinol, Dr. Perkins recommended looking for one with at least 0.25 percent to 1 percent retinol.

Dr. Perkins also cautioned that these products can worsen sunburns, so she recommended applying them at night and wearing sunscreen during the day. (She also mentioned that they are made less effective when exposed to sunlight.) And both experts emphasized that if you’re pregnant, you should not use products with retinol or retinoid.

There’s also moderate evidence that topical vitamin C helps to inhibit and repair wrinkles. “It’s a potent antioxidant,” Dr. Rahman said, which means vitamin C neutralizes harmful molecules called free radicals that can damage the skin. It also helps with collagen production, she said. However, Dr. Perkins noted that while there is “compelling evidence” that topical vitamin C helps with wrinkles, the data is more robust for retinols and retinoids. If you’re choosing between the two, both experts recommended using a retinol or retinoid rather than a topical vitamin C. And as with retinols and retinoids, there is a potential that vitamin C could cause skin irritation.

The experts also mentioned that there is evidence that skin care products containing hyaluronic acid may improve the appearance of the skin. This ingredient can plump the skin, giving it a more youthful look. However, both experts noted that these effects were only temporary. “There is data showing that using hyaluronic acid will improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” Dr. Perkins said. But “it’s working in a different way, by bringing water into the skin as opposed to working on a molecular level” as the other active ingredients mentioned above do.

“Eye cream as a category is one of my biggest pet peeves,” Dr. Perkins said, adding that the ingredients in eye creams are generally the same as those found in facial moisturizers.

Dr. Rahman agreed. Eye creams may be a bit thicker or have a lower strength of active ingredients compared with other facial skin care products, since they’re tailored for the sensitive eyelid skin. But overall, “they tend to cost much more per ounce than regular moisturizers used for the face, and they often don’t have ingredients that are much different,” Dr. Rahman said. Personally, she uses regular facial moisturizer for the skin around her eyes.

Unless you prefer to use an eye cream, a regular facial moisturizer that contains the key active ingredients mentioned above should work the same on wrinkles. If you buy an eye cream with those ingredients, you’re probably just paying more money for less product that has similar benefits. But with any of these skin care products, you also shouldn’t expect a miracle, and the results can take time. The effects “take months, not days,” Dr. Rahman said.

As for the best eye wrinkle prevention method? Both experts unequivocally agreed: Sun protection is key.

Annie Sneed is a science journalist who regularly contributes to The New York Times. She has also written for Scientific American, Wired, Public Radio International and Fast Company.

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