Our Rating: 5 stars

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