Ingredient spotlight-TCA

Ingredient spotlight-TCA

It seems like every time you turn around, there’s a new miracle skin care ingredient that offers amazing results. Some are natural, some are “new” discoveries from the jungles of the Amazon (pun intended), and others are miracle technology break throughs. It’s hard to know what’s worth it and what’s hype.

Remember, the most important things you can do for your skin are taking good care of your diet, staying active, and having a regular twice a day skin care routine that includes daily sunscreen.

After that, the ingredients depend on your age, your skin type and condition, and what you want from your skin care. The goal at SunWindSnow is always to provide you with the best and most effective clean skincare routine using the fewest most efficient products.

TCA is an ingredient that you don’t hear about much

(And you hardly ever find it in skin care products, not sure why.) Don’t feel bad, until I started working with one of this country’s best cosmetic formulators I hadn’t either.

What I’ve learned in months of trialing TCA products is that if there’s one acid product I’d recommend to someone who’s hoping to make significant changes in their skin, it would be TCA.

TC A can help with a host of skin issues from dull, wrinkled, or sagging skin, sun spots, discolored spots, large pores, and acne breakouts.

It's also been used to treat and remove precancerous skin growths, which may be a great option to discuss with your medical provider.

TCA, or trichloroacetic acid (I know, long scary name), is actually derived from common vinegar, or acetic acid.

It was discovered in 1839 by John Baptiste-Dumas. Over the years, it’s been used widely in biochemistry. It’s also one of the most widely studied dermatological acids.

What does TCA do?

TCA is an exfoliant

Which means it helps you skin shed its dead outer layer so that fresh new cells can take their place. And make your skin look fresh and radiant.

Exfoliants strip the outer layer of your skin, called the stratum corneum.

  • This changes the way light refracts from your skin surface and makes it look more luminous and shiny.
  • They also make the skin feel softer and smoother to the touch.
  • Stripping the outer layer makes your skin think it’s been wounded and stimulates the underlying cells to grow. Which creates thickening of the epidermis and production of new collagen.

Your skin is smoother and firmer.

There are two types of exfoliation-physical and chemical

Physical exfoliation is done by mechanically removing dead outer skin cells. Wash cloths, loofahs, brushes, and scrub products with abrasive particles work by physical exfoliation.

It can feel good, like you’re really doing something.

But I’m not a fan. Especially if you’re over 40, have dry or dehydrated, or sensitive skin. The reason is that physical exfoliation can damage your skin by making small cuts in it. It can damage your skin barrier and make your skin

  • Red
  • Irritated
  • More dry and dehydrated
  • Or, weirdly, more oily (your skin is trying to repair your skin barrier and produces more oil to help)


Chemical exfoliation sounds a little scary, but it’s not. It’s a way to get rid of those dull old cells and keep your barrier intact. (As long as you use the right strength and frequency).

Chemical exfoliation can make your skin care work better. Exfoliating the top layers of your skin helps remove dead cells which makes it easier for your skin care products to reach the fresher, new cells and do their best work.

As that outer layer is shed, signals are sent to the living cells below to multiply and move up, to increase collagen production, to make more hyaluronic acid.  All of that results in your skin acting younger, as it once did.

Chemical exfoliants are acids

Most of the acids used on skin, like glycolic, lactic, malic (and TCA) work by dissolving the “glue” that holds those dead cells together so that they can be shed. Interestingly, all of these “chemical” exfoliating acids have their basis in plants and foods.

  • Lactic acid: milk
  • Glycolic acid: sugar cane
  • Malic acid: apples
  • TCA: vinegar


We use some of each of these acids in SunWindSnow’s products. The newest is TCA, and we’re happy to have it on board.

TCA is the preferred acid for medium depth facial peels. Dermatologists love it because it does a great job without the redness and irritation that other peeling agents produce.

It’s a powerful solution that effectively exfoliates the skin without risk of toxicity.  TCA can reach slightly deeper layers, compared to glycolic acids.

In different strengths, TCA is used to treat:

  • Improve the texture of leathery, sun damaged skin
  • Smooth fine surface wrinkles
  • Add glow to your skin
  • Remove superficial blemishes
  • Help with  pigment problems 
  • Reduce brown spots and age spots
  • Treat some types of acne


TCA is used for facial peels but it turns out that in small doses, it’s really effective for daily skin care too.

By using lower concentrations and using  TCA in a soothing cream base, you can use TCA nightly and very safely.

Mark Rubin MD conducted a study using TCA nightly over the course of three months. They were checked at 6 and 12 weeks. 

All of the participants noted significant improvement in all aging skin parameters.

There were no adverse events associated with using TCA. One participant experienced an acne breakout that went away as soon as the TCA was stopped. When the TCA was used again, the participant had no further break outs.

Dr. Rubin noted that combining TCA with other active ingredients increases the penetration and effectiveness of the other ingredients while it’s performing its own skin improving work.

(This is exactly what we did with our newest serum, StarDrops. We combined TCA with all trans retinol to get medical grade results and a noticeable improved skin for you.We'll have it available in the 7-14 days. Can't wait.)


The bottom line is TCA is a great way to look better and have skin that just feels better- brighter, firmer, and smoother.





Clinical presentation, Mark Rubin MD,










Leave a comment