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The Eyes Have It

Katerina Steventon, PhD

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 skin around the eyes is very different than the rest of the skin. Typically it is regarded as more fragile and requiring more care.
  • Signs of aging, such as dark circles and fine lines and wrinkles, can often appear around the eyes, making the area a distinct target for anti-aging beauty products.
  • New innovations in beauty ingredients and formulations can help the eye area look more refreshed and revitalized, tightening skin and reducing puffiness and signs of fatigue.

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.

To provide micro relief in the eye area and reduce smile lines, another active recently launched has an instant tightening and lifting effect. It contains a lyophilisate of the Microalga porphyridium cruentum embedded in a film matrix. The temporary tightening effect is noticeable immediately, and the company claims a 74% reduction of fine eye wrinkles within one hour, which lasts for several hours.

Application technologies in eye care also often involve roller balls. The cooling effect and light pressure, combined with the soft massaging movement in the direction of facial lymph nodes, help to improve the slow lymphatic flow in the under-eye area and reduce puffiness. Retracing the eye area with an applicator encourages eye care compliance.

Eyes on the Prize

The best eye care cannot change the mimetic pattern of facial expressions, nor can it influence gravitational forces. When launching new products, beauty brands can achieve the best results by advocating holistic positive lifestyle changes, eye protection and specific application techniques—without rubbing, crinkling and folding the eye area.


  1. >N Etcoff, Survival of the prettiest, Doubleday, New York, USA (1999)
  2. MA Kane, Classification of crow’s feet patterns among Caucasian women: The key to individualizing treatment, Plast Reconstr Surg, 112, S33–39 (2003)
  3. N Samson, B Fink, PJ Matts, NC Dawes and S Weitz, Visible changes of female facial skin surface topography in relation to age and attractiveness perception, J Cosmet Dermatol, 9(2), 79–88 (2010)
  4. H Tagami, Location-related differences in structure and function of the stratum corneum with special emphasis on those of the facial skin, Intl J of Cos Sci, 30(6), 413–434 (2008)
  5. S Marrakchi and HI Maibach, Biophysical parameters of skin: Map of human face, regional and age-related differences, Contact Dermatitis, 57(1), 28–34 (2007)
  6. I Besné, C Descombes and L Breton, Effect of age and anatomical site on density of sensory innervation in human epidermis, Arch Dermatol, 138(11), 1445–1450 (2002)
  7. M Suppa et al, The determinants of periorbital skin ageing in participants of a melanoma case–control study in the UK, Br J Dermatol, 165(5), 1011–1021 (2011)
  8. AM Kligman, P Zheng and RM Lavker, The anatomy and pathogenesis of wrinkles, Br J Dermatol, 113(1), 37–42 (1985)
  9. K Tsukahara, S Moriwaki, M Hotta, T Fujimura and T Kitahara, A study of diurnal variation in wrinkles on the human face, Arch Dermatol Res, 296(4), 169–174 (2004)
  10. K Lintner et al, Puffy eyes: A multifactoral cosmetic problem, J Cosm Sci, 55(2), 226–227 (2004)
  11. K Fay, Anti-Aging Skincare-US-February 2012, Mintel Oxygen, (Accessed Feb 5, 2013)

Katerina Steventon, PhD, of FaceWorkshops, is an independent consultant to the skin care industry and the general public. She holds a doctorate in transdermal absorption and has more than 20 years of experience in skin research at companies, including Shiseido, Juvena/LaPrairie, and Smith and Nephew Wound Management. Her consultancy provides objective recommendations to consumers on personalized skin care routines and facial treatments, and her column for GCI magazine’s sister publication Cosmetics & Toiletries, called “Consumer Perspective,” provides readers with unique insights into this commercial/scientific interface. Contact her at

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