Best Retinol Eye Cream: 12 Top Picks to Fight the Signs of Aging

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While there are many effective anti-aging treatment options for under-eyes, such as lasers, chemical peels, and light technology, a topical eye cream is typically the first defense measure. If you want to rejuvenate the eye area (who doesn’t?), look for eye cream with retinol.

Why retinol under-eye cream? Retinol is one of the best ingredients for softening and preventing fine lines and wrinkles, encouraging collagen production, lessening the appearance of brown spots, increasing cell turnover, and improving skin texture. It’s also composed of smaller molecules, so it’s able to penetrate the skin deeply and more effectively than other anti-aging ingredients.

Wrinkles aside, there’s also retinol for dark circles and retinol for eye bags, so it’s genuinely a powerhouse ingredient. Best retinol eye cream? You can also find retinol eye gel and retinol eye stick to address under-eye — and upper-lid — concerns. 

Are you ready to try eye cream with retinol, but you’re not sure what to look for?  No worries. Here at the Derm Review, we’ve reviewed hundreds of products with a scientific lens to ensure you’re creating a skincare regimen that’s safe and effective. Ahead, 12 best retinol eye cream favorites to help you fight the signs of age that plague the thin, delicate skin around the orbital area.

Related: Best Eye Cream for Puffiness

Eye Cream With Retinol: The List 

Best for Sensitive Eyes RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Eye Cream, $22.69

Best for Brightening: Kiehl’s Youth Dose Eye Treatment, $40

Best Time-Release: Dr. Brandt 24/7 Retinol Eye Cream, $55

Best for Crepey Lids: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Triple Correction Eye Serum, $69

Related: Best Retinol Serum

Best With SPF:Murad Essential-C Eye Cream SPF 15 PA++, $70

Best for Dark Circles and Puffiness: Boots No7 Pure Retinol Eye Cream, $27.99

Best for Deep Lines: NEOSTRATA Comprehensive Retinol Eye Cream, $54

Related: Best Eye Creams for Dark Circles

Best Clean Pick: First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Eye Cream with Triple Hyaluronic Acid, $44

Best Budget-Friendly: The Inky List Retinol Eye Cream, $10

Best Eye Stick: Peace Out Retinol Eye Stick, $28

Best Drugstore Buy: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Anti-Wrinkle Retinol Eye Cream, $22.49

Best French Pharmacy Find: Eau Thermale Avène Retinal Eyes, $49

Related: Eye Creams for Wrinkles

What to Look for in an Eye Cream With Retinol

Read product and brand reviews as we write here on the Derm Review. Has the product won any awards? Do Dermatologists recommend it? What’s the average star rating?

 

Time-Released Retinol

Retinol is one of the most potent OTC skincare ingredients on the market. While natural retinol alternatives like bakuchiol are growing in popularity, more and more beauty companies are beginning to formulate products with time-released retinol, such as encapsulated retinol and 

What is encapsulated retinol? As the name suggests, encapsulated retinol is delivered into the skin at a slow and steady time-released rate instead of all at once like other forms of retinol. Not only does it protect your skin, but it remains stable and potent for a more extended period, thus providing superior benefits minus irritation.

 

Potency

Retinol eye cream is typically formulated with a lower dose of retinol than a face cream because under-eye skin is thinner and more delicate. Most formulas contain between .01 and 0.3%. While that may sound minuscule, even a small percentage of retinol can improve multiple signs of aging under and around the eye area. On the other hand, a retinol face cream can have a potency of 0.3 to 1 or even 2%. 

  • Note that we often talk about the effectiveness of an ingredient based on where it falls on the ingredient list — the closer to the top, the more potent and effective it is. This is not the case for retinol eye cream. Only a tiny amount is needed to be effective, so it will be listed more towards the bottom. 

 

Other Key Eye Cream Ingredients

While it’s not always 100 percent possible, try to avoid retinol eye cream formulated with harmful ingredients like parabens, drying alcohols, and fragrance (all part of the “suspicious six,”), and that don’t test on animals. 

Instead, look for clean formulas with a mix of synthetic and natural, safe results-driven ingredients that negate retinol’s potentially drying side effects while providing additional anti-aging benefits. For example: 

  • Hydrators
    Retinol can be drying and cause irritation, so look for an eye cream with retinol and hyaluronic acid — it deeply hydrates, plumps, and improves skin elasticity. Squalane, niacinamide, ceramides, and fatty acids provide deep moisture along with anti-aging benefits. 
  • Antioxidants: While retinol eye cream is best for nighttime use, research also shows that lower percentages of retinol combined with other antioxidants help your skin fight against environmental pollution when worn during the day with broad-spectrum sun protection. (Always use SPF 30 or higher during the day).

 

Brand Reviews

According to a survey, nearly eight in 10 consumers say they think they’ve read a fake review in the past year, and 84% of consumers say they can’t always spot a fake review. Read trusted product and brand reviews like the ones we write here on the Derm Review. Has the product won any awards? Do Dermatologists recommend it? What’s the average star rating? 

