Look for This Eye Cream Ingredient, and You Won't Even Miss Getting Botox


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There's no question that retinol is the anti-aging skincare hero of the moment. While derms and estheticians are constantly touting its skin-smoothing, texture-refining benefits (and all but dubbing it the fountain of youth), retinol enthusiasts have likely noticed that most ingredient labels have strict instructions to avoid applying it around the eye area. What gives? Are our peepers doomed to hasty aging at the hands of fine lines and wrinkles? Thankfully, the answer to that is no!

"Retinol can help prevent and treat fine lines and wrinkles by stimulating collagen production," says NYC-based dermatologist and Kiehl's consulting dermatologist Meghan O’Brien. Now, this tidbit isn't news, but it certainly reaffirms that using the ingredient around our eyes where fine lines, crow's-feet, and puffiness abound could seriously slow the formation of said giveaways. So we just had to ask: Is retinol safe for use around the eyes? And according to O'Brien, the short answer to that is yes! (More on that later.)

Ahead, find our derm-approved edit of the 20 best retinol eye creams, along with the answers to more of our burning questions about the anti-aging eye product—including how it stacks up against Botox.

First things first: What are the most common signs of aging around the eye area?


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"Several changes occur around the eyes as a result of aging of the skin and age-related changes of the face," says O'Brien. Among them, she lists collagen loss and loss of elasticity resulting in fine lines and crepey texture, crow's-feet from muscle movement, and under-eye circles or a shadow effect accentuated by volume loss of the tear troughs. While retinol can't take on all of these factors on its own, it can certainly lend a hand in slowing surface skin changes. "Retinol eye cream can help improve the smoothness of the skin and improve fine lines. However, this is an effect that happens over continued and prolonged use of a retinol product," she adds.

Is retinol safe for use around the eye area?


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"Eyelid skin is thinner than it is elsewhere on the face and, therefore, more susceptible to potential irritation and dryness that can result from retinol use," O'Brien says. This skin difference is the reason lots of retinol skin products warn against applying it around the eyes, but retinol in the proper formulations and doses is totally fine. "Use a small amount of the retinol eye cream and follow its application with a moisturizer," O'Brien instructs. "Start by using it every other night to give the skin some time to adjust."

Is retinol eye cream as effective as Botox?


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The short answer? Sort of. As mentioned above, retinol can help prevent and treat fine lines and wrinkles, which can also be treated with Botox. According to O'Brien, the main difference is that Botox targets muscles. "Botox works to prevent dynamic wrinkles, which result from muscle contraction. So while retinol can help prevent fine lines, it will not prevent the crow's-feet that develop around the eyes due to repeated contraction of the muscle around the eye (orbicularis oculi) that occurs with smiling," she explains. So while retinol eye creams won't be able to inhibit lines and wrinkles on a mechanical level, it still greatly improves smoothness of the skin.

What other skincare ingredients complement retinol eye creams?


(Image credit: @cassklatzkow)

While retinol is known to get along great with other actives like vitamin C, O'Brien says that the key to avoiding irritation while using retinol eye creams is moisture. "A moisturizing product with ingredients such as ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and squalane will help combat any irritation or dryness that the retinol may cause, " she explains.

Up next, four French women on the only anti-aging products they trust.

Associate Beauty Editor

Courtney Higgs is a Cancer sun, Libra rising beauty enthusiast with about six years of experience in the editorial space. She was previously Who What Wear's associate beauty editor after spending many years working on the West Coast edit team at InStyle Magazine. She graduated from California State University, Northridge, with a BA in communication studies and pivoted to editorial after spending her college years working in the legal field. Her beauty philosophy is simple: She believes there are no wrong answers and that discovering our favorite beauty products and rituals is a journey, not a sprint. When she's not geeking out over products, she can be found adventuring around L.A. with her fiancé; watching reality TV with their French bulldog, Bernie Mac; or relating way too hard to astrology memes.