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There are few anti-aging ingredients more beloved, recommended, and scientifically proven than retinol. It both helps the skin retain water and stimulates collagen production, resulting in diminished fine lines and wrinkles. While it’s a choice ingredient to use all over your face, it can be particularly useful around the eyes, says New York City dermatologist Dr. Jeremy Fenton.
“The skin here is naturally thin and fragile, making it more susceptible to the aging process as collagen and elastin fibers break down with age,” he explains. “We also have a lot of movement in the area as we smile, squint, and rub our eyes, which further induces the formation of wrinkles.” By increasing collagen production, retinol can help thicken this thin skin and improve fine lines and wrinkles around the eyes, adds New York City dermatologist Dr. Morgan Rabach.
The big caveat? Retinol is infamous for its irritating side effects—redness, peeling, dryness—and the thin skin around your eye is even more delicate and susceptible to these irksome issues. That’s why if you want to use retinol around your eyes, both derms underscore the importance of choosing a product specifically made for the eye area; they’re specially formulated to be extra hydrating and minimize the likelihood of irritation.
Ahead, the best retinol eye creams that dermatologists—and Byrdie editors—love.
Best Overall: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Eye Cream
This is a favorite for both Byrdie Senior Editor Lindsey Metrus and Dr. Rabach. Along with the boosting properties of retinol, you also get a healthy dose of ferulic acid, a potent antioxidant known for its ability to protect against pollution. There’s also caffeine in the formula as well as a proprietary blend of collagen, ellagic acid, and gallic acid.
Best Overall, Runner-Up: Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Serum
As a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t put any eye cream (especially a retinol-based one) on your actual eyelids, unless the directions specifically say that it’s okay to do so. This formula is one of those rare ones that can be applied around the entire eye, including on the lids, ensuring you get a 360-degree anti-aging effect. Because it’s a serum, the silky texture sinks into the skin beautifully. And as far as retinol goes, this formula touts a retinoid complex that combines a time-released version of the ingredient with a fast-acting one, plus a booster that ups the efficacy of both.
Best Drugstore: Olay Eyes Pro Retinol Eye Treatment
True story: The drugstore is a treasure trove of great retinol eye creams, and this is one of the best. It’s a favorite of New York City board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King, who lauds the very moisturizing formula. It also works fast, decreasing the look of even super deep fine lines and wrinkles in just four weeks. Buh-bye, crow’s feet.
Best Multi-Tasker: RoC Retinol Correxion Eye Cream
Reach for this to knock out all of your eye area concerns. “RoC is a well-known producer of a variety of retinol creams, and this one also contains a mineral complex that has other benefits to improve the appearance of skin,” says Dr. Fenton. (Namely, reducing dark circles and puffiness. Yes, please.) Both he and Dr. Rabach also laud it for being gentle.
What Our Testers Say
"Overall, I was very happy with RoC’s Retinol Correxion Eye Cream. I didn’t experience any irritation with it and saw some pretty immediate results as far as reduced dark circles and puffiness." — Leigh Weingus, Product Tester
Best Budget: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Eye Cream
“This lightweight formulation also has hyaluronic acid that pulls in moisture to help to rehydrate the skin, further reducing the appearance of fine lines,” says Dr. Fenton of another one of his picks. Dr. King is a fan, too, noting that the formula also contains glycerin, another humectant ingredient that can help hydrate. Bonus points for the featherweight feel and fast-acting effects; thanks to a unique retinol booster in the formula, you may start to see some results in as little as just one week.
What Our Testers Say
"Despite some initial redness and stinging, my eyes felt super soft the next morning." — Jenna Igneri, Product Tester
Best Firming: Kate Somerville +Retinol Firming Eye Cream
If you’re looking for both fewer wrinkles and firmer skin around your eyes (and really, who wouldn’t want that), reach for this cream, a staple among beauty editors. It relies on both retinol and a plant-based compound from babchi seeds that has similar firming and smoothing effects. There’s also a blend of natural oils that help increase skin’s elasticity, and you can use it both under and around your eyes, as well as on the upper brow area. The best part might be the applicator, though, a gold tip that feels cooling and makes it easy to gently massage in the product.
Best for Sensitive Skin: La Roche-Posay Redermic R Retinol Eye Cream
Yes, you can still use a retinol eye cream even if you have sensitive skin–you just have to be slightly more judicious. Dr. King says this is one great choice, given that it’s both fragrance- and paraben-free, as well as allergy-tested. It combines retinol and retinyl linoleate, another vitamin A-derivative, in a concentration that’s enough to be effective but without making your skin totally freak out. It can also help combat dark circles, too.
Best for A.M.: First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Eye Cream With Triple Hyaluronic Acid
Microencapsulated retinol in this formula helps to fight fine lines and wrinkles, but it’s the other ingredients that make it an A.M. go-to. Namely, three kinds of hyaluronic acid that both hydrate and plump fine lines (and also make this blend extra soothing, notes Dr. King), plus finely milled pearl extract that delivers a subtle luminosity. That two combined help create the ideal base over which to apply foundation and concealer, helping you appear bright-eyed and wide awake. Like we said, just make sure you’re wearing sunscreen anytime you use any kind of retinoid during the day.
