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PCA  Skin Acne Cream

Acne Cream

A gentle BPO acne spot-treatment that clears existing blemishes and prevents future breakouts. Fast-acting benzoyl peroxide spot treatment to quickly clear acne blemishes. The poly hydroxy acid gluconolactone supports breakout control and soothes skin. A host of soothing botanicals to reduce potential irritation.
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Ingredient name what-it-does irr., com. ID-Rating
Benzoyl Peroxide (5%) anti-acne
Water solvent
Gluconolactone exfoliant, chelating superstar
Glycerin skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/​humectant 0, 0 superstar
Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride emollient
Cetyl Alcohol emollient, viscosity controlling 2, 2
Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Oil antioxidant, emollient goodie
Aminomethyl Propanol buffering
Lactic Acid exfoliant, moisturizer/​humectant, buffering superstar
Cyclopentasiloxane emollient, solvent
Dimethicone emollient 0, 1
Glyceryl Stearate emollient, emulsifying 0, 1-2
PEG-100 Stearate surfactant/​cleansing, emulsifying 0, 0
Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice soothing, moisturizer/​humectant goodie
Polyacrylate-13
Phenoxyethanol preservative
Polyisobutene viscosity controlling
Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP Copolymer viscosity controlling
Caprylyl Glycol moisturizer/​humectant, emollient
Potassium Cetyl Phosphate emulsifying, surfactant/​cleansing
Ethylhexylglycerin preservative
Hexylene Glycol solvent, emulsifying, perfuming, surfactant/​cleansing 0-1, 0-2
Allantoin soothing 0, 0 goodie
Tocopheryl Acetate antioxidant 0, 0
Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Peel Oil perfuming icky
Polysorbate 20 emulsifying, surfactant/​cleansing 0, 0
Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Leaf Oil soothing, anti-acne, antioxidant, antimicrobial/​antibacterial, perfuming goodie
Panthenol soothing, moisturizer/​humectant 0, 0 goodie
Butylene Glycol moisturizer/​humectant, solvent 0, 1
Anthemis Nobilis Flower Extract soothing, perfuming goodie
Ascorbic Acid antioxidant, skin brightening, buffering superstar
Retinyl Palmitate cell-communicating ingredient 1-3, 1-3

PCA Skin Acne Cream
Ingredients explained

What-it-does: anti-acne

The gold standard topical ingredient in treating acne. There is no miracle cure for acne (we do really wish for one, *sigh*), but Benzoyl Peroxide (BP) is probably the closest thing we have. But, as usual, big effects come with big side effects, so we think BP is best used as a last resort (at least, in the topical treatment field). 

The good thing about BP is that it is amazingly effective against inflammatory-type acne. Not so much against blackheads or whiteheads, but against acne that is caused by the evil bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes (and that is most types of acne).  Apart from being antibacterial, it is also anti-inflammatory, keratolytic and wound-healing, all of which are properties that make it so darn effective against spots.

Also-called: Aqua | What-it-does: solvent

Good old water, aka H2O. The most common skincare ingredient of all. You can usually find it right in the very first spot of the ingredient list, meaning it’s the biggest thing out of all the stuff that makes up the product. 

It’s mainly a solvent for ingredients that do not like to dissolve in oils but rather in water. 

Gluconolactone - superstar
What-it-does: exfoliant, chelating
  • It’s a polyhydroxy acid (PHA), that is often referred to as next generation AHA
  • It gently lifts off dead skin cells form the skin surface making skin smooth and even
  • In the long term it provides anti-aging benefits, like increased skin thickness and decreased wrinkles (though a tad less than even more proven superstar AHAs)
  • It’s a great moisturizer and even helps to repair impaired skin barrier
  • It’s antioxidant, and does not make your skin more sensitive to the sun
  • It can be used even if your skin is very sensitive, rosacea prone or if you are post cosmetic procedure
Read all the geeky details about Gluconolactone here >>

Glycerin - superstar
Also-called: Glycerol | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0
  • A natural moisturizer that’s also in our skin
  • A super common, safe, effective and cheap molecule used for more than 50 years
  • Not only a simple moisturizer but knows much more: keeps the skin lipids between our skin cells in a healthy (liquid crystal) state, protects against irritation, helps to restore barrier
  • Effective from as low as 3% with even more benefits for dry skin at higher concentrations up to 20-40%
  • High-glycerin moisturizers are awesome for treating severely dry skin
Read all the geeky details about Glycerin here >>

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. 

What-it-does: emollient, viscosity controlling, emulsion stabilising | Irritancy: 2 | Comedogenicity: 2

A so-called fatty (the good, non-drying kind of) alcohol that does all kinds of things in a skincare product: it makes your skin feel smooth and nice (emollient), helps to thicken up products and also helps water and oil to blend (emulsifier). Can be derived from coconut or palm kernel oil.

