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10 best retinol eye creams: Reduce fine lines, wrinkles and dark circles

Want to banish crows feet and fake that awake look? Add one of these anti-aging actives in your arsenal

Sabine Wiesel
Friday 22 October 2021 15:37
<p>Thanks to a lack of collagen in the area, coupled with constant facial expressions, the optic contour is one of the first to show signs of ageing </p>

Thanks to a lack of collagen in the area, coupled with constant facial expressions, the optic contour is one of the first to show signs of ageing

You probably already know by now that retinol is one of just a few skincare ingredients scientifically proven to rejuvenate the skin. In fact, it has set the gold standard for skin actives and should definitely be in your PM routine somewhere. But did you know it’s equally as effective in an eye cream too?

The thin and fragile eye contour is one of the first to show signs of ageing, thanks to a lack of collagen and elastin in the area, coupled with constant movement and facial expressions causing the skin to crease. Applying retinol (or vitamin A members of the retinoid family) to the area will increase cell renewal and stimulate collagen production to form firmer and thicker skin, in turn plumping fine lines and wrinkles. And it works on dark circles too, by reducing the visibility of dark veins beneath the surface and fading hyperpigmentation.

“If you are in your early twenties and beyond, you should be using a retinol eye cream,” says Dr Dennis Gross, dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon. “You want to start building collagen early to delay signs of ageing, and if you’re older retinol does a great job at addressing fine lines, wrinkles and uneven texture by stimulating the production.”

You might well ask, do we really need a dedicated retinol eye cream? In a single word, yes. Most retinol serums and moisturisers will be too strong or rich in texture for the delicate eye contour that is 10 times thinner than the rest of the face. Add to that, the fact that using retinoids can cause side effects, in the form of redness, peeling and dryness, and you can see it’s a must if you want your eyes to stay free from irritation.

Specific retinol eye creams are combined with skin-soothing ingredients and use new cosmetic tech like slow-release encapsulating to prevent sensitivity to the active. That being said, it’s always best to start off slowly using retinol if you’re new to the ingredient or product.

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How we tested

With skincare brands tapping into consumer demand, we’ve seen a rise in launches of retinol skincare. And with so many different types of retinoid products available, it can be confusing to navigate which will be the best for you, so we’ve done the hard work for you.

To make this winning line-up, our tester had to see a difference in fine lines, dark circles or puffiness, as well as leave the orbital eye well-hydrated. Allow us to introduce you to the most effective formulations we’ve tried…

The best retinol eye creams for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Dr Dennis Gross advanced retinol + ferulic triple correction eye serum: £70, Cultbeauty.co.uk
  • Best for brightening – Omorovicza illumineye C: £71.25, Feelunique.com
  • Best from the high street – No7 pure retinol eye cream: £24.95, Boots.com
  • Best for a high-end budget – Kat Burki advanced anti-aging rosehip intense recovery eye serum: £135, Net-a-porter.com
  • Best for multi-tasking – Elizabeth Arden retinol ceramide line erasing eye cream: £50, Feelunique.com
  • Best for firming – Verso super eye serum: £70, Spacenk.com
  • Best for on a budget – The Inkey List retinol eye cream: £9.99, Boots.com
  • Best for sensitive skin – La Roche-Posay redermic R eyes anti-ageing concentrate: £27, Feelunique.com
  • Best for puffy eyes –Medik8 intelligent retinol eye TR: £19, Lookfantastic.com
  • Best for lower and upper eyelids – Murad retinol youth renewal eye serum: £46.67, Johnlewis.com

Dr Dennis Gross advanced retinol and ferulic triple correction eye serum, 15ml

Best: Overall

Rating: 9.5/10

When a skincare brand launches a new and improved version of an existing product, you know it’s going to be good. Our high hopes were met with this super lightweight serum, as our tester saw results quickly. It contains retinol, of course, but also the plant-derived alternative bakuchiol which is found to have similar efficacy. Throw in a dose of antioxidant ferulic acid for its soothing properties, counteracting any skin irritation and you’ve got a formula gentle enough to be used day or night, as well as on both the upper and lower eyelids and even the frown lines.

We found zero irritation using it every day. The orbital area felt well-hydrated and firmer after just two weeks of use, with even better results with ongoing use including less noticeable lines and crepiness.

Omorovicza illumineye C, 15ml

Best: For brightening

Rating: 9/10

Before even putting this eye cream to the test and seeing the cocktail of powerhouse ingredients in this formulation, we had high expectations. Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and all-round skin brightening superstar vitamin C, works on de-puffing and brightening the eye contour. Hyaluronic filling spheres made up of hyaluronic acid penetrate and swell to smooth deeper lines and wrinkles. While retinal, a superior vitamin A that gets to work faster than retinol, blitzes uneven skin tone, lines and wrinkles over time.

This did not disappoint, the light texture left the eye refreshed and hydrated after just a week’s use, but the long-term benefits were noticeable after four weeks with continued brightening effects the more we used it and softening of fine lines.

