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Best eye drops for dry eyes UK 2023: Relieve scratchy, tired eyes

Hydrate, protect and restore irritated peepers with the best over-the-counter eye drops for dry eyes

Dry eyes can be uncomfortable and extremely bothersome. While serious cases will require the attention of a doctor, for milder cases, over-the-counter eye drops (artificial tears) are on hand to deliver fast relief.

If you’re someone who’s currently suffering from dry eyes, know that you’re not alone. According to Nicola Alexander-Cross, optometrist and co-founder of Peep Club, cases are actually on the rise, “There has been an astounding increase in the number of patients reporting dry eye symptoms. Up to 8 in 10 adults now report symptoms of dry eyes.”

Professor Scott Fraser, a consultant ophthalmologist at Sunderland Eye infirmary tells us that dry eyes happen when you don’t produce enough tears, or the tears you do produce evaporate too quickly. “If your eyes are too dry, they will be uncomfortable,” says Dr Fraser. “They’ll feel gritty and sore, and your vision might be worse. This is because tears are very important in keeping our eyes healthy and to give us our best sight.”

According to Dr Fraser, eye drops (also known as artificial tears) can replace the fluid and/or oily part of the tears, making the eyes far less dry and more comfortable. There are plenty of great eye drop options on the market for restoring eye balance and quickly. Whilst it’s tempting to snap up the first eye drop remedy you can find, not all of them are created equally.

To help you on your way, we’ve rounded up the best eye drops to help soothe dry eyes and asked the pros about what to look for when shopping around for them.

    Best eye drops for dry eyes: At a glance

    How to choose the best eye drops for dry eyes

    How do eye drops work to relieve dry eyes?

    You could be forgiven for thinking eye drops simply replace lost water – but, according to Dr Fraser, this isn’t the case. “Tears are more complicated than you might think,” he tells us. “They comprise three layers. One is a watery layer, on top of which sits a thin oily layer that prevents the watery part evaporating too quickly, and under the watery layer is a sticky layer that helps the tears cling to the eye. Any change in some, or all, of these layers will make your eyes dry.”

    Eye drops can help alleviate dry eyes by replacing those layers. “Think of these replacement tears as wiper fluid, which you use to clear your car windscreen,” says Dr Fraser. “You place them in your eyes and the eyelids spread them all over the eye’s surface, wetting it and making it more comfortable.”

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    What causes dry eyes?

    As mentioned, the number of people suffering from dry eyes is on the rise, so it’s good to understand the causes and the lifestyle changes necessary to address the issue. “Problems with dry eyes can occur as you get older, and they can be exacerbated by the menopause, for example,” says Dr Fraser. Contact lens wear can cause the eyes to be dry, while those who live or work in dry or dusty conditions may also find their eyes are gritty and sore. Even central heating can cause the tears to evaporate more quickly, as a result of creating a dryer environment.

    Dr Fraser explains that certain conditions such as arthritis can also lead to dry eyes, as can eye-specific issues, such as damage to the tiny glands in the eyelid that produce the oil needed to make healthy tears.
    “One of the most common causes of sore, dry eyes is watching TV, computers or reading,” Dr Fraser explains. “When we concentrate on something, we naturally blink less, so the eyes may dry out. While this isn’t serious and you won’t damage your eyes as a result of these activities, if you do find your eyes become sore when reading or looking at screens, you should consider using lubricating drops.”

    How often should I use eye drops?

    Always follow the instructions on the packaging of any eye drops you’re using; however, Dr Fraser explains that artificial tears are designed to be used as often as needed. “Every time the eye feels sore or gritty, you can use such drops to bring instant relief,” he says. “Some people find that using drops before watching TV or working on the computer prevents drying. Others find that their eyes are most dry overnight and first thing in the morning, so benefit from using the drops last thing at night.”

    What should I look for in eye drops for dry eyes?

    If you’re experiencing gritty, sore eyes, and aren’t sure about what you should look for in a good eye lubricant, Dr Fraser offers some useful pointers.

    • Watch out for preservatives – “Try to find eye drops that don’t contain preservatives, since preservatives in themselves can sometimes cause problems,” Dr Fraser says.
    • Multi-layer action – Drops that contain ingredients that replace more than one of the layers specified above can be particularly helpful.
    • Consistency – “Some artificial tears work for only a short time, so I usually recommend thicker formulas that will stay on the surface of the eye for longer and therefore need to be used less often,” Dr Fraser tells us. “Such drops can also be used instead of ointment, which can sometimes blur the vision.”

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    The best eye drops for dry eyes to buy in 2023

    1. Eyezin XL Eye Drops: Best all-rounder

    Price: £12 | Buy now from Butterflies Eyecare

    Eyezin’s eye drops are a great place to start and, according to Dr Fraser, they tick all the considerations above in that they’re preservative-free, offer multi-layer action and are of a thicker consistency. The optician-approved formula can be used throughout the day or overnight to hydrate, protect and restore, and to deliver instant relief.

