When should you start using eye cream? Home to the thinnest skin on your body, the eye area starts to show signs of wear and tear by your 20s. Overtime in the office, that extra glass of wine, and even smiling all conspire to speed up the aging process. The eyes are also the first place people look on your face. But before you start avoiding everyone's gaze, try these eye-opening solutions.
1. COUNTING CROWS
Wearing sunglasses prevents squinting, which causes crow's-feet, explains Dr. Robert Grant, plastic surgeon-in-chief at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Sunscreen will also help, but the reason that you suddenly start to see fine lines in your late 20s and early 30s happens under your skin. "Once your body starts to decrease the amount of sebum it produces, you need to moisturize to keep the outermost keratin layer — our natural sun protection factor — intact," explains Grant. "If you allow your skin to dry out, it will get more sun damage." But before you start slathering on heavy eye balms that can clog pores and cause bumps, first try a lightweight gel.
If you already have noticeable crow's-feet, vitamin A-derived retinols can help smooth them out by boosting collagen production in the area. Grant likes over-the-counter retinols (in contrast to stronger, prescription retinoids) because they're less drying and easier to tolerate. And for those who are especially expressive, Botox can help soften your smile lines. A topical formula is currently in FDA trials for usage around the eyes, but approval is still years away.
MC Recommends: Vichy LiftActiv Retinol HA Eyes, $39.50; RoC Brilliance Eye Beautifier duo, $49.99.
2. BAGGAGE HANDLING
The biggest reason for puffiness around the eyes is allergies, according to Cambridge, Massachusetts, dermatologist Dr. Ranella Hirsch. And rubbing will only thicken the skin and cause darkening, especially in pale complexions. "When you hear on the news that pollen counts are up, take an over-the-counter antihistamine for two or three weeks and you'll prevent most swelling," Hirsch says. For additional soothing, "de-puff with an eye roller. Keep it in the fridge, because the cooling effect really goes a long way."
If you're past your early 30s and have tried the antiallergy approach without success, your heavy baggage could be caused by gravity, not the change in seasons. "When you're young, the fat below your eyes lives in a collagen baggie. But as you get older, the bag is weakened because you're not producing as much collagen and the fat herniates into a hound-dog look," says Hirsch, who recommends using an injectable filler (she prefers Restylane) to firm the skin and hold up the fat pad. "For less than $500, you can get real results that last 12 to 15 months. You don't need much product, and it can take years off of your face," she says. A less invasive alternative is using an eye cream with peptides. "Peptides are the building blocks of the skin's protein," explains Hirsch. Applying them topically gives skin the ingredients to rebuild and hold the fat pad in place.
MC Recommends: Visine All Day Eye Itch Relief, $12.99; Kinerase Restructure Firming Eye Cream, $55; Olay Regenerist Anti-Aging Eye Roller, $22.99.
3. BRIGHT IDEA
There are typically two causes of dark circles: an actual darkening of the skin due to genetics and sun damage, or shadows created from sunken valleys above the cheekbones. For both problems, New York City dermatologist Dr. David Rosenberg recommends injecting fat or Restylane to plump the hollowness (cost: about $4,000 for potentially permanent fat and about $1,500 for Restylane, which lasts up to two years). And since the skin here is almost transparent, "fat bleaches out the area since it's pure white."
Brightening formulas can also even the overall skin tone but must be combined with daily sunscreen use to prevent further darkening. Hirsch suggests layering antioxidant lycopene under sunscreen for extra protection.
MC Recommends: Physicians Formula Mineral Wear 3-in-1 Talc-Free Correcting Concealer, $8.95; La Prairie White Caviar Illuminating Eye Serum, $250.
4. TOP SHELF
As collagen thins and skin loses elasticity, the upper eyelids can droop, creating what Rosenberg calls "hooding." While applying creams to the upper lids was once a no-no, new formulas specifically target this sagging area, tightening with caffeine or promoting collagen production with peptides. However, if you're prone to dry skin, Hirsch cautions against caffeine-based creams because they dehydrate in order to de-puff and firm. "You're good for two hours, but then you look like death," she says.
If topical creams aren't enough for your tired-looking lids, Rosenberg suggests two surgical options: trimming away the excess skin at the lashline or an endoscopic brow-lift (cost: $2,000 to $7,000 for each procedure). With gravity's pull, eyebrows fall as we get older, and "as the brow gets lower, the more skin droops," Rosenberg says. Raising the brow with tiny hairline incisions lifts the upper eyelid skin, making eyes appear more open and youthful. "It's a 30-minute procedure, and the results last for a decade." Now that's foresight.
MC Recommends: Bremenn Research Labs Upper Eyelid Lifter, $59; Neutrogena Clinical Eye Lift Contouring Treatment duo, $39.99.