We Ask a Derm: What's the Difference Between An Eye Cream, Gel and Mask?

A helpful guide for you

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a collage of three women using an eye cream, gel or mask
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Does anyone else feel overwhelmed and downright confused about all the skincare options out there? Even within a specific category like eye treatments, there’s always another launch for the latest eye patches or the newest eye cream. They all more or less promise to hydrate your under-eye skin and reduce puffiness, so surely, we don’t need them all, right? To help simplify things, we tapped two skincare experts to explain the key differences between an eye cream, gel and mask, so we can find the right one to suit our individual needs.  

Meet the Experts: 

  • Sherry Ingraham is a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Advanced Dermatology in Texas. She has over 20 years of experience, working closely with formulating skincare products, overseeing cosmetic procedures and administrating dermal fillers. She’s also a member of the American Academy of Dermatology and American Society of Dermatologic Surgery. 
  • Nikki Sussman is a licensed esthetician and skin therapist for Heyday in New York, where she customizes facials for her clients using treatments such as microdermabrasion, chemical peels, light therapy and extractions. 

What Is Eye Cream? 

Eye cream is an emollient-based treatment that’s probably the most well-known and commonly used of the three. “If you’re trying to target a specific skincare concern, eye creams can be a great addition to your skincare routine. They can provide long-term hydration, address fine lines, smooth crow’s feet and reduce dark circles,” says Ingraham. Some common ingredients found in eye creams include vitamin C to brighten, retinoids and peptides to build elasticity and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and hyaluronic acid to lock in moisture. They typically come in a small jar and sometimes come with an applicator to help glide the cream underneath your eyes.

What Is Eye Gel? 

An eye gel is a water-based product that works to reduce puffiness and dark circles. “Eye gels have a thin texture that absorbs quickly and provides hydration to the eye area without feeling too heavy,” says Ingraham. It’s also a game changer if you often wear makeup, as eye creams may cause your concealer or eyeliner to pill or smudge. Eye gels usually have similar ingredients to eye creams, but Sussman points out you can typically find caffeine “to stimulate the skin to make you appear more awake” in many eye gel formulas. They usually come in a tube with a pump applicator or stick form. 

Our Top 6 Eye Gels

What Are Eye Masks?

Eye masks (or eye patches) have steadily grown in popularity over the last few years. Not only do they look and feel luxurious—like you’re lounging in a five-star hotel spa—but they also have a host of other skincare benefits you simply can’t overlook. “Patches help with product penetration since they seal the serum into the skin preventing it from evaporating out. They’re also very cooling, which can help depuff the under eye in the mornings,” says Sussman. These patches are shaped to sit comfortably underneath your eyes, as they work on depuffing and brightening, while you watch the latest episode of Only Murders in the Building. They’re usually soaked in an essence or serum with hydrating ingredients such as niacinamide, squalane and glycerin. 

Our Top 6 Eye Masks

Augustinus Bader
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Joanna Vargas
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What Are the Main Differences Between Eye Creams, Gels and Masks?

According to our experts, the main differences are texture, formulation and product delivery. You’ll find that eye creams are usually thicker and heavier, whereas eye gels are lighter and thinner in consistency. When it comes to eye masks, they stand out for their unique cutout shape and single-usage delivery. They can either be silicone-based or pre-soaked sheets you use once and discard in the bathroom. 

How Often Should You Use An Eye Cream, Gel Or Mask? 

As mentioned, eye gel is great for the mornings because it layers nicely under your makeup and other skincare products. An eye cream works best at night since it’s heavier and can offer a deeper hydration while you’re in dreamland. And an eye mask works both morning or night to boost hydration and wake up tired skin. Whether you go with an eye cream or an eye gel, Sussman recommends using it daily for best results. Meanwhile patches should only be worn one to three times a week. (Note: Any treatment with retinol in it should only be used in the evening with no other active ingredients.) 

What Skin Type Works Best for Each Eye Treatment?

“Eye creams are typically meant for people with dry skin, who lack moisture or oil, whereas eye gels are meant for people who have oily skin and a water/gel base will be more beneficial to them,” explains Sussman. As for eye patches, they’re a great option for all skin types—just pay attention to the ingredients list. 

Which One Is Better: Eye Cream, Gel or Masks? 

Truly, there’s no right or wrong answer. Both experts agree that it comes down to your personal preferences, as all three can improve the look of puffiness, dark circles, wrinkles and dryness. “It’s not necessarily about which treatment is better, it’s about what’s best for your skin. Skincare is subjective, so you have the ability to choose what works with your lifestyle and overall goals,” adds Sussman. Ask yourself, do you need a refreshing eye gel to help yourself wake up in the mornings? Or an eye cream for more hydration? Maybe you want an eye mask for an at-home spa day? Bottom line: Knowing the differences between an eye cream, gel and mask can help you choose the one that will best enhance your routine. 

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Associate Editor, Ultimate Fangirl, Aspiring Beauty Guru

Chelsea Candelario is an Associate Editor at PureWow. She has been covering beauty, culture, fashion and entertainment for over a decade. You'll find her searching the internet...