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Paula's Choice Skin Balancing Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum With Retinol

Skin Balancing Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum With Retinol

A skin-renewing antioxidant serum with an effective but gentle amount of retinol that helps develop a balanced-looking complexion while helping defend against environmental stressors.
Uploaded by: lilysandblush on

Paula's Choice Skin Balancing Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum With Retinol
Ingredients explained

What-it-does: emollient, solvent

A super commonly used 5 unit long, cyclic structured silicone that is water-thin and does not stay on the skin but evaporates from it (called volatile silicone). Similar to other silicones, it gives skin and hair a silky, smooth feel

It's often combined with the non-volatile (i.e. stays on the skin) dimethicone as the two together form a water-resistant, breathable protective barrier on the skin without a negative tacky feel.

What-it-does: emollient, solvent, perfuming

A  clear, colorless and odorless, highly volatile (meaning it does not absorb into the skin but evaporates from it) liquid that's used as an emollient. It gives a nice non-oily light skin feel and it can improve the slip of the formula without leaving a tacky residue behind.

It's also popular in make-up products as its volatility makes mascaras and foundations last longer. If that would not be enough, it's also an excellent solvent, and it's a regular not only on the ingredients lists of make-ups but also on makeup removers.  

A high-molecular-weight silicone elastomer (rubber-like elastic material) that is usually blended with a base silicone fluid (such as dimethicone or cyclopentasiloxane) to give the formula a silky smooth feel and to act as a thickening agent.

What-it-does: emollient

A clear, odorless, very light emollient ester that helps to achieve light textures. It has great spreadability, a good slip, and a silky skin feel.  It's ideal to solubilize sunscreen agents and fragrances. It's also touted as a volatile (evaporates from the skin rather than absorbs into it) silicone alternative, especially to replace Cyclomethicone mixes.

What-it-does: emollient, solvent

A light-feeling, volatile (meaning it does not absorb into the skin but evaporates from it) silicone that gives skin a unique, silky and non-greasy feel. It has excellent spreading properties and leaves no oily residue or build-up. 

What-it-does: emollient

A super common emollient that makes your skin feel nice and smooth. It comes from coconut oil and glycerin, it’s light-textured, clear, odorless and non-greasy. It’s a nice ingredient that just feels good on the skin, is super well tolerated by every skin type and easy to formulate with. No wonder it’s popular. 

Also-called: Vitamin E Acetate | What-it-does: antioxidant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

It’s the most commonly used version of pure vitamin E in cosmetics. You can read all about the pure form here. This one is the so-called esterified version. 

According to famous dermatologist, Leslie Baumann while tocopheryl acetate is more stable and has a longer shelf life, it’s also more poorly absorbed by the skin and may not have the same awesome photoprotective effects as pure Vit E. 

Also-called: Form of Retinoids | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient | Irritancy: 1-3 | Comedogenicity: 1-3

It's an ester form of vitamin A (retinol + palmitic acid) that belongs to the "retinoid family". The retinoid family is pretty much the royal family of skincare, with the queen being the FDA-approved anti-aging ingredient tretinoin. Retinol is also a very famous member of the family, but it's like Prince William, two steps away from the throne. Retinyl palmitate will be then little Prince George, quite far (3 steps) away from the throne. 

By steps, we mean metabolic steps. Tretinoin, aka retinoic acid, is the active ingredient our skin cells can understand and retinyl palmitate (RP) has to be converted by our metabolic machinery to actually do something. The conversion is a 3 step one and looks like this:

retinyl palmitate --> retinol -- > retinaldehyde --> all-trans-retinoic acid

As we wrote in our lengthy retinol description the problem is that the conversion is not terribly effective. The evidence that RP is still an effective anti-aging ingredient is not very strong, in fact, it's weak. Dr. Leslie Baumann in her fantastic Cosmetic Dermatology book writes that RP is topically ineffective

What's more, the anti-aging effectiveness is not the only questionable thing about RP. It also exibits questionable behaviour in the presence of UV light and was the center of a debate between the non-profit group, EWG (whose intentions are no doubt good, but its credibility is often questioned by scientists) and a group of scientists and dermatologists lead by Steven Q. Wang, MD,  director of dermatologic surgery at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre. 

Dr. Leslie Baumann wrote a great review of the debate and summarized the research available about retinyl palmitate here.  It seems that there is a study showing RP being photo protective against UVB rays but there is also a study showing RP causing DNA damage and cytotoxicity in association with UVA. 

