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Today we're talking neck and eye skincare, and how to make sure your routine addresses these areas too! Why is this skin different? Do you need an eye cream? Can't you just use your facial skincare on these areas? All that and more is coming right up...
Why is this skin different?
The skin around the eyes and on the neck is much thinner than that found on your face, so it's more sensitive and prone to irritation and even dryness. This means that using the products that are fine on the rest of your face could cause excess dryness and irritation for these areas.
Should I buy a neck or eye cream, then?
There's a real trend at the moment for screaming at people for buying 'pointless' products like eye creams because they're supposedly no different to the rest of your skincare. I have to somewhat disagree: there is in fact a reason why neck and eye creams exist and nose creams don't! If you can put everything in these areas that goes on your face: fantastic, however it's not an industry lie that the skin isn't as thick in these areas. However, I can also see that many neck and eye creams don't contain active ingredients, in which case you might as well use any other standard non-active moisturiser you put on the rest of your face in these areas, as long as you're not prone to milia around the eyes. Especially when eye creams in particular come in such small pots. For me, as long as my makeup goes on well over the top of it, I really don't mind. The difference for me is really when it comes to active ingredients. I'd personally prefer to use a gentler active on my neck and around my eyes, but not necessarily a product labelled for that use because - although it's still a separate product - it is a lot more bang for my buck in terms of how much product I'm getting.
How do I know what I can use in these areas?
This is something that's very personal; some people have very resilient skin, even in these areas. Unfortunately I don't, and when I watch a video with someone applying tretinoin around their eyes or to their neck, my heart skips a beat! Proceed with caution, but here is how I've gradually increased the active ingredients I can use for these areas...
- HOW I MADE MY EYE & NECK ROUTINE MORE ACTIVE -
Honestly, until a few months ago, besides sunscreen, I didn't really take care of my neck and I'd just use a standard moisturising eye cream around my eyes. However, I decided when I turned 28 that I'd like to get on top of it early, because (as we all know) prevention is always better than cure, and moisturising is only one tool in the arsenal of improving the overall look and feel of the skin.
My personal preference for my face is retinal (a retinoid that's more direct than retinol, but is less direct than prescription-strength topicals) so the first night after making this decision, I slapped it right on my neck. The next morning, I woke up with my neck scaly, leathery, dry and itchy. I left it alone for a few days and decided to try my l-ascorbic acid on my neck one morning. The same thing happened. At this point, I realised I was going to have to be a lot more careful and do my neck routine as though I was starting from scratch as a total newbie.
Similarly, I have very sensitive eyes, particularly over summer when my allergies kick in; they get very runny and products get into them, which makes them puffy, red and irritated. It's happened to me before that I've put a stronger active on my face, and it's migrated to around my eyes and caused me real issues. Additionally, some sunscreens I just can't take around my eyes and have to use a mineral formula in that area instead, so this sensitivity was something I knew I'd need to be mindful of.
Something that really works for me is dropping back the strength or form of the ingredient I'm using. The gold standard of Vitamin C is l-ascorbic acid, and whilst I can use that at 20% on my face, if I was going to get some of these benefits on my neck and around my eye area, I knew I was going to have to go for a derivative. Look out for ingredients like tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate and ascorbyl glucoside instead to use on the neck and around the eyes, at least initially. Likewise, with retinoids, as I alluded to earlier: you have your prescription-strength stuff (like the tretinoin I've used from Skin & Me in the past), then moving into cosmetics you have retinaldehyde, then a step down is retinol and down from that are retinol esters. After some effort, I can now get retinol onto my neck, whilst using retinal on my face but because my eyes are just so, so sensitive, I dropped back to retinol esters for that area (like retinyl palmitate).
- TAKEAWAY TIPS AND HACKS -
Oils are gentler than water-based products
This is something I really noticed for my neck; oils are not only a gentle delivery system in general, but they're automatically buffering the active and counteracting any potential dryness. I would still warn you to be cautious, but I've been able to work up to using oil-based actives every morning and evening on my neck now.
