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A shot of different eye creams and serums from Kiehl's.


Eye Creams vs. Serums vs. Gels: What’s The Difference?

Choosing the best eye treatment for your needs can be tricky. Here at Kiehl’s, learn the difference between eye serums vs. eye creams and the benefits of each.

It happens suddenly. One day, you awake to discover that your under-eye area (skin that, until that day, you’ve given little consideration) looks a bit worse for wear. Perhaps those occasional early-morning dark circles have become a more permanent fixture on your face, or maybe, you notice the faint traces of fine lines branching out from your outer corners. So you do what any sane person would do: head to the store to find an eye treatment to add to your skincare routine.

The good news is that there are a lot of different eye products to choose from: hydrating eye creams, anti-aging eye serums, de-puffing sticks, and even cooling eye gels. The flip side of the plethora of choices available is that, unless you’ve done your research, it can be tricky to determine which type of eye treatment is best suited for your needs. Luckily for you, we’re here to help. Ahead, we’re breaking down the difference between eye serum vs. eye cream (vs. eye gel), plus providing recommendations on Kiehl’s best eye products for your needs. Settle in and read on for your all-in-one guide to eye-area skincare.

What Is an Eye Cream?

Creams are moisturizers designed to help alleviate dryness and soften the skin. They typically contain skin-friendly emollients (like squalane) and are known as water-in-oil formulations. Eye creams, as the name implies, are creams formulated specifically for use around the eye area. Their texture can vary from rich and buttery to lightweight and fluid. Many of the eye treatments you’ll see in stores can be classified as cream formulas. While their primary purpose is to moisturize the skin, many eye creams also help address specific skin concerns, such as fine lines and wrinkles; the benefits vary depending on the formula.

For example, if your eye area is in need of hydration, try an eye cream, such as Avocado Eye Cream. Made with avocado oil, shea butter, and beta-carotene, this cult-classic formula provides instant and long-term hydration to help improve the appearance of under-eye skin texture. It also helps brighten and de-puff tired-looking eyes in a single use.* The concentrated formula won’t migrate into your eyes, and it’s ophthalmologist-tested for safety on all skin types. Apply it morning and night for a smoother, more hydrated under-eye area.

*Results based upon expert grading evaluated with product in a four-week clinical test.

Kiehl’s Tip: For deep hydration, give yourself a DIY eye mask by applying a thick layer of Avocado Eye Cream to your under-eye area and leaving it on for 10 to 15 minutes. Then, use a soft tissue to wipe off any excess.

For those that count visible aging among their chief eye-area skin concerns, we recommend Super Multi-Corrective Eye-Zone Treatment. Formulated with bilberry seed extract, niacinamide, and vegan collagen peptide, this potent formula helps address the visible signs of aging in four key areas around your eyes (specifically, the brow bone, eyelid, under-eye area, and outer corners). It also helps lift, firm, and de-puff the eye area.

What Is an Eye Serum?

Like face serums, eye serums are lightweight (and typically water-based) products that provide gentle hydration. They can be used alone or in conjunction with richer eye creams and may target a range of eye-area concerns, such as dark circles, puffiness, and sagging. Because of their ability to absorb quickly without leaving behind any residue, eye serums are especially great for daytime use and being layered in your skincare routine.

Our customer-favorite, Powerful-Strength Dark Circle-Reducing Vitamin C Eye Serum, is a prime example of an eye serum. This ultra-light formula with hyaluronic acid and vitamin C instantly smooths and hydrates the under-eye area to refresh the appearance of tired-looking eyes. With consistent use, it’s clinically-demonstrated to visibly diminish both blue and brown dark circles, as well as improve the appearance of crow’s feet and under-eye wrinkles.* The dermatologist-tested formula is suitable for all skin types and can be used morning and night for fresher, brighter-looking eyes over time.

*Clinical grading of the full panel tested in an eight-week study.

Are Eye Gels The Same As Eye Serums?

Lastly, we have eye gels, which we like to think of as a sort of hybrid between creams and serums. They tend to be thicker than serums (but without the richness of creams) and have a refreshing, jelly-like texture. Gels tend to be ideal for those who need hydration but prefer to avoid oil-based products.

How To Choose The Best Eye Treatment For Your Needs

When choosing a product for your eye area, there are a few things to keep in mind, including your skin type and your chief skin concerns. To reap the most benefits, you’ll want to look for a formula suitable for your skin type (and one that can help address your primary skin concerns). When you’ll be using your eye product matters, too, as some are formulated specifically for nighttime use, while others are best suited for daytime wear.

To wake up your eye area the morning after a restless night, we recommend Eye Fuel, a men’s eye cream made with caffeine and vitamin B3 (also known as niacinamide). The refreshing formula for all skin types provides weightless hydration to help smooth the under-eye area. It also visibly reduces puffiness and dark under-eye circles when used consistently.

At night, try Midnight Recovery Eye. This nighttime eye cream with evening primrose oil and lavender essential oil helps smooth and restore your eye area while you sleep, diminishing puffiness and improving the appearance of dark circles. The lightweight cream formula is suitable for all skin types and can be used nightly for fresher, more youthful-looking eyes.

Should You Use Both Eye Cream and Eye Serum?

If you’re looking to determine whether or not you can use an eye cream and an eye serum together, the answer is yes—it can be especially beneficial for those with drier skin types. Many of our formulas are layerable, including Powerful-Strength Dark Circle-Reducing Vitamin C Eye Serum. We recommend smoothing on a thin layer, then applying Avocado Eye Cream on top for all-day hydration and brightening benefits.

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