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PCA SKIN C-Strength- a vitamin C heavy-hitter

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Age Spots
January 28, 2012 Reviewed by admin 11 Comments
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.
  • July 25, 2016

    by aiza

    I have a cream of vitamin c which is yellow in colour. Does it mean it has oxidized and is now useless? Plz reply

  • October 15, 2012

    by Marta

    Hi Erum,

    Vitamin C oxidizes in light and over time and should ideally be in an opaque or dark-colored container. Having said that, many vitamin C serums yellow and that is usually OK. They go brown when they oxidize.

  • October 15, 2012

    by erum

    i have vitamin c cream by bio one professional solution,its yellow in color with 17% concentration,shud i use it cz m a bit skeptical about the yellow color,need help urgently?

  • August 14, 2012

    by Nisha Buckingham

    Hi Alejandra,
    The pH of a substance refers to Potential Hydrogen ion activity. A substance with a high pH is more alkaline and a low pH is more acidic. Oxygen which is in water (H2O) is not measured in pH. L-Ascorbic acid is generally available in non-aqueous powder form which is commonly used in skincare formulations. L- ascorbic acid is very unstable & as soon as it is dissolved in water, it will start oxidizing.

  • August 14, 2012

    by Alejandra

    If Vitamin C needs a low pH, how this PCA product would work if theres no water, means no pH.

  • February 18, 2012

    by Nisha Buckingham

    Hi Danny,
    I'm glad you liked the effects of the PCA SKIN Professional Esthetique Peel. As this was your first PCA SKIN treatment, I'm glad your esthetician chose this gentle, yet effective peel, ideal for smoothing & brightening all skin types, even extra sensitive skin, including rosacea & acne. Esthetique addresses hyperpigmentation via 20% lactic acid & 10% Retinol (ingredients that would not normally be combined but the formulation buffers the two to work synergistically). The peel also contains kojic acid, arbutin & rumex occidentals - all naturally derived melanogenesis inhibitors. The reason your skin didn't feel dry post-peel is due to the inclusion of hyarluonic acid & honey. The formulation also contains a ton of anti-oxidants including glutathione. PCA peels are great because they are literally 'customized' for your skin type and can often be combined with layers of other peels or boosters to increase effects - Esthetique is often used as a retinol "booster" for use with other peels.

    Moreover, since the Esthetique peel is clearly working for you, I'd suggest avoiding any PCA SKIN peels with hydroquinone in future. Please let your esthetician know if you'd like to avoid that ingredient.
    Lastly, I've often had clients ask to constantly increase the potency of peels (not that this applies to you, of course) during future treatments when they see such dramatic results from the first treatment. I recommend that a "progressive" approach is always best.

  • February 17, 2012

    by Nisha Buckingham

    Hi Annie,
    I agree that stable Vit C can be expensive. As to your question regarding whether Vit C must be stable before or after skin application - the answer is PRIMARILY BEFORE. The key is to get a bio-available form of stable Vit C at a pH that can be absorbed by skin. Once the anti-oxidant has penetrated the epidermis, it can neutralize free radicals that assault the skin.
    The two critical factors for Vit C stability (pre-absorption) are the form of Vit C used (bio-availability) & product packaging. L-ascorbic acid was used in a ground-breaking Duke University study, which demonstrated that Vit C can reduce UVB damage so we know the body can use this form of Vit C. The Skinceuticals serum is packaged in a dark glass bottle (to protect light sensitive ingredients) with a screw cap attached to a glass dropper. The packaging itself is not inexpensive and is specifically designed to meet certain FDA pharmaceutical requirements for liquid based topical delivery systems that ensure product integrity.
    That said I’m not certain what methodology you’re using to make your own serum. Four things to consider are the 1)Form and 2)Concentration of Vit C, 3)the method used to store the serum to maintain stability and 4)the pH of the serum- 2.5-3.5 - in order for the serum to penetrate skin.
    I really can’t be certain but I’m guessing if the pH is off, that might explain why you are seeing yellow color on your wash cloth – the Vit C never absorbed into your skin. Marta has previously posted on how to make your own Vit C and there are several suggestions in the ‘Comments’ section: You can also check search engines for formulation ideas.
    Alternatives to Skinceuticals include CSS C+E Ferulic Serum ($39.95) & Timeless 20% Vit C+E+Ferulic Acid Serum ($24.95) sold on Amazon - both use a bio-available form of Vit C and are fairly similar to the Skinceuticals formulation.
    Moreover, I would suggest using the Vit C during the day, when skin is most vulnerable to free-radical attack & UV radiation. I generally tend to use protective products during the day & regenerative products at night (when your body is in a regenerative state anyway). I hope this helps.

  • February 16, 2012

    by Danny

    PCA skin is my newest find :) I had the pca skin esthetique peel last week and I'm blown away at how gentle it was but the huge amount of difference to my face after the one peel . One dark spot that has been dark for ages after a horrid pimple erupted has almost gone back to my skins natural colour . My face after peels is normally dry but the moisture I've I've go from this peel was amazing and it didn't sting at all when it was applied. I'm really interested in this range now .

  • February 15, 2012

    by annie

    Hi NIsha, I have a question for you regarding vitamin c if that's ok. As I'm on a budget I make my own vit c serum every three days. I have used skinceuticals C E & ferulic acid in the past but cant afford it at present. I know the skinceuticals vit c is in a stable form. Does the stable form apply not only for storage in the bottle but also for on the skin too? I ask because when I wash my face in the morning after applying the vit c at night my wash clot turns a slight yellow colour which I presume is oxidised vit c. So i am concerned the vit c could be oxidsing on my face and would the skinceuticals stable form vit c not do this?

    Many thanks for your time and help.

  • January 31, 2012

    by Nisha Buckingham

    JC - Thank you for taking the time to post the link to this article from the AAD. I follow EWG reports as well, & I do find that they are often extremely conservative in their findings. That's not necessarily a bad thing.

    But as pointed out in this AAD article, "when a sunscreen with retinyl palmitate is applied to the skin, a number of antioxidants work together to alleviate the risk of free radical formation seen in these in vitro experiments. If studied on its own – outside of this environment – its antioxidant properties can rapidly be exhausted, allowing the production of oxygen radicals".

    Moreover, per your link, "Although there are no published human studies on the potential of retinyl palmitate or other retinoids to cause cancer, the commentary concludes that observations from decades of clinical practice do not support the notion that retinyl palmitate in sunscreen causes or promotes skin cancer".

    It's important to consider viewpoints of more than one expert and then make a decision - fully informed of potential risks.

    Thanks again for posting your comment.

  • January 30, 2012

    by jc

    not sure this will put everyone to rest on the issue but i see no reason what benefit the american academy of dermatology would have to bring us to this final conclusion were it not true...

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