Keep your eye products on the orbital bone
Through the natural blinking of you eye, product is going to migrate. If you bring it right up to the lash line, it's probably going to end up burning your eyeball! Instead - especially with active ingredients - just take it to your orbital bone and rely on that wicking action to move the product upwards. I would also be extra-cautious taking anything active across the lid; I'm sure you can see for yourself just how thin that skin is.
Buffering is your friend
If you want to take the edge off an active or you're trying to get your skin used to something new, try applying it after your moisturiser, at least for the first few weeks. This stops as much of the ingredient penetrating quite so quickly. Likewise, if you're using very strong actives on your face (like prescription retinoids) and they're irritating your eyes: try buffering them by applying an occlusive balm around the eye area. Some of the ingredient might get past this barrier, but far less of it will, meaning you can reap some benefits whilst reducing that irritation.
Step it down
As I mentioned: if you're using ascorbic acid on your face, step back to a derivative for the eyes and neck. If you're using a 10% acid on your face, take it back to 5% on your neck. If you can get tretinoin on your face, don't go further than retinol around the eyes.
Start low and go slow
Don't be arrogant like I was! I'd honestly become so used to having very tolerant skin that can take heavy-duty actives (strong Vitamin C every morning, strong retinoids every night) that it was a reality check when I caused my neck so much irritation. Whatever you think your 'skin can take', reign that right in and do what you'd tell someone who has never touched that ingredient to do. That means that even with the oils I've suggested below and doing the buffering, you aren't going to want to rush in and apply them every single day starting from tomorrow!
Look out for encapsulated formulas
Another great thing to look out for is encapsulation, which allows the slow release of an ingredient. Most retinal formulas are encapsulated, as the ingredient is very unstable, so I can actually get this ingredient around my eyes every other night and on my neck once a week now (using the oils for the other 6 nights). This isn't actually something I can do with bog-standard retinol that isn't encapsulated, despite that being a less direct retinoid. I'm also seeing some encapsulated Vitamin C formulas come to the market, which I find far less irritating than un-encapsulated ascorbic acid, so they could be options for the neck and eye area.
- PRODUCTS I RECOMMEND -
PSA Skin Midnight Courage Rosehip & Bakuchiol Retinol Night Oil | £37 | full review. This was my jam last winter when my skin got a little sensitive, and I used it up later in the year on my neck and have another bottle of it that I'm going to use as a neck product, because it's that good. In this product we have 2% hydroxypinacolone retinoate which is a granactive retinoid, meaning the actual retinol content getting to your skin is around about 10% of this (so 0.2%), and it feels far gentler. Alongside this we have bakuchiol, often called the 'natural retinol' but actually there's some promising early research to suggest it can boost the effectiveness of retinol when paired with it, so this is a way of getting some of the benefits you get from your retinol amplified without any extra irritation. Then we also have lots of moisturising plant oils to combat any potential dryness like rosehip, blackberry seed and cranberry seed. There's also coQ10 in here to combat free radical damage, and this can still be active in the skin by the following morning. Overall, this is a fantastic, gentle product that moisturises the skin whilst giving me those smoothing retinol benefits.
Sunday Riley CEO Glow Vitamin C + Turmeric Face Oil* | £68 | full review coming soon. This is a product I've opened more recently, not just to use on my neck, but also potentially for my face this winter. My skin gets quite sensitive in cold weather, so it's good to have something on-hand for when it can't tolerate the highest-potency ingredients on the market but I still want to get some actives into my routine. This is formulated with tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, an oil-soluble derivative of Vitamin C (obviously it doesn't contain the same added ingredients but the Ordinary also do one if Sunday Riley is out of your price range or you only plan on using it for your neck so don't want to splash out, which is just under £15 - I reviewed it here). This form of Vitamin C is much better-tolerated. Does it have the same evidence as ascorbic acid for stimulating collagen production and providing antioxidant benefits? No, but it's great if that's just not an option for you, and you will get some amazing, extra non-irritating antioxidant benefits from the turmeric in this formula. For extra nourishment we also have cranberry seed, pomegranate and red raspberry oils, which are amazing for dry necks. Plus ginger, which has anti-inflammatory benefits, again this will head off any potential irritation.
