The Ordinary Review: Our Guide to the Best (and Worst) Products for 2021

The Ordinary Review: A Review of The 10 Best The Ordinary Skincare Products

SKIN CARE REVIEWS

03.19.21DISCLAIMER

The Ordinary is a popular skincare brand under the global beauty brand, Deciem’s, umbrella. The brand’s founding philosophy is “clinical formulations with integrity”. For them, this means skincare treatments that provide solutions to real needs while maintaining open communication and honesty at all stages of their operations.

What are the Best Skin Care Products of 2021?

Each of The Ordinary skincare formulations is simple, containing only a few ingredients including one or two actives, and leaving out additives, fillers, fragrance, and dyes. Even the product packaging is minimal with straightforward names that describe exactly what the product is without any extra fluff or deceptive details. This approach to skincare has enabled The Ordinary to become one of the most popular (and affordable) skincare brands on the market today. In fact, none of the brand’s products cost more than $15. 

Even though The Ordinary skincare products are popular, it’s still necessary to evaluate the product formulations to determine what key ingredients are used and whether or not there’s research to support the use of these ingredients in skincare products. Below we’ll review the 10 best The Ordinary skincare products through a scientific lens so that you can make an informed decision when buying these products. 

The Ordinary Review

What Are The Top 10 Best The Ordinary Skincare Products?

The Ordinary offers results-driven products at affordable prices – what’s not to love? One problem with The Ordinary skincare products is that if you don’t know your alpha lipoic acid from your hyaluronic acid, choosing a product may become overwhelming. In order to help you out, below we’re breaking down the top 10 best The Ordinary skincare products. 

 

The Ordinary Peeling Solution

  • A 10 minute exfoliating facial that should only be used by experienced users of acid exfoliation
  • The formula contains a total of 30% alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), which include glycolic, lactic, tartaric, and citric acid
  • The formula also contains 2% beta hydroxy acid (BHA), which is salicylic acid
  • Also includes a studied Tasmanian Pepperberry derivative to help reduce irritation associated with acid use
  • This treatment solution should only be used twice per week
  • The Ordinary Peeling Solution is a good option for those with skin texture irregularities, pore congestion, blemishes, dull skin, and/or fine lines

 

The Ordinary Niacinamide + Zinc

  • A high-strength vitamin and mineral blemish formula that combines 10% niacinamide with 1% of the zinc salt of pyrrolidone carboxylic acid (PCA)
  • Reduces the appearance of skin blemishes and congestion, and balances visible aspects of sebum activity
  • This product is not an acne treatment. If you’re dealing with persistent acne-related conditions, the brand recommends using other products with ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and/or retinoic acid
  • The Ordinary Niacinamide + Zinc is a good option for those with skin blemishes and congestion

 

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid + B5

  • A hydration support formula that combines 2% hyaluronic acid and provitamin B5 (panthenol)
  • Formula includes three forms of hyaluronic acid with varying molecular weights, as well as a hyaluronic acid crosspolymer
  • The purpose of using varying molecular weights of hyaluronic acid is to offer multi-depth hydration and visible plumping without drawing water out of the skin solely to improve temporary surface hydration
  • The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 is a good option for those with dehydrated skin and/or skin showing signs of aging

 

The Ordinary Retinol 0.5 in Squalane

  • A highly-stable, water-free solution of 0.5% pure retinol in a base of squalane
  • This moderate strength formula is recommended to be used once daily in the evening
  • If you have not used high-strength retinol formulas in the past, the brand strongly recommends that you start your retinol regimen with The Ordinary Retinol 0.2% in Squalane and adjust to higher strengths as your skin builds tolerance
  • The Ordinary Retinol 0.5 in Squalane is a good option for those with fine lines, signs of photo damage, and signs of general skin aging

 

The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension

  • A lightweight cream-gel that a very high 10% concentration of azelaic acid
  • Azelaic acid is a multi-tasking ingredient that can help reduce acne, improve rosacea, fade hyperpigmentation, brighten skin tone, and more
  • The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension can be used by all skin types, but is best for those with acne-prone skin and/or dull skin