Also-called: Grape Seed Oil | What-it-does: antioxidant, emollient

A goodie plant oil coming from the polyphenol-rich seeds of the grape. It's a light emollient oil that makes your skin feel smooth and nice and also contains a bunch of good-for-the-skin stuff. It's a great source of antioxidant polyphenols, barrier repair fatty acid linoleic acid (about 55-77%, while oleic acid is about 12-27%) and antioxidant, skin-protectant vitamin E

What-it-does: buffering

An alkaline (high pH, aka basic) material that is used to set the pH of the cosmetic formula to the right value

Lactic Acid - superstar
  • It’s the second most researched AHA after glycolic acid
  • It gently lifts off dead skin cells to reveal newer, fresher, smoother skin
  • It also has amazing skin hydrating properties
  • In higher concentration (10% and up) it improves skin firmness, thickness and wrinkles
  • Choose a product where you know the concentration and pH value because these two greatly influence effectiveness
  • Don’t forget to use your sunscreen (in any case but especially so next to an AHA product)
Read all the geeky details about Lactic Acid here >>

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 | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

Probably the most common silicone of all. It is a polymer (created from repeating subunits) molecule and has different molecular weight and thus different viscosity versions from water-light to thick liquid.

As for skincare, it makes the skin silky smooth, creates a subtle gloss and forms a protective barrier (aka occlusive). Also, works well to fill in fine lines and wrinkles and give skin a plump look (of course that is only temporary, but still, it's nice). There are also scar treatment gels out there using dimethicone as their base ingredient. It helps to soften scars and increase their elasticity. 

What-it-does: emollient, emulsifying | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1-2

A super common, waxy, white, solid stuff that helps water and oil to mix together, gives body to creams and leaves the skin feeling soft and smooth.

Chemically speaking, it is the attachment of a glycerin molecule to the fatty acid called stearic acid. It can be produced from most vegetable oils (in oils three fatty acid molecules are attached to glycerin instead of just one like here) in a pretty simple, "green" process that is similar to soap making. It's readily biodegradable.

What-it-does: surfactant/cleansing, emulsifying | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

A very common water-loving surfactant and emulsifier that helps to keep water and oil mixed nicely together. 

It's often paired with glyceryl stearate - the two together form a super effective emulsifier duo that's salt and acid tolerant and works over a wide pH range. It also gives a "pleasing product aesthetics", so no wonder it's popular.

Also-called: Aloe Vera | What-it-does: soothing, moisturizer/humectant

Aloe Vera is one of today’s magic plants. It does have some very nice properties indeed, though famous dermatologist Leslie Baumann warns us in her book that most of the evidence is anecdotal and the plant might be a bit overhyped.

What research does confirm about Aloe is that it’s a great moisturizer and has several anti-inflammatory (among others contains salicylates, polysaccharides, magnesium lactate and C-glucosyl chromone) as well as some antibacterial components. It also helps wound healing and skin regeneration in general. All in all definitely a goodie. 

A helper ingredient that functions as a film-forming polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits).

It usually comes to the formula as part of a thickener-emulsifier trio paired with Polyisobutene and Polysorbate 20. The three togeather have excellent thickening properties with remarkable emulsifying-stabilising abilities. They also have a nice silicone feel with glide-on spreading. 

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. 

What-it-does: viscosity controlling

A polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) that's used as a gloss improver for lipsticks and lipglosses. Its stickiness also helps lip products to stay on longer. 

Combined with polyacrylate-13 and polysorbate 20, it forms a very effective tickener-emulsifier trio.

Also-called: Aristoflex AVC | What-it-does: viscosity controlling

A kind of polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) that helps to create beautiful gel-like textures. It's also a texturizer and thickener for oil-in-water emulsions. It gives products a good skin feel and does not make the formula tacky or sticky. 

It works over a wide pH range and is used between 0.5-1.2%.

It’s a handy multi-tasking ingredient that gives the skin a nice, soft feel. At the same time, it also boosts the effectiveness of other preservatives, such as the nowadays super commonly used phenoxyethanol

The blend of these two (caprylyl glycol + phenoxyethanol) is called Optiphen, which not only helps to keep your cosmetics free from nasty things for a long time but also gives a good feel to the finished product. It's a popular duo.

A white to beige powder that is described as the golden standard emulsifier for emulsions (oil+water mixtures) that are difficult to stabilize. It is especially popular in sunscreens as it can boost SPF protection and increase the water-resistance of the formula. 

