9 anti-aging eye creams under $20

Curology finds: the best drugstore eye creams

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar

Stephanie Papanikolas
Sep 25, 2019 · 7 min read

Closeup of eyes with skincare cream under right eye
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Some may argue they’re unnecessary, but whenever I take eye cream products out of my skincare routine, I notice a difference — dark circles deepen to purple, fine lines seem to get less fine — so the best under eye cream has become my ultimate skincare holy grail. Many of the beautiful people I know claim to not use eye creams, and I don’t blame them. There’s a weird prestige associated with anti-aging creams. No one bats an eyelash at eye creams that cost $80 or more — but do you have to pay that much just for eye creams that work?

I don’t know about you, but if the choice is to spend hundreds a year on half-ounce bottles from the fountain of youth, or to risk getting crow’s feet? I’ll take aging gracefully every time. Expensive eye creams may not always live up to the hype, but skincare isn’t an all-or-nothing situation. That’s why I analyzed the cost and ingredients of the best drugstore eye creams (and a few surprisingly affordable luxury options) to figure out how to get the most bang for my buck.

How I check for snake oil

If you’re a long-time reader of the blog, you’re probably already familiar with the most irritating, acne-inducing, allergic-reaction-causing ingredient of all time: snake oil. Not essential oil derived from snakes (ew), but scammy ingredients that are actually bad for your skin.

Ingredients to avoid

If you want to decipher the ingredients of your skincare products, you can use CosDNA.com to analyze whether or not they’re pore-clogging or irritating — anything rated 3 or above in the “acne” and “irritant” columns should be avoided.

When I checked the ingredients of cheap eye creams, I found a lot of them contained ingredients to avoid. If you’re concerned about acne, the 3 most common pore-clogging ingredients in eye creams are Glycine Soja Oil, Myristic Acid, and Theobroma Cacao Seed Butter. I also found a lot of cheap eye creams that contain these troublesome ingredients:

  • Alcohol Denat., a.k.a. Specially Denatured (SD) Alcohol (irritating)

  • Carrageenan (pore-clogging)

  • Cocos Nucifera Oil, a.k.a. Coconut Oil (pore-clogging)

  • Ethylhexyl Palmitate (pore-clogging)

  • Fragrance (can cause irritation)

  • Glyceryl Stearate SE (pore-clogging)

  • Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (pore-clogging)

  • Isopropyl Myristate (pore-clogging and irritating)

  • Isopropyl Palmitate (pore-clogging)

  • Laureth-4 (pore-clogging and irritating)

  • Soybean oil (pore-clogging)

If you have ultra-sensitive skin, avoid all of the above.

But if you’re already using an eye cream with some of the above ingredients, it may be totally fine, so long as your skin reacts well to it. Some ingredients — like alcohol and fragrance — are nearly impossible to avoid completely, so keep in mind that the higher up an ingredient is on a list, the more of it is contained within the product.

Ingredients I love

At the core, eye creams are meant to be super hydrating moisturizers (which is one reason why many people skip ’em: if your skin is getting enough watery love from your current creams or your body’s oil production, then there’s no reason to add another). Because eye creams come in such small sizes (usually a half-ounce), it’s easy to pack eye creams with effective moisturizing ingredients, many of which are common, safe, and affordable.

Because I’m acne-prone and overly-sensitive (in every sense of the word), signs of premature aging sure are anxiety-inducing. So when I find an eye cream with one of these ingredients, I celebrate — in my experience, these live up to the hype:

  • Caffeine, often in the form of green tea extract, is one of the best ingredients in eye creams for bags and puffiness. When caffeine is applied to the skin, it constricts the blood vessels, which reduces swelling and evens skin tone. It’s my personal go-to when it comes to age-defying ingredients.

  • Squalane is an emollient that helps reinforce the skin’s natural moisture barrier. As a lipid, squalane occurs naturally in the skin, but our natural production of squalane tends to drop off after age 30 — this might be why it’s found in so many “anti-aging” eye creams.

  • Glycerin is a great moisturizing ingredient; as a humectant, it absorbs water from the atmosphere and into your skin. It’s also one of my personal favorite moisturizing ingredients — skincare products with higher concentrations of glycerin bring out my inner glow like no other.

  • Butylene glycol acts as a delivery agent and solvent that assists in the absorption of other ingredients. It’s also a humectant, so it’s often found in products that are meant to be extra hydrating.

  • Hyaluronic acid (a.k.a. sodium hyaluronate) is a common moisturizing ingredient with a reputation for revitalizing skin. It has been shown to have a positive effect on the appearance of wrinkles and to improve skin elasticity.

  • Ceramide lipids occur naturally in the skin — similar to squalane. They’re great for dehydrated skin, as ceramides help your skin retain the water it needs to look and feel hydrated.

