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 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.]
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.
The company’s Granactive Retinoids come in a 2% emulsion (a lotion-like consistency) and in a 1%, 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 eight products to choose from.
This 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.
Ideal for dry and dehydrated skin, the HA stands for 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.
The jar contains a Vitamin C powder, this format means the potent ingredient stays stable and avoids oxidisation. Mix the fine and fast-absorbing powder into water or other water-based serums or solutions and apply to the skin morning and night. When using pigmentation-tackling Vitamin C in the day be sure to apply SPF to further prevent pigmentation production caused by daylight.
[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 five 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.
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.
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.
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.
This combines Vitamin C at a lower concentration (good for sensitive skins) but combines it with alpha arbutin to still enable it to tackle dullness and hyperpigmentation effectively. Apply morning and night.
An exceptionally stable and effective form of Vitamin C, this that targets uneven and dull skin tones, as well as the signs of ageing. Apply a few drops to face morning and night.
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.
A brightening and smoothing toner, boasts ginseng to further brighten and aloe vera to soothe. Use it at night (after cleansing and before serum).
For spot-prone skin types, this 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.
Made from an ingredient produced by the yeast that lives on normal skin this 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.
There are two lactic acid products to choose from—a 5% and a 10%, 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.
Offering gentle, superficial peeling, it's larger molecular size means it can't penetrate as quickly, making it more gentle than other acids. Suitable for all skin types, including sensitive, because it's kinder to skin you can use this every day in the evening. Seriously sensitive skin? It can be diluted into other products like your night serum or cream to help you build a tolerance, if necessary.
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.
Another potent exfoliator, ALA is 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.
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.
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.]
A highly potent antioxidant this can help skin look fresh and glowing again tackling both skin texture and tone.
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.
With anti-inflammatory and skin repairing benefits, this is especially good for dry and irritated skin. Derived from the borage plant, a bright blue “starflower”, it is rich in GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), a type of omega-6 essential fatty acid that the body cannot make on its own. The oil is also rich in other fatty acids including linoleic, oleic, stearic and palmitic acid. Apply a few drops daily.
This oil is rich in omegas 3, 6, 7 and 9 and antioxidant Vitamin E which is great for nourishing and protecting the skin. A good all-rounder, this oil helps to protect skin from free-radicals and improve its overall barrier function. Mix a few drops with your usual serum or night cream after any water-based treatments at night. This product has a tendency to stain so wash your hands after use and let the product sink right in before resting your head on your pillow.
Made from 100% pure Chia Seed Oil that is sustainably-sourced, organic, virgin and cold-pressed. This calming oil contains an exceptionally-high concentration of alpha-linolenic acid, an important essential fatty acid, and linoleic, oleic, stearic as well as palmitic acids, together with multiple vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Another good all-rounder, you ca use it on hair to soften, strengthen and boost shine, too.
With a purified form of micro-algae that is blended with squalane and oils of marula, argan, baobab, pataua, brazil nut, inca inchi, rosehip and borage, this boosts skin radiance and fends off skin irritants and free radicals. Be warned though, the micro-algae gives it a very slight fishy aroma; despite that it has glowing reviews on the Deciem website. Use each morning to protect the skin
Choose this lightweight serum for above- and below-surface hydration if you have dehydrated skin. Amino acids are found within the skin's Natural Moisturising Factors and are known for their ability to boost hydration. The addition of the humectant Vitamin B5 further soothes the skin and helps stimulate the healing process, as dehydrated skin can often result in breakouts and inflammation.
This 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.
Featuring 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.
Squalane is a hydrocarbon that is found naturally in the skin, this is seriously hydrating for complexions that are 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.
Rich in linoleic acid and provitamin A, this nourishes the skin and prevents 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.
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.
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.
This 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.
Bleding epigallocatechin gallate glucoside (from green tea leaves) with caffeine this tackles dark circles and puffiness around the eyes. Use morning and night before oils and creams.
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.
If pigmentation is your concern then this serum is for you. 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.
Matrixyl 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.
A great all-rounder, this serum contains 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.
With all the benefits of the original Buffet, this has copper peptides 1% as well which helps to boost overall skin health supporting normal immune function, collagen synthesis, fibroblast production and anti-inflammatory responses.
Choose this serum if your concerns are 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.