We’ve heard and read some claims that we need a separate moisturizer specifically for the skin around our eyes since it’s more delicate than the rest of our face. But the skeptic and multitasker in me has always wondered: can we get away with using our facial moisturizer on our eye area, too? Is this smaller (and often pricier) product that takes up an extra step in our routines worth our time and money? We asked an expert to find out.

Straight to the point: you need a separate eye cream.
Laura Etters, the Manager of Advanced Aesthetics Medical Spa at Nashville’s Gold Skincare, immediately cut to the chase. “Yes, you absolutely need a separate eye cream,” says Etters, a licensed aesthetician with eight years of experience under her belt.

When asked why, Etters explains that the skin around our eyes is ten times (ten times!) thinner than the skin on the rest of our face, which makes it more sensitive, delicate, and prone to fine lines and wrinkles. To test this, try placing a finger on your cheek, then the area right beneath your eye — you can even gently tap your finger around the area, too. Notice any difference in how it feels? Usually, the skin on our cheek feels thicker and firmer, while the area under our eye feels a bit thinner, softer, and more fragile.

“On top of the difference in skin thickness, our eyes also move significantly more than other parts of our face, which creates more fine lines and wrinkles,” says Etters.

This makes a lot of sense, considering all the squinting, blinking, widening, and darting our eyes do daily. Additionally, we use our eyes to make just about any facial expression, whether it’s frowning, smiling, or raising our eyebrows to indicate surprise.

All this movement causes the collagen (which holds our skin together) and elastin (which enables our skin to stretch and bounce back) in the skin around our eyes to break down more quickly than the rest of our facial skin. Meaning, fine lines and wrinkles are more likely to show up around our eyes before other areas.

Different products should be used for different skin.
Since there are meaningful differences between the skin around our eyes and the skin that covers the rest of our faces, eye moisturizers and facial moisturizers are formulated differently. (In other words, our eye cream isn’t just our facial moisturizer in tinier, more expensive package.)

Turns out, the two main differences are ingredients and consistency.

Etters says, “While both eye creams and facial moisturizers help moisturize our skin, eye creams typically don’t have as many or as much aggressive ingredients like retinol, glycolic acid, salicylic acid, or benzoyl peroxide, given that the area is more sensitive and could react adversely to these ingredients.” Products with a lot of active ingredients can be used on the other areas of our face, like our forehead or jawline, since they’re ten times thicker and more resilient.

This isn’t to say that eye cream ingredients are lacking. Many eye creams do have glycolic acid or retinol in them. But the amount is typically much less due to the eye areas’ sensitivity. “However, one ingredient that you’ll find in eye creams, that you normally won’t find in facial moisturizers, is caffeine,” says Etters. “Caffeine is a gentle ingredient that alleviates puffiness under the eye.” Because caffeine constricts blood cells, this helps to reduce eye puffiness.

Etters explains that eye creams are also typically thicker than facial moisturizers. Because the skin around our eyes is more sensitive and delicate, it tends to become dry and react to external ingredients or the environment more quickly than the rest of our face. Etters asks, “Ever noticed how the area around your eye is the first to get dry or flaky the winter?” Eye moisturizers are thicker to give the skin around our eyes an extra boost to compensate for its delicacy and sensitivity.

The amount you use and way you apply should be different, too.
“Eye creams should be applied in much smaller amounts than moisturizers, given that the area under our eyes is smaller,” says Etters. “They should also end up lasting you a lot longer than your facial moisturizer, given that you’re not using as much product.” Considering that a lot of eye creams are pretty pricey, this made our wallets let out a little sigh of relief.

The way we apply moisturizer to our eye area, in addition to the amount we apply, should be different, too. “It’s recommended that eye creams be applied with the ring finger, the weakest finger, in a tapping motion,” says Etters. “Eye creams should not be rubbed into the skin but patted in. This helps to eliminate unnecessary pulling on the tender skin around the eyes.”

Our take
As much as we love a multitasking, more bang-for-your-buck products that get us in bed or out of the house faster, using a facial moisturizer with active ingredients as an eye cream may do more damage than good. If you’re using a gentle facial moisturizer without aggressive ingredients, you’re probably OK. But as Etters points out, your facial moisturizer’s consistency may not be thick enough for the skin around your eyes.

Whatever you end up deciding makes the most sense for your skin and wallet, you should at the very least put your ring finger to good use and lightly pat moisturizer into your eye area tonight.

English Taylor is a health and wellness writer living in San Francisco. Her work has been featured in Nylon, Refinery29, and The Atlantic. English enjoys spending time with her friends, family, and 150-pound dog named Bubbles. Her favorite foods are peanut butter and pickles (sometimes together).