A&C Synergy Serum
1 fl. oz. for $80
Category:Skin Care > Serums
Last Updated:01.05.2012
Jar Packaging:No
Tested on animals:No
Review Overview

This serum claims to do everything for your skin, but it has the same problem as many of the other serums from PCA Skin—it contains irritating ingredients. There are beneficial ingredients present, but why choose any skin-care product that contains irritating ingredients when so many do not—and many cost a lot less than this without the concerns irritation presents (see More Info for details). Plus, when it comes to acne, topical irritants can lead to more oil production directly at the base of the pore.

As the name states, this serum contains vitamins A (retinol) and C (ascorbic acid), both of which are very good antioxidants. They are joined by a few other beneficial ingredients, including those known to lighten brown spots and to minimize an uneven skin tone. That’s great, but why muddy the potentially great benefits by including irritants such as witch hazel water and other problematic plant extracts? One of the plants, Cinchona succiruba bark, is known to cause contact dermatitis due to its alkaloid content (Source: www.naturaldatabase.com), and has no established benefit for skin.

  • Contains vitamin C and retinol in packaging designed to keep these light- and air-sensitive ingredients stable during use.
  • Arbutin and kojic acid offer skin-lightening benefits.
  • Expensive.
  • The main ingredient—witch hazel water—is a skin irritant.
  • Contains irritating plant extracts with no known benefit for skin.
  • Doesn’t contain effective ingredients to help control breakouts as claimed.

More info:
Irritation, whether you see it on the surface of your skin or not, causes inflammation, and as a result impairs healing, damages collagen, and depletes the vital substances your skin needs to stay young. For this reason, it is best to eliminate, or minimize as much as possible, your exposure to known skin irritants, especially when there are brilliant formulas available that do not include these types of problematic ingredients. See our list of Best Serums for our top options.


A lightweight topical treatment that helps with cell regeneration, collagen stimulation, line minimizing, lightening, pore refining, skin strengthening, anti-inflammation, skin firming and tightening. Suitable for all skin types, especially normal and oily, or skin suffering from discoloration and breakouts.


Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Water, Glycerin, Ascorbic Acid, Arbutin, Kojic Acid, Cinchona Succirubra Bark Extract, Lactic Acid, Peumus Boldus Leaf Extract, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Water, Retinol, Resveratrol, Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Benzyl Alcohol, Alcohol Denat., Xanthan Gum

Brand Overview

PCA Skin At-a-Glance

Strengths: Every SPF-rated product provides reliable broad-spectrum sun protection; several products are fragrance-free; good eye cream and retinol serum.

Weaknesses: Way too expensive for what you get; several products contain irritating fragrant oils; the toners contain irritants; there are too many serums and many contain irritating ingredients; the acne products contain problematic ingredients.

PCA Skin is a product line you may have seen at your spa, salon, or dermatologist's office. Founded by an aesthetician in 1990, the brand became relatively popular after developing a series of professional alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) peels marketed as "medical clinical aesthetics"; in other words, these products are sold to dermatology practices offering cosmetic services such as facials. More recently, PCA Skin has teamed up with a dermatologist and other medical professionals to develop skin-care products. The peels are for professional use only and, in fact, except for a facial scrub, PCA Skin does not sell exfoliants that consumers can use at home.

Not surprisingly, PCA Skin's medical and aesthetics background is supposed to be rooted in science. The company states that "we use rigorous research and science to develop safe, highly effective products that deliver healthy, beautiful skin." Although PCA Skin products contain many beneficial, research-supported ingredients, they also contain numerous problematic ingredients that cause irritation; somehow, that "rigorous" research overlooked those. Irritation is always a problem for skin, causing inflammation and collagen breakdown, and impairing the skin's ability to heal.

Chief among the irritants you'll find throughout the PCA Skin line are witch hazel, citrus and numerous other fragrant oils (whether synthetic or natural, fragrance is almost always a problem for skin), drying cleansing agents, and alcohol (we mean, really, alcohol?!). In our Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary, we provide detailed information on why each of these ingredients is a problem; for all of their talk about science, chemistry, and research, PCA Skin should know better.

If you remain intrigued by this brand (or find the sales pressure from your aesthetician too intense to ignore), there are some worthwhile products. It’s great that every SPF-rated product from PCA Skin includes reliable broad-spectrum sun-protection ingredients, and fans of facial scrubs should know this brand does offer a gentle option. Also, their eye cream and retinol serum are worth a look, and several products are fragrance-free, although you need to choose carefully because many of their products contain fragrant plant extracts or oils despite being listed as fragrance-free.

PCA Skin's science-based mission is admirable, but just because an aesthetician and doctor teamed up, the results for these products aren't going to be spectacular, or even all that helpful.

For more information about PCA Skin, call (877) 722-7546 or visit www.pcaskin.com.

About the Experts

The new Beautypedia Team proudly and unequivocally maintains the commitment to help you find the best products possible for your skin. We do this by relentlessly pursuing and relying on published scientific research so you will have unbiased information on what works and what doesn't-and the sneaky ways you could be making your skin worse, not better!

The Beautypedia Team reviews all products using the same research, criteria, and objectivity, whether the product being reviewed is from Paula's Choice or another brand.

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