Best for P.M.: Glow Recipe Avocado Melt Retinol Eye Sleeping Mask
Sunlight can render retinol inactive, so make sure you load up on SPF if you’re using it during the daytime. Or, to be safe, you can also reserve it for the evening and use this choice p.m. pick from Glow Recipe. Just a tiny dab under your eyes (a pea-size dollop is enough for both) before you hit the sack, and let the encapsulated retinol do its thing while you snooze, helping to strengthen skin and smooth out the look of fine lines. Meanwhile, the namesake ingredient imparts plenty of hydration to counteract those potential drying side effects.
What Our Editors Say
"While most of my face can tolerate potent, prescription-strength retinoids, my under-eyes are a different story. Most products with active ingredients leave my under-eyes feeling raw and red, but the Glow Recipe's encapsulated retinol eye cream is a completely different story. I can use it every night without experiencing even the slightest bit of irritation." —Holly Rhue, Byrdie Editor
Best Retinol Alternative: Alpyn Beauty PlantGenius Line-Filling Eye Balm
Yes, technically there’s no retinol in this formula but we think it deserves a place on the list because some people truly can’t tolerate retinol at all. Not to mention that it’s a no-no when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. The next best thing? Bakuchiol, a plant-based ingredient that’s been shown in studies to have almost identical anti-aging effects to retinol but without any side effects. It’s the star of the show in this creamy balm, which also boasts caffeine and algae to tighten, firm, and de-puff. There is also a slew of hydrating ingredients—hyaluronic acid, squalene, ceramides—that help to give this blend its pleasingly rich texture.
Best Natural: Tata Harper Boosted Contouring Eye Balm
Those looking to clean up their beauty routine will appreciate this formula that's free of a litany of different chemicals. In fact, rather than containing synthetically derived retinol, it instead relies on plant-based ingredients that are natural sources of vitamin A, including rose seed oil. The benefits don’t stop there; peptides in the formula help to firm the skin and a unique fruit extract assists in tamping down puffiness, fast.
Best for Easy Application: Peace Out Retinol Eye Stick
This solid formula is unlike any we’ve ever seen, a serum-balm hybrid that comes in a twist-up stick that looks more like concealer than eye cream. But don’t be fooled; it contains encapsulated retinol in the formula to smooth wrinkles, anti-aging peptides, super hydrating squalane, and astaxanthin, a super powerful antioxidant for extra protection. It glides seamlessly along the skin, no pulling or tugging, and there’s no rubbing or patting required.
Retinol is a tried-and-true anti-aging ingredient and one definitely worth seeking out in an eye cream. Our top two picks are the Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Eye Cream (view on Dermstore) and Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Eye Serum (view at Sephora), both super effective; the former also offers plenty of antioxidant protection, while the latter is a lightweight serum that can even be used on the eyelids. Budget-conscious skincare shoppers will appreciate that you can also nab plenty of great retinol eye creams at the drugstore. Case in point: The RoC Retinol Correxion Eye Cream is a top-notch multitasker, addressing all kinds of eye concerns, while the Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Eye Cream is extremely hydrating and delivers some results in just one week. Have sensitive skin? Try the fragrance- and paraben-free LaRoche-Posay Redermic R Retinol Eye Cream (view at Walgreens).
What to Look for in a Retinol Eye Cream
Type of Retinoid
Not all retinoids are considered equal. While retinol is the most popular over-the-counter option, there are also other options—retinyl palmitate, retinaldehyde—which have similar effects but are slightly less potent. If you have sensitive skin and/or this is your first time using a retinoid, it can be a good idea to look for these.
Given that retinoids can be irritating in and of themselves, it’s a good idea to steer clear of any other potentially irritating ingredients just to be safe. And one of the biggest offenders? Fragrance.
What benefits do retinol eye creams have?
In short, they’re great for combatting signs of aging, specifically wrinkles, given their proven ability to stimulate collagen production, says Dr. King. They can also help decrease discoloration, she says, so while they’re not working on dark circles necessarily, they can leave the skin around your eyes overall luminous and more even.
How do you apply retinol eye creams?
Dab a pea-size amount with your ring finger around both eyes, patting rather than rubbing, moving from the outside corner in. Don’t use it on the eyelid unless the directions specifically state that it’s okay to do so.
How often should you use retinol eye creams?
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. She loves herself both retinol (even though she has sensitive skin!) and eye cream.
Meet the Expert
Jeremy Fenton is a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. He practices both cosmetic and general dermatology and is also a clinical instructor at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Morgan Rabach is a board-certified dermatologist, the co-founder of LM Medical in New York City, and a media expert on all things skin. She’s also an Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Dr. Hadley King is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. She is also a Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University and specializes in both medical and cosmetic dermatology.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find any retinol eye creams from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at email@example.com and we will evaluate the product ASAP.