Short Answer: Absolutely not.
There are several reasons why people—mostly sales associates and some dermatologists, claim that eye creams are crucial. In the following post, I will address these “reasons” and attempt to provide clarification and hopefully, a resolution on this confusing topic.
Reason #1: The skin around the eye area is thinner, more delicate, and has fewer oil glands, so it needs more care—in the form of more potent emollients, humectants, and antioxidants, etc.
In a general sense, this claim is true. However, before going any further, we need to discuss the anatomy of the “eye area.” From what I’ve always understood and have been instructed to do by others, is to apply eye cream to both the eyelids and the outer periorbital area (OPOA), meaning the area around the eyes (under eye + brow bone + top of the cheekbone).
It’s important to note that the skin of the OPOA and that of the eyelids, are quite different. The skin of the OPOA, while much thinner than that of the rest of the face, still has many of the same features: Three main layers (epidermis, dermis, subcutaneous layer), and sebaceous glands (albeit less of them). The skin of the eyelid on the other hand has only two main layers (epidermis, dermis), no sebaceous glands (except those at the eyelash follicles), and at less than 1 mm thick (1), is even thinner than that of the OPOA.
Why is this important? Because too many times I’ve read information mixing up these two distinct skin parts and giving recommendations off of this incorrect combination. Now we’ve set the record straight.
More, More, More?
It turns out that the skin of the OPOA and the eyelids indeed does have fewer sebaceous or oil glands. Therefore, it is a valid claim for people to say that what is applied to these two areas generally needs to be more moisturizing (emollients) and hydrating (humectants). However, what about antioxidants? Here’s where the original “reason” falls through the cracks. You need antioxidants everywhere. Do you need more around the eye area? No. Think of it not as, “The eye area needs more antioxidants,” but as, “There can never be enough antioxidants on my skin.” If you apply additional antioxidants to the eye, why wouldn’t you apply it to the rest of the face? Ironically, application of too many antioxidants such as high concentrations of L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C), will more easily irritate the skin around the eye area, than if the same was done to the rest of the face.
Conclusion: So far, we’ve established that if required, a separate and “thicker” product can be applied to the eye area in place of the regular facial product.
Reason #2: There are ingredients present in eye creams that have special and exclusive properties for that area.
For example, we always hear that caffeine is good for the under eye area because it reduces puffiness by acting as a vasoconstrictor. It also reduces UVB-induced damage by decreasing the formation of cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers (CPDs) (2). That’s great, but why can’t it do that for the rest of the face? That’s just it, it can. What about vitamin K, and retinol (vitamin A) for dark under eye circles, eye bags, and wrinkles? While these two ingredients can certainly provide some benefit for the eye area, it does THE SAME THING for the rest of the face. We could go on and on with this. Ultimately, while there are many procedures available for these “symptoms” like fillers, blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery), and laser skin resurfacing, these symptoms are far too complex for any topical ingredient or combination of ingredients to remedy (3).
Conclusion: While a separate product may be required, there are no special ingredients for just the eye area.
Reason #3: (The skin) of the eye area is more sensitive and eye creams are designed with this in mind; they don’t contain irritating ingredients.
As we’ve already established, the eye area is indeed more sensitive than the rest of the face. But does that justify the assertion that eye creams are necessary? Nope! Why? Because what can be irritating to the skin around the eyes, can also be irritating to the rest of the face. Wow, that’s really a shocker.
So what do you want to avoid? A lot of the same things that you’d want to avoid in a facial product, such as fragrance, should also be avoided in an “eye” cream. For further information, check the post I did on fragrances in skin care HERE. Organic sunscreens are also typically not recommended for inclusion in eye creams because they can sting the eye itself, but there are plenty of facial sunscreens that use inorganic sunscreens and are emollient.
Now, there is one thing that needs to be noted for products used around the eyes. It’s that they can’t have too extreme pHs levels, either two basic or acidic. This is to prevent irritation of the eye, which has a slightly basic pH. The pH of human tears is approximately 7.5, and since mucus membranes (like the one covering the eye) are sensitive to environments with extreme pH values, it’s probably best to avoid using such products (4). Or at least be careful. I personally use glycolic and salicylic acid-based products all over the eye area. Use common sense and apply it gently, just like you would with a facial product.
As for the “ophthalmologist-tested” issue, there’s no need to worry about this at all. It’s just another marketing technique. It’s the same thing as “dermatologist-tested.” Great a dermatologist tested this, but what are the results? And remember, “tested” doesn’t mean it works! As long as a product doesn’t say, “Keep out of eyes,” it’s fine for use around the eye area. Manufacturers aren’t going to risk putting an ingredient that can blind you, into a facial skin care product. Imagine the repercussions should someone go blind! Talk about bad press and reputation.
Conclusion: If a separate product is used around the eye area, it should be non-irritating just like any other facial product.
I reiterate, are eye creams necessary?
Short AND long answer: Absolutely not!
If deemed beneficial, a separate, more emollient, and non-irritating facial product (with antioxidants, peptides, and other beneficial ingredients) can certainly be used in place of or in addition to the “regular” facial moisturizer. But you don’t need something specifically labeled, packaged, and/or marketed as an eye cream. When it comes to this issue, I actually do agree with Paula Begoun. However, if after reading this you STILL want to pay more $$$ for less product, at least look for an “eye” cream that’s NOT packaged in a jar, to reduce the rate of oxidation/degradation.