The best lubricant eye drop
We place a lot of responsibility on our eyes, so it's no wonder they can feel fatigued, dry, or even gritty. Lubricant eye drops deliver a fast-acting solution that lets you experience moisturized relief. The drops are specially formulated to coat your eye and flush out debris and irritants. Best of all, they're a cost-effective way to manage your temporary and chronic eye conditions without a prescription.
To find a solution to dry, itchy eyes, read our buying guide on lubricant eye drops. Our recommendations include our top pick by Oasis, which offers single-use vials for convenience and contaminant-free application.
Considerations when choosing lubricant eye drops
What's in the formula?
Lubricant eye drops are made from complex formulas that aim to treat a range of conditions including dry eye, allergic irritation, fatigue, eye strain, and contamination. Here's an explanation on how each ingredient does its job in the formula:
Lubricants are the moistening agents of the drops, which are made of a variety of compounds unique to each brand.
Electrolytes are the expedited healers. They're also found in tears, so if you have dry eye, this ingredient helps recoat and replenish the surface.
Anti-redness ingredients relieve constricted blood vessels, which is what causes the unsightly look of bloodshot eyes.
Guar gum is a thickening agent. Often used in food and occasionally in makeup, it's what gives the drops an added layer of thickness to the base lubricant compounds.
Preservatives are what keep your drops from going bad, or worse, becoming toxic if they spoil. Preservatives can irritate sensitive eyes, in which case there are preservative-free formulas available.
When to seek medical attention
If your occasional use turns into long-term use, your eye condition has escalated. Even if the surface of your eye looks fine, more serious issues could be present.
If your lubricating eye drops begin to irritate your eyes, you could have an overexposure reaction that requires prescription strength drops to tone it down. Your doctor may recommend discontinuing use or switching to preservative-free drops.
If you feel your condition has become unmanageable with over-the-counter drops, consult your doctor to seek alternative solutions. Drops might not solve the core issue, and your doctor may recommend other treatments or therapies.
Choosing the right consistency is based on the severity of your eye condition. If you suffer from extremely dry eyes, opt for thicker drops that are long-lasting. For an occasional or isolated issue, thinner solutions close to the viscosity of water are better -- especially if you're not used to using drops.
The most common application style of lubricant eye drops is the basic dropper bottle. You need to remove the cap and squeeze droplets into your eye each time. If you're concerned about losing the cap or the bulkiness of the bottle, there are single-use vials available.
Whether your drops are thick or thin, there's an initial period of blurriness following applications. Thicker formulas are intended to stay heavy and coat your eye for several minutes at a time, whereas the blurriness in thinner formulas disappears in as quickly as a few seconds.
If you use eye drops frequently, the preservatives in some drops can cause a reaction. Preservative-free formulas are available, but the downside is they have expiration dates. If you're planning on making the switch to a preservative-free product, only buy amounts you'll use before the expiration date.
Lubricant eye drops prices
Expect to spend between $5 and $30 per package of lubricant eye drops. There are drops available in a dropper or in individual vials, so to get a true sense of the value, look at the ounces and see how they compare across the board.
Q. Can I use lubricant eye drops with my contact lenses?
A. No. They'll probably stick to your lenses and blur your vision. Instead, you need drops that are designed thin enough for use while wearing lenses.
Q. How far away should the dropper be from my eye during application?
A. You can get pretty close to your eye, although you want to avoid direct contact with the tip so it doesn't get contaminated.
Lubricant eye drops we recommend
Best of the best: Oasis Tears Lubricant Eye Drops
Our take: Ideal formula and application for sensitive and irritated eyes.
What we like: High degree of sterility. Keeps eyes lubricated longer than other formulas.
What we dislike: Can feel too thick and uncomfortable for some.
Best bang for your buck: TheraTears Eye Drops for Dry Eyes
Our take: Lightweight formula that is barely noticeable while they work.
What we like: Thin consistency that is more watery than viscous which soothes without the stickiness or heaviness of other formulas.
What we dislike: Some people may have reactions to the formula.
Choice 3: Systane Ultra Lubricant Eye Drops
Our take: Gentle yet reliable lubricant drops that moisturize without distracting your vision.
What we like: Fast-acting and effective. Well-liked by mascara wearers as they don't cause running makeup.
What we dislike: Are not great if you're looking for a topical formula to relieve redness.
Sian Babish is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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