The skin around the eyes makes up a tiny percentage of the body. So it would make sense that eye creams would take up a small corner of a store's personal care section. But considering the amount of worrying most people over age 30 do about preventing signs of aging, it's smart for retailers to devote plenty of shelf space to eye creams.
Because the job of the skin around the eye is to protect the eye, it has fewer oil glands, sweat glands or other features that could irritate the eye. This results in a unique skin texture. "It's like thin paper vs. cardboard," so conventional moisturizers don't work as effectively for the sensitive skin around the eye, says John Douillard, owner of LifeSpa in Boulder, Colo. "Most moisturizers have heavier oils. And most products for the face are designed to have more oil than products for under the eye," says Patrick McRae, project marketing associate for San Francisco-based Zia Natural Skincare.
Compared with most skin of the face, the skin around the eye is less elastic, which causes wrinkles, and is less likely to move fluids quickly, which causes puffiness. It's thinner, so it shows veins more clearly and tears more easily, which are the culprits behind dark circles. Given these unique skin properties, it's no wonder why so many creams, gels and lotions designed to address such a tiny area of the body are on the market.
Fine and Not-So-Fine Lines
The key to avoiding wrinkles is to keep the skin around the eye moist. The more moisture, the more elasticity. Most manufacturers use oils or butters to create this moisture.
Popular eye cream oils include apricot, jojoba, palm kernel, carrot, sesame and almond. These oils are light, so they don't irritate the eyes and they work well as carriers for vitamins and herbs. Another option for sensitive eyes is essential oils, which have a low molecular weight and therefore tend to evaporate rather than creep into the eyes, says Kathy White, ingredient information specialist at Dr. Hauschka Skin Care in Hatfield, Mass.
Shea, avocado and mango butters mixed with water become spreadable, and they can cost less than some oils, says Pat Adoor, chief executive officer of Houston-based Luna Essence.
Some eye creams are now being formulated with liposomes, which are tiny sacs made of the same naturally occurring material that creates cell membranes. Liposomes can hold a variety of fluids, including vitamins and oils. Because they have properties similar to a cell, they are absorbed fairly easily through the skin. They also regulate the release of eye cream contents and stabilize ingredients, says Curt Valva, general manager of Tampa, Fla.-based Aubrey Organics. Aubrey recently released an eye cream with three liposomes.
Wrinkles are "primarily a result of the skin breaking down. When it breaks down, it forms a line," says Zia's McRae. Antioxidants are important ingredients in eye creams because they eliminate the free radicals that latch onto molecules in the skin and change their structure, says Shafi Saxena, co-founder of Better Botanicals, based in Herndon, Va. Look for the antioxidant vitamins C, E and A on the list of eye cream ingredients.
Help For Puffiness
Lack of sleep and overindulgence in alcohol and high-sodium foods can cause fluids to build up in eye tissues and create the swelling that causes puffiness. But because circulation under the eye is inefficient, even an early-to-bed, early-to-rise regimen doesn't guarantee smooth skin.
Natural astringents such as witch hazel and tea tree oil can tighten pores and combat swelling. Polyphenols in green tea also combat swollen eye tissue. Seaweed extract is also a good bet, because it's an anti-inflammatory, and it can also help release toxins from the skin. Aloe vera gel constricts tissues and gives a smoother, more even look, but be careful of creams that have too much gel, because they can cause dryness. Gels can consist of as much as 99 percent water, which evaporates once it hits the skin, giving none of the benefits of a longer-lasting oil, Saxena says.
Herbs such as chamomile, gotu kola and cornflower are anti-inflammatories. Antibacterial and antifungal herbs that show up in eye creams include St. John's wort, calendula, fennel and neem.
Dark circles around the eye are primarily hereditary. They are caused by thin skin and light skin tones that allow the network of veins around the eye to show through and cast a blue or purple shadow. Dark circles can also be caused by health problems that cause poor circulation, such as kidney, liver or digestion troubles. "Any problem with viscosity of the blood or waste removal results in a loss of blood supply. You can get scar tissue and less elasticity," LifeSpa's Douillard says.
New studies show that vitamin K, which works well on bruising, also can strengthen capillaries and prevent tiny tears that can cause dark circles. Tannins also improve blood flow, and wound-healing herbs such as St. John's wort strengthen and regenerate the skin.
Applied topically, wheat protein and lemon and apricot extracts can help even out skin tone, but basically "there's nothing that's going to make dark circles go away," Saxena says.
The Water-Alcohol-Preservatives Debate
Since the chief ingredient in eye creams is usually water or alcohol, it's important to know the properties of each. Water and alcohol are generally the by-products of herb extraction, but they also serve as emulsifiers for other ingredients and provide the creamy texture.
Each ingredient has its fans and detractors. Water is helpful because it's moisturizing and inexpensive. Rose, lavender or other waters also carry the properties of the plants they're extracted from and provide natural scent, says Dr. Hauschka's White. But unlike alcohol, water can carry bacteria. Alcohol helps boost the anti-microbial effects of preservatives and removes residues from the skin, according to Aubrey's Valva. It also helps to stabilize and bind ingredients. On the negative side, "an alcohol-based product is drying and can kill skin cells," says Luna Essence's Adoor.
The debate over preservatives is just as fierce. For everyone who swears by parabin or urea as a natural preservative, there are others who point out their synthetic, allergenic or cancer-causing potential. The truth is that "most preservatives have toxic properties, even natural ones," White says.
However, says Saxena, there's no way to avoid preservatives. "The more natural a product is, the higher the need for preservatives. You can get mold or fungus." One way to help avoid this is to use a vegan eye cream, which includes glycerin made from plant, rather than animal, fat.
Packaging is another means of minimizing impurities. "Every time you dip your finger into an eye cream, you risk contaminating it," White says. "And plastic tubes suck in air [that can bring in bacteria]. You can minimize that with a pump bottle or a metal tube that stays compressed."
Eye cream can be a lucrative product, because preventing crow's feet is, for many consumers, a lifelong task. However, retailers have an educational role to play. "People start using eye creams too late, in their late 30s or 40s, after they've already noticed severe lines and loss of elasticity," McRae says. Eye cream should be patted on twice a day. Thus, the average product only lasts about a month. Because pricey ingredients and formulations can drive up the price of eye creams, one customer can spend hundreds of dollars a year solely on the prevention of lines, dark circles and puffiness around the eyes.
Vicky Uhland is a freelance writer and editor in Denver. She can be reached at [email protected]
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 10/p. 68, 70
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 10/p. 68
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 10/p. 68