The Ordinary, the disruptive and jaw-droppingly affordable skincare brand, is over a year old already. Can you believe it? Industry insiders and skincare obsessives alike are firm fans. But if you don’t know your alpha-arbutin acid from your alpha-lipoic acid, it can all seem a bit daunting. The Ordinary was founded to offer results-driven products at an affordable price. The only catch is that you need to know your ingredients.
And that’s where we can help. In this gallery, we reveal everything you need to know about each product, from what it does to how to use it, plus some skincare tricks from founder Brandon Truaxe along the way. Worth noting: All the products are free of parabens, sulphates and mineral oil (along with other nasties—you can read the full list here), plus the company doesn’t test on animals or pay others to do its dirty work.
Best for Everyone
Retinol is a vitamin A derivative and is essentially your skin’s best friend. It speeds cell turnover, boosts collagen production, tackles pigmentation, reduces fine lines and unclogs pores. [Ed. note: Do not combine more than one retinoid product.]
1. The Ordinary offers Retinol in Squalane from 0.2%, 0.5% and 1% (from £5), which is a light serum-like consistency. Why the different percentages? Retinol can cause irritation in sensitive skin or for first-time users, so you should build up the percentage over time. Use it at night after cleansing and applying water-based serums, but before oils or creams.
2. The company’s Granactive Retinoids come in a 2% emulsion (a lotion-like consistency) and in a 2% and 5% in squalane (from £8). These contain a “next generation” retinoid active complex that offers accelerated results, which is why it’s slightly more expensive. Use it at night after cleansing and applying water-based serums, but before oils or creams.
The C Vitamins
Best for Dull Skin
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that protects and brightens the skin. The Ordinary currently has five products to choose from.
1. Vitamin C Suspension 30% in Silicone (£6, pictured above) contains L-ascorbic acid, the purest and most potent form of vitamin C. Blended with light silicones, this heavy serum feels seriously silky. For the first couple of weeks, you can expect it to tingle on use. Use at night after water-based products.
2. Vitamin C 23% + HA Spheres 2% (£5) is ideal for dry and dehydrated skin. The HA is hyaluronic acid, which is a molecule that attracts 1000 times its weight in water, so it’ll help hydrate the skin. This is also a heavy serum; they both take around 10 to 15 seconds to absorb. Use at night after water-based products.
[Ed. note: Avoid using these two products with niacinamide (another skin-brightening ingredient we’ll discuss later). Choose these if you want fast results and can handle that initial tingling.]
The following three products are made from different vitamin C derivatives that are slightly less effective, which means you’ll get the benefits but it will take longer. The benefits are that you won’t get any tingling and you can choose which consistency you prefer: water-based serum, oil or cream. You can also double up and use these in the morning too.
1. Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12% (£9): Unlike L-ascorbic acid, this ingredient stays stable in water, which means this light water-based serum is more pleasant to use and still offers notable brightening results. Use morning and night before oils and creams.
2. Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F (£15): This comes in a higher percentage because it has been blended with vitamin F, a fatty acid that acts as a buffer, meaning you can brighten the skin without the tingling. This oil is light enough to absorb in seconds. Use morning and night before oils and creams.
3. Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate 10% (£8): A light cream, this contains another derivative of vitamin C, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate. It’s much like the previous two products, but it comes in a light cream consistency. Use morning and night before oils and creams.
The Direct Acids
Best for Dull Skin and Uneven Skin Tone
Acids are used to slough away dead skin, brighten a dull complexion and improve texture. You’ll either get alpha-hydroxy acids (such as glycolic or lactic acids) or beta-hydroxy acids (salicylic acid); both types work on the top layer of the skin, but BHAs also work deeper into the pores, making them great for anyone with spot-prone skin.
1. Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution (£7, pictured above), a brightening and smoothing toner, boasts ginseng to further brighten and aloe vera to soothe. Use it at night (after cleansing and before serum).
2. Salicylic Acid 2% Solution (£4) is for spot-prone skin types. It works deep down inside the pores to fight blemishes but also improves any skin clarity over time. Ideal if you have scarring left over from spots. This comes in a small dropper bottle so you can apply directly to blemishes. Use it morning and night after cleansing.
3. Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% (£6) is made from an ingredient produced by the yeast that lives on normal skin. It brightens skin tone and evens texture, tackling marks left by blemishes too. This lightweight cream-gel suits all skin types. Use it morning and night after water-based serums.
4. There are two lactic acid products to choose from—a 2% (£6) and a 5% (£6), both combined with HA 2%. The water-based serums offer a mild exfoliation while the HA hydrates the skin. Tasmanian pepperberry is included in both to help prevent irritation. Use these at night after cleansing and toning.
5. AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution (£7) is ideal for anyone serious about exfoliation. The red-hued peel is a light liquid solution. There’s a slight tingling sensation, but you’ll be left with seriously bright skin. Use this twice a week for 10 minutes each time after cleansing and toning.
6. Alpha-Lipoic Acid 5% (£6) is another potent exfoliator. It’s unstable in water, so this solution can feel quite oily on the skin before it sinks in. It exfoliates, brightens and protects the complexion. Since it’s strong stuff, apply two to three drops two to three times a week. Use it at night after water-based products.
