Ahh summer, the endless hazy months of sunshine and fruit salads - and itchy eyes. That unique blend of hayfever , sun, sweat and dry eyes thanks to flying and office air-con can provoke a Molotov cocktail of symptoms including eczema flare-ups , redness and stinging. Now 2020 has brought a new set of eye challenges to deal with: face masks and staring at Zoom for hours on end are making our peepers even more prone to irritation.
How do you get rid of itchy eyes and what are the best eye drops, sprays and creams for dry or sore eyes? Whatever your seasonal eye-sore, we're here to help.
Face masks and itchy eyes
Wearing a face mask is like sitting in a constant draft as far as your eyes are concerned. "When you breathe out while wearing a mask, most of the exhaled air escapes through the top of your mask," points out facialist Sarah Champman. "This means a constant stream of air is sent upwards, towards your eyes – this can dry them out and cause irritation. If you then rub your eyes, this will increase any sensitivity."
Gentle massage (see screens, below) can help reduce inflammation around the eyes, adds Sarah. A spritz of Optrex Acti Mist relieves itching and also restores the natural lipid layer helping protect the skin barrier around your eyes.
How to soothe screen-tired and itchy eyes
"Many of us are spending more time looking at our phones and computers at the moment," says Sarah Chapman. "When we gaze at a screen, we blink less, which can lead to dry, sore eyes and eye strain."
If you are working from home, keep an eye mask in the fridge and take it out when you need a refreshing boost." Sarah's own Platinum Stem Cell Eye Mask, £78 for four, has a cooling sensation that will act as a de-puffing cryotherapy treatment as well as hyaluronic acid and actives that smooth, lift, tighten and reduce lines.
If your eyes are sensitive and sore, it may be best to stay away from anything containing actives. Try Intraceuticals Eye Masks, £34 with hyaluronic acid, and very soothing.
"Gentle massage movements can help to reduce inflammation around the eyes," says Sarah.
"Apply a nourishing oil or cream, this will give you some ‘slip’, so you aren’t dragging the skin." Sarah uses her own Skinesis Eye Recovery, £48 . We also love Delikate Soothing Serum, £70 by Kate Sommerville which contains no actives and can be taken up to the eye bones.
How to massage delicate eye area. "Using your ring fingers to ensure you don’t damage the delicate tissue, tap, press and smooth up from the eyelid towards the forehead (this will help to give a brow-lifting effect at the same time)," says Sarah. "Work outwards, using more pressure as you move further away from the socket – this will also help with tension headaches, or if you’ve been frowning at your computer screen.
"Next, using your middle fingers, starting at the inner corner of the eyes, slide upwards and outwards with a lifting movement along the orbital bone to the outer corner of the eyes; then slide under the eyes and back to your starting position, repeating this action six times.
"These movements will help to stimulate lymphatic drainage, boost the vital supply of oxygen and nutrients to the cells, and promote a stronger skin barrier."
Hayfever and itchy eyes
Dermatologist Dr Stefanie Williams' advice is that “simple over-the-counter antihistamines such as loratadine or cetirizine usually manage to control hayfever symptoms fairly well. If this is not enough, you can get prescription medication such as a steroid nasal spray and steroid eye drops from your doctor.”
According to my GP, antihistamines are only fully effective if you start taking them a couple of months before symptoms start. It might be too late to reap the full benefits this year but make sure to plan ahead next time the frost starts to thaw.
If you prefer a natural option, try Aller-DMG by Da Vinci, £20 (the chewable tablets are £28) from Victoriahealth.com which has a great selection of natural hayfever remedies GTG's Editorial Director Victoria Woodhall has had great success with these and recommended them countless times. Be patient, they take a few days of consistent use to start working but are safe to take throughout hayfever season.
Eczema sufferers, who are likely to also suffer from hay fever, should be wary of other over-the-counter hayfever eye drops as they often contain preservatives that can irritate the skin around the eyes and even inside the eyelid, replacing pollen itch with gritty, inflamed or flaky skin. Take it from a reptile who’s been there (TMI alert: I once had an eye drop-induced cyst surgically removed from my tear-duct).
Nasal sprays are a better option as they clear the sinuses, helping to protect the eyes from allergic reactions without drying out the eyelids. When my eyes get to Sahara levels of dryness, I use Blink single sachet eye drops, £4.33 for 20. They are preservative-free and sterile, so there’ll be no unexpected reactions. Popping them in the fridge for a few minutes gives added relief for itching eyes. Also super soothing are A Vogel Moisturising Eye Drops with euphrasia £9.79 (AKA eyebright) which is suitable for contact lens wearers and feel like putting on comfy slippers – yes really.
