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Arcona Vitamin A Complex Repair (PM) - reviewed and recommended

Our Rating: 5 stars


Tightened and smoothed sagging skin


Some flaky, dry spots
June 16, 2011 Reviewed by TIA Community Member 12 Comments
An effective retinol treatment with no nasties

Reviewed by Jaysie

While testing Arcona Vitamin A Complex Repair (PM) ($68), I discovered a lot of debate, questions, loyalty, and both negative and positive results floating around in cyberspace about Retinoids.  What has now become a become a mainstream ingredient in cosmetic products started out as a prescription drug, so it’s wise to remember that.

As for the Arcona trial size I tested, I must admit that my test began and ended twice for reasons unrelated to the product, so I’ve only been able to use it for about a month continuously on my face and a little longer on my hands before I ran out of it.  It is a lovely product to use and has a great cast of ingredients to improve and repair the skin.  And if you’re in the pro-retinoid pack, there are no chemical ghoulies to frighten you away.  Many antioxidants are present like quercetin flavonoid (enhances and works synergistically with any vitamin C in your skin and is thought to also be antiviral), resveratrol, and vitamin ESuper oxide dismutase is an antioxidant that has been used successfully to reduce scar tissue, however its ability to lessen wrinkles has not been proven.  Further, SOD, as it’s commonly known, requires vitamin C and copper to be effective when taken orally, so its full benefit to skin without these additions brings up questions.  The presence of Spin Trap is a big plus as this very smart anti-ager can actually grab errant free radicals and make them behave before they do any damage.

Because my well-over 50 skin is saggy and sun spotted, I love ingredients that are supposed to lighten and tighten.  Other than the retinoids, there are three helpers here:

Arbutin, a safer alternative to hydroquinone; beta glucosamine which strengthens the tissue between cells; and, aminoguanidine HCI, a building block of collagen and elastin.  Glycolic acid is on hand to stimulate collagen through its exfoliating properties and the witch hazel at the top of the list offers an assist to soften skin.  The glucosamine and the sodium hyaluronate provide some moisturizing.

So, you see, this Arcona stuff has “real” ingredients, no fou-fou or fillers as there is some benefit to everything.  And let’s not forget that grapefruit seed extract, a natural antibacterial and anti-fungal, is the lone preservative.  You can’t find fault with anything in this bottle unless you’re retinoid-phobic.

You may love retinoids or you may think they’re too chancey.  One thing is certain: retinoids are the most researched cosmetic ingredient in dermatology and is a class of skin treatment that is embraced by a host of dermatologists.  Besides all the scientific studies, many cosmetic companies have done their own research in a bid to create new or better over the counter vitamin A-based skin treatments.  The research has established certain facts: retinoids are highly active and produce relatively quick skin changes but the speed and intensity of the changes is dependent on the form and dose, as well as an individual’s tolerance.  All this research has resulted in a wide variety of retinoid forms.

All retinoids must be metabolized into all trans-retinoic acid (aka tretinoin) in order to work and, depending on the form of vitamin A, there are several steps in this process.  Those steps and the original form determine the potency of the ingredient going on your face.  There’s a difference between putting an acid like tretinoin on your skin and putting an alcohol like retinol on it, or any of the other milder forms.  Also, the percentage-dose is quite important if you have sensitive skin.  In the case of a cosmetic formula, stronger or weaker retinoids, at varying doses, are intended to achieve any number of scientifically proven results including cell turnover, exfoliation, stimulation of collagen, and antioxidant benefits.  The downside is that everyone’s body chemistry is different so finding the right retinoid at the right dose is tricky.  There remain questions about whether all forms of retinoids can actually become trans-retinoic acid as your body chemistry and other factors could get in the way.  Some creams contain too little of a weakened form of retinoid to be of any benefit at all.   Retinol, in particular, is quite unstable; exposure to air, light and heat can degrade it to the point that it’s useless.  Arcona’s Complex is in an air pump bottle so they’ve addressed this issue and, according to Arcona, the Complex Repair (PM) contains 1% Retinol, which is an acceptably effective and commonly used amount.  I could find only one other brand out there claiming a higher 1.5 percentange.

Arcona put two retinoids in their Complex Repair (PM). Retinol, the alcohol form of vitamin A, is the third ingredient, and retinyl palmitate is further down at 10th position.  Retinoid molecules are small enough to penetrate the skin down to the dermis which is where they can actually change the skin, and, while getting there, will pass over and through the outer layer that we can see.  As a group, retinoids regulate the way cells divide and how they position themselves, so I think of them as a drill instructor keeping everyone in line, standing properly; they don’t hesitate to kick out the bad eggs so flaky skin is common.  The much smaller amount of retinol palmitate in Arcona is most likely for an antioxidant boost.  Arcona considerately puts “PM” on the bottle to remind customers it should be used at night, a very important practice with retinoids as they make skin sun sensitive, not to mention that sunlight can possibly morph a retinoid into a free radical.

The scientific industry, including the FDA, has not yet issued a final judgment on potential negative effects such as sun-related photocarcinogenic activity and thinning of the outer skin while the cosmetic labs have gone on to devise milder forms.  So, as with a lot of things, the consensus is that intermittent use is best, use only at night, and always apply a sunscreen.  Arcona takes the prudent road here, advising 2 or 3 applications per week which could coincide with the number of glasses of wine a person might have each week.