  • Retinol is an anti-aging ingredient proven to be one of the most effective, which is why it’s often found in the best eye creams for wrinkles. Although prescription retinoids will give you the most results, OTC ingredients such as retinyl palmitate may improve the appearance of skin texture over time.

  • Aloe (a.k.a. aloe barbadensis leaf extract) is the coolest plant, well-known for its skin-soothing and skin-healing properties. It’s one of the oldest and most reliable skincare ingredients because of its multifaceted purposes and tendency to improve the appearance of acne and other kinds of skin inflammation.

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The best drugstore eye creams

Here are the best eye creams for dark circles, wrinkles, and puffiness that cost under $20. Here’s how they rank in terms of value:

1. M. Skin Care Age Defense Eye Crème

$7.99, 0.68 oz ($11.75/oz)

  • Moisturizes skin with glycerin and sodium hyaluronate.

  • Contains some caffeine to fight dullness and dark circles.

  • But! Caffeine is also the last ingredient on the list, meaning it doesn’t have a very high concentration.

2. CeraVe Skin Renewing Eye Cream for Fine Lines and Wrinkles

$11.89, 1.0 oz ($11.89/oz)

  • With ceramides (true to CeraVe form), while also moisturizing with glycerin and hyaluronic acid.

  • It also contains retinol, which may improve the appearance of wrinkles.

  • A versatile eye cream that works well with many different skin types.

3. Versed The Fix Emergency Eye Mask

$17.99, 1.0 oz ($17.99/oz)

  • Hyper-focused moisturizing formula with glycerin, butylene glycol, sodium hyaluronate.

  • It also contains caffeine (in a decent concentration) to improve dark circles and dull skin.

  • Sleek packaging with a flat cap looks good in just about anybody’s medicine cabinet.

4. THE INKEY LIST Caffeine Eye Cream

$9.99, 0.5 oz ($19.68 per ounce)

  • This is my personal go-to — after using it every other night for a few weeks, my eyes were brightened and well-moisturized, reducing the appearance of fine lines. My undereye bags were lightened with each application as well.

  • It has an ultra-moisturizing formula with glycerin, squalene, and butylene glycol.

  • It also contains caffeine (in a decent concentration) to improve dark circles and dull skin.

  • The most bang-for-your-buck eye cream (IMO, of course)!

5. Hada Labo Tokyo Age Correcting Eye Cream

$12.99, 0.5 oz ($25.98 per ounce)

  • It has an ultra-moisturizing formula with glycerin, squalene, and butylene glycol.

  • It also contains caffeine to improve dark circles and dull skin.

  • For fans of j-beauty products, this is an affordable and effective addition to your collection.

6. bliss Eye Do All Things Hydrating Eye Gel

$18.99, 0.7 oz ($27.13 per ounce)

  • Good for oily lids, with a lighter moisturizing formula featuring glycerin and squalane.

  • It also contains caffeine to improve dark circles and dull skin.

  • Cruelty-free and fragrance-free.

7. Derma E Hydrating Eye Cream with Hyaluronic Acid and Pycnogenol

$16.99, 0.5 oz ($33.98 per ounce)

  • Good for oily lids, with glycerine and aloe extract.

  • It contains caffeine (in the form of green tea) in a decently high concentration.

  • It also contains retinyl palmitate to help improve the appearance of wrinkles.

8. Mario Badescu Hyaluronic Eye Cream

$18.00, 0.5 oz ($36/oz)

  • Richly moisturizing formula with glycerin and aloe.

  • If that wasn’t enough, it contains both hyaluronic acid and sodium hyaluronate, which means you’ll find this cream will either be doubly-plumping or doubly-disappointing.

  • Age-defying formula without retinol or caffeine (if you want to avoid those ingredients).

9. ULTA Wide Awake Eye Gel Moisturizer

$19.50/0.5 oz ($39.00/oz)

  • Super duper moisturizing formula with glycerin, squalene, hyaluronic acid, and butylene glycol.

  • It also contains caffeine to improve dark circles and dull skin.

  • If you’re looking for the best eye cream for reducing puffiness and under-eye bags, this one is a cult classic.

Simply nourishing skincare

Let’s face it: we all grow up, and so does our skin. Everyone deals with signs of aging like dark spots and wrinkles, and growing older is a privilege. No matter how much money you drop on skincare, you can’t turn back the clock, but a simple skincare routine will help you restore, replenish, and improve the skin you’re in. With Curology, board-certified dermatology providers will prescribe you a custom cream with ingredients proven to hone the glow. Sign up for a free trial and pay just $4.95 for shipping and handling on your first bottle of custom cream or complete 3-step set.

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar

Stephanie Papanikolas

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