In the interest of full disclosure, I am a PCA (Physician Care Alliance) SKIN certified professional. PCA SKIN (PCA) is a clinical skincare company, which develops professional chemical peels and advanced topicals sold exclusively to licensed professionals, trained and certified by PCA. That means that I took an advanced course taught by a PCA SKIN educator, and then passed an exam in order to become certified to administer PCA professional treatments. While you may see PCA peels offered on medi-spas service menus, PCA is not just for professionals. It offers a consumer line to supplement and maintain the benefits of the professional treatments.

As mentioned in my skincare regimen, I usually wear two antioxidants. PCA SKIN C-Strength With Vitamin E ($50), available in 15% or 20% concentrations of vitamin C, is in regular rotation. Let me preface this review by stating that this is NOT a starter vitamin C product - it’s a heavy hitter! Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid, in its purest form) is a powerful antioxidant when in stable, bio-available form. It is packaged in an opaque tube to minimize product degradation. Moreover, PCA employs an advanced vitamin-suspension technology that stabilizes the vitamin C in an anhydrous (water-free) formulation, which, as noted here, is ideal to maximize efficacy.

The inherently low pH of L-ascorbic acid renders it a potential irritant and not meant for use by very sensitive skin types. A tingling sensation is not abnormal and should quickly dissipate. The formulation does contain the soothing and healing properties of bisabolol (chamomile extract) and sandalwood extract as well as Phellodendron amurense bark extract (often used in Chinese medicine) to counteract irritation. The product can cause flaking on very dry skin, but if you wait about five minutes after cleansing, you can bypass much of the potential tingling and flakiness by applying it to dry skin. The high concentrations of vitamin C require just a thin layer of the cream so less is more. I would avoid combining this with any exfoliating (e.g. AHA) products.

C-Strength also contains 5% vitamin E (in tocopheryl acetate and tocopherol form), another powerful antioxidant and non-occlusive emollient. Several studies have shown increased synergistic benefits from the combination of vitamins C and E together. Moreover, the PCA formulations are free of synthetic fragrances, mineral oils and phthalates. C-Strength is not a serum but has a rather cream-like consistency that absorbs quickly. The anhydrous formulation along with the use of a non-occlusive vitamin E emollient makes this ideal for use by oilier skin types. Dry skin types may need a moisturizer over it.

My only (slight) reservation is the inclusion of vitamin A in retinyl palmitate (RP) form (converts to retinoic on the skin). There has been much debate about whether RP should be included in any product exposed to sunlight. I echo Marta’s view: “My personal view is that I’d prefer to avoid RP, but for practical purposes that isn’t really possible.” Per a PCA rep, the dose of RP is so minute that the percentage in the formulation doesn’t require disclosure per FDA guidelines. However, it’s imperative to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen over this with daytime use. Layering it over the PCA SKIN Rejuvenating Serum ($70), which Marta liked (with some reservations), is an excellent complement to the product. For p.m. use, I’d advise using it in conjunction with a good peptide cream. Moreover, at $50, I can afford the luxury of also using it on my hands in the evening!

PCA’s philosophy - which is very much in line with my own - is to treat skin progressively, not aggressively. Start with the 15% concentration and when your skin assimilates, graduate to the 20%.

Ingredients: Cyclopentasiloxane, Ascorbic Acid, Polysilicone-11, Ethylhexyl Hydroxystearate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Hordeum Distichon (Barley) Extract, Phellodendron Amurense Bark Extract, Santalum Album (Sandalwood) Extract, Tocopherol, Retinyl Palmitate, Bisabolol, Natural Orange Oil Fragrance/Parfum A L’essence D’Orange Naturel.