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Why Skincare Is Formulated Differently for the Eye Area

By Elsa de Berker

As the world of pandemic self-care widens, the eyes are having a moment. We’re all spending more time looking at screens, logging into virtual hangouts, and scrolling through social media. So, why don’t we spend a little more time looking after the eye region? Along with our actual eyeballs, the skin around our eyes is particularly delicate and could use some extra tender love and attention. 

The skin around the eyelids is the thinnest and most sensitive in the body, while the eyelid skin is thinner than other areas of the body—and has less subcutaneous fat than other areas,” explains Dr. Y. Claire Chang, a board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City. Medically defined as the periocular region, the eye area also has a dense network of blood vessels running through it. This, coupled with naturally poor lymphatic drainage, makes our peepers easy to bruise and especially vulnerable to puffiness, irritation, and visible signs of aging (like hollowing, fine lines, and wrinkles).

With the collective rise in screen time, there’s also the very real effect of blue light damage (that’s light that comes off electronic devices, computers, phones, and television screens) which is proven to harm skin cells and accelerate premature aging. 

“Constant movement from facial expressions can speed up the formation of wrinkles, like crow’s feet, but there are many environmental factors that can cause damage to the eyes, too,” says Dr. Chang. These include, but are not limited to, excessive screen time, UV exposure, environmental pollutants, toxic gases, chemicals, bacteria and viruses, smoking, low humidity, and cosmetics. 

For some reason the health of our eyeballs and periocular region is often deprioritized until it’s significantly compromised, but Dr. Chang advocates for early preventative measures. Along with regular eye exams—it’s never too early to start incorporating a targeted treatment or two into your skincare routine.

I usually recommend that my patients start using an eye cream once or twice a day starting in their 20s or 30s, when our skin starts to lose collagen, but it is always better late than never. Apply a small drop to the under and upper eyelid and gently rub it in with a circular motion,” says Dr. Chang. 

Because eye skin is so delicate, it’s important to opt for products formulated without common irritants or allergens that might be otherwise okay to use on your face or body.

“For example, retinoids or exfoliants may be tolerated on other facial areas, but are not well tolerated around the eyes,” explains Dr. Chang. On the flip side, a good eye cream will typically include proprietary ingredients to treat specific issues. “Eye creams often contain anti-aging ingredients, like antioxidants, peptides, and growth factors, to help with fine lines and wrinkles—and many contain caffeine to help with swelling.”

In the instance of more serious issues, Dr. Chang recommends seeking out the guidance of a reputable ophthalmologist (that’s a specialist in the treatment of eye diseases), alongside a practitioner with dermatological expertise

“It is important to remember that skin diseases can affect your eye health and vice versa,” says Dr. Chang. A common chronic condition that might require such a dual-pronged approach is rosacea, which can present with redness, flushing, and acne-like bumps on the nose and cheeks—and dry, gritty, irritated, red eyes. “In patients with rosacea, I always screen for ocular rosacea and refer to an ophthalmologist if needed, as treatment may be different.”