When stricken with puffy, irritated eyes, the last thing you want to ponder is the vitamin deficiency or glandular problem that may have landed you in this situation – you just want a product that can fix it safely and as soon as possible.
However, the paradox here is that having at least a surface-level understanding of the causes of dry eye disease is key to selecting the ideal product for you.
The StatPearls research on dry eye syndrome authored by University experts from S. Louis, Auckland, and Utah outlines more than a dozen potential causes or exacerbations of dry eye disease.
In addition to allergies, injury or surgery, medications, and so on, “preservative toxicity from eye drops that contain preservatives” is the second potential cause of dry eye disease.
And this is by no means a “niche” issue involving only a few brands; the vast majority of eye-drop brands have been using preservatives like Polyquaternium (PQ-1) for three decades or more, as this study from the University of Waterloo’s School of Optometry and Vision Science demonstrates.
But never fear, because preservative-free options like Rain are making a stand for consumer safety.
1. Rain Eye Drops
Driven by a consumer-first mentality, Rain is the most gentle eye drop on the market that actually works.
These 100% preservative-free moisturizing tears feature a conscientiously developed formula that attacks redness, dryness, and irritation naturally. Even the bottles, which are developed with a proprietary blow-fill-seal process to keep the contents sterile, are made with consumer safety in mind.
While Rain isn’t the only more natural product out there, they’ve become a favorite of the dry eye community because they balance this gentle formulation with pharmaceutical-grade effectiveness.
What’s In Rain Eye Drops?
Rain eye drops contain carboxymethylcellulose sodium (0.5%) – a safe eye lubricant demonstrated to improve “tear film breakup time, dry eye symptom score,” and “corneal and conjunctival staining” according to this study – as the active ingredient.
Here are the inactive ingredients: calcium chloride, hydrochloric acid, magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, purified water, sodium chloride, sodium hydroxide, sodium lactate.
How to Apply Rain Drops
When applying eye drops correctly, you do not touch the tip of the container with your hand or any other surface to minimize the chance of infection.
Prepare your tissues, soap/sanitizer, and mirror, wash your hands, tilt your head back, gently pull down your eyelid with your free pointer finger, and drop into the gap under the eye.
Look down for 2-3 minutes with your eyes closed (do not blink), and if needed, wipe any excess from your face with clean tissue.
How Rain Addresses Dry Eye
Rain attacks dry eye by lubricating the tear film and preventing premature tear evaporation, two highly common causes of dry eye disease.
In doing so, Rain provides quick relief from that irritated, itchy feeling, and all without the use of harsh preservatives that can paradoxically worsen these symptoms in many cases.
What Makes Rain Better?
The key advantage of Rain over other over-the-counter eye drops is the carefully formulated combination of natural compounds that maintain the healthy composition of tears to maximize moisture.
This is what differentiates an extraordinary eye drop from the rest – a focus on actually improving this sensitive balance as opposed to just dousing the eyes with something that provides relief for a few minutes.
Especially when getting into some of their more advanced formulations (Advanced Redness + Irritation Relief versus the original), Visine has also taken strides towards a more consumer-conscious product.
They aren’t as gentle as Rain – here’s looking at you, boric acid – but they have been proven effective and well-reviewed by most.
The formulation is a bit more “involved,” featuring four active ingredients, but they’ve been proven to work as effective lubricants and redness relievers.
It’s also great to see a selection of eye drops that differentiate between tired eyes, allergy eyes, dry eyes, and so on, each of which has a dedicated product at Visine.
Touting their use of low-dose brimonidine and lack of bleaches and dyes as key selling points, Lumify from Bausch and Lomb has carved out a committed following of customers suffering from red eye.
According to the brand, where other eye drops constrict arteries in the eyes to reduce the appearance of redness, low-dose brimonidine constricts the venules, allowing for that same redness relief without hurting oxygen flow or causing “rebound redness.”
It’s an interesting, if not slightly avant-garde approach to redness relief, but Lumify does it well, and their customers have noticed.
Offering one of the largest and most well-reviewed product catalogs in the eye drop industry, Systane has made a name for itself as a reliable eye drop brand with dry eye solutions for everyone.
They have nighttime ointment, multi-dose drops, eye gel, and a “balance” formulation that takes aim at restoring moisture to the lipid layer of the eye.
They’re also one of the few brands to feature waterproof eye drops for contact lens users.
Of course, variety alone isn’t going to cut it if your products aren’t gentle and effective, which the clinically tested drops at Systane have proven to be.
Say what you will about the contentious world of homeopathic medicine, but without diving too deep into the debate, we can say that Similasan is one of the few homeopathic eye drop brands doing it right.
They target allergy and dry eyes with natural ingredients like Euphrasia Officinalis (an herb) to naturally stimulate the body’s defense system against eye irritants.
The well-reviewed brand (especially across Europe) also maintains a catalog of ear relief products created with the same homeopathic principles in mind.
Though the homeopathic route doesn’t work for everyone, if it’s a method you prefer to adopt when resolving such health concerns as dry eye, earaches, etc., Similasan is a solid option.
5. Clear Eyes
Known for their gentle approach to sensitive eyes, Clear Eyes has also been amassing a fairly large product offering since their inception, including multi-symptom relief drops, contact lens relief drops, redness relief drops, and more.
They’re often marketed and reviewed as one of the most potent OTC drops for redness especially, but we have to once again call out the incriminating inclusion of boric acid.
This particular preservative has been linked with moderate acute toxicity cases, although it is significantly worse when swallowed. Still, we prefer completely preservative-free formulations any day.
OTC Versus Prescription Eye Drops
A common question asked of ophthalmologists is, “How do I know whether I need over-the-counter or prescription eye drops?”
It never hurts to ask a qualified eye doctor, so that’s the route we recommend, but to lay a little helpful context for you, here’s the easiest way to draw the line: If lubricating eye drops and/or artificial tears don’t help, it may be time for prescription drops.
We all get dry and irritated eyes sometimes, especially when irritants like wind, allergens and long hours of screen use are in the equation. But when symptoms are present without these factors, and/or if they don’t respond to OTC drops, it’s eye doctor time.
How Artificial Tears Relieve Dry Eye
There are actually multiple ways in which artificial tears can be formulated to relieve dry eyes, so it depends on which approaches the manufacturer takes.
For example, they can replenish the tear film, slow tear evaporation, thicken the fluid coating your eyes, discourage bacteria, and more.
Usually, high-quality eye drops can hit more than one of these targets, but as always, we recommend closely inspecting ingredient lists.
Preservatives and Preservative-Free Eye Drops
We’ll give boric acid a break from the hazing for a moment to take aim at a few other commonly included preservatives in eye drops, which include benzalkonium chloride, chlorhexidine acetate, phenylmercuric acetate, and chlorobutanol.
In fairness, preservatives often serve important purposes such as attacking bacteria and maintaining the stability of certain compounds.
However, Rain Eye Drops can lubricate and relieve dry eyes just as effectively without the added risk of worsening the very symptoms you’re trying to treat, so there’s no question that high-quality preservative-free drops are the best answer.
Do Lubricating Eye Drops Help?
The answer completely depends on the actual pathology driving your symptoms.
If, like so many thousands of others, you have acute bouts of redness and irritation due to irritant or screen use, then lubricating eye drops can absolutely provide temporary relief from these symptoms in a safe and effective manner.
If you have a more nuanced situation going on, such as glaucoma, or a more severe case of chronic dry eye disease, you may need a different product to both to lubricate the eye and address the mechanisms driving these conditions.