Eye Serum VS Eye Cream: What’s the Difference and Which is Best?

Eye serum vs eye cream, what’s the difference? To the average person, they may sound like a substitute for one another. But there’s more to it than meets the eye (pun intended). 

I’m a long-time beauty writer who dabbles with skincare on the daily. Today, I’ll explain the similarities and differences that eye serums and eye creams share. This way, you can best decide if you should add an eye serum or eye cream (or both!) to your routine.

What is eye serum?

An eye serum is like a face serum. The only difference is that the former is formulated for the skin underneath your eyes. Remember, your under-eye area is extremely delicate. 

Eye serums, in general, are highly concentrated in active ingredients. These ingredients are typically of smaller molecular weight. This allows them to better penetrate your skin’s surface.

An eye serum is typically used to tackle common eye area skin concerns. Examples include dark circles, puffy bags, tired-looking eyes, and the dreaded crow’s feet.

Depending on which skin issue you’re struggling with, the type of ingredients in your eye serum matters.

For instance, caffeine is a well-loved ingredient in most eye serums. In skincare, it works as an antidiuretic. That means it can help with water retention that leads to puffy-looking eye bags. Plus, caffeine is scientifically proven to improve blood circulation and prevent excess fats from accumulating in the under-eye area.

What is eye cream?

You can think of an eye cream as a traditional face moisturizer, but for the eye area. Eye creams generally have a lower ratio of active ingredients to non-active ingredients. They may also not include any actives in their ingredient list.

Most eye creams provide moisturizing properties. After all, dryness around the eyes is a commonplace issue. Unfortunately, inadequate hydration sparks off a series of aging skin concerns. Case in point: fine lines and deep wrinkles that start showing up over the years.

That’s why moisturizing your eye area should be a top priority in your skincare regimen. While eye creams are generally hydrating in nature, the ingredient list matters, too. There are three main classes of moisturizing agents to look out for: 

  • Humectants: These water-loving substances help pull water from the surrounding air to hydrate your skin. Some examples include hyaluronic acid and aloe vera.
  • Emollients: These moisturizing substances help soften the skin to promote the look and feel of smooth skin. Some examples include squalene and fatty acids. 
  • Occlusives: These moisturizing substances create an impenetrable barrier on the skin’s surface. This helps to minimize moisture loss. Common examples include beeswax and plant-derived oils. 

Different types of moisturizing agents work best for different skin types, as you’ll see later. 

The differences between eye serum and eye cream

Eye serum vs eye cream
Photo by Tarte Cosmetics / Instagram


An eye serum is typically used as a treatment for specific eye care concerns, as mentioned earlier. The ingredients used in an eye serum are typically of smaller molecular weight. This allows for quicker absorption in the skin layers where the serum can work its magic. As such, eye serums are often seen as reparative beauty products to tackle existing skincare issues.

Meanwhile, an eye cream often has little to no active ingredients. Its primary purpose is to hydrate the delicate skin around your eyes. Remember, optimal skin hydration is your best defense against signs of skin aging. For that reason, eye creams are often used as a preventative treatment in the average skincare routine.  


An eye serum generally has a lighter, more watery texture to it. If you recall, eye serums are meant to be easily absorbed into the skin. As such, their formulation usually comprises lightweight ingredients and watery components.

On the other hand, an eye cream is typically heavier in texture. Eye creams tend to feel thicker and creamier on your skin. Consequently, eye creams help to form a hydrating barrier that wards off dryness. At the same time, the thicker layer promotes moisture retention beneath your skin’s surface.

While eye serums are generally lighter in texture and eye creams heavier in consistency, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Depending on the ingredient list, the product’s actual texture can vary. For example, an ultra-moisturizing eye serum formulated with emollients and occlusives can feel richer in texture.

The bottom line is, analyze the product’s formulation to decide if it’s the ideal one for your skin type (see next section).

Skin type 

Thanks to their lightweight texture, eye serums are ideal for everyone. More so if you identify as mature and/or oily skin types. Or if you experience specific eye care concerns like that need more than just moisturization. Also, if you want to layer on makeup products, like under-eye concealer, an eye serum is less likely to cause pilling.

Meanwhile, if you err on the drier side or your normal skin needs more hydration during the cold winter months, eye creams are for you. Their richer, moisturizing formulation can help quench your skin’s thirst levels.

