Who isn't concerned about dark circles, bags and wrinkles under the eyes? But before spending $30 for one of the hot new vitamin-spiked, fruit acid-infused firming eye creams, open your eyes to this: A number of cosmetic dermatologists and surgeons agree that many of the products do not eliminate or prevent the natural physiological changes in eye tissue. At best, they slow the process.
Here is a rundown of beauty eye problems and how they can be treated, if at all.
Under-eye circles: Caused by increased pigmentation in the skin, they can be temporary or permanent.
Circles of a temporary nature can result from hormonal changes (pregnancy, for example) or changes in diet or sleep habits.
"Since the skin under the eye is some of the thinnest in the body, there is a tendency for fluid to build up when you are tired, or eat a lot of salt," explains Dr. John McCann of UCLA's Jules Stein Eye Institute.
Fluid retention caused by fatigue or diet may engorge veins under the eyes, causing swelling and a pigment shift.
Getting enough shut-eye and decreasing salt intake can help prevent these temporary dark circles.
Permanent under-eye circles are usually genetic. There is no sure-fire way to treat these circles but laser peels may help. The treatments remove the outer layer of the skin, allowing new, lighter-colored skin to grow in.
"But the lotions women buy, I don't think they are effective quite honestly," McCann says.
Lotions containing a bleaching agent like hydroquinone may lighten up the under-eye area, according to Dr. William Binder, a facial plastic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. The agent is commonly used after laser peels to prevent blotchiness, but is available over the counter in a lower concentration.
Wrinkles: Fine lines may appear with age and sun damage. When these wrinkles are mild, peeling agents like alpha hydroxy may help. Deep wrinkles may be more amenable to acid and laser peels.
Other lines are caused by frequent muscle contractions from smiling and squinting. These wrinkles do not respond to laser peels or surgery, but may be relieved by Botox (derived from the same bacterium that causes botulism) treatment, which is injected to the side of the eye to relax the facial muscles.
There are a few things you can do to prevent wrinkles around the eyes.
"I'm not going to tell women not to smile, but many people squint, which is a common cause of eye wrinkles. If you are nearsighted, wear glasses," McCann recommends. Wear sunglasses in the sun to prevent squinting, and sunscreen to prevent skin from becoming sun damaged.
If women begin to use mild peeling agents like alpha hydroxy acids and Retin A products in their late 20s, wrinkles from aging may be reduced.
Bags: Temporary bags under the eyes are created when fat pockets in the lower eyelid retain fluid because you consume too much alcohol or lack sleep. Any cold compress will help.
Permanent unsightly bags are caused by too much fat under the eye. But don't run for the StairMaster yet. It has nothing to do with how much fat is on your body. Each lower lid normally has pockets of fat. Bags develop when the tissue holding them weakens, resulting in sagging fat pockets. This can happen with old age or early in life if eye bags run in your family.
Surgery is the only way to lose the bags. An incision is made on the inside of the lower eyelid and the three fat pads in the eyelid are removed or sculpted to create a normal appearance.
Since surgery would be the last resort for most women, it's no wonder eye treatment products represent one of the fastest growing segments of the cosmetics industry. More than 100 treatment creams and gels for the eyes alone are now available at department store cosmetics counters, according to NPD BeautyTrends, a market research firm in Port Washington, N.Y. That's not even taking into account products from catalog and mail-order businesses or what's on drugstore shelves.
"Notice the product labels never say they will take away lines forever. They use words like 'reduce' and 'aid,' " says a spokesperson for NPD BeautyTrends. "These companies are basically selling hope in a jar, but many of these products also make us feel good. Sometimes that's the most important thing."
For the record: In the chart accompanying last week's beauty column, the Fabre Castell Ebony pencil was misidentified as an eyeliner. It is an eyebrow pencil, which should not be used as an eyeliner.
E-mail Booth Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org.