Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.
There’s no ingredient more beloved in the skincare world than retinol. It’s truly that simple. The active is beloved for offering a litany of benefits, delivering tried-and-true results. “Retinol stimulates collagen production, which helps improve and prevent fine lines and wrinkles,” explains Dr. Devika Icecreamwala, a board-certified dermatologist in Berkeley, CA. In other words, buh-bye crows’ feet. “Over time it can also help firm the skin and improve the look of crepiness under the eyes,” she adds.
But here’s the thing: Retinol is notorious for its irksome side effects, including dryness, irritation, and redness. You can still use it around your eyes (more on how to do so in a moment), but it’s imperative to only do so via a dedicated retinol eye cream. Making sure that you’re using a product that’s specially formulated to address this area, where the skin is so delicate, is one of the easiest ways to minimize the likelihood of irritation.
It’s also a good idea to start using said eye cream several months before your big day, both to give your skin time to acclimate to the potent ingredient and give it time to work; most people will start to see the effects of a retinol eye cream somewhere between four to 12 weeks, says Icecreamwala.
Read on for the best retinol eye creams out there.
Best Overall: Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Eye Serum
There’s no shortage of things we like about this lightweight, fast-absorbing serum. For starters, it’s exactly that—never thick or greasy, but rather supremely silky, with a texture that soaks into skin beautifully. It touts a powerful retinoid complex that combines time-released retinol and a fast-acting one, for immediate and long-term effects, along with a booster that helps both work better.
Still, it works for all skin types, sensitive included; the formula is even ophthalmologist-tested. It also wins big points in our book for being one of the rare eye products that can be applied to your eyelids.
Best Budget: The Inkey List Retinol Eye Cream
Believe it: You don’t have to shell out the big bucks to find a great, retinol-based eye cream. Case in point—this standout option rings in at just under ten dollars. Yes, ten. But despite the jaw-dropping price, it still works just as well as many of its (much) pricier counterparts.
A slow-release, stabilized retinol ensures you get effective results, but with a lower likelihood of those irritating side effects, we’ve talked about. Simply dab a tiny amount around and under your eye (this one shouldn’t go on lids, FYI) nightly for firmer, smoother skin.
Best Overall, Runner-Up: Dr. Brandt Skincare 24/7 Retinol Eye Cream
A top choice for Icecreamwala, she lauds this formula for containing both time-release retinol and hydrating ingredients, including glycerin and hyaluronic acid. The time-release retinol ensures it’s nice and gentle, as does the addition of olive fruit pulp, which helps minimize the look of redness.
But it’s so effective that in a brand-backed clinical study, 100% of participants showed a decrease in the look of wrinkles after just two weeks. We also appreciate the air-tight, pump-top dispenser.
Best Drugstore: Olay Eyes Retinol24 Night Eye Cream
“A combination of retinol and vitamin B3 helps to improve the look of both fine lines and dullness, without causing dryness or irritation,” says Icecreamwala of this drugstore staple. Dab it on in the evening—it works overnight while you snooze, but also hydrates for the following 24 hours, giving you even more bang for your buck.
Plus, it’s free of fragrances and dyes, two common skin irritants, an extra plus for anyone with sensitive skin. And FYI, if you want to reap the benefits of this standout formula elsewhere on your face, keep in mind that there’s also a serum and moisturizer in this same line.
Best Splurge: NeoStrata Comprehensive Retinol Eye Cream
While this pick is slightly pricier than the other eye creams on this list, it’s well worth every penny. It’s another one of Icecreamwala’s recommendations; she says that it’s especially good for targeting deeper wrinkles under the eye. Credit a .05% of a pure, stabilized retinol that’s especially great for minimizing the look of fine lines and crepey skin.
But the benefits don’t stop there. This also contains neoglucosamine, a unique type of sugar that gently exfoliates and helps brighten, always a good thing for anyone dealing with discoloration under and around the eyes.
Best for Sensitive Skin: RoC Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Retinol Eye Cream
Icecreamwala is only one of many derms that sings the praises of this very affordable, very effective drugstore staple, a true cult classic. The brand is known for doing retinol, and doing it well, even for those with sensitive skin.
The retinol in this formula is much less irritating than many others, says Icecreamwala, who adds that it’s usually very well-tolerated, even by the sensitive set. But, if your skin is super susceptible to freaking out, you can minimize the likelihood of unwanted side effects even further by using this eye cream every other or even every second night, and gradually increasing the frequency as your skin acclimates.
