It has been said that eyes are windows into the soul, so it's no wonder that eye beauty is a major concern for American consumers. In fact, eyelid surgery is the fourth most popular cosmetic surgical procedure in America, according to a 2004 survey conducted by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Fortunately, natural beauty products manufacturers are making it easier to maintain healthy, radiant eyes without having to go under the knife.
"Allergies; dry, cold winter air; contact lenses; hormonal changes; aging; staring at a computer screen; dehydration; lack of sleep—all these things are hard on eyes and affect not only the eyes themselves, but also the skin around the eyes," says David Olarsch, N.D., the Plymouth, N.H.-based founder and director of the Institute for Naturopathic Health. "There are plenty of things in the natural world that can help alleviate these symptoms."
"The skin around the eye is very sensitive and more susceptible to damage. There aren't as many layers of skin or as many fat cells in the eye area—it's not well protected," says Jennifer Barckley, spokeswoman for Palisades, N.Y.-based Weleda North America, a natural skin care company. Other factors, especially environmental ones, can further exacerbate common issues for the eye area, including dark undereye circles, puffy eyes and crow's feet. "The eye area is often neglected when people apply sunscreen. You wear sunglasses and think you're covered, but you're not. Eighty percent of skin damage is caused by the sun," says Laura Setzfand, director of marketing for Culver City, Calif.-based Zia Natural Skincare. "Furthermore, most facial expressions come up through the eyes. Every time you smile, you create wrinkles."
Naturals companies have created products that address these problems without the dangers of harsh synthetic ingredients or chemicals. "Using natural personal care products in the eye area is especially important, because the skin around the eye is very delicate, and there is also the chance of product residue getting into the eye and going directly into the body," says Mia DiFrancesco-Licata, Obsessively Organic brand manager for Gardiner, N.Y.-based Kiss My Face. "The more natural your eye product is, the safer it is going to be over the long term."
Kiss My Face's Eye Witness eye cream targets dark circles, puffiness and crow's feet. "We blend alpha-lipoic acid, which is key in building up the tissues around the eye area; vitamins A, C and E, which are antioxidants that will help brighten the skin; and shea butter, which is great for moisturizing," DiFrancesco-Licata says. "And the product is paraben- and chemical-free, which makes it safer to apply."
Herbs are also valued ingredients for healthy, attractive eyes. Weleda's Wild Rose Intensive Eye Cream incorporates many herbal and botanical components into its formula. "Our two major ingredients are eyebright, an herb that, as the name implies, reduces swelling, irritation, tiredness and discoloration in the eye area, and rose hip seed oil, which is rich in essential fatty acids that our skin cannot rebuild on its own," Barckley says. Other herbs that are beneficial in maintaining beautiful eyes are chamomile, horsetail and echinacea. "Chamomile is a healing, soothing ingredient that helps protect the skin, horsetail rebuilds damaged tissue and echinacea acts as an antiseptic and reduces inflammation," DiFrancesco-Licata says.
Science backs up some herbs' capability for promoting healthy skin, including cat's claw, which is an extract from Uncaria tomentosa, a vine that grows in rain forest and jungle areas of South America and Asia. According to a December 2002 study published in the Journal of Anti-Aging Medicine, "Cat's claw is a potent enhancer of DNA repair in primary organ cultures of human skin." Furthermore, the study's researchers found that when comparing two supplement formulations, one with cat's claw and one without, the cat's claw formula was "more effective at reducing DNA damage."
Zia officials agree that cat's claw is a potent ingredient for beautifying skin. The company includes the extract in its Brilliance Revitalizing Eye Cream, which is part of its new paraben-free, anti-aging line. The eye cream also contains a peptide complex containing chrysin and palmitoyl oligopeptides, which work together to brighten skin and have been proven to reduce the appearance of dark undereye circles by 62 percent, Setzfand says. "We try to meld natural ingredients with scientific data for effectiveness." Since the Brilliance line launched in May, the Revitalizing Eye Cream has become Zia's 11th highest-selling item in Whole Foods Markets, according to Setzfand.
There are plenty of effective, safe natural eye creams on the market; convincing consumers to use them instead of resorting to surgery or conventional creams is the next step. "With all the technological advancements that have come about to reverse signs of aging in the eyes, like Botox and eyelid surgery, people are becoming more sensitive to it themselves, and are becoming interested in natural methods to beautify the eyes," Barckley says. "The main thing to remind your customers of is that natural products have equal efficacy to conventional, but that they're not an overnight cure. If you use them consistently over a longer period, you will see results, and will not have endangered yourself by using chemicals or surgery." Weleda's Wild Rose Intensive Eye Cream has experienced a 40 percent sales increase over the last year, according to Barckley.
DiFrancesco-Licata agrees that when marketing eye creams, it's important to emphasize that natural products are healthy because they contain few to no chemicals. "Consumers are becoming more aware of the dangers of harsh ingredients, and are going to want to know that there are alternatives out there that are just as effective, but are safer for the consumer and the environment," she says. "Being educated about what's in a product and being able to share that knowledge with consumers will help shoppers make informed decisions about what they're buying." And with so many effective natural eye products on the market, consumers will most likely be happy about what they're buying, too—and come back for more.
Christine Spehar is a Boulder, Colo.-based freelance writer
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 12/p. 30, 32