Also, more advanced eye creams are specifically formulated with anti-aging ingredients. These would work great for fine lines and deep wrinkles. Even if your eye area hasn’t shown signs of aging yet, an eye cream is a cost-effective way to delay their appearance for as long as possible.

Are eye creams or serums better? 

So, are eye creams or serums better? There’s no right or wrong answer as everyone’s skin is uniquely different. 

Depending on your skin type and concerns, you may prefer an eye cream over an eye serum, or vice versa. For instance, you may have normal skin and no obvious signs of skin concerns around the area, say, dark eye circles or puffy bags. But your priority is to preempt skin aging. In which case, an anti-aging eye cream would fit well in your routine. 

Or perhaps your skin type skews toward oiliness. In this scenario, an eye serum would be preferable over an eye cream. That’s because the serum’s thinner layer will likely sink into your skin to minimize a greasy-looking appearance.

Meanwhile, if you often resort to concealer to mask your under-eye bags or lament over your crow’s feet, an eye serum would be more suitable. As eye serums generally contain a more potent mix of bioactives to address specific eye care concerns, they are ideal as treatment options to target the root cause. 

To get the most out of your eye serum, read the product claims and ingredient list carefully. This will give you an idea if the serum in question can actually help you with your unique skin concerns. For example, brightening ingredients like vitamin C and kojic acid are scientifically proven to help with hyperpigmentation.

Eye serum vs eye cream which is best for tired eyes?
Photo by The Ordinary / Instagram

Should I use both eye serum and eye cream?  

At this point in time, you may wonder, “Is it okay to use both an eye serum and an eye cream, or would that be too much?”

You’ll be happy to know that, yes, you can use both in your skincare routine. So long as your skin is comfortable with it, and you see improvements from the duo.

Keep in mind that eye serums and eye creams have different purposes. The former is usually for reparative purposes, like skin-firming and brightening. Meanwhile, the latter is targeted at moisturizing and hydrating. A good proportion of eye serums and eye creams also offer anti-aging benefits.

If you find that the delicate area around your skin needs a ‘lil pampering, an eye serum + eye cream may be the best combo for you. As always, let your skin type and individual needs guide your skincare layering preferences. 

Which comes first serum or eye cream? 

Repeat after us: lightweight eye serums go before richer eye creams.

The rationale behind this is to maximize your skin’s absorption ability. Applying a layer of eye serum allows the thinner, water-based liquid to easily sink into your skin. Next, follow it up with the thicker eye cream to seal in all the skincare goodness.

If you were to apply the eye cream before the eye serum, you may not see optimal results from your products. Most eye creams are oil-based, thanks to the emollients and occlusives in their ingredient lists. When used appropriately, they help maintain optimal moisture levels in your skin.

So, if you were to apply eye cream before your eye serum, the former creates an impenetrable barrier. As you can imagine, your eye serum can’t make it beneath the skin layer. This means that you aren’t using your eye serum efficiently to tackle your skincare problems.

Are eye serums worth it? 

Perhaps at this juncture, you’re still a little skeptical about the benefits of eye serums. Are they just another marketing gimmick that beauty brands use to get you to splurge? Not entirely.

As mentioned earlier, eye serums may sound similar to eye creams. But they carry their own weight in dealing with eye care concerns, too. Sure, eye creams may plump your skin enough to temporarily smooth out fine lines. But they are still no match for hyperpigmentation, dullness, and puffiness in the under-eye area.

That’s where eye serums can help. Depending on the individual product, eye serums are specially formulated to help with under-eye circles, puffy bags, dullness, and even skin sagging. Where your eye cream serves as the bedrock of your routine, eye serums take it up a notch.

Key takeaways on eye serum vs eye cream

Now that you’re all caught up on the nuances of eye serum vs. eye cream, let’s do a recap.

For starters, while eye serums and eye creams sound like variations of the same product, they are not. Eye serums often boast a higher concentration of active ingredients than eye creams. For that reason, eye serums are usually used to address dark circles, dullness, and puffiness.

Eye creams mainly focus on moisturizing the skin around your eyes. They typically contain minimal levels of active ingredients, if any.

Many skincare experts highlight that eye creams are a must-have in your anti-aging skincare arsenal. Because well-moisturized skin equals a lower likelihood of unwanted fine lines and deep furrows.

Whether you choose to use an eye serum or an eye cream, or both, is entirely up to you. Contrary to popular belief, eye serums are not surrogates for eye creams. Instead, adding an eye serum to your skincare regimen may take it to the next level.