No7 pure retinol eye cream, 15ml

Best: From the high street

Rating: 8/10

The high-street brand has come up trumps again with this rejuvenating new eye cream. It’s enriched, like many of their bestselling products, with matrixyl 3000 plus – a powerful peptide that boosts collagen and elastin production with numerous studies behind it. Paired with encapsulated pure retinol for slow release throughout the night so there’s less chance of irritation, as well as skin-soothing bisabolol and shea butter for hydration and you’ve got an eye cream that packs a revitalising punch. We found a clear softening of crow’s feet and under-eye fine lines in just four weeks of ongoing use.

Kat Burki advanced anti-aging rosehip intense recovery eye serum, 15ml

Best: For a high-end budget

Rating: 8.5/10

We once watched with envy from afar as models and “it” girls gushed over this US skincare brand, but now we can get our hands on it here in the UK. With nutritional science at the heart of the brand and cold-pressed technology for maximum potency, the skincare is pricey but worth it – including this bestseller.

The brand use no filler in their products, so every ingredient has a purpose, with stand-out actives including retinol, vitamin C and rosehip seed oil. You literally feel this serum getting to work on first application lifting and firming, and after a few weeks, you’ll notice how skin-smoothing this formula really is.

Elizabeth Arden retinol ceramide line erasing eye cream, 15ml

Best: For multi-tasking

Rating: 8.5/10

With a line-up of superstar skincare ingredients, this new pot of eye cream gold (or should we say rose gold) delivers real long-term benefits. The retinol is microencapsulated so it slowly and continuously releases over your eight hour of zzz’s, reducing irritation or sensitivity to the skin. Added to the mix is niacinamide for skin strengthening and hydration around the delicate skin to help diminish dark circles, as well skin-firming peptides too.

The formula is in airless packaging to protect it, simply press down and get your required amount – so you never waste any excess. We found the eye area looked brighter, smoother, much less puffy and firmer after just a few weeks of use.

Verso super eye serum, 30ml

Best: For firming

Rating: 8.5/10

This formula is enriched with the brand’s next-generation retinol8 – which promises to be eight times more effective than traditional retinol (hence the name) and 50 per cent less irritating. Drop-in some skin-strengthening peptides and antioxidant turmeric for added skin soothing, and you’ve got a first-class retinol eye serum. So much so, our tester turns back to this one time and time again, because it perks-up tired eyes, leaving them firmer, brighter and with less ageing crepiness, and all with no side effects.

The Inkey List retinol eye cream, 15ml

Best: For on a budget

Rating: 7/10

Our favourite budget-friendly formulation uses a slow-release retinol formulation that’s gentle, hydrating and perfect for those new to using the active or those with first signs of ageing. You should still start slowly when incorporating any retinoid into your skincare routine, including this one, to avoid any peeling or irritation. Be patient, like our tester, and you’ll see results – slow and steady wins the race with this one.

La Roche-Posay redermic R eyes anti-ageing concentrate, 15ml

Best: For sensitive skin

Rating: 9/10

Perfect for beginner’s to retinol and those with sensitive skin alike, this was our tester’s first retinol eye cream and one she’s turned to repeatedly. Retinol is combined with caffeine, the latter of which is great for a temporary solution to easing puffiness. Expect eyes to feel firmer in as little as two weeks, with ongoing softening of fine lines with continued use. You can’t go wrong with this, as long as you still start slowly if you’re new to the active.

Medik8 intelligent retinol eye TR, 7ml

Best: For puffy eyes

Rating: 8/10

For those that avoid rich eye creams in the evenings for fear of making puffiness in the morning worse, you’ll love this superlight oil-like serum. Especially if you’re concerned about fine lines or wrinkles. It uses 0.1 per cent retinol also using a time-release delivery system slowing down the absorption of the active and delivering it throughout the night and is paired with nourishing antioxidant vitamin E. The formula glides on with the spatula-style applicator and literally disappears in front of your eyes. We started to see results after just two weeks, as the eye contour looked smoother and felt firmer.

Murad retinol youth renewal eye serum, 15ml

Best: For lower and upper eyelids

Rating: 8/10

Loaded with Dr Murad’s retinol tri-active technology, it features a gentle retinoid, a slow-release retinol and even a retinol booster for maximum results. It’s effective, but still gentle on the skin as our tester found no signs of redness or peeling – so much so the brand promise it’s safe for sensitive skin types too. Add in a dose of marine kelp and light-diffusing mica, and you’ve got a beautifully light textured serum that gives you a youthful bright-eyed appearance both instantly and over time.

The verdict: Retinol eye creams

For all-around, eye rejuvenating results our best-buy goes to the Dr Dennis Gross advanced retinol and ferulic triple correction eye serum for how fast and effectively it gets to work, leaving the eye contour brighter and softening signs of ageing. If you’re a beginner to using retinol, try the La Roche-Posay redermic R eyes anti-ageing concentrate.

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