How to stop pollen getting into your eyes
Stop pollen from entering your system by using a plain lip balm or Haymax Organic Pollen Balm £6.29 under your nostrils and wearing wrap-round sunglasses. It’s a good idea to shower and change into clean clothes as soon as possible after being outside and to wash your (pollen trap) hair before it hits the pillow. You can check the five-day pollen forecast on the Met Office website
If you suffer from eczema on top of hayfever, leading aesthetic doctor and oculoplastic surgeon Dr Maryam Zamani advises keeping your eye area hydrated and avoiding all products with soap or perfume. “As the skin around the eyes is sensitive and thin, treatment must be gentle and the focus is to reduce inflammation and avoid exposure to irritants while keeping the skin moist. Often emollients and mild topical steroids like hydrocortisone can be used. I prefer creams during the day and thicker ointments at night. I also recommend daily use of antihistamines to reduce itchy flare-ups.” Talk to your GP or dermatologist about the use of steroids and finding the right antihistamine plan to fend off reactions.
Sun protection for itchy eyes
The great vitamin D radiating globe in the sky is a tricksy one for eczema sufferers, as summed up by Dr Zamani: “some forms of eczema improve with sun, while others worsen.“ Either way, it’s vital to protect the delicate skin around your eyes from UV rays. Both Dr Zamani and Dr Sam Bunting recommend mineral-based sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, as they are less irritating than chemical protection. For adventurous holidays involving sea, sand, and sweat (always guaranteed to bring the scales to the surface) Dr Sam swears by the “awesome sweat-resistant, fragrance-free Elta MD UV Pure and sweat-resistant tinted Jan Marini Physical UV Protectant SPF 45 , £43.99.
For less active days I’m a big fan of Clinique City Block SPF40 , £20, and I find that the silky tinted formula eliminates the need for under-eye concealer and allows my skin to breathe on humid summer afternoons.”
When basking is simply not an option, my seasonal accessory of choice is a fetching sweatband or climbing headband to stop perspiration from stinging my eyes and making my skin feel like it’s melting in the heat. Lululemon Flyaway Tamer Headband , £10, comes in pink and black.
MORE GLOSS: Best SPF eye creams to soothe and protect
Planes, trains and…offices. Aircon and dry eyes
What do jetting off to the Caribbean and being stuck in a hermetically-sealed office have in common? Aggressive air conditioning is the mortal enemy of the dry-eyed. Dr Sam explains the damage done by air conditioning: “ Skin barrier function is challenged in low-humidity conditions such as air-conditioned offices. Many of my Middle Eastern clientele complain about how big a challenge this is when you suffer from dry skin. I think it’s vital to use a non-drying cleanser (so absolutely no foam), an occlusive moisturiser (such as Avène Skin Recovery Cream , £15 and to supplement skincare with niacinamide , to improve barrier function.”
I also keep a face mist by my desk if I’m working in an office for a long period of time. Avène Thermal Spring Water Spray , £6.38 for 150ml, is soothing and preservative-free to help stave off the tightness that creeps up on you in an air-conditioned room.
To really zoom in on the eye area, try Optase Preservative Free Eye Spray , £15.99 for 17ml, misted over closed eyelids. It contains moisturising sodium hyaluronate and omega 3 fatty acids to prevent your lids and eye areas from becoming crepey and uncomfortable, and it helps to depuff on hot days too.
Dr Sam also has a great video guide to keeping skin in top condition on long-haul flights. Her hand-luggage essentials include Bioderma Sensibio Micellar Water , from £5.19, to cleanse skin and lids and Obagi Hydrate , £40.99 for 48ml. “I diligently reapply moisturiser to ensure skin stays plump and literally monitor it every hour to check it doesn’t dry out during the flight”.
My own hand-luggage essential is an eye mask. Silk eye masks by Slip, £50 are a luxury, but they last a lifetime and don't absorb moisture from your skin keeping eyes soothed and hydrated. On a recent 14-hour flight I bought psychedelic cat eye masks for all of my traveling companions. The novelty mask stopped my eyes drying out and also scared off any competition for limited headrest real estate, helping me to get some much-needed beauty sleep. Now if only I could get away with one in the office…
So there’s your seasonal guide to keeping the sore summer eyes healthy and bright. Combine these tips with a simple, gentle skincare regime and you’ll be perky eyed all summer long.
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