What-it-does: preservative, deodorant

If you have spotted ethylhexylglycerin on the ingredient list, most probably you will see there also the current IT-preservative, phenoxyethanol. They are good friends because ethylhexylglycerin can boost the effectiveness of phenoxyethanol (and other preservatives) and as an added bonus it feels nice on the skin too.

Also, it's an effective deodorant and a medium spreading emollient

What-it-does: solvent, emulsifying, perfuming, surfactant/cleansing | Irritancy: 0-1 | Comedogenicity: 0-2

Similar to other glycols, it's a helper ingredient used as a solvent, or to thin out thick formulas and make them more nicely spreadable. 

Hexylene Glycol is also part a preservative blend named Lexgard® HPO, where it helps the effectiveness of current IT-preservative, phenoxyethanol

Allantoin - goodie
What-it-does: soothing | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

Super common soothing ingredient. It can be found naturally in the roots & leaves of the comfrey plant, but more often than not what's in the cosmetic products is produced synthetically. 

It's not only soothing but it' also skin-softening and protecting and can promote wound healing.

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: Grapefruit Peel Oil | What-it-does: perfuming

The essential oil coming from the rind of the grapefruit. In general, the main component of citrus peel oils is limonene (86-95% for grapefruit peel), a super common fragrant ingredient that makes everything smell nice (but counts as a frequent skin sensitizer).

Other than that, citrus peel also contains the problematic compound called furanocoumarin that makes them mildly phototoxic. In general, the more sour-bitter the fruit, the more problematic it is regarding phototoxicity: orange and clementine peel contain less of it while lemon, grapefruit, and bergamot contain some more. Be careful with it if it is in a product for daytime use.  

What-it-does: emulsifying, surfactant/cleansing | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

It's a common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together. Also, it can help to increase the solubility of some other ingredients in the formula. 

Also-called: Tea Tree Oil, TTO | What-it-does: soothing, anti-acne, antioxidant, antimicrobial/antibacterial, perfuming

The famous tea tree oil. One of the best known essential oils which comes from Australia where it has been used for almost 100 years for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory actions. Legend has it that the medicinal benefits of the oil were considered so important that Australian soldiers were supplied with some tea tree oil in their World War II military kit.

Similar to other essential oils, tea tree oil is a very complex chemical mixture consisting of about 100 components, the major ones being terpinen-4-ol (40%), γ-Terpinene (23%) and α-Terpinene (10%). Terpinen-4-ol is considered to be the main active component but as a great article in Clinical Microbiology Reviews states "while some TTO components may be considered less active, none can be considered inactive" and most components contribute to TTO's strong antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal effects

Panthenol - goodie
Also-called: Pro-Vitamin B5 | What-it-does: soothing, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

An easy-to-formulate, commonly used, nice to have ingredient that’s also called pro-vitamin B5. As you might guess from the “pro” part, it’s a precursor to vitamin B5 (whose fancy name is pantothenic acid). 

Its main job in skincare products is to moisturise the skin. It’s a humectant meaning that it can help the skin to attract water and then hold onto it. There is also research showing that panthenol can help our skin to produce more lovely lipids that are important for a strong and healthy skin barrier. 

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant, solvent | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

Butylene glycol, or let’s just call it BG, is a multi-tasking colorless, syrupy liquid. It’s a great pick for creating a nice feeling product.  

BG’s main job is usually to be a solvent for the other ingredients. Other tasks include helping the product to absorb faster and deeper into the skin (penetration enhancer), making the product spread nicely over the skin (slip agent), and attracting water (humectant) into the skin.

Also-called: Roman Chamomile Flower Extract | What-it-does: soothing, perfuming

There are two primary types of Chamomile, the German and the Roman. Both has soothing properties, but the German one contains more anti-inflammatory actives (like chamazulene). The anti-inflammatory action of the Roman Chamomile is due to phenolic compounds and -  according to manufacturer info- it also has some nice skin toning properties.

Ascorbic Acid - superstar
Also-called: Vitamin C, L-ascorbic acid | What-it-does: antioxidant, skin brightening, buffering
  • Works best between a concentration of 5-20%
  • Boosts the skin’s own collagen production
  • Fades pigmentation and brown spots
  • If used under sunscreen it boosts its UV protection
  • Extremely unstable and oxidizes very easily in presence of light or air
  • Stable in solutions with water only if pH is less than 3.5 or in waterless formulations
  • Vit E + C work in synergy and provide superb photoprotection
  • Ferulic acid doubles the photoprotection effect of Vit C+E and helps to stabilize Vit C
  • Potent Vit. C serums might cause a slight tingling on sensitive skin
Read all the geeky details about Ascorbic Acid here >>