 

The Ordinary Buffet

  • A peptide serum formulated to target multiple signs of aging at once
  • The key ingredients — or “technologies” as the brand calls them — in The Ordinary Buffet include Matrixyl 3000, Matrixyl synthe’6, SYN-AKE, Argirelox, and a probiotic complex
  • All of these technologies are formulated in a base of 11 skin-friendly amino acids and multiple hyaluronic acid complexes
  • The total concentration of these technologies in the formula by weight is 25.1%
  • The Ordinary Buffet is a good option for those with signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles

 

The Ordinary Lactic Acid + HA

  • A high-strength superficial peeling formulation with 10% lactic acid
  • Lactic acid is a type of AHA that exfoliates the skin while also improving hydration
  • Formula contains a studied Tasmanian Pepperberry derivative to help reduce irritation associated with acid use
  • The Ordinary Lactic Acid + HA is a good option for those with dullness and/or texture irregularities, especially those with sensitive skin since lactic acid offers gentle exfoliation

 

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid Masque

  • A 10-minute rinse-off mask with 2% salicylic acid, a type of BHA
  • Formula also includes kaolin clay and charcoal powder, which are known for their deep cleansing abilities due to their porosity and large surface area available for adsorption. They aid the removal of facial impurities that would otherwise remain on the skin surface and clog pores
  • This masque should only be used once to twice per week
  • The Ordinary Salicylic Acid Masque is a good option for those with lackluster tone, clogged pores, blemishes, and/or textural irregularities

 

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid Toning Solution

  • A mild toning solution with 7% glycolic acid, a type of AHA
  • Formula contains a studied Tasmanian Pepperberry derivative to help reduce irritation associated with acid use
  • Additional key ingredients include rose flower water, cornflower water, aloe vera leaf water, glycerin, ginseng root extract, and amino acids
  • The Ordinary Glycolic Acid Toning Solution is a good option for those with lackluster tone, texture irregularities, pore congestion, blemishes, and/or fine lines

 

The Ordinary Caffeine Solution

  • A light-textured formula that contains a high 5% concentration of caffeine combined with highly-purified epigallocatechin gallatyl glucoside (EGCG) from green tea leaves
  • Caffeine is an antioxidant and a stimulant that causes vasoconstriction (constriction of the blood vessels). Vasoconstriction can tighten and firm the skin due to the removal of excess fluids while simultaneously reducing the amount of blood that accumulates under the eyes (a major factor that contributes to dark circles)
  • EGCG is a type of polyphenol antioxidant that targets free radicals, particularly those caused by UV-induced oxidative damage
  • The Ordinary Caffeine Solution is a good option for those who would like to reduce the look of puffiness and of dark circles underneath their eyes

What is The Best The Ordinary Serum?

The Ordinary serum collection is pretty extensive, which may leave you wondering which one is the best. While the serum you choose will depend on your skin concerns, we think The Ordinary Buffet is one of the brand’s best serums. With a combination of peptides, probiotics, amino acids, and multiple hyaluronic acid complexes, The Ordinary Buffet should help to reduce multiple signs of aging while also improving your skin’s hydration. 

What is The Best The Ordinary Moisturizer?

While The Ordinary serum collection includes a variety of products, the brand only has one moisturizer: The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA. Natural Moisturizing Factors (NMF) are elements that keep the outer layer of the skin protected and well-hydrated. The Ordinary moisturizer replenishes the NMF with 11 amino acids, phospholipids, alpha/beta/gamma fatty acids, triglycerides, sterols and sterol esters, glycerin, ceramide precursors, urea, saccharides, sodium PCA and hyaluronic acid. It offers immediate non-greasy hydration. 

What is The Best The Ordinary Toner?

The only toner offered by the brand is The Ordinary Glycolic Acid Toning Solution. 

What is The Best The Ordinary Skincare Routine?