We think that the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and we agree with Dr. Baumann's conclusion: "sufficient evidence to establish a causal link between RP and skin cancer has not been produced. Nor, I’m afraid, are there any good reasons to recommend the use of RP". We would add especially during the day!

Bottom line: If you wanna get serious about retinoids, RP is not your ingredient (retinol or tretinoin is!). However, if you use a product that you like and it also contains RP, there is no reason to throw it away. If possible use it at night, just to be on the safe side.

Retinol - superstar
Also-called: Vitamin A, Form of Retinoids | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient
  • Retinol (pure Vitamin A) is probably the most proven anti-aging ingredient available OTC
  • It has to be converted in the skin to retinoic acid to work its magic
  • Once converted, it has the same effect as all-trans-retinoic acid, aka tretinoin
  • A generally accepted ballpark number is that retinol is 10-to-20 times less potent than retinoic acid
  • It makes skin less wrinkled, smoother, firmer and tighter
  • It might also be helpful for acne prone skin as it normalizes keratinization and makes the pores produce less sebum
  • Possible side effects and irritation are also much less than with retinoic acid
  • Do not use whilst pregnant
Read all the geeky details about Retinol here >>

Also-called: Form of Vitamin C, Ascorbyl Isotetrapalmitate, Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate, ATIP | What-it-does: antioxidant, skin brightening

Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate is a stable, oil-soluble form of skincare big shot Vitamin C. If you do not know, why Vitamin C is such a big deal in skincare, click here and read all about it. We are massive vitamin C fans and have written about it in excruciating detail.

So now, you know that Vitamin C is great and all, but it's really unstable and gives cosmetics companies many headaches. To solve this problem they came up with vitamin C derivatives, and one of them is Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate (let's call it ATIP in short).

It's a really promising candidate (see below), but while reading all the goodness about it in a minute, do not forget that derivatives not only have to be absorbed into the skin but also have to be converted to pure vitamin C (ascorbic acid or AA) and the efficacy of the conversion is often unknown. In addition, vitamin C's three magic properties (antioxidant, collagen booster, skin brightener) are all properly proven in-vivo (on real people), but for the derivatives, it's mostly in-vitro studies or in the case of ATIP, it's in-vitro and done by an ingredient supplier.

With this context in mind let's see what ATIP might be able to do. First, it is stable (if pH < 5), easy to formulate and a joy to work with for a cosmetic chemist.

Second, because it's oil-soluble, its skin penetration abilities seem to be great. So great in fact, that it surpasses the penetration of pure vitamin C threefold at the same concentration and it penetrates successfully into the deeper layers of the skin (that is usually important to do some anti-aging work). There is also in-vitro data showing that it converts to AA in the skin. 

Third, ATIP seems to have all three magic abilities of pure vitamin C: it gives antioxidant protection from both UVB and UVA rays, it increases collagen synthesis (even more than AA) and it has a skin brightening effect by reducing melanogenesis by more than 80% in human melanoma cell cultures.

So this all sounds really great, but these are only in-vitro results at this point. We could find Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate mentioned only in one published in-vivo study that examined the anti-aging properties of a silicone formula containing 10% AA and 7% ATIP. The authors theorized that the 10% AA is released slowly from the silicon delivery system and probably stays in the upper layer of the skin to give antioxidant benefits, while ATIP penetrates more rapidly and deeply and gives some wrinkle-reducing benefits. The study was a small (10 patients), double-blind experiment, and the formula did show some measurable anti-aging results. However, it is hard to know how much pure vitamin C or ATIP can be thanked.

Bottom line: a really promising, but not well-proven vitamin C derivative that can be worth a try especially if you like experimenting (but if you like the tried and true, pure vitamin C will be your best bet).

Astaxanthin - goodie
What-it-does: antioxidant

An oil-loving, red-orange colored pigment that is becoming more and more well-known as a potent antioxidant.

If being an orange-colored pigment reminds you of beta-carotene from carrots, that is no coincidence: astaxanthin also belongs to the chemical group called carotenoids known for giving yellow, orange, or red color to plants. Our guy comes mostly from microalgae, a well-known and often used source is Haematococcus Pluvialis

So Astaxanthin's main thing is being an antioxidant. You can take it as a supplement or slather it on your skin, it works both ways. A mouse skin study from 2012 found that a liposomal Astaxanthin formula prevented UV‐induced skin damage in multiple ways: UV-induced skin thickening, collagen reduction, and melanin formation were all hindered or prevented when the skin was pretreated with the Astaxanthin formula. 

