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The Ordinary, the disruptive and jaw-droppingly affordable skincare brand, is a few years 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. Ahead, 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 and mineral oil (along with other nasties), plus the company doesn’t test on animals or pay others to do its dirty work.
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.
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.
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. The Ordinary offers Retinol in Squalane from 0.2%, 0.5% and 1%, 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. This formula is the least potent of all the Retinol in Squalane formulas, deeming it a great option for retinol rookies.
Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that works to exfoliate the skin. Its molecule is slightly larger than glycolic acid, meaning it works a bit slower and doesn't penetrate the skin's outermost layer as easily.
There are two lactic acid products to choose from—a 5% (pictured here) 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.
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.
The skin needs to acclimate to a powerful ingredient like retinol, so first-timers will go through a process derms like to call "retinization," where breakouts, dryness, and irritation may occur. In other words, your skin may temporarily look worse before it starts to look better after incorporating retinol into your routine, but be patient—the end result is well worth the wait.
This formula is one to reach for once your skin has built up a tolerance to retinol (aka after the retinization process). Once lower concentrations of retinol no longer cause your skin to freak out, it may mean it's time to graduate to higher potency, such as Retinol 0.5% in Squalane.
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.
Antioxidants protect the skin from free radical damage, which can lead to premature skin aging (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.
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.
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.
Arbutin is a molecule extracted from the bearberry plant that prevents the formation of tyrosinase, an enzyme responsible for the first step in melanin production.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The formula contains a solution of ascorbyl glucoside, which—unlike L-ascorbic acid—stays stable in water. Long story short: This light water-based serum is more pleasant to use and still offers notable brightening results. 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.
Rich in linoleic acid and provitamin A, this nourishes the skin and prevents the effects of photoaging (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.
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.
If you're no stranger to pure retinol, or you've worked hard for weeks and months to build up your skin's tolerance levels, introduce this formula into your skincare routine. While the concentration of retinol is higher, you can still expect the same results as the prior two, including refined pores, reduced wrinkles, and improved skin texture.
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. Use each morning to protect the skin.
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.
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.
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.
Pro tip: Do not use at the same time as an acid, as these will destroy the EUK molecules.
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.
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.
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 can use it on hair to soften, strengthen and boost shine, too.
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.
While The Ordinary may be known for their affordable skincare, they've recently expanded into haircare with this hair serum. Packed with multiple peptides, natural extracts, and caffeine, this serum is meant to reinvigorate the scalp and make hair look dense and thick. Reviewers noticed that, over time, their thin or thinning hair appeared fuller. Use at night by massaging it into the scalp.
This lightweight medium-coverage foundation has pigments suspended in The Ordinary's proprietary spreadability system, which allows them to, you guessed it, easily spread on the skin. The serum texture enables pigments to sit on the skin surface without collecting in fine lines and looking unnatural.