Sometimes, when reviewing anything – skin care products, cars, restaurants, prospective spouses – it is all too easy to sucked into tiny little details and lose sight of the big picture. In such situations, I find it very helpful to step back and ask just what we’re trying to accomplish! Before jumping into the review of Algenist’s Complete Eye Renewal Balm, let’s look at the key forces we are trying to counteract.
Three Big Players in Under Eye Circles
Yes, the skin around your eyes can, and does, tan! Sun exposure is a major source of free radicals which ultimately destroy collagen and mutate DNA. Accumulate enough mutations and the skin cells either don’t work as well, die, or move towards becoming cancer. In response to oxidative damage, the body churns out a sacrificial anti-oxidant known as melanin, which is also the basis of tanning. Some studies think that increased melanin (hypermelanosis) is the single largest factor driving the development of under eye circles. (Dermatol Surg, 2009) Fat atrophy is like a souffle deflated – everything falls inward!
2. Fat atrophy
Normally people want to get rid of fat, but in this case, fat is your friend! That’s because the malar (cheek) fat pads underpin those supple cheeks of youth; unfortunately, they melt away over the years. This process pulls the under eye skin inward and enhancing the overhanging shadows thrown by the eye itself.
3. Thinning skin
Skin around the eyes starts off paper thin and as collagen, elastin, and water content drop off, it gets even thinner. This process bring the dark underlying blood vessels to the foreground. (Dermatol Surg, 2013) It also leads to… So, with that framework in mind, let’s talk about Algenist’s Complete Eye Renewal Balm!
Alguronic Acid & Algae Extracts
Includes: Undaria Pinnatifida (Brown Algae) Extract, Algae Exopolysacharides (Alguronic Acid!), Alaria Esculenta (Seaweed) Extract First ingredient to discuss is the namesake: alguronic acid. According to the package insert, its discovery was pure serendipity while researching algae as a potential renewable energy source. A neat little story! Alguronic acid itself is a complex sugar molecule (aka polysaccharide) isolated from the cell walls of algae. As the cell wall performs the crucial function of keeping the encased algae properly hydrated in a salty environ, it seems reasonable that alguronic acid would be an excellent barrier to water evaporation. Furthermore, just as the cell wall keeps water in, it also must keep harmful UV rays out, so it may even act as a natural sunscreen! I saw ‘may’ and might’ because Algenist declined my request to see their internal studies. All we have is their press releases which note improved cellular regeneration (whatever that means), elastin synthesis, and decreased melanin production (hinting towards a sunscreen effect). Another precaution: these results come out of the lab and cultured cells, not actual use on honest-to-goodness human skin. At the end of the day, without seeing some good clinical data, I really can’t attest to alguronic acid’s effectiveness. The skeptic in me wonders if alguronic acid is simply an elaborate hook to net a bigger part of this multibillion dollar industry.
Includes: Apple Extract, Raspberry Extract, Golden Samphire extract, Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E) ,Magneisum Ascorbyl Phosphate (particularly stable form of Vitamin C), Meadowfoam Oil, Bamboo Extract, Aloe Leaf Juice & Powder, Pea Extract, Green Tea Extract, Cucumber Extract, Hesperidin Methyl Chalcone
Meadowfoam – how pastoral. And useful!
Regardless of what alguronic acid does or doesn’t do, this product is definitely not a one trick pony. For starters, it’s packed with an impressive number of antioxidants. It includes the standards – vitamin C and E – but also contains a variety of antioxidants derived from various other flora. Each plant contributes a unique blend of anti-oxidants, but the main antioxidant gained from their inclusion is hesperidin methyl chalcone, a sort-of natural sunscreen. Meadowfoam in particular has very high antioxidant properties and probably acts to keep all the other anti-oxidants in their active states (Isbell, ICP, 1999). Objectively, studies have found antioxidants just OK in treating under eye circles. Studies have noted a trend towards increased dermal thickness, improved stretchiness, and higher water content. (Skin Research, 2008 and JAAD, 1996). Studies are conflicting regarding whether or not Vitamin C also inhibits a key enzyme in melanin production called tryosinase, but general trend points to a mild inhibition. (Arch Pharm Res, 2011)
At first, I thought glucosamine was an odd inclusion in an eye cream; I usually think about it for joint health (a claim that is taking some heat right now). However, some diligent research unearthed a study endorsing its ability to reduce melanin production AND promote hyaluronic acid! (J Cosmet Derm, 2006) Quick aside about hyaluronic acid (known in the ‘biz as HA): HA acts like a really tiny sponge in the skin. With increasing moisture content, HA can absorb 1000 times its weight in water, swellings its dry volume many times over. Capitalizing on this property is the principle behind several cosmetic fillers out there, like Juvederm or Belotero.
