Why Is the Skin Around Our Eyes So Different?

Why Is the Skin Around Our Eyes So Different?

Unsplash/ Amanda Lauro

When it comes to actually good skincare advice, certain guidance never goes out of style. Drinking water, wearing sunscreen, and getting more sleep immediately come to mind. 

There’s also the under eye area, a place that seems to garner more attention and debate than the rest of the face. Some swear by eye cream, eyeshadow primer, and whatever else will guarantee ample protection from makeup and the elements. And then there are some who treat it as they would, say, the cheeks or the forehead, which is to say the extra TLC isn’t warranted. 

Regardless of where you stand on treating the under eye area, the undeniable truth is that the skin just underneath and above the eyes is, in fact, different from the rest of the face. 

It isn’t uncommon to hear blame placed on the products we use, the environments we live in, or lifestyle choices we make. And while all of these things can definitely impact the eye area, they aren’t the reason it’s so sensitive in the first place. 

According to Dr. Carl Thornfeldt, a clinical dermatologist and creator of skincare brand Epionce, the skin around the eyes — also called the periocular or periorbital skin ‚ is naturally “thin and delicate,” and for a good reason. 

“It is thinned to provide room to cover tiny fat pads that cushion and protect our precious eyeballs from trauma or force injury. This lower eyelid skin is not as mobile as our upper eyelids; thus, the underlying muscles are not as thick and developed in your lower eyelids.”

Since the skin barrier around the eyes is thinner than other parts of the face, it’s also easier to see veins and vessels underneath the skin. In fact, it’s this optical illusion that contributes to the appearance of dark circles. Certain underlying health conditions, such as an iron deficiency, can also accentuate the thin appearance of the under eye skin.

Dr. Sara Perkins, MD, a dermatologist and medical advisor of Hims & Hers, adds that eyelid skin has “less collagen and fewer sebaceous glands than skin elsewhere on the body, which contributes to its sensitivity, transparency, and laxity.”

All of these combined factors make it more susceptible to the common issues that impact our overall body. For example, if you’re dehydrated, ill, or sleep-deprived, Dr. Thornfeldt says that the under eye skin will often show it first because “the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients are smaller in thin skin.”

Both Dr. Thornfeldt and Dr. Perkins agree that the under eye area must be cared for in a way that is slightly different from the rest of the face, especially since it’s as protective as it is fragile. To start, revert back to the universal advice we already mentioned: get adequate hydration, eat your vegetables, and prioritize rest. Beware of excessive rubbing if you’re dealing with eczema or seasonal allergies, and be mindful of the type of products you apply to the eye area, too.

“Contactants like fragrance and preservatives can cause allergic contact dermatitis… Alpha and beta hydroxyacids, retinols and prescription retinoids, and alcohol-based products can all cause increased sensitivity, dryness or irritation when applied to the eyelid skin,” adds Dr. Perkins. 

If you are going to use an eye cream, which both experts recommend, stick to a gentle formula made with ingredients that reinforce and protect the skin barrier.

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