I don't know about you, but I get pretty overwhelmed when browsing all the eye creams and eye serums out there. It's both a blessing and a curse that there are so many options. I'm thankful that there are different formulas to choose from, but there are so many to try and so little time (and money) to try them all. Being the impatient person with my dark under-eye circles that I am, I just want the quickest way to brighter-looking eyes, and I want to know it now.
Well, I recently found out that there's good and bad news on that front. The good? These products can help. "Typically, eye serums or creams are lighter than those designed for the face, neck, or chest and have more concentrated active ingredients to work on the delicate skin of the eyes and target fine lines, puffiness, and dark circles while also working to firm and hydrate the area," says board-certified dermatologist Jason Emer, MD, FAAD.
As for the bad news, while they can help reduce the appearance of these annoyances, they can't work big miracles. Board-certified dermatologist Flora Kim, MD, FAAD, always wants her patients to have realistic expectations about these products. "There may be subtle improvements in dark circles, puffiness, or wrinkles, but there is no miracle topical eye formulation," Kim explains. "Having said that, the eyelid skin is the thinnest on your body and needs TLC. Thus, an eye serum or cream plays an important role in your daily skincare regimen."
She says that serums are good if you are prone to developing milia around the eyes or if you want a sheer formulation that absorbs quickly. Creams, on the other hand, are better for mature, dry skin that needs more intense moisture and is not milia prone. Whether you prefer a cream or serum can also depend on personal preference, as the serum has more of a fluid, gel-like consistency.
With my realistic expectations set, I decided to task myself and my colleague, Editor in Chief Kat Collings, with testing out an eye serum of our choice to see if it delivered some results. Here's how we did.
Because I regularly use a lot of Kiehl's products in my skincare routine, I went with the brand's Powerful-Strength Dark Circle Reducing Vitamin C Eye Serum ($50). I liked that it contained vitamin C, a potent antioxidant that can brighten skin and that protects against free radicals.
According to the serum description, it's "formulated with 10% pure vitamin C to help visibly diminish dark circles in as little as seven days." It also contains other ingredients like tripeptides and fragmented hyaluronic acid to reduce fine lines, wrinkles, and puffiness. Sounds good, right? It was promising, but I decided to heed Kim's words and tamper my expectations.
I'm not trying to be dramatic here, but sometimes, it feels like I've been dealing with dark under-eye circles for ages. Along with perpetually dry skin, it's one of my biggest skin gripes. Even when I get a blissful night of sleep, I'd still wake up with tired-looking eyes. Concealer seemed to be my only friend.
It's always so exciting to try out new products, so I was pretty jazzed about putting the serum on for the first time. The consistency is more of a lightweight cream, but that doesn't mean it didn't absorb quickly. I patted the product along my under-eye area both morning and night. Only one little pump was needed for both eyes, which I thought boded well for its economical factor. Once I applied the serum, it felt a little warm to the skin, which Kiehl's says is perfectly normal.
After trying it for seven days, I did notice that my dark circles looked a little lighter. They weren't completely gone, but I didn't look like a total zombie anymore. My under-eye area did seem more moisturized as well, thanks to the hyaluronic acid. And the best part, I didn't have to load up on the concealer. While I can't speak to how it works with puffy eyes, it did help turn things around for my tired-looking, dark eyes.
With the amount of time spent working and socializing over video call these days, I feel like I'm weirdly looking at my own face more than ever. It was in one such gathering that I noticed my under eyes were looking a bit tired. I took a screenshot for reference and, a few days later, found out my colleague was doing an eye-serum story. Cut to me looking up the best-selling eye serums on Who What Wear and seeing Dr. Dennis Gross's Triple Correction Serum ($69) topping the list. I've been trying the serum night and day for over a week and decided to take a video-call "after" shot to share the noticeable difference.
I re-created the scene of the original screenshot, including the place (my patio), the time (5 p.m.), and the makeup (I applied under-eye concealer that morning, but by that hour, it had mostly worn off). Comparing the before and after, you can see the grayish "smudges" under my eye look visibly lighter. Success!