For buffering and moisturising
Regimen Lab C.R.E.A.M. Moisturiser | $39 | full review coming soon. This is a gentle moisturiser without any actives that contains ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids, the components of the skin's natural barrier. It's fragrance-free and doesn't feel thick or heavy, so I can take this up and around my eyes when I'm using it on my face, and also down my neck, and it gives my skin everything it needs in terms of moisture. Additionally, this is also perfect for applying a light layer of before going in with an active to take some of the edge off. When using the retinal on my neck irritated and dried out the skin there, the next time I attempted retinal a few months later, I used this first and had no issues.
REN Evercalm Overnight Recovery Balm* | £42 | full review. Honestly, for buffering around sensitive eyes, you can use plain old Vaseline if you like, I just personally prefer something oil-based and this balm fits the bill with hydrating, calming beta glucan paired alongside jojoba and sunflower oils, fatty alcohol and Vitamin E. I use this around my eyes when I'm using very strong retinoids (and around my mouth and in my nasal folds).
Gentle options to start off with
The Inkey List Retinol Serum* | £9.99. This was originally billed as 2% retinol, however the Inkey List have since clarified that it's 2% Retistar; this is a patented ingredient complex with some really nourishing components to buffer the potential harsh, drying effects of retinol, but the retinol itself is actually only at 0.05%. There's then 0.5% granactive retinoid, which - as I've already mentioned - will probably go on the skin as retinol at about 10% of that. All in all, I'd estimate you're getting around the equivalent of 0.1% retinol. This didn't do anything that exciting for my face, as a seasoned retinoid user, but this is a product I recommend to people who have never tried any form of retinoid before. It's in this very nourishing oil base and on my neck, the low percentage + this type of formula really helped me build up some tolerance. You can use this around the eyes too if you don't have issues with milia.
The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA | £6.50. This is pretty much the only exfoliator I have been taking down my neck outside of PHAs, which are veeeery gentle. I don't find that there are that many 5% lactic acid products on the market and for me 10% can verge on too strong for my neck skin. This about once a week does the trick for smoothing out the skin there a little whilst also providing some hydrating benefits.
Dedicated eye creams with actives
Indeed Labs Retinol Reface Eye Cream* | £24.99. Look, I'm never going to buy a neck cream but I'm not opposed to an eye cream, so I've chosen two products that are either a little more affordable or give you a reasonable amount in the tube, and you know it's got some good actives because they need to be in this sort of packaging. This is a newer product to me but I recently cracked it open and am experiencing no irritation with it so far. This eye cream is formulated with those gentle retinol esters I mentioned plus lots of moisturisers, hydrators and soothers to buffer any potential drying effects, like avocado oil, fatty alcohol, squalane, glycerin, allantoin and Vitamin E. I will definitely give you an update on this but so far, so good.
Strivectin Intensive Eye Concentrate for Wrinkles Plus* | £58. This is more on the pricey side but you are getting 30ml, which is double the amount you'd get in a traditional eye cream and the same as in a standard serum bottle. I like this formula because it's packed full of actives but is still formulated to be really gentle and the larger size means I often use this on other parts of my face where I'm starting to get fine lines. It packs lots of fatty ingredients into this light lotion, alongside water magnets like glycerin and hyaluronic acid. Panthenol, bisabolol, rice bran and Vitamin E have a calming effect. There are peptides in here to plump and hydrate the skin (they may offer anti-ageing benefits but there's not enough research to definitively say this). Caffeine has antioxidant benefits and also acts as a vasoconstrictor, meaning that if your dark circles are caused by thin skin under the eyes leading to more visible blood vessels, it can improve the appearance of this. We also have ginger extract as an anti-inflammatory, algae (rich in antioxidants and supposedly the 'magical' ingredient in La Mer products) and some fermented ingredients, which can boost efficacy. This is a really nice all-rounder if you want something with minimal fuss that I'm sure 99% of you can slap directly on without having to acclimatise your eye area to it.
How do you look after your eye and neck skin?