If you’d like to create a skincare routine with The Ordinary products, the brand has a short 4-minute questionnaire on their website that asks you about your skin concerns and product preferences. After entering your information, you’ll be provided with The Ordinary skincare routine that you should follow.

So is there one The Ordinary skincare routine that’s better than another? We don’t think so. Everyone is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. It may take some trial-and-error to create the perfect The Ordinary skincare routine for you. Or maybe these products won’t work well with your skin, and that’s okay, there’s plenty of other skincare brands to consider (we’ll give you a couple recommendations below). 

What Are The Key Ingredients in The Ordinary Skincare Products?

After reading about the best selling The Ordinary skincare products, you may be wondering what exactly ingredients like peptides, retinol, squalane, and salicylic acid can do for your skin. Below we’ll give you a brief description of each of the key ingredients used in the best selling products by The Ordinary.

 

The Ordinary Retinol

The Ordinary retinol products are ideal for those with signs of aging and/or acne prone skin. According to a publication in the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging, retinol can minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improve uneven skin tone, restore skin firmness, and shrink the appearance of enlarged pores.

After application, retinol is converted to retinoic acid, which works deep within the skin where it boosts collagen synthesis, increases elasticity, and repairs connective tissue. It also increases cellular turnover, which helps to prevent clogged pores and promotes smoother, healthier skin. 

 

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid Masque and The Ordinary Peeling Solution use salicylic acid, a type of beta hydroxy acid (BHA), to soften and dissolve keratin. Keratin is a protein found in the skin that acts as a “glue” to keep cells together. This allows salicylic acid to exfoliate the skin and slough off dead skin cells, promoting a healthier, more even complexion. 

Salicylic acid also has the ability to penetrate deep into pores, where it helps to loosen clogs and allows oil to flow out more freely. Thus, salicylic acid is known to break down blackheads and whiteheads.

 

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is a glycosaminoglycan (GAG), a long polysaccharide (sugar molecule) composed of disaccharides called amino sugars and uronic acid that is naturally found in the dermis. GAGs are negatively charged and thus tend to attract positively charged sodium and potassium ions. In turn, this causes the GAGs to absorb and hold a large amount of water.

In fact, hyaluronic acid is able to hold more water than any other natural substance—up to 1,000 times its weight in water! Therefore, using products with hyaluronic acid helps to improve the skin’s hydration, as well as reduce signs of aging. 

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid + B5 is a product that features hyaluronic acid as a key ingredient, but the brand uses this hydrating ingredient in many of The Ordinary skincare products. 

 

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that exfoliates the skin by targeting corneocytes (dead skin cells that make up the stratum corneum) in a process called corneocyte desquamation. By enhancing their breakdown and increasing the separation of skin cells, the rate of cell turnover is increased, leading to smoother, brighter skin and a more even complexion.

You’ll find glycolic acid is The Ordinary Peeling Solution and The Ordinary Glycolic Toning Solution. According to a publication in the journal Molecules, AHAs can be used to easily peel all types of skin with minimal risk.

 

The Ordinary Lactic Acid

Another AHA that the brand frequently uses is lactic acid, which you’ll find in The Ordinary Peeling Solution and The Ordinary Lactic Acid + HA.

Lactic acid provides many of the same benefits as glycolic acid, however, lactic acid has a larger molecular size than glycolic acid. This means that lactic acid doesn’t penetrate the skin as deeply as glycolic acid, making it a gentler AHA.

Lactic acid also imparts unique benefits that most of the other AHAs cannot provide, such as boosting hydration, stimulating collagen synthesis, improving skin discoloration, and more. 

 

The Ordinary Azelaic Acid

Azelaic acid is a unique ingredient because it has numerous pharmacological uses in dermatology. It is known to help with common skin conditions, such as acne, rosacea, and hyperpigmentation. 

Azelaic acid helps with acne by normalizing the shedding of dead skin cells and preventing the growth of acne bacteria. According to a publication in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Both in vitro and in vivo it has an antimicrobial effect on both aerobic and anaerobic (Propionibacterium acnes) microorganisms. 

