Fall is a sight for sore eyes, if you consider it a respite from the squint-inducing glare of weekends at the beach—not to mention the many other hours spent gazing at screens. Exposure to the sun, dehydration induced by travel, and the usual wear of a life well lived often manifest themselves accordingly: as dark undereye circles, puffiness, or finely etched crows’ feet.
The reason for this is simple: “The skin of the eyelids is thinner, drier, and more sensitive to irritation than the oil-rich skin of the face,” says Corey L. Hartman, M.D., a dermatologist in Birmingham, Alabama. “Therefore, it is more likely to benefit from intense active ingredients due to its predilection to premature aging.”
One might wonder if a face cream couldn’t do the same job. But a moisturizer, however potent, isn’t the ideal replacement, as the ingredients often found in your facial products could potentially irritate the fragile skin. That could exacerbate rather than solve problems, Hartman explains.
A site-specific product is key, agrees Minneapolis-based dermatologist Jenny Liu, M.D. “Eye creams are often formulated with eyelid skin in mind—so even with active ingredients, like retinol, are less irritating,” she says. Such targeted actives aim to maintain supple, healthy skin around the eyes for years to come, and they include some recognizable players in skin care. “Retinol is an important ingredient because it acts as a collagen stimulator and thickens the delicate eyelid skin, whereas antioxidants like vitamin C act as coenzymes for the production of new collagen,” says Hartman. “That keeps the skin taut and elastic.”
Liu also notes the power of caffeine, whose eye-opening effects extend beyond the morning macchiato. As a vasoconstrictor—meaning it shrinks the blood vessels—caffeine can improve puffiness beneath the eyes. Meanwhile, Hartman says, a combination of hyaluronic acid (a humectant that draws in water) and ceramides (lipids that bolster the skin barrier to better retain that moisture) can help protect and plump the area.
It helps to bear in mind that eye creams are not one size fits all. That’s because the concerns around the area can vary in both cause and treatment. With dark circles alone, “there are so many contributing factors, from volume loss to skin hyperpigmentation to visible blood vessels,” Hartman says. If you have yet to see results from an eye cream, a visit to the dermatologist might be in order. One of these cutting-edge formulas might also do the trick.