Related: Best Firming Eye Creams

How to Correctly Use a Retinol Eye Cream

 

Conduct a Patch Test

Even if your skin has never had a problem tolerating a new product, it’s never a bad idea to conduct a patch test with retinol eye cream due to the sensitive nature of the delicate eye area and retinol’s strength.

 

Only Apply Retinol Eye Cream at Night

Retinol makes the skin more sun-sensitive, so it’s better to apply it at night and use an eye cream with a minimum SPF of 30 during the day. 

The only exception would be if the retinol eye cream contained sun protection — or you’re layering an actual retinol cream with an SPF that’s safe for the eyes. But it’s still safer to use it at night. Protective antioxidants are favored for daytime use. 

 

Start Slow

Many people make the mistake of hitting the ground running because they’re anxious to see results. For most, this application method is problematic since the skin is still adjusting to the product. 

Even though retinol eye creams are not as strong as face creams, start using one every two to three nights and gradually build up a tolerance. Stop altogether if you continuously experience adverse side effects such as excessive peeling and irritation. You can try starting up again once symptoms clear up. 

Related: How Does Retinol Work?, What Are The Side Effects?

 

Be Mindful of Application

You only need around a couple of dots under each eye to reap the effects of retinol; a little goes a long way! Also, never apply it too close to your lash line to avoid eye irritation. Use your ring finger to apply the product because it has the lightest touch. 

 

Be Patient

There’s no such thing as a quick fix, and consistency is vital if you want to see results. This rule applies to all skincare products, not just eye cream. If you need a bit of motivation for sticking with retinol, studies show that after four weeks, epidermal thickness increases. In twelve weeks, there was a significant reduction in wrinkles, so don’t give up.

FAQs

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about retinol and the delicate eye area.

 

What is retinol? 

Retinol is a particular type of retinoid in the vitamin A family. However, in most cases, retinol is deemed as a less potent version of vitamin A. When you hear the term “retinoid,” it’s referring to more robust prescription products such as Retin-A, Adapalene, or Tretinoin. 

But make no mistake, even though retinol isn’t as intense as more potent retinoids, it doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly useful when it comes to fighting the signs of aging skin.

 

Can retinol cream be used under the eyes?

While some skincare specialists would tell you it’s okay to apply a tiny amount of the retinol you use on your face or even mix it with your regular eye cream, there’s potential for danger here. Eye creams formulated with retinol typically contain a lower, safer dose and other safe ingredients for this delicate area while targeting additional concerns like puffiness.

Related: Best Retinol Cream

 

How does retinol eye cream work?

Retinol is a type of retinoid, which is derived from vitamin A. Rather than removing dead skin cells like other acne and anti-aging products, the small molecules that make up retinol penetrate deep beneath the epidermis (outer layer of skin) to your dermis, the middle layer of skin.

Once it’s in the dermis, retinol works to neutralize free radicals to boost collagen and elastin production. This process helps reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, enlarged pores, and discoloration. Retinol also has an exfoliating that can improve texture and tone.

 

How do you know if retinol is working?

While you may start to see results in a few weeks, most dermatologists agree that it can take around 12 weeks to see noticeable improvements with an OTC product. 

 

Does retinol tighten eyelids?

Retinol works on both the upper and lower eyelids. It improves the skin barrier function and stimulates collagen production. This increase in collagen tightens the skin and visibly reduces any fine lines, crepiness, and sagginess of the eyelids.

 

How does retinol eye cream help my dark circles?

Because retinol can boost collagen, elastin and support skin thickness and structure, it can help conceal dark circles caused by the thinning of the skin or pigmentation issues. A retinol eye cream can also influence melanocyte function. In short, retinol can prevent dark circles at the cellular level, too. 

 

What causes under-eye wrinkles and crow’s feet?

Intrinsic (chronological) aging is an unavoidable, predetermined process that results in fine lines, wrinkles, crow’s feet, dark circles, and a hollowed appearance. However, other contributors to aging eyes include sun exposure, smoking, facial expressions, sleep habits, rubbing your eyes, dehydrated skin, and heredity.

Related: Best Retinol Face Cream

Best Retinol Eye Cream

Best for Sensitive Eyes: RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Eye Cream, $22.69
While eye creams formulated with retinol consider that the eye area is sensitive, this one takes things a bit further by catering to those who have sensitive skin in general. 

It’s dermatologist-recommended because it softens fine lines and wrinkles and reduces dark circles’ appearance sans any irritation. Even though it’s ophthalmologist-tested, If your skin is ultra-delicate, always do a patch test regardless of how a product is marketed just to be on the safe side.

Best for Brightening: Kiehl’s Youth Dose Eye Treatment, $40
Eye cream with retinol and vitamin C? Kiehl’s pro-retinol anti-aging cream works in tandem with vitamin C to reduce the appearance of under-eye circles, fine lines, and puffiness over time. It instantly smooths and brightens, and the creamy texture absorbs quickly. It’s uniquely packaged to provide the optimal dosage without running the risk of the product oxidizing. 

Best Time-Release: Dr. Brandt 24/7 Retinol Eye Cream, $55
This incredibly impressive eye cream brightens, protects against environmental stressors, and softens the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, thanks to time-released retinol and proprietary Ruby Crystal Complex. A Hydra-Balance Complex (lemon tree honey, phospholipids, and an amino acid deeply hydrate and prevent moisture loss.