Humectants and Lubricants
Includes: Stearic Acid, Isopropyl Isostearate, Steareth-20, Ceteareth-20 Glycerl Stearate SE, Glycerin, Dimethicone, Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Vinyl Dimethicone, Pentylene Glycol, butylene Glycol, Hexylene Glycol, Caprylyl Glycol, Capric Triglyceride, Phospholipids, Lecithin, Shea butter, Cetearyl Alcohol, Acrylates These ingredients help keep the skin well hydrated, smoothing out any fine wrinkles and contributing an overall fuller appearance. (Skin Research and Tech, 2007) Furthermore, this puts more distance between the skin surface and underlying vasculature and also helps counteract the shadowing caused by malar fat pad atrophy.
Includes: Caffeine Caffeine is a classic under eye circle ingredient because it constricts blood vessels. Narrower blood vessels carry less blood and therefore lessens the amount of dark blood visible on the surface. That’s the theory at least – either it has been around so long that it predates studies or there just isn’t any good evidence out there (besides pages and pages of advertisements!).
De-bruisers & Collagen Promoters
De-bruisers include: N-hydroxysuccinimide & Chrysin Collagen Promoters include : Palmitoyl Oligopeptide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7, Tetrapeptide-21, Dipeptide 2, Brown Algae, Seaweed Extracts Algenist must think highly of Haloxyl, another eye cream, because they utilize all four of Haloxyl’s ingredients. Two of them, n-hydroxysuccinimide and chrysin, work to speed up bruise clean-up (recall that the contribution of bruising is still unknown). The other two, Palmitoyl Oligopeptide and Palmitoyl Oligopeptide-7 (aka Matrixyl), have been shown to stimulate collagen synthesis, which strengthens and expands the skin’s volume. (link here) Algenist doubled down on collagen stimulants by adding tetrapeptide-21 and dipeptide 2 (Cosmetics 2009). Nicki has a great article reviewing these guys! At the other end of the candle, brown algae and seaweed extracts have demonstrated a significant ability to slow down collagen destruction, thus helping to maintain higher collagen levels! (Biochem and Biophys, 2006)
As a dermatologist, I feel compelled to check every single product for sunscreen; not only does it keep the skin looking younger, it can reduce one’s risk of skin cancer. I checked the ingredient list 15 times and couldn’t spot a single sunscreen! Nor any recommendation to promote daily sunscreen use! So it falls to me to add my own: To promote a youthful look and reduce your risk of skin cancer, use a sunscreen around the eyes (and rest of the face!) daily.
Thickeners: xanthum gum, potassium sorbate pH adjusters: disodium EDTA, aminomethyl propanol Bactericides: chlorheixidine digluconate, ethyhexylglycerin, phenoxyethanol
Use and Opinions
The cream itself is off-white and has a soft, milky feel to it. I found it a little thicker than the average eye cream (think Wendy’s Frosty), but it rubs in just fine with minimal effort. No noticeable fragrance. Like most other eye creams, those with dry skin around the eyes can feel a little tingle. I put my daily sunscreen over it without any problems. If used twice a day as directed, I’d predict a jar to last about 6-8 weeks.
Pros + Targets all the major players in under eye circles (and some of the disputed ones!) + Impressive subjective improvement + Nice physical properties Cons – Alguronic acid: just a hook? – Small bottle – Not a sunscreen FutureDerm Rating: 8.5/10 (High concentration of proven ingredients: 3/3. Unique formulation or new technology: 3/3. Value: 2.5/3. Sunscreen: 0/1).
For those unsatisfied with other more cost-effective options or absolutely cannot stand dark circles, consider this product. The alguronic acid component is kind of a wild card given it lack of clinical studies but the data that has been released is pretty impressive. Further considerations: If you have tried cream after cream and absolutely nothing is working, it may be time to see a dermatologist or oculoplastic surgeon to discuss dermal fillers, tear trough reconstruction, or an eyelid lift!