Whether for dark circles, itchy eyes or hooded lids, Beauty Director Ingeborg van Lotringen picks the best eye creams for all budgets

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Whether you have dark circles, eye bags, crow’s feet or crepiness, there’s a 'best eye cream' for that. But which new ones truly add something to the equation?

Your eye area, with the skin up to ten times thinner than the rest of your face (“it’s as thin as 0.37mm in places," says oculoplastic surgeon Sabrina Shah-Desai), few oil glands, no supportive fat padding and being hyper-mobile, is inevitably going to show signs of decline long before the rest of your face does. So it makes sense to look after it from a young age. But whether you need a separate, expensive eye cream for that is a contentious subject – and with so many issues, and so, so many different types of eye creams offering a solution, where do you even begin to shop? Here, is where.

Do you need an eye cream?

With skin this thin and prone to irritation, just slapping any face cream onto it is going to get you into trouble, so experts often say the eye area needs products that are ‘specially formulated’ for it. Also, you would do well to pay your eyes regular mind from an early age, and a dedicated eye cream can help you focus on that.

But at the same time, what the skin here needs most is efficient hydration and protection, delivered in most cases not directly onto the eyelid, but patted around it, onto the so-called ‘orbital bone.’ Just enough oils and humectants will travel, or seep, from here onto the lids, without overwhelming the paper-thin skin and causing puffiness.

That means that if your face cream is the following, you can use it around the eye area quite safely.

  1. Is not too heavy and loaded with occlusive ingredients such as petrolatum, shea butter or silicones,
  2. Doesn’t contain potent cell turnover boosters such as AHA’s, salicylic acid, retinol or the acidic form of vitamin C, ascorbic acid (these will inflame eye skin if not in a dedicated formula), and
  3. Is free from universal irritants such as fragrance and alcohol,

. Even sunscreens can be used this way, as long as they’re unscented and you don’t smear them onto the lids. No-nonsense ‘cosmetics cop’ Paula Begoun of Paula’s Choice Skincare, who obviously has an interest in selling her products, is an avowed believer that many face products work fine for the eye area and says she only added eye creams to her range because her customers “kept asking for them.”

Reasons to pay for an eye cream

On the other hand, if your eye skin is in trouble (e.g., it’s ageing) and you want to bring out the ‘big guns’, then the safe way to do it is to invest in a dedicated eye cream. That is because firming and brightening agents and wrinkle busters such as high-strength vitamin C, tranexamic acid and retinoids can only be used on super-delicate eye skin in specially-formulated eye creams and serums.

These ingredients need to be encapsulated, micro-dosed and formulated with compatible ingredients in a light lotion or serum texture to be suitable for the eye area while being potent enough to make a difference, and that’s a delicate high-wire act that is worth spending money on.

Alternatively, you might want to quell inflammation and irritation -highly damaging for the eye area, causing puffiness, dark circles and wrinkles - with gentle barrier-boosting ingredients such as ceramides, lipids, niacinamide and peptides, formulated in a serum light enough to use on the lids itself. Again, this is worth considering a dedicated eye product for.

Do you need different eye creams for different issues?

Most eye area issues are related and have common causes, so it’s often best to find a formula that tackles most of these at the root. Wrinkles and crepiness are due to dehydration, collagen loss and a damaged skin barrier, requiring effective moisturisation with non-irritating collagen boosters and protective antioxidants. Dark circles and puffiness are caused by inflammation and vascular congestion (bad circulation) and need circulation-improving and brightening ingredients that won’t cause further irritation – alongside healing moisturising agents and anti-inflammatories. And protection against UV rays, which cause dryness, collagen loss, irritation and pigmented, dark under-eyes, should always be incorporated.

It’s no mean feat for any product. Your best bet is probably to invest in a problem-solving light eye cream or serum, and a future damage-blocker in the shape of an SPF product formulated for the eyes. These are designed not to migrate too much (so can be used closer to the eye than a regular SPF) and offer the best possible protection. If you have the money to invest, the Dr Sabrina Dark Circle Corrector System, £120, kills those two birds with one very cleverly formulated stone with an anti-ageing serum and separate SPF lotion.

The best new eye creams of the crop

I've tested dozens of eye creams over the years including the very latest, and these are the ones that I rate for all-round fortifying and age-defying properties alongside their own special powers such as sun protection and depuffing.

Image: Ingeborg van Lotringen

Best wrinkle-fighting eye cream: Medik8 Crystal Retinal Ceramide Eye, £42

The yellow hue of this light lotion is not due to colourants but to the active ingredient, retinaldehyde. It’s a relative of retinol that is as powerful but far less prone to irritating skin, and has been the very successful star ingredient of Medik8’s Crystal Retinal face serums. For the first time, the brand’s genius step-up ‘ladder’ system, which allows you to slowly build your level of retinal to prevent irritation altogether, is used in an eye cream: there’s a choice of three strengths of retinal, all complemented with carrot seed oil, ceramides, hyaluronic acid and anti-inflammatories for a perfect balance of powerful healing and anti-ageing. Start at the bottom and work your way up – it’s one of your best bets against crow’s feet and crepiness, and should tighten skin a bit too.

