Of Course, Retinol Works Wonders On Crow’s Feet & Dark Circles

Exactly how to use it on the area of delicate skin.

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After a certain age, the area around the eyes is what really becomes one’s Roman Empire. As the most delicate skin on our body, it’s extra prone to multiple rapid signs of aging. So, it’s understandable to become hyper-fixed on it. The skin thins and often pigments, hollows begin to form, crepiness becomes visible, and lines and wrinkles get etched in deeper. With all these changes it’s no wonder that you’re often juggling products and treatments to see which ones actually do something. Or anything.

What if we told you there’s one ingredient that can help stave off most, if not all, of these common skin issues? The only problem is it doesn’t play nice. Astrology girlies, think of it like the beauty version of your Saturn return — it’s the reigning monarch of tough love. We’re talking about retinol, of course. While vitamin A can be effective for a number of common skin issues (including those of the eye area) it takes time for your complexion to become accustom to it, especially if you lean sensitive.

Ahead, dermatologists explain the why this area is more prone to aging versus other parts of the body, the benefits of retinol eye creams, and how to use the product in your skin care routine. Plus, which creams are worth trying.

The Anatomy Of The Eye Area

The very structure and natural makeup of the area around the eye makes it prone to changes. “Eyelid skin is extremely thin, at only 0.05mm, which makes it more prone to losing moisture and becoming dryer, leading to a decrease in elastin and collagen production,” says Dr. Maryam Zamani, M.D., a board-certified oculoplastic surgeon based in London and founder of skin care brand MZ Skin.

It doesn’t help that our eyes are also one of the most expressive parts of our faces. “When you think [the fact] that the underlying musculature of 22 muscles is under constant exertion, withstanding approximately 15,000 to 20,000 blinks per day, in addition to every emotion, it is understandable that the eye area is prone to appearing more wrinkled,” she says.

There’s more. Unfortunately, the periorbital skin also has less sebaceous glands, making it more prone to having less oil production and becoming dryer. As we age, the bony structures below the skin also change and resorb, making it seem more hollow, and darker, as a result. “External environmental factors creating sluggish microcirculation or lymphatic drainage can also exacerbate tired looking eyes, making them appear darker,” says Dr. Zamani. Because of the thin overlying skin, markers for poor circulation are more prominently revealed around the eyes than on other parts of the body. “And the more dehydrated the skin around the eyes, the more tired and fatigued they appear,” she says.

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How Does Retinol Benefit The Eye Area?

Retinol is often used as a catch-all term in skin care, but it’s actually referring to a category of compounds called retinoids, which are available in various strengths, from over-the-counter versions to prescription ones. “Retinoids are a category of molecules that are derived from vitamin A, and include pro-retinol (retinyl palmitate), retinaldehyde, retinol, and tretinoin, from weakest in strength to strongest,” says says Dr. Courtney Rubin, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles and co-founder of Fig.1. “These molecules are helpful to use on the face and around the eye because they combat fine lines and wrinkles by supporting collagen production.”

“Retinol is the gold standard ingredient for anti-aging,” says Dr. Dennis Gross, M.D., a board certified dermatologist in New York, and founder of Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare. He admits it has a bad reputation for being too harsh to use around the delicate eye area. “However, when it’s formulated properly, retinol is one of the best ingredients out there for smoothing fine lines and wrinkles, increasing moisture and elasticity, and firming and lifting the eye area,” he says.

The ingredient is effective because it works in both the epidermis, the skin’s outer layer, as well as in the dermis, the inner layer. “It increases the thickness of both layers by increasing cell turnover and stimulating natural collagen production,” Dr. Gross explains. “Retinol also helps preserve existing collagen by destroying matrix metalloproteinases (or MMPs), the enzymes that break down collagen, to reveal smooth, firm, and healthy skin.”

How To Overcome The ‘“Retinol Uglies”

To successfully use any retinol product, you have to acclimatize to the ingredient, which can be a hard journey for many users. For beginners, retinol typically causes reactions like redness, irritation, peeling skin and extreme sensitivity. It’s bad enough on the relatively tougher parts of the face, and can be especially fierce around the delicate eye area. “The thin skin of the eye area is more likely to thoroughly absorb the retinol as the skin barrier is weaker, and as a result, the potential for irritation is higher,” says Dr. Gross.

Two factors will make or break your retinol game: how a retinol eye cream is formulated, and how you introduce it into your routine. “Eye creams are formulated with better penetration of actives that help promote collagen production, decrease dark circles and pigmentation while maintaining hydration, and are generally lighter in consistency,” says Dr. Zamani. She recommends patch testing a new product on a small area before applying it around the eyes.

For Dr. Rubin, the most important consideration is balancing the strength of the retinoid with the delicate, sensitive nature of thin under eye skin. “It’s important to choose a retinoid that is of the appropriate strength, otherwise consumers are likely to experience adverse effects such as burning, stinging and even rashes.” She suggests using the gentlest retinoid molecule, retinyl palmitate in the undereye area because it is less likely to cause irritation.

Dermatologists agree that a product containing “buffering” ingredients that calm and hydrate will help mitigate the after-effects of retinol. “When retinol is formulated with ingredients that soothe and reinforce the moisture barrier — you can avoid the redness, flaking, and peeling that is commonly associated with retinol,” says Dr. Gross.

Many brands now also formulate with “slow-release” or “encapsulated” retinol varieties, where a special delivery system ensures that the ingredient is released into the skin in a sustained way over the course of several hours, opposed to all at once, thus reducing adverse effects.

And while eliminating lines and wrinkles is part of the appeal of retinol, Dr. Zamani says to focus on creating a more radiant and hydrated eye area. “The more hydrated the skin, the less vulnerable we are to the signs of aging,” she says.

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How To Introduce Retinol Eye Cream Into Your Routine

Introducing retinol in a slow and sustained way is the path to long-term success. “As retinol formulas differ in their concentration, I advise starting with a low concentration in a small quantity (visualize a small grain of rice) two to three times a week followed by moisturizer, and build up gradually to more frequent use,” says Dr Zamani. If irritation occurs, reduce the quantity of retinol and buffering it with a basic moisturizer before and/or after applying the eye cream.

Dr. Gross recommends tapping the product into the skin instead of rubbing. “A lot of people don’t realize that you can actually accelerate the formation of fine lines and wrinkles around the eye area if you aren’t gentle while applying skin care,” he says. He also advises against going too close to the lash line or directly under the waterline, for fear of irritation.

For those with very sensitive skin, it’s best to avoid the harsher retinoids such as tretinoin and retinaldehyde which are more likely to irritate the skin. Dr. Rubin says patients are likely to get better results by using this ingredient as regularly as possible, so dialing down to a gentler retinol might be better in the long term than using a stronger strength only periodically. Retinol is also best avoided by people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to conceive, says Dr. Rubin.

Finally, applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen every single day is a must, as retinol increases sensitivity to UV light. “I also recommend wearing sunglasses as they can block direct sunlight from damaging the skin, and also diminish the need for squinting into the sun which can cause wear and tear around the eye area, leading to premature fine lines and wrinkles,” says Dr. Gross.

Ahead, some top picks for retinol-enriched eye products.

The Retinol Eye Creams Worth Trying