We put The Ordinary's Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% to the test after receiving a complimentary sample from the brand. Keep reading for our full product review.
I consider myself a longtime champion of the Canadian beauty brand The Ordinary; in my eyes, its wallet-friendly versions of pricier skincare products can do no wrong. While I count its Serum Foundation and 100% Plant-Derived Squalane as two of my can’t-live-without beauty staples, I had yet to try anything in its vitamin C category. I’m somewhat of a newbie—but a quick devotee—to vitamin C skincare, but I’ve become partial to some pretty pricey products. That said, I was excited to take the brand’s Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% for a spin. With its innovative silicone-free suspended L-ascorbic acid formula that’s enhanced with dehydrated hyaluronic acid spheres, how could it only cost a mere $6?
Testing it out over the course of three weeks, I looked for any changes to the texture and feel of my skin, any improvement in sun damage, and my overall radiance and glow. Would this budget-friendly option be just as effective as its expensive luxury counterparts?
Read on to find out.
The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
Best for: Normal, oily, combination, and dry skin types
Uses: Brightens and improves uneven skin tone, reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, hydrates and smoothes
Active ingredients: L-ascorbic acid, hyaluronic acid
Potential Allergens: L-ascorbic acid, BHT
Byrdie Clean?: No
About the Brand: The Ordinary disrupted the beauty industry when it launched in 2016, offering traditionally expensive skincare products for just a fraction of the price. Under the DECIEM umbrella of beauty brands, it’s quickly become a cult favorite amongst skincare enthusiasts, loved for its wide range of serums, oils, peels, and retinoids that are just as effective as they are affordable.
About My Skin: Vitamin C changed my complexion for the better
I still can’t believe it took me as long as it did to make vitamin C a part of my everyday routine, but after reviewing SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic earlier this year, I’ll never look back. I’ve long suffered from rough patches, bumpy texture, and a dull, sun-damaged complexion, and vitamin C has totally transformed my skin. Sure, it’s far from perfect, but it’s much smoother, plumper, and brighter, and I rely on a daily dose of topical C to keep its texture and tone in check and to prevent any fine lines from developing.
Typically, I reach for vitamin C during my morning routine, applying SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic after a spritz of facial spray or toner and before my facial oil or moisturizer. I would have swapped out SkinCeuticals for The Ordinary, but because The Ordinary’s formula is stronger and causes a more intense stinging sensation, I chose to use it in the PM instead. After cleansing my face, I would pat on a dollop all over my face and neck, then follow it with night cream or facial oil. The only time I would use it in the morning was if I was using my GloPRO Microneedling Tool in the evening because applying vitamin C after micro-needling would cause some serious stinging.
Ingredients: Brightening and smoothing
The key ingredient in The Ordinary’s Vitamin C Suspension is a pure, powdered L-ascorbic acid suspension. Vitamin C is a skincare hero, brightening the skin and helping to fade dark spots and discoloration while reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and improving the skin’s overall texture. It’s not only listed as the first ingredient, indicating that it's present in an effective concentration, but its concentration (of 23%) is also confirmed in the product name.
The second key ingredient is hyaluronic acid in the form of dehydrated spheres. Not only does hyaluronic acid help smooth the skin’s surface, but it’s also wonderful for hydration, drawing moisture into the skin, and reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It’s listed as the 10th ingredient, towards the middle of the list, with a 2% concentration indicated in the product name.
This product isn’t considered clean by Byrdie’s standards due to the inclusion of BHT in its formula. However, this product is free of water, silicone, alcohol, gluten, nuts, oil, silicone, parabens, and sulfates and is considered cruelty-free and vegan.
The Formulation: A silicone-free suspension of very fine L-ascorbic acid powder
Vitamin C products are typically hard to stabilize and lose efficacy quickly (at times before they're even purchased), which is why more innovative formulations use powdered versions that activate only when the product is used. The extremely fine powder used in this formula (which is suspended in liquid) is meant to ensure that the skin receives the most direct exposure to vitamin C, making it extremely potent. This also explains both the grittiness of the formula and the intense stinging sensation (explained more, below).
This product is also specifically formulated without silicones, which many other water-free powder-based products on the market use. Silicones are meant to keep powdered vitamin C stable, but they also entrap it, which interferes with how much of the vitamin C in the formulation actually gets exposed to the skin. Because this formula is silicone-free, it is meant to allow for complete and direct exposure of the vitamin C powder to the skin.