Another study from 2012 examined the cosmetic benefits of Astaxanthin and found that combining oral supplementation (6mg/day) and topical application for 8 weeks in 30 volunteers showed improvements in skin wrinkle (crow’s feet), age spot size (cheek), elasticity (crow’s feet), skin texture (cheek) and moisture content of the skin (cheek).  If that would not be enough, a 2017 mouse study found our carotenoid molecule to be effective in speeding up wound healing.

Overall, Astaxanthin is an up and coming antioxidant nice to spot on any ingredient list. 

Bisabolol - goodie
Also-called: Alpha-Bisabolol | What-it-does: soothing

It's one of the active parts of Chamomile that contains about 30% of bisabolol. It's a clear oily fluid that is used in skincare as a nice anti-inflammatory and soothing ingredient. 

Also-called: German Chamomile Flower Extract | What-it-does: soothing, antioxidant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

Chamomile probably needs no introduction as it's one of the most widely used medicinal herbs. You probably drink it regularly as a nice, calming cup of tea and it's also a regular on skincare ingredient lists.

Cosmetic companies use it mainly for its anti-inflammatory properties. It contains the terpenoids chamazulene and bisabolol both of which show great anti-inflammatory action in animal studies. On top of that chamomile also has some antioxidant activity (thanks to some other active ingredients called matricine, apigenin and luteolin).  

Though chamomile is usually a goodie for the skin, it's also not uncommon to have an allergic reaction to it. 

Also-called: Green Tea;Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract | What-it-does: antioxidant, soothing
  • Green tea is one of the most researched natural ingredients
  • The active parts are called polyphenols, or more precisely catechins (EGCG being the most abundant and most active catechin)
  • There can be huge quality differences between green tea extracts. The good ones contain 50-90% catechins (and often make the product brown and give it a distinctive smell)
  • Green tea is proven to be a great antioxidant, UV protectant, anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic and antimicrobial
  • Because of these awesome properties green tea is a great choice for anti-aging and also for skin diseases including rosacea, acne and atopic dermatitis
Read all the geeky details about Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract here >>

Also-called: White Willow Bark Extract | What-it-does: soothing, astringent

The extract coming from the bark of the White Willow, a big (25 m/80 ft.) tree that likes to live on riverbanks. It's famous for containing anti-inflammatory natural salicylates (this powder, for example, is standardized to contain 53-65%), a close chemical relative to famous exfoliant salicylic acid.

Thanks to its salicin content, willow bark is often touted as a natural alternative to salicylic acid, though it's quite questionable how effective it is as a chemical exfoliant in the tiny amounts used in cosmetics. Apart from soothing salicin, it also contains flavonoids and phenolic acids that give willow bark tonic, astringent, and antiseptic properties.

Also-called: Grape Seed Extract | What-it-does: antioxidant, antimicrobial/antibacterial

We wholeheartedly support the rise of seedless grapes as fruit snacks, but when it comes to skincare, we are big fans of the seeds.

They contain the majority of the skin goodies that -  similar to green tea - are mostly polyphenols (but not the same ones as in tea). The most abundant ones in grape are called proanthocyanidins, and 60-70% of them are found in the seeds (it's also often abbreviated as GSP - grape seed proanthocyanidins). In general, the darker the fruit, the more GSPs and other flavonoids it contains.

So what's so special about GSPs? Well, they are super-potent antioxidants, much stronger than Vitamin C or Vitamin E. And if that's not enough, GSPs and other flavonoids in grape also show UV protecting and anti-cancer properties.

It's definitely a goodie to spot on the INCI list.

Also-called: Ginkgo Biloba Extract

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Cranberry Fruit Extract | What-it-does: astringent

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Raspberry Extract | What-it-does: antioxidant, soothing, astringent

Raspberry is one of the colorful berries that’s not only delicious but contains many biologically active, healthy compounds. It has polyphenols including anthocyanins and ellagitannins that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. 

According to skin care expert Paula Begoun, it’s antibacterial as well but due to its tannin content it can cause also irritation to the very sensitive skinned. 

Also-called: Birch Bark Extract | What-it-does: antioxidant, soothing, perfuming, astringent

It's the extract from the silver-white bark of the Birch tree that grows on moors in North and Middle Europe and in North America. It contains tannins and triterpenes that give the extract antioxidant, anti-irritant and astringent magic properties. 

There is also research showing that birch bark extract can improve the skin barrier, increase skin hydration and reduce trans-epidermal water loss.  Can be a useful ingredient both for dry and oily skin.