Best for Dry Skin: First Aid Beauty Skin Lab Retinol Eye Cream
Those who have dry skin, to begin with, may often experience even more dryness when they first start using a retinol product, which is why it’s so important to choose a formula that incorporates hydrating ingredients. This one fits the bill—and then some.
Along with retinol (an encapsulated version that’s extra gentle), it contains three different types of hyaluronic acid. Each one has a different molecular weight to penetrate at different levels in the skin, in short making the hydrating benefits that much more effective. Plus, there are also great moisturizing ingredients in the formula, too, including glycerin, shea butter, and squalane.
Best for Dark Circles: La Roche-Posay Redermic R Eyes
For those dealing with not only fine lines but also dark circles, this eye cream, another favorite of Icecreamwala’s, fits the bill. The dermatologist-formulated contains both pure retinol and time-release retinol (a one-two punch that really gets the line-smoothing job done), along with caffeine.
The latter is one of the best ingredients out there for helping to constrict blood vessels, which, long story short, is the most effective topical way to help minimize the look of dark circles. The gel texture also feels light and refreshing, great for anyone who doesn’t love thick or heavy creams.
Best Multi-Tasking: Dr. Zenovia Retinol Recovery Eye Cream
When it comes to eye creams, choosing a formula that can address all of your peeper problems in one easy step is the way to go, and this pick does exactly that. (We should start by mentioning that this brand is formulated by a dermatologist so you know it’s going to be good.)
There’s retinol in the mix, of course, plus that bakuchiol we mentioned before, a dynamic duo that helps fight fine lines. It has caffeine to combat dark circles, hydrating and soothing aloe vera, and a unique blend of ultra-powerful antioxidants that protect the delicate eye area, always a good thing.
Best Retinol Alternative: Ole Henriksen Wrinkle Blur Bakuchiol Eye Gel Creme
We know, we know, this is a story on retinol eye creams, but we couldn’t help but throw this alternative into the mix. Here’s why. Some people may never be able to tolerate retinol, no matter what. Not to mention that it’s a major no-no when you’re pregnant and/or breastfeeding. That’s when bakuchiol comes in. The plant-based ingredient has been shown to have nearly identical effects to retinol, but without any of those pesky side effects (and it’s safe for pregnant women to use).
In short, retinol is still the gold standard, but bakuchiol offers a great, new alternative. It’s the start of the show in this silky gel that helps to combat wrinkles—that’s the bakuchiol at work—but also boasts anti-aging peptides and a blurring technology that instantly camos the look of fine lines.
A retinol eye cream can be an invaluable addition to your wedding-prep skincare routine. The Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Eye Serum and Dr. Brandt Skincare 24/7 Retinol Eye Cream are two of our overall favorites, each boasting plenty of line-smoothing benefits while still being gentle on skin. You can also find plenty of great, retinol eye creams at the drugstore for bargain-friendly prices. Both the Olay Eyes Retinol24 Night Eye Cream and RoC Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Retinol Eye Cream are great options; the former is nice and hydrating, while the latter is a nice pick for anyone with sensitive skin.
What to Look For in a Retinol Eye Cream
Lower strengths of retinol
Granted, any cream that’s formulated for the eye area should contain a less potent amount than facial products, but it’s still a good idea to err on the side of lower concentrations of the active ingredient, says Icecreamwala.
The type of retinoid
Retinol is the most common over-the-counter version, but there are also things such as retinyl palmitate and retinaldehyde, also retinoids that have similar effects but are actually slightly less potent, and as such a good option for those with sensitive skin.
How do you apply eye cream?
Remember that a little goes a long way—especially when it’s a formula that contains retinol, says Icecreamwala. Apply two to three tiny dots on the side and underneath each eye, then gently pat them in (don’t rub) using your ring finger. Don’t use any type of eye cream on your upper lid, unless the product instructions specifically say that it’s okay to do so.
When should you apply eye cream?
Retinol can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so reserve these formulas for nighttime use. “I recommend applying only two to three nights per week at first to give your skin time to adjust to the product and strong ingredient. Then you can gradually increase the frequency as tolerated,” advises Icecreamwala.
How long does eye cream take to work?
As with most skincare-related situations, patience is a virtue. Retinol is a great ingredient, but it’s not an overnight miracle worker. Icecreamwala says most people will start to notice the effects after about four to 12 weeks of use.
Why trust Brides?
Brides 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’s covered the benefits of retinol extensively and is a big fan.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Devika Icecreamwala is a board-certified dermatologist in Berkeley, CA. SHe’s the founder of Icecreamwala Dermatology, a practice specializing in both medical and cosmetic dermatology.