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Best firming eye cream: U Beauty The Return Eye Concentrate, £138

Promising to push back vascular leakage (which causes puffiness and darkness), rev up collagen formation and nuke the sugar molecules that cause the hardening of collagen fibres, all without irritation, using this potion should result in smoother, plumper and less saggy skin. It’s thanks to ‘micro-siren capsules’ of actives (peptides, beta-glucans, antioxidants) that can travel deep into the skin to do their work. They’re all in a soft, light cream that heals and soothes (and gives skin a glow thanks to powdered diamonds – fancy), which is great for stressed and put-upon ageing skin.

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Best circulation-boosting eye serum: Shiseido Ultimune Eye Power Infusing Eye Concentrate, £52

The key for this ultra-light, fresh-feeling (there’s confoundingly a lot of alcohol in here, which feels cooling) serum is to improve blood circulation in the eye area, bringing nutrients and oxygen to help skin do its own reparative and brightening work. Multiple plant extracts, meanwhile, help boost collagen, get rid of toxic debris, fight pollution, quench and even condition eyelashes for fresher, brighter eyes. It also has a very light scent that’s said to be so soothing as to bring down ageing cortisol levels – think of that what you will.

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Best affordable eye serum for dark circles and bags: The Ordinary Multi-Peptide Eye Serum, £19.90

This water-like potion majors on multiple peptides alongside niacinamide and glucosides (no ‘filler’ ingredients here, just effective actives) to get rid of stagnant fluids, toxins and leaky blood vessels that cause blueish eye bags. The actives also brighten pigmentation that darkens under-eyes, and puffs out little lines and crepey areas. It’s so lightweight (and unscented) you can use it all over your eyes.

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Best eye cream for hooded eyelids: Revision D.E.J. Eye Cream, £113

A light and light-reflective cream, this promises to have a visible effect on hooded, sagging lids thanks to, probably, a whopping level of bio-available but non-irritating vitamin C (THD ascorbate), multiple peptides and powerful antioxidants, alongside fine-tuned moisturisation and microbiome-regulating and pigmentation-softening ingredients. This is a brand where you pay very little for the packaging but a lot for the ingredients and proprietary formulas, and that gets results.

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Best eye cream on a budget: Q and A Vitamin C Eye Cream, £8

Has ever-popular vitamin C and niacinamide to help brighten the eye area. Unscented, it feels fresh and delivers hydration with hyaluronic acid and glycerin, but it’s also quite rich in plant oils and waxes so definitely one for dabbing around the eye socket, not rubbing onto the lids.

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Best healing eye cream for tired, sore eyes: Skinsense Ceramide 24 Comforting Eye Cream, £32

Calming down irritated skins suffering from stress and resultant ageing is the main priority of this soothing cream-gel. It’s a blend of ceramides, essential fatty acid-rich lipids and algae extracts in a formula that penetrates just under the skin for comfort that won’t quit.

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Best eye serum for reviving tight, dry eyes: Decorté Liposome Advanced Repair Eye Serum, £59

Has ‘1.6 trillion beautifying capsules per drop’. That’s the kind of statement that invites instant ridicule, but on closer inspection, this weightless gel is very high in multiple quenching botanicals and humectants that won’t stay at the skin’s surface but travel deep enough for long-lasting irrigation, while ceramides seal and heal at the surface. The face serum in this same franchise is very effective, so this eye version, with its own cooling metal massager in the lid, should easily measure up.

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Best brightening eye cream: Ilia Bright Start Activated Eye Cream, £52

Leaving under-eyes moisturised and smooth -but not tacky- and with the slightest luminescent tint, this doubles as a decent eye primer. It has one of those cooling applicator tips that you can use for some light de-puffing massage. The star ingredient is sea fennel which is used as a plant-based retinol alternative for its collagen-boosting properties - a bit like bakuchiol. Light plant oils, humectants and caffeine, which improves circulation and so helps dark circle-causing blood stagnation, do the rest.

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Best eye SPF: Ultrasun Eye Cream SPF30, £15

A good SPF is probably your best bet against signs of eye ageing developing. Ultrasun use the latest non-irritating UV filters and specialise in lamellar formulations that ensure product stability and just the right level of penetration - so this lightweight lotion won’t sting or deep into your eyes. It can be used by itself or over any eye serum or cream (only by day, obvs). There are powerful antioxidants as well, plus a botanical active called Myralis that helps with lymph drainage and prevents collagen degradation, and promises to have a lifting effect on lids.

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Best serum for minimising puffy eyes: Cosmetics a la Carte Rapid Renew Eye Serum, £46

Delivered in a handy little rollerball to help lymph drainage as you apply, this was designed specifically for that infernal puffiness that worsens with age (especially in the mornings). A blend of hyaluronic acid to weightlessly hydrate, ceramides to improve moisture retention, niacinamide to brighten, firm and boost skin’s ceramide production, and witch hazel for a gentle tautening and anti-inflammatory effect, this is quick, easy and satisfying.

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