Best for Crepey Lids: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Triple Correction Eye Serum, $69
Many eye creams aren’t meant to be applied on the lid, but this one’s an exception. This lightweight gel formula is perfect for the delicate skin around the entire eye and eyelid where we’re prone to crepiness. Retinol softens fine lines and wrinkles, ferulic acid brightens, and willow bark extract soothes and reduces puffiness.

Related: Best Retinol Serum

Best With SPF: Murad Essential-C Eye Cream SPF 15 PA++, $70
While most skincare experts suggest you apply a retinol-based eye cream at night (more on that in a bit), this formula contains an SPF to protect against the skin-damaging effects of harmful UVA/UVB rays. Along with providing protection, retinol reduces the signs of aging, caffeine banishes puffiness, and avocado oil and shorea stenoptera butter deeply hydrate.

Best for Dark Circles and Puffiness: Boots No7 Pure Retinol Eye Cream, $27.99
Boots eye cream with retinol targets the seven key signs of aging, from fine lines and wrinkles to dark circles and puffiness and everything else in between. It’s formulated with the brand’s most proven form of pure retinol, along with a retinol optimizer — a slow-release oil encapsulation for enhanced delivery and minimized irritation. 

Shea butter and bisabolol provide additional comfort and hydration, while collagen peptide-based MATRIXYL 3000 PLUSTM teams up with retinol to fight aging eyes. 

Best for Deep Lines: NEOSTRATA Comprehensive Retinol Eye Cream, $54
While the best way to avoid prominent lines around the eyes is to prevent them in the first place, you can’t take back those teen years spent basking in the sun minus any protection. Retinol and NeoGlucosamine, two exfoliating ingredients, target fine lines that have morphed into deeper creases, crepiness, and discoloration. The result? A more refreshed, youthful appearance.

Related: Best Eye Creams for Dark Circles

Best Clean Pick: First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Eye Cream with Triple Hyaluronic Acid, $44
This potent overnight eye cream harnesses the power of microencapsulated retinol, high-tech goji stem cell, plant-based ceramides, vegan hyaluronic acid, and vitamin C. Soothing oatmeal and aloe also help keep the eyes free from irritation. Along with being dermatologist tested, this eye cream is also cruelty-free and formulated without sulfates, parabens, phthalates, or mineral oil.

Best Budget-Friendly: The Inky List Retinol Eye Cream, $10
Enthusiastic reviews prove you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get an effective retinol eye cream. It’s formulated with non-irritating slow-release vitamin A derivatives that support natural collagen production and visibly improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles with regular use. Additionally, hyaluronic acid gives the eyes a more hydrated, youthful appearance.

Best Eye Stick: Peace Out Retinol Eye Stick, $28
This best-selling (and beauty editor favorite) retinol eye stick is a convenient way to apply a concentrated serum-balm with encapsulated retinol to defy the signs of age. It’s also formulated with a power peptide complex for firmer-looking skin and vegan squalane and astaxanthin to prevent dehydration and provide vital moisture. 

The formula is free of parabens, formaldehyde, formaldehyde-releasing agents, phthalates, mineral oil, retinyl palmitate, coal tar, sulfates SLS and SLES, triclocarban, triclosan, and contains less than one percent synthetic fragrance.

Best Drugstore Buy: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Anti-Wrinkle Retinol Eye Cream, $22.49
As with any skincare product, you have to use it regularly to see results, though some products take longer to get there than others. This popular drugstore retinol eye cream has shown visible results in just one week — even more so over time. 

Retinol SA and a Glucose Complex (that serves as a booster) work together synergistically to dramatically fade stubborn lines and crow’s feet while improving skin tone and texture. Hyaluronic acid provides deep hydration to the delicate eye area.

Best French Pharmacy Find: Eau Thermale Avène Retinal Eyes, $49
This French pharmacy favorite (that you can find here in the States) is formulated with retinaldehyde (a stabilized form of retinol) to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and crow’s feet. Hyaluronic acid fragments plump the skin and encourage microcirculation, and dextran sulfate corrects signs of fatigue caused by aging skin. It’s an excellent choice for those with extremely sensitive or dry skin.

Eye Creams With Retinol: The Bottom Line

Retinol shouldn’t be reserved for face creams alone. It’s one of the best ingredients for softening and preventing fine lines and wrinkles, encouraging collagen production, lessening the appearance of brown spots, increasing cell turnover, and improving skin texture. It even targets dark circles and eye bags, so it’s genuinely a gold star ingredient when it comes to fighting the signs of age and fatigue. 

As you can see from our list of the best retinol eye creams, formulas contain other nourishing, hydrating ingredients to negate any potential irritation or dryness from retinol while providing additional anti-aging benefits. The best retinol eye cream is formulated with encapsulated retinol, which is time-released to further reduce irritation. 

What’s the best retinol eye cream, in your opinion? Let us know in the comments below!

Sources:
“Retinoids in the Treatment of Skin Aging: an Overview of Clinical Efficacy and Safety,” Dove Medical Press, December 2006.





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