The Feel & Scent: A watery cream with a gritty feel
When first squeezed out of the tube, the product is a lightweight, runny white cream that pretty quickly absorbs into the skin. However, because the pure L-ascorbic acid in the formula is suspended, it feels gritty, which is something I’ve also noticed with other suspended and powder-form vitamin C products. However, this one feels much grittier than others I’ve used. It does break down and melt into the skin pretty seamlessly, but can feel sandy—even a bit scratchy—when first applied. The Ordinary mentions this on its product description page, and suggests trying its Vitamin C Suspension 30% in Silicone if you’re looking to avoid a gritty texture.
This formula is fragrance-free and doesn’t have much of a scent at all, which is welcome considering that most vitamin C serums have a pretty funky smell.
Irritation: Stings when applied
Vitamin C products have caused me to have a slight tingling effect when applied, but this one had quite a bite to it and stung more than other products I’ve tried. It wasn’t unbearable and dissipated pretty quickly (and never left behind redness or a rash), but the first few minutes were, at times, pretty uncomfortable. I noticed this sensation heightened when my skin felt drier.
The Ordinary warns of a strong tingling sensation for the first one to two weeks of use on the product page, but even after three weeks, it still stung as it did the first time. If you have sensitive skin, I would be cautious with this product, and only apply a small amount at a time.
The Packaging: Product too runny for a squeeze tube
The majority of the vitamin C serums I’ve tried are packaged in a glass bottle with a dropper, but this formula is packaged in a squeezable tube—something I normally would prefer. However, for how runny this cream formula is, I found that if I opened the tube upside down, the product would begin to drip out (to the point where it made photographing the open tube really tough). I think I would actually have preferred this formula to be packaged as a dropper bottle.
Sensitivity: Avoid using with retinoids, acids, and peptides
According to Ulta’s product description, in addition to retinoids, peptides, and direct acids, do not use this product in the same routine as The Ordinary's Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% and EUK 134 0.1%.
The Results: Smooth, glowy skin
This product squeezes out of the tube as a runny white cream, so I was pretty surprised at just how deceptively gritty the formula was as I began to rub it into my face and neck. However, the grittiness dissolves and absorbs into the skin pretty quickly, leaving behind a natural matte finish. Even though I always follow vitamin C with a face oil or moisturizer, my skin did feel smooth and hydrated enough after applying to act as a good base for makeup.
By the end of the day, my skin still felt soft and glowy.
I’m not going to lie—I was a little nervous about testing this after reading about how intense the stinging sensation can be at first. For me, It wasn’t unbearable, but I had to put the rest of my skincare routine on hold until the stinging sensation subsided. Weeks into using this product, it still burned as much as it did after my first application.
By the end of the three-week testing period, I don’t think I saw much of a difference in terms of lightening my freckles and sunspots, but my skin did feel much, much smoother. For how intense the serum felt to apply, I was almost surprised at how soft and silky my skin felt. All in all, I think it did its job.
The Value: The price can’t be beat
At $6 per fluid ounce, you really can’t go wrong here. I wouldn’t consider this the *best* vitamin C product I’ve ever used, mostly because I wasn’t a fan of the texture and how much it stings, but it still gets the job done. If you’re new to vitamin C, this is a great product to start out with considering its price point.
Similar Products: You’ve got options
SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic ($166): I had the opportunity to test one of the most popular picks in the vitamin C serum world—SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic—for Byrdie, and to this day, it’s my absolute favorite. It’s definitely an investment, especially when compared to The Ordinary’s budget-friendly price tag, but truly nothing beats this one. This is my secret to good skin, and if I could drink it, I would.
SkinCeutical’s C E Ferulic contains—you guessed it—vitamin E and ferulic acid in addition to pure vitamin C. According to the brand, all three ingredients work synergistically to neutralize free radicals and provide potent anti-aging benefits while leaving you with smooth, radiant, and glowing skin. While The Ordinary’s C product definitely kept my skin smooth and glowy, in no way does it compare to the results I saw from SkinCeuticals.
BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner ($80): More similar to The Ordinary’s formula is BeautyStat’s Universal C Skin Refiner, another serum I reviewed for Byrdie. Like The Ordinary, BeautyStat’s unique gel-cream serum is innovative in how it delivers pure L-ascorbic acid to the skin: It uses a patented encapsulation system, where each particle is protected against oxidation until it hits the skin. It’s also formulated with EGCG, squalane, and tartaric acid meant to help protect against aging, hydrate, and even out skin texture and tone.
Overall, I think BeautyStat’s version is more effective and gentler on the skin when applied. It still has a bit of a sting, but nothing like what I experienced with The Ordinary. It’ll cost you $80, but it’s worth the splurge for an effective product that won’t oxidize quickly.
I think the Ordinary’s Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% is a great introductory product for those who are new to using vitamin C in their skincare. It’s not the best C serum I’ve ever used, but it still left my skin smooth and glowy. Just be cautious with this one if your skin is on the sensitive side.
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