The antidote to ageing? Why you actually need to use an eye cream

The sensitive skin under the eyes is the first area to show visible signs of ageing, and needs special care

Young woman with photo of aged eye over her own. Getty Images
Powered by automated translation

Genes and diet aside, screens – and the artificial light they emit – can stress out the skin under our eyes, causing wrinkles, dark circles and bags. Just as you would slap on an SPF before sun exposure, regularly using a cream under the eyes is a must in these times of binge-watching and working.

The beauty industry is often vilified for thrusting upon its unsuspecting patrons lotions and potions that don’t serve any real purpose (rosewater toner and gold facials, anyone?). However, when it comes to eyecare, it turns out that any old cream simply won’t do; a dedicated under-eye product is a must.

It is best to apply an eye cream using the ring finger that naturally has the lightest touch

The effect of eye creams  

“The skin around the eyes is about 10 times thinner than the rest of face. It is thus the first site to show visible signs of ageing. It is also more sensitive and so requires milder formulations of skincare products. As one ages, the skin becomes thinner due to collagen breakdown, requiring more care in the choice of rejuvenating creams dedicated for the area,” says Lakshmi Chembolli, a specialist dermatologist at Abu Dhabi’s Burjeel Medical Centre.

Muscle movement, a by-product of our facial expressions and speech, too contribute to the pesky lines that pop up around the eye area. As Megan Smith, who helped launch Swiss vegan skincare brand Hanzz+Heidii in the UAE, puts it: "The happiest people can get wrinkles from smiling and laughing, as easily as unhappy people can get frown lines from furrowing their eyebrows. Using eye cream is essential for both men and women because it protects the skin around your peepers better than a moisturiser alone."

Ingredients to invest in

As products go, you will be swamped for choice. To make matters simpler, here are a few ingredients that come recommended by dermatologists and beauty moguls. “Peptides, retinoids and hydrating agents such as hyaluronic acid and shea butter are great wrinkle fighters,” says Sonia Wilson, a specialist dermatologist at RAK Hospital. “Agents such as arnica, caffeine and vitamin K target blood vessels to increase circulation and reduce swelling, while antioxidants, like vitamin C or niacinamide, can protect from future damage from sun, pollution, stress and lack of sleep.”

The super-hydrating hyaluronic acid draws moisture from the air and holds up to 1,000 times its weight in water, while peptides are known to improve the skin elasticity that comes undone with age. The latter is, according to Smith, an ingredient suited to “supersensitive skin types, who might opt for a peptide-packed eye cream instead of a retinoic acid one. Like retinol, neuropeptides also stimulate collagen and elastin production, but are gentler on the dermis.”

Vitamins C and E (Tocopherol) are other potent anti-ageing ingredients, the former aids in collagen production, while the latter soothes and protects. However, Chembolli warns against using “vitamin C and retinoid formulations in the daytime, especially in skin of colour. These are preferably used at night,” she says, adding: “Also avoid using topical steroid creams around the eyes. They may lighten skin colour, but long-term use causes thinning of skin and increased wrinkles. Turn instead to exfoliants like alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and antioxidant vitamins (A, C, E and K).”

Swiss vegan skincare brand Hanzz & Heidii infuses its eye cream with Persian silk tree extract
Swiss vegan skincare brand Hanzz & Heidii infuses its eye cream with Persian silk tree extract

In addition to these common compounds, beauty companies constantly research and formulate hero ingredients that add a little something extra to their products. The vegan Irish beauty brand Pestle & Mortar, for instance, uses mineral-rich Irish moss that maintains the moisture barrier as well as coffee seed, a brightening agent, while Hanzz & Heidii infuses its eye cream with Persian silk tree extract, which is shown to repair the skin’s protein structures.

Sonia Deasy, founder of Pestle & Mortal, says: “An eye cream should be super-soft, lightweight and absorbent, and you can start using this product as early as your 20s.”

How to apply eye cream

Sharing her top application tips, Deasy adds: “Use a sunflower seed amount for each eye, and apply this after cleansing in the am and pm. Dab the cream around the brow bone, starting at the outer corner and work inwards towards the nose. Don’t apply too close to bottom lashes or to the upper eyelid. Most importantly, pat, don’t pull.”

Sonia Deasy, founder of ethical Irish skincare brand Pestle & Mortar
Sonia Deasy, founder of ethical Irish skincare brand Pestle & Mortar

Gently patting in a semicircular pattern, explains Wilson, stimulates circulation and helps the product to get completely absorbed. “It is especially important to avoid aggressive rubbing and stretching of the skin, and best to apply the eye creams using the ring finger that naturally has the lightest touch.”

Finally, Smith says, that even though such creams may be made specially for use around the eyes, “you need to be careful to keep cream from getting directly into the eyes. You also want to use a small spoon or spatula to scoop out the eye cream to avoid contaminating it with germs that may be on your fingers.”

Foods to eat for better skin

Potent products and productive application aside, the lifestyle you lead is the biggest contributor to good health and the appearance of it. “Engage in activities like adequate restful sleep, daily exercise to promote blood circulation and intake of adequate fluids to avoid dehydration, as well as avoiding smoking and excessive exposure to the sun,” says Chembolli.

Engage in activities like adequate restful sleep, daily exercise to promote blood circulation and intake of adequate fluids

A nutrient-rich diet, too, is a no-brainer when it comes to skin health. Foods naturally contain the vitamins, antioxidants and carotenoids that make up eyecare and other beauty products, and so are an easy, effective source of avoiding skin damage.

“Eat your antioxidants,” says Smith. “Many dermatologists believe that the major antioxidants – so vitamins A, C, and E – can help decrease the risk of sun and other environmental damage by disarming wrinkle-causing free radicals, which are unstable molecules that damage cells.”

Her top food sources of vitamin A include carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, mangoes, spinach, cantaloupe, greens and tomato-vegetable juice, while vitamin C can be found in orange juice, papayas, strawberries, kiwis, red and green peppers, broccoli, oranges, Brussels sprouts, grapefruit and kale. And vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, olives, spinach and asparagus are good sources of vitamin E. However, it can be difficult to get enough vitamin E from foods, so Smith recommends taking a good-quality supplement.

Chembolli’s list of must-haves further include: rehydrating watermelon and cucumber, which contains silica that is important for collagen; avocado and eggs, which are a rich source of biotin; and salmon, which contains astaxanthin, a carotenoid that improves skin elasticity.