    The artificial tears contain sodium hyaluronate to help support healing and hydration, castor oil to stabilise and support the tear film, and L-carnitine that helps to retain moisture in the tears. Each bottle delivers approximately 200 applications, and it’s designed to combat moderately dry eyes.

    “These drops help to restore all the layers of the tear film and usually last for some hours as well as overnight,” says Dr Fraser. “They can be used as often as needed, day or night, so a separate ointment is not required. I find this product gives a lot of patients relief from dryness.” Some customers reported blurred vision after application (be careful when driving), but only for a few minutes.

    Key details – Size: 10ml; Key ingredients: Sodium hyaluronate, castor oil, L-carnitine; Preservatives: No

    Buy now from Butterflies Eyecare

    2. Hycosan Extra Preservative Free Eye Drops: Best for persistent dry eyes

    Price: £12 | Buy now from Boots

    Those who persistently suffer from dry eyes will be better trying these hard-working drops from Hycosan, formulated with 0.2% hyaluronic acid. They are four times more viscous (thick and sticky) than Hycosan’s original formula, making them suitable for treating more severe cases of dry eye. And if you needed more reassurance, they’ve been hailed as “the best eye drops for dry eyes” in a multitude of customer reviews for delivering quick and long-lasting relief and comfort.

    Note that these drops are suitable for use with all contact lenses, too. Some users found the packaging a letdown, sometimes struggling to dispense the product. However, get past that issue and this optician-favourite formula won’t let you down.

    Key details – Size: 7.5ml; Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid; Preservatives: No

    Buy now from Boots

    3. Thealoz Duo Eye Drops: Best for tired, dry eyes

    Price: £11 | Buy now from Amazon

    To restore the natural balance of the tears in your tired peepers, these highly rated eye drops should do the job nicely. They contain two active ingredients: Trehalose (3%) and hyaluronic acid (0.15%) to deliver better lubrication and longer relief from the symptoms of dry eyes. They’re preservative free and suitable for those who might be breastfeeding, too.

    Alongside soothing tired, itchy eyes, the brand states that these drops are also suitable for use on plane journeys, working in areas with air conditioning and dry environments in general, as well as following eye surgeries, such as refractive and cataract surgery.

    While some found the drops expensive, others commented that they’re worth the money for how quickly and well they work.

    Key details – Size: 10ml; Key ingredients: Trehalose, hyaluronic acid; Preservatives: No

    4. Hycosan Dual Preservative Free Eyedrops: Best for hayfever

    Price: £14 | Buy now from Amazon

    If you’re looking for eye drops that can help relieve both dry eyes and hayfever symptoms, then these preservative-free Hycosan Dual lubricating eye drops are ideal. The formula contains naturally occurring sodium hyaluronate, which effectively replenishes the tear film, alongside ectoin, which helps to stabilise the tear film.

    Unlike the majority of hayfever eye drops available on the market, this formula is suitable for use by contact lens wearers. Customers were super-happy with these Hycosan drops, but did find the price high for just 10ml of product. However, the brand guarantees 225 measured doses in each bottle, which works out to just over 6p per use.

    Key details – Size: 10ml; Key ingredients: Sodium hyaluronate, ectoin; Preservatives: No

    5. Optrex Night Restore Gel Eye Drops: Best for overnight use

    Price: £7.50 | Buy now from Amazon

    Night time offers the perfect opportunity for any eye treatments to get to work, and Optrex’s Night Restore Gel Eye Drops gets the job done, restoring and protecting eyes while you sleep. The formula’s high viscosity means it stays in the eye for longer, promising to leave you with refreshed eyes for the day ahead.
    Sodium hyaluronate’s water-absorbing properties retain moisture, helping dry eyes feel more comfortable and moist. The product is super straightforward to use, and unlike some other formulas, doesn’t require multiple applications throughout the day. The bottle itself proved a little hard to squeeze, but overall, this is a great overnight treatment for restoring moisture to the eyes.

    Key details – Size: 10ml; Key ingredient: Sodium hyaluronate; Preservatives: No

    6. Peep Club Instant Relief Eye Spray: Best for added skincare benefits

    Price: £15 | Buy now from Peep Club

    For instant relief to the entire eye area, we love Peep Club’s Instant Relief Eye Spray. It’s designed to come to the rescue for a whole host of related problems including redness, irritation, itchiness, a gritty sensation or the heavy, tired feeling that can often be experienced with dry eyes. What makes this spray so special is that it treats not only the eye, but the delicate eyelid and under eye skin, too.
    Two active ingredients – colourless sea buckthorn oil and sodium hyaluronate – work together to moisturise, smooth and restore your entire eye area. If you’re looking for an overall pick-me-up for dry eyes that have spent far too long staring at a screen, then these should be top of the list.

    Key details – Size: 17ml; Key ingredients: Colourless sea buckthorn oil, sodium hyaluronate; Preservatives: No

    Buy now from Peep Club

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