Also-called: Soybean Oil | What-it-does: emollient, perfuming | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 3

The emollient plant oil coming from the soybean. It is considered to be a nice, cost-effective base oil with moisturizing properties. As for its fatty acid profile, it contains 48-59% barrier-repairing linoleic acid, 17-30% nourishing oleic acid and also some (4.5-11%) potentially anti-inflammatory linolenic acid

A white powdery thing that's the major component of glass and sand. In cosmetics, it’s often in products that are supposed to keep your skin matte as it has great oil-absorbing abilities. It’s also used as a helper ingredient to thicken up products or suspend insoluble particles. 

What-it-does: preservative

It’s pretty much the current IT-preservative. It’s safe and gentle, but even more importantly, it’s not a feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason paraben.

It’s not something new: it was introduced around 1950 and today it can be used up to 1% worldwide. It can be found in nature - in green tea - but the version used in cosmetics is synthetic. 

Other than having a good safety profile and being quite gentle to the skin it has some other advantages too. It can be used in many types of formulations as it has great thermal stability (can be heated up to 85°C) and works on a wide range of pH levels (ph 3-10). 

It’s often used together with ethylhexylglycerin as it nicely improves the preservative activity of phenoxyethanol.

You may also want to take a look at...

what‑it‑does emollient | solvent
It's a super commonly used water-thin volatile silicone that gives skin and hair a silky, smooth feel.  [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | solvent | perfuming
A  clear, colorless and odorless, highly volatile (meaning it does not absorb into the skin but evaporates from it) liquid that's used as an emollient and gives a nice, non-oily light skin-feel. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A high-molecular-weight silicone elastomer (rubber-like elastic material) that is usually blended with a base silicone fluid (such as dimethicone or cyclopentasiloxane) to give the formula a silky smooth feel and to act as a thickening agent. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
A clear, odorless, very light emollient ester that helps to achieve light textures. It has great spreadability, a good slip, and a silky skin feel. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | solvent
A light-feeling, volatile silicone that gives skin a unique, silky and non-greasy feel. It has excellent spreading properties and leaves no oily residue or build-up. 
what‑it‑does emollient
A very common emollient that makes your skin feel nice and smooth. Comes from coconut oil and glycerin, it’s light-textured, clear, odorless and non-greasy. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A form of vitamin E that works as an antioxidant. Compared to the pure form it's more stable, has longer shelf life, but it's also more poorly absorbed by the skin. [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
irritancy, com. 1-3, 1-3
An ester form of vitamin A (retinol + palmitic acid) that is pretty much the least effective member of the retinoid family. Its anti-aging effects are quite questionable as well as its behavior in the presence of UVA light. (Use it at night if possible!) [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
Vitamin A - the most proven anti-aging ingredient available OTC that can smooth wrinkles and make skin firmer. It might also be useful for acne-prone skin as it normalizes keratinization. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant | skin brightening
A stable, oil-soluble form of Vitamin C, that might have (in-vitro results) all the magic abilities of pure vitamin C (antioxidant, collagen booster, skin brightener). [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant
An oil-loving, red-orange colored pigment known for being a potent antioxidant. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing
One of the active parts of Chamomile that is used in skincare as a nice anti-inflammatory and soothing ingredient. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | antioxidant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
Chamomile extract - has great anti-inflammatory and some antioxidant properties. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant | soothing
Green Tea - one of the most researched natural ingredients that contains the superstar actives called catechins. It has proven antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and anticarcinogenic properties. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing
White Willow Bark Extract - Famous for containing anti-inflammatory natural salicylates. It also has tonic, astringent, and antiseptic properties. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant | antimicrobial/antibacterial
Grape Seed Extract - contains awesome polyphenols that are super-potent antioxidants and also have UV-protecting and anti-cancer properties. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant | soothing
Raspberry is one of the colorful berries that’s not only delicious but contains many biologically active, healthy compounds. It has polyphenols including anthocyanins and ellagitannins that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. According to skin care expert Paula Begoun, it’s antibacterial as well but due to its tannin content it can cause also irritation to the very s [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant | soothing | perfuming
The extract from the silver-white bark of the Birch tree that has antioxidant, anti-irritant and astringent magic properties. It can also improve the skin barrier and hydrate the skin. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | perfuming
irritancy, com. 0, 3
The emollient plant oil coming from the soybean. It is rich in barrier repairing linoleic acid (48-59%) and is generally a good moisturizing oil. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A white powdery thing that can mattify the skin and thicken up cosmetic products. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
Pretty much the current IT-preservative. It’s safe and gentle, and can be used up to 1% worldwide. [more]