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:

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

what‑it‑does anti-acne
The gold standard topical ingredient in treating acne today. It is uniquely effective in treating inflammatory type acne, but it comes at a price (pro-oxidant and skin drying). [more]
what‑it‑does solvent
Normal (well kind of - it's purified and deionized) water. Usually the main solvent in cosmetic products. [more]
what‑it‑does exfoliant | chelating
A next generation AHA, a so-called PHA that gently exfoliates skin without irritation. It also moisturizes and helps the skin barrier. It also has antioxidant properties. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A real oldie but a goodie. Great natural moisturizer and skin-identical ingredient that plays an important role in skin hydration and general skin health. [more]
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 emollient | viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 2, 2
A fatty (the good, non-drying kind of) alcohol that makes your skin feel smooth and nice (emollient), helps to thicken up products and also helps water and oil to blend (emulsifier).
what‑it‑does antioxidant | emollient
A goodie plant oil coming from the polyphenol-rich seeds of the grape. It's a light emollient oil that is a great source of antioxidant polyphenols, barrier repair fatty acid linoleic acid and antioxidant, skin-protectant vitamin E. 
what‑it‑does buffering
An alkaline (high pH, aka basic) material that is used to set the pH of the cosmetic formula to the right value.  [more]
what‑it‑does exfoliant | moisturizer/humectant | buffering
A superstar AHA that not only exfoliates skin but is also a very good moisturizer. In higher concentration (10% and up) it can even improve skin firmness, thickness, and wrinkles. [more]
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
irritancy, com. 0, 1
A very common silicone that gives both skin and hair a silky smooth feel. It also forms a protective barrier on the skin and fills in fine lines. Also used for scar treatment. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | emulsifying
irritancy, com. 0, 1-2
Waxy, white, solid stuff that helps water and oil to mix together and leaves the skin feeling soft and smooth. [more]
what‑it‑does surfactant/cleansing | emulsifying
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A commonly used water-soluble surfactant and emulsifier. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | moisturizer/humectant
The famous aloe vera. A great moisturizer and anti-inflammatory ingredient that also helps wound healing and skin regeneration. [more]
A film forming polymer that usually comes to the formula as part of a thickener-emulsifier trio paired with Polyisobutene and Polysorbate 20. [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]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) that's used as a gloss improver for lipsticks and lipglosses. Combined with polyacrylate-13 and polysorbate 20, it forms a very effective tickener-emulsifier trio. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A kind of polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) that helps to create beautiful gel-like textures. It's also a texturizer and thickener for oil-in-water emulsions. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant | emollient
A handy multi-tasking ingredient that gives the skin a nice, soft feel and also boosts the effectiveness of other preservatives. [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
A white to beige powder that is the golden standard emulsifier for emulsions (oil+water mixtures) that are difficult to stabilize. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
It can boost the effectiveness of phenoxyethanol (and other preservatives) and as an added bonus it feels nice on the skin too. [more]
what‑it‑does solvent | emulsifying | perfuming | surfactant/cleansing
irritancy, com. 0-1, 0-2
Similar to other glycols, it's a helper ingredient used as a solvent, or to thin out thick formulas and make them more nicely spreadable.  Hexylene Glycol is also part a preservative blend named Lexgard® [more]
what‑it‑does soothing
irritancy, com. 0, 0
Super common soothing ingredient. It can be found naturally in the roots & leaves of the comfrey plant, but more often than not what's in the cosmetic products is produced synthetically. It's not only soothing but it' [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 perfuming
The essential oil coming from the rind of the grapefruit. Its main component (86-95%) is limonene, the super common fragrant ingredient. [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
irritancy, com. 0, 0
It's a common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together. Also, it can help to increase the solubility of some other ingredients in the formula. 
what‑it‑does soothing | anti-acne | antioxidant | antimicrobial/antibacterial | perfuming
The famous tea tree oil. One of the best known essential oils which comes from Australia where it has been used for almost 100 years for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory actions. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
Pro-Vitamin B5 is a goodie that moisturises the skin, has anti-inflammatory, skin protecting and wound healing properties. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant | solvent
irritancy, com. 0, 1
An often used glycol that works as a solvent, humectant, penetration enhancer and also gives a good slip to the products. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | perfuming
Roman Chamomile - thanks to its phenolic compound had some nice soothing and skin toning properties. It contains less anti-inflammatory actives than the German Chamomile. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant | skin brightening | buffering
Pure Vitamin C. A skincare superstar that is clinically proven to boost collagen production (in 5-20% concentration), fade hyperpigmentation and boost UV protection under sunscreen. Also, it's extremely unstable and hard to formulate. [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]