A little bit more context about the product: I love how this eye serum has retinol in it, one of the most powerful and clinically proven ingredients for anti-aging. The retinol is gentle enough for the eye area, so no flaking or dry-skin worries. It's also made to go all around the eye, including on the eyelid. I know some women in their 60s who have had cosmetic surgery on their drooping eyelids, so I'm game for anything to tighten that area proactively. I'll also note this was my first time using an eye serum versus an eye cream, and I found the Dr. Dennis Gross serum as moisturizing as my normal eye cream. I didn't feel the need to layer my usual eye cream on top, which is a bit surprising, as a lot of my face serums can have a slight drying, tightening effect where my skin craves that moisturizing final layer of cream. Not so with this serum! For me, this is key, as I'm not looking to have a two-step, double-the-price skincare routine just for my eyes. I'll manifest that one day, but for now, this serum is doing the trick and then some!
How to Choose an Eye Serum
Since Kat and I have different skin types and chose two different serum formulations, what works for us might not exactly work for you. Sometimes, it takes a little bit of trial and error before you find the right one. But there are some common ingredients found in many eye serums—the specific ones you should focus on depend on what your needs are.
"Highly concentrated active ingredients in the serums work to increase circulation, activate cell-renewal processes, tighten and firm skin while hydrating, and decrease pigmentation," explains Emer. Below are some common active ingredients and their benefits:
Retinol, neuropeptides, and vitamin C: Boost collagen production
Hyaluronic acid and ceramides: Help with hydration
Peptides: Promote cell renewal
Caffeine, green tea, and mulberry extract: Increase circulation and decrease puffiness and discoloration
Other Eye Serums to Try
Emer recommends The Ordinary's caffeine solution. The affordable option contains caffeine and green tea, which both work to reduce dark pigmentation and puffiness. It's recommended to massage under the eyes in the morning and at night.
Kim likes Environ's eye gel, which she says is a "sheer, light, quickly absorbing formulation packed with peptides, vitamins, and antioxidants." It rehydrates the skin and repairs sun damage.
This high-rated serum targets all the signs of aging, like fine lines, wrinkles, puffiness, dark circles, dryness, and uneven skin tone. It works overnight so you can wake up to brighter eyes. Reviewers rave about its ability to help the eyes look less tired and more youthful.
This drugstore find is another pick from Emer. It's infused with peptides, hyaluronic acid, and vitamins A and C. It deeply moisturizes the eyes and reduces the look of fine lines, dark circles, and puffiness.
Puffy eyes have met their match in this eye serum. Apply the rollerball to instantly cool and refresh your eyes with ingredients such as caffeine, antioxidants, and botanicals. And it won't leave a sticky, wet mess—it dries quickly.
Another eye de-puffer, Arcona's eye serum is super hydrating and promotes and repairs skin elasticity. You can apply a small pump to the eye area both morning and night.
The priciest option on our list, La Mer's serum is an investment, but it rejuvenates the whole eye area. The formula promotes elastin production while lifting and sculpting. Use the applicator to massage the product around the eye both morning and night.
If you're dealing with dry, dull eyes, take a look at this option. Emer recommends this Neutrogena drugstore pick because it is hyaluronic acid–based and is super hydrating. It locks in moisture and absorbs quickly.
The anti-aging serum contains amino acids that smooth and reduce puffiness. It's also got a potent infusion of retinol to firm and diminish fine lines and wrinkles.
Kim likes this product because it contains vitamin K, which helps address dark circles, and can be used after Botox to minimize bruising. It also works to even skin tone and repair elasticity.
Vichy's serum does double duty: It reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and firms the eye area. Plus, it strengthens the lashes. Apply to the eye contour area and your lashes.
Another recommendation from Emer, Tatcha's eye serum is infused with red algae for hydration and caffeine to reduce puffiness and firm skin. The applicator is cooling in itself—it's made of ceramic for a therapeutic, relaxing effect.
Drunk Elephant's serum is formulated with copper peptides to reduce fine lines and promote elasticity, black tea ferment to smooth, and niacinamide to hydrate. It's also free of essential oils, silicones, and fragrances.
You can use this serum all over your eyes, including your lids. (With some other options, you can only apply to certain areas.) It contains retinol and a marine kelp complex to lift, refresh, and smooth eyes. It's safe to use morning and night.
Emer also has his own eye-serum formula that has anti-aging results. "My eye serum was formulated with highly concentrated growth factors and peptides as well as maca root to not only improve tightening and wrinkles but also to decrease pigmentation," he explains.