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The Eyes Have It

By: Katerina Steventon, PhD
Posted: April 26, 2013, from the May 2013 issue of GCI Magazine.

Editor's note: This article originally ran in the October 2012 issue of Cosmetics & Toiletries magazine as "Consumer Perspective: Eye Care." All rights reserved.

The perception of beauty is now deeply ingrained in the human psyche and is not just in “the eye of the beholder” as has been widely believed.1 The eye area is one of the most important aspects of a person’s appearance as eye contact is a primary form of communication. The eyes are believed to convey true feelings and serve as “a window to the soul.” Given the importance of one’s eyes in social interaction, it is not surprising that concerns related to the eye area are frequent and that this area is the most often considered for both invasive and noninvasive facial rejuvenation.2

Consumers are drawn to areas of contrast resulting from shadows formed by high-amplitude/low-frequency features like lines, wrinkles and furrows; and in fact, the eyes are visually able to detect a 20% change in skin surface topography.3 Therefore, taking care of the skin around the eyes is essential.

Eye vs. Facial Skin

When purchasing an eye cream at the beauty counter or in a drugstore, the consumer is advised that the skin around the eyes is fragile and is directed to apply eye care products without straining the area; this comprises gently patting the product on the area with flat fingers, from the inner to the outer eye corners. Eyelid skin is soft, smooth and thin, with high blood flow and nerve density—distinct from other facial zones. Its softness facilitates easy compliance with the blinking movement that protects the wet surface of the eyeball. The stratum corneum on the eyelid is the thinnest on the face, with high transepidermal water loss but also high hydration, despite the low amount of skin lipids present.4

In contrast to the small corneocytes found in other facial areas, the corneocytes of the eyelid have a larger surface area. This indicates slower turnover, allowing for cell maturation and efficient water-binding capacity,4 and is a sign of well-hydrated and fairly resilient skin—this skin is not as fragile as one might have expected.5

With aging, there is a trend toward lower skin hydration, higher pH values5 and decreased epidermal nerve density,6 making the skin barrier in the eye area more vulnerable and one of the first parts of the face to show signs of aging.

Eye Area Aging

As noted, wrinkles in the eye area become more apparent with aging.7 Smiling, squinting and blinking promote wrinkles from the repetitive contraction of the underlying lateral orbicularis oculi muscle, leading to the development of crow’s-feet subsequent to changes in the elastic properties of the dermis.8 There are variations in eye area wrinkles among individuals due to genetic and lifestyle factors, e.g., cumulative lifetime sun exposure and smoking, as well as individual patterns of facial movements that might be, in part, determined culturally. The interplay between sun exposure and mimetic muscle movement also has been implicated in crow’s-feet formation.

Interestingly, research has shown an increase in wrinkling in the afternoon,9 highlighting the importance of nighttime application of eye care to enable skin repair during sleep. This increase in wrinkling is due to the shift in tissue fluids. Therefore eye care product application is appropriate at a time when the body rests. Conversely, eye care during the day is focused on protection—fighting sun exposure, free radicals, etc.

Signs of Fatigue

The appearance of the eye area often reveals the true state of one’s health, particularly when stressed, tired or ill. A “fresh look” is often sought by the consumer but aging, environmental influences and constant movement of the eyelids make the thin skin in this area unable to provide structural support, weakening the area. The fine and dense capillary network becomes fragile and the lymphatic system deficient, leading to dark circles and puffiness.10 Market data suggests that 40% of U.S. women and 19% of men are concerned about their dark under-eye circles and sunken eyes.11

To address these concerns, several cosmetic actives have been developed. For example, one based on ,em>Albizia julibrissin bark is designed to target glycation and claims to visibly reduce signs of fatigue such as a dull, drawn eye area and dark circles. The company literature demonstrates a 44% reduction of the “visible tired look” after applying a cream containing the active in a two-month clinical study.