As for my results from Arcona, I was quickly aware of a tightening effect, but also a smoothing effect.  I restricted placement of the product to my outer cheeks, jawline, and forehead where I have discoloration.  Interestingly, exfoliation began on those damned spots almost immediately, but they are deep, so I’d have to use this longer to see if they might become truly invisible.  The flakiness on the spots was not extreme and very manageable.  My hands have become somewhat less crepey after about 1.5 months of sparing use, but I don’t think I will continue with any retinoid there.  Having read about retinoids thinning the epidermis, at my age my hands are doing that all on their own.  Go away veins!

I will be checking the rest of the Arcona line because I have been so impressed with the feel, packaging, short term noticeable effects, and thoughtful ingredients in this product.

For anyone who likes retinoids, this is a great one to try because the overall formulation is so clean, lightweight and you won’t have to wait too long to see some changes.

Ingredients: Agua (Distilled Water), Hamamelis Virginiana Extract (Witch Hazel), Retinol, Glycolic Acid, Arbutin, Quercetin Flavonoid, Beta Glucosamine, Resveratrol, Sodium Hyaluronate, Vitamin A (Retinol Palmitate), Vitamin E (Tocotrientols), Super Oxide Dismutase, Aminoguanidine HCI, Spin Trap (Phenyl Butyl Nitrone), Grapefruit Seed Extract (Citrus Grandis).

Update (as of April 2013): Arcona Vitamin A Complex has since been reformulated. Below is the new ingredients list:

Ingredients: Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Water, Glycerin, Alcohol Denat., Agua (Water), Retinol, Retinyl Palmitate, Fructooligosaccharides (D-beta), Glycolic Acid, Glucosamine HCI (D), Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Acacia Gum, Benzyl Alcohol

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  • May 30, 2013

    by Jenna

    From my knowledge, if the glycolic is buffered then
    both retinol and glycolic can be in the same solution.

  • September 11, 2012

    by heather

    i have a question about this product that when i contacted Arcona themselves, they could not help me with an answer.
    why does it contain Glycolic Acid with Retinol when supposedly Glycolic Acid causes Retinol to become inactive?
    can someone help me with this!

  • July 18, 2012

    by Marta

    Hi Sandra - here's a link to our Five Best retinol cream picks: <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>

  • July 18, 2012

    by Sandra


    What do you think the best retonoid moisturiser for a 56 year old absolutely covered in freckles who has never used this befoire

  • July 20, 2011

    by Shani

    Sorry for my delay in responding! Thank you so much for the pH information. My independent research found claims that pH must be below 4.0 for exfoliation, so 3.72 certainly makes the cut.

    To Kimberly - Some toners with Witch Hazel contain alcohols, but Witch Hazel is not an alcohol of any kind, and it is not "composed of alcohol". It's a plant extract from a shrub. The grapefruit seed extract probably acts as a preservative for the witch hazel, rather than ethanol, and there are no alcohols (i.e. ethanol) listed in the ingredients. I LOVE to use witch hazel on my skin, because it's extremely soothing and softening. If you wanted to try some inexpensive witch hazel toners, Thayer's (available in drug stores) has several kinds of alcohol-free witch hazel toners.

  • June 29, 2011

    by Kimberly

    I terribly afraid of the WITCH HAZEL - the composition of it is at least 60-70% ALCOHOL.... and not the good kind !! They need to address this asap

  • June 27, 2011

    by NoeyD77

    Hey Susan! I know most here are not advocates of retinols/retinoids but I HIGHLY suggest you incorporate one in your regimen. The science behind them simply can not be denied!

    If you need suggestion on products that have low potential for negative side effects as well as as containing efficacious levels of retinol I would be more than happy to share, as retinols and RX retinoid products is the area I'm well versed in with experience. If you are an advocate of peptides, I can even rec effective otc retinol products that contain those as well and are very potentially non-irritating.

    Including an affective retinol product WILL boost the affects of all your other products! I can wholeheartedly say at 33 I have the best skin of my life, especially comparing my complexion to others my age and even YOUNGER. I didn't reach this level until I added a great retinol product and worked myself up to RX level. I can truly state there is only one small issue I trying to tackle with my skin now, and after having acne and facial eczema, to have one minuscule issue with my complexion is speaking volumes sister!!!

  • June 27, 2011

    by NoeyD77

    I've been eyeing this line for a while now, recently having purchased their Reozone SPF 40 product, which sadly was disastrous for me because it was thick and left such an opaque white film on my face though its described as tinted (prob for Nicole Kidman complected types).

    This was a great review but sadly I think I may have to try this!!! Too many products to try because of Marta and the community!!! LOL LOL

  • June 20, 2011

    by Jaysie

    Shani - Sorry for the delayed reply to your question...I'm told the pH of the Vitamin A Complex is 3.72.

  • June 17, 2011

    by Mark

    Jaysie - excellent review - I appreciate the detailed retinoid information as there has been so much controversy regarding them. I do like the Arcona White Ice Moisturizer, too.

  • June 16, 2011

    by Shani

    I LOVE this serum. I see results within a week, and it's so gentle. Honestly, it seems to work better than Renova. Beautypedia says the pH is too high for the glycolic acid to exfoliate...but I know pH levels depend upon formulation, oil in skin, etc. Vitamin A Complex undoubtedly exfoliates my skin. Do you know the pH of this serum?

  • June 16, 2011

    by Susan


    Thanks for the wealth of information in your review, which seemed fair and balanced. I will have to reread it this evening when I have more time to absorb all of it.

    I know very little about retinoids and have never had good luck with them. Your review likely will help me to pick a more suitable type for my skin.

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