Best for Everyone
Antioxidants protect the skin from free radical damage, which can lead to premature skin ageing (think lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone and texture). So what is free radical damage? It’s essentially damage caused by outside aggressors such as pollution and UV rays. They can also help protect from internal aggressors like the stress hormone cortisol.
1. Resveratrol 3% + Ferulic Acid 3% (£6): A serious serum, this contains the two most powerful antioxidants. Wear this daily, especially if you’re a city dweller or sun worshipper, to protect your skin. Use it in the morning and/or at night after water-based serums. You can also cocktail this with a vitamin C serum.
2. EUK 134.01% (£7): This molecule is a mimetic of superoxide dismutase and catalase. (I know, say what?) It’s a self-regenerating molecule that basically scavenges in the skin to eliminate free radicals by converting them into harmless water and oxygen. It’s essentially a bodyguard for your skin. Use it in the morning and/or at night after water-based serums. [Ed. note: Do not use at the same time as an acid, as these will destroy the EUK molecules.]
The Hydrators and Oils
Best for Dry and Dehydrated Skin
This collection of products is all about hydrating and nourishing skin that needs a little TLC.
1. Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 (£6) is a lightweight serum containing different-sized hyaluronic acid molecules that penetrate to different depths. (As we know, hyaluronic acid attracts 1000 times its weight in water, so this will draw hydration into the skin.) Vitamin B5 works on the surface to enhance hydration and soften the appearance of fine lines and leave skin feeling smoother. Use this morning and night before oils and creams.
2. Natural Moisturising Factors + HA (£7): feature elements found in the outer layer of the skin that create a barrier to protect the deeper layers and to keep skin hydrated. NMFs are made up of multiple amino acids, fatty acids, urea, ceramides, glycerin, hyaluronic acid and more. If your skin is dry, rough or irritated (think eczema or rosacea), apply this daily to bolster your skin’s function. Best used morning and night after serums.
3. 100% Plant-Derived Squalane (£6) is a hydrocarbon that is found naturally in the skin. It’s seriously hydrating for skin that’s dehydrated or losing suppleness with age. You can also use it as a heat protector for hair. Best used morning and night after water-based products.
4. 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil (£9) is rich in linoleic acid and provitamin A, nourishing the skin and preventing the effects of photo ageing (including pigmentation and fine lines). The cold-pressed extraction process doesn’t use heat, which means the oil is more potent. Use this one at night after water-based products.
5. 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Moroccan Argan Oil (£6): With a host of fatty acids, this oil is particularly good for skin that is suffering in winter (think rough and flaky). It also adds shine when applied to damp or dry hair. Use at night (or as needed) after water-based products.
6. 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Virgin Marula Oil (£8), like argan oil, can be used on the skin and hair. The antioxidant is known to hydrate the skin and is claimed to give skin radiance over time. Use at night (or as needed) after water-based products.
7. Marine Hyaluronics (£6) contains marine-derived ingredients like Hawaiian red algae, glycoproteins and blue-green algae. This serum has a texture like water, making it seriously quick and easy to layer. Much like HA, these ingredients attract into the skin to hydrate. Use at night (or as needed) after water-based products.
The Miscellaneous Molecules
Best for Everyone
Depending on your skin concerns, you can pick and choose from these molecules to zero in. You might find yourself changing these up as the seasons change or as your skin alters.
1. Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% (£5) tackles blemishes and skin congestion. The zinc is there to reduce the skin’s sebum activity so your skin won’t get quite so oily during the day. Niacinamide also tackles fine lines and dullness so expect your skin to generally just look more even and glowing. Use morning and night before heavier oils and creams.
2. “Buffet” (£13) is a serum containing a ton of peptides that do various things, hence the name. They reduce muscle movement (essentially like Botox in a bottle), and boost collagen and elastin production. Then there are probiotics to help ease skin conditions like acne and rosacea while hyaluronic acid hydrates and amino acids nourish. If you’re not sure where to start with The Ordinary, this is a good place. Use morning and night after cleansing.
3. Matrixyl 10% + HA (£10) is a patented ingredient that has been developed to reduce the look of dynamic wrinkles (the ones that show when you talk or smile) and static wrinkles (that are on show even when your face is relaxed). Use morning and night before oils and creams.
4. Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA (£7) is the serum for you if pigmentation is your concern. The alpha-arbutin travels down to your melanocytes (the cells responsible for melanin production) and stops them working, which means pigmentation production will be inhibited. Use morning and night before oils and creams. You can also use it as an SPF in the morning after applying your final skincare product.
5. Caffeine Solution 5% + ECGC (£6, pictured above) blends epigallocatechin gallate glucoside (from green tea leaves) with caffeine to tackle dark circles and puffiness around the eyes. Use morning and night before oils and creams.
6. Argireline Solution 10% (£6): This ingredient should be used on areas where dynamic folds and wrinkles form: around the eyes, the forehand and around the mouth. Use morning and night before oils and creams.