Review: PCA retinol serums


Posted on September 28th, by staff in Products, Reviews, Skincare. 12 comments

Review: PCA retinol serums

When the wrinkles and sun spots on your face make you look older than an antique vegetable peeler (like the one pictured above), it may be time to start adding retinol to your skincare routine. Lisa and Helen test out PCA Skin’s two newest retinol serums: one for fines lines and the other for hyper pigmentation. But first, here’s a primer on…

Why Retinol Rocks

Much like fashion, there is always some new sexy skincare ingredient that makes you stray from those true skincare staples. But retinol is just like a black pea coat – you always go back to it.

Retinol (commonly known as vitamin A) is one of the gold standard ingredients in topical anti-aging products, as it has been clinically proven in studies to work across various skin types and ages to unclog pores, decrease fine lines, mottled pigmentation, sallowness, and rough skin texture. It was originally prescribed in the 1970s to combat acne, but derms started to notice that, after treatment, patients developed not only clearer skin but also brighter and smoother complexions.

Retinol comes in several forms:

  1. Over-the-counter (Drugstore options include Roc Deep Wrinkle Night Cream, Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Moisturizer; and various formulations sold at medical spas, department stores or Sephora)
  2. Physician dispensed (Avene Retrinal Cream)
  3. Stronger prescription forms (Refissa, Renova, and Tazorac)

The main difference between OTC [less than 1%] and Rx [4%] retinols is the aggressive of the active ingredient. Those with sensitive skin types should use an OTC retinol to start, as retinols can be drying, which may only allow people to use them only a few times a week.

Quite simply, anyone over the age of 30 should be using topical retinol in their skincare regime. But as fantastic as it is, the downside to it is that it can be harsh on skin, causing excessive peeling and flaking on your face. PCA SKIN, a company known across North America for their in-clinic chemical peel treatments, released two new pure retinol serums for at-home use last spring. What does “pure” mean? According to Dr. Jennifer Linder, Chief Scientific Officer for PCA SKIN, “It’s important to understand the difference between a retinol complex versus pure retinol. A retinol complex is a blend of retinol and retinoid esters or other support ingredients designed to increase the retinol’s efficacy and stability. When percentages are listed for retinol complexes, the amount reflects the total amount of all ingredients in the complex, not only the retinol. On the other hand, a product that contains pure retinol truly provides the entire percentage of retinol stated. PCA SKIN’s newest serums, Intensive Age Refining Treatment (for anti-aging) and Intensive Clarity Treatment (for acne and hyperpigmentation) contain 0.5% pure retinol. Both retinol complexes and pure retinol have a place in the beauty industry since people have varying skin concerns. For example, those struggling with skin conditions such as visible aging, hyperpigmentation or acne will often benefit more from a potent pure retinol product. Retinol complexes are more appropriate for people looking to maintain a youthful appearance, reduce oil production, as well as anyone who cannot tolerate pure retinol (those with aggravated rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis).”

Our Reviews

PCA Skin Intensive Age Refining Treatment for anti-aging

Reviewed by Lisa Summers
[gn_quote style="1"]I used this elegant product over the summer and was very happy with it. PCA has combined retinol with moisturizers to keep peeling to a minimum. After two months, my skin was able to tolerate the product every night without any peeling at all. It has a neutral fragrance and can be used under a night-time moisturizer. That being said, I’ve been using medical grade products for years so I think my skin is in pretty good condition already so there’s no noticeable effect I can attribute to just one product. But I believe this serum is maintaining what I’ve got, maybe keeping lines at bay and helping with tone.[/gn_quote]

PCA Skin Intensive Clarity Treatment for acne and hyperpigmentation 


Reviewed by Helen Vong[gn_quote style="1"]I was excited to try this after reading a great review in Redbook magazine by a NYC-based dermatologist. She called it ‘a smart buy because it is a potent dose of wrinkle-fighting, spot-fading power in a formula that delivers fast results with less irritation.’ Well, my face peeled like crazy the first time I used it. I looked like a snake shedding its skin for about four days. Frankly, it scared me so I stopped using it. When I reported my results to a PCA SKIN rep, she assured me that peeling is common for first-time users and that people need to build up a tolerance to pure retinol. Makes sense being that I’m a ‘pure retinol’ virgin, having only ever used an OTC retinol-based night cream (a Vichy night cream from the drugstore, which I now understand is a retinol complex). After a weeklong break, I started reintroducing the PCA serum into my night time regime. I went from using it once a week to twice, then after a month, I was using it 3-4 times per week. It was around the two month mark when I really started to notice a difference in the tone and texture of my skin. It was more even and less oily. Within this time span, I also got my first in-clinic PCA chemical peel too; loved it. For obvious reasons, I had to stop using this serum for about seven days after the treatment to allow my skin to peel and heal. After three months of using the serum, I noticed that some sunspots were even lighter. I really like this night time serum, and I’m glad I stuck with it. After I’m done with this (the 29.5 ml lasts a long time), I want to move on to a 1% retinol. I think my skin is ready now.[/gn_quote]

PCA SKIN products are available in 160 skin clinics across Canada and the United States. To locate a clinic near you, call their toll free number at 1-800-898-7455. You can purchase these serums here.

Our go-to Toronto clinic DLK on Avenue uses certain PCA SKIN products in their chemical peel treatments.