Health & Wellness

What Types of Artificial Tears Should I Use?

If you read my last blog post you’ll know that I detailed the main causes of dry eye, and that one of the recommendations to starting treatment was the use of artificial tears four times a day. Yet there are so many options available for artificial tears that it can feel overwhelming to choose the right one for you.

In this article I’ll discuss which artificial tears may work best for your dry eye, and which can easily be found in your local drugstore.

Aqueous-Based Artificial Tears

These artificial tears have the same consistency as your natural tears, and are often described as being more “watery” than “oily” or “gel-like.” Aqueous-based artificial tears are typically used by individuals with mild dry eye who use artificial tears 1-2 times per day and only notices their dry eye occasionally.

  • Blink (available in preservative-free)
  • Refresh Classic (preservative-free)
  • Refresh Optive (available in preservative free)
  • Refresh Optive Advance (available in preservative free)
  • Refresh Plus (preservative free)
  • Refresh Tears
  • Soothe (available in preservative free)
  • Systane (available in preservative free)
  • Systane Ultra (available in preservative free)
  • TheraTears (available in preservative-free)
  • Visine Tears
  • Visine Pure Tears

Lipid-Based Artificial Tears

Lipid-based artificial tears mimic both your natural tears and the “oily” layer of the tears created by the meibomian (oil) glands in your lids that help prevent evaporation. If you suffer from moderate dry eye–your tears evaporate quickly and you use three or more drops a day–these might work best for you.

  • Refresh Endura (preservative free)
  • Retaine MGD (preservative free)
  • Soothe XP
  • Systane Balance

Gel Drops

Gel drops include an element of increased viscosity so that tears can be retained on the surface of the eye for much longer. They are most often used for those with moderate to severe dry eye or persons who need help with corneal healing for different advanced conditions.

  • FreshKote
  • Blink Gel
  • Genteal Gel
  • Refresh Celluvisc (preservative free)
  • Refresh Liquigel
  • Refresh Optive Gel
  • Systane Gel Drops
  • TheraTears Liquid Gel (preservative-free)

Nighttime Ointments (All preservative free)

Many people sleep with their eyes slightly open, allowing air to dry the cornea during the night, which can mean very dry eyes in the morning! Adding a small amount of nighttime ointment to your bedtime routine may help keep eyes closed and lubricated while you sleep. Administering this type of ointment may be a bit different from what you are used to, as you will need to pull down the bottom of your lid and put a small amount of ointment into the space between your lower lid and the eye.

  • Genteal PM
  • Refresh Lacri-Lube
  • Refresh PM
  • Systane Nighttime Ointment

While I always prefer patients use preservative-free artificial tears, the downside is that they can be pricier. As a general rule, you do not have to use preservative-free drops unless you are using artificial tears more than four times a day.


Dr. Caitlin Morrison, OD, FAAO, FSLS, is an optometrist at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai in Manhattan. She specializes in treating advanced corneal diseases and management with specialty contact lenses.

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