Azelaic acid is an antioxidant and may help to fade hyperpigmentation and improve skin brightness since azelaic acid functions as a tyrosinase inhibitor.

The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension can benefit all skin types, but is especially good for those with acne, hyperpigmentation, rosacea, and/or dull skin. 

 

The Ordinary Squalane

Many of The Ordinary skincare products include squalane because it is a very effective emollient. Squalane is a saturated and stable hydrocarbon that mimics squalene (note the e), a natural compound in your skin that plays an important role in lubrication and protection. Squalane helps to replenish and strengthen the skin’s lipid barrier.

The Ordinary Squalane is a facial oil with 100% pure squalane, but you’ll also find this ingredient in several other products, such as The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser and The Ordinary retinol products. 

 

The Ordinary Niacinamide

The Ordinary Niacinamide + Zinc is a great option for all skin types due to its high concentration of niacinamide, the amide form of vitamin B3 (niacin) that provides many benefits to the skin. For instance, a publication in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, states that niacinamide can repair the skin barrier and improve skin moisture, as well as reduce inflammation, blotchiness, hyperpigmentation, acne, and wrinkling.

You may want to consider The Ordinary Niacinamide + Zinc if you have acne-prone skin since niacinamide has antimicrobial and sebostatic effects, meaning it can help protect against the bacteria that cause acne while also helping to reduce oil production.

Two double-blind studies published in the International Journal of Dermatology (one in 1995, the other in 2013) found that a topical preparation of 4% niacinamide treated moderate acne just as well as 1% clindamycin (a topical antibiotic prescribed for acne) when applied twice daily for eight weeks. And a study published in the Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy found that a 2% topical niacinamide formulation could reduce oil production.

Where are The Ordinary Skincare Products Sold?

The Ordinary skincare products are sold on the brand’s website, as well as third party sellers like Amazon, Ulta, and Sephora. The brand has a store locator and list of authorized retailers on their website. 

What is The Ordinary Return Policy?

All Deciem brands, including The Ordinary, offer a 365-day full refund policy.

Is The Ordinary Cruelty Free?

The Ordinary is cruelty free. DECIEM and The Ordinary do not test on animals and do not ask others to do so. For this reason, none of their brands or products are sold in stores or conventional retailers in mainland China, since such sales require animal testing for registration purposes.

The Ordinary Reviews

The Ordinary reviews on the brand’s website are overall very positive. We noticed that many of The Ordinary reviews focus on the brand’s effective formulations and affordability. It is common to find customers comparing The Ordinary skincare products to some of the most well known and respected skincare brands as comparable and more affordable.

Other The Ordinary reviews appreciate the detail the brand takes in explaining their products, ingredients, and the science behind why they work well for the skin. This helps customers feel informed about their skincare purchases and further exemplifies The Ordinary’s mission to provide clinical skincare solutions with integrity.

Negative The Ordinary reviews are mostly from customers who experienced reactions to these products, such as skin irritation and breakouts. To prevent this from happening, the brand recommends following The Ordinary Patch Test Guide. Patch tests are an easy way to help predict if you will have a negative initial reaction to a new product. It is recommended to perform a patch test before incorporating a new product into your routine.

Our Verdict

Overall, we think that The Ordinary products are formulated well with high-quality, evidence based ingredients. And it’s a plus that the products are priced low, making this brand accessible to many consumers. 

Pros

  • Products contain evidence based ingredients
  • Products are fragrance free
  • The brand is very transparent and they also take the time to educate consumers on how the ingredients in their formulations work
  • The Ordinary reviews are very positive
  • Affordable cost (all products less than $15 USD)

Cons

  • Due to the nature of some of The Ordinary skincare products (e.g. acid exfoliants, retinol products), reactions like irritation and sensitivity are a possibility. But these reactions can be prevented by performing a patch test before use. 

What Are Some Alternatives to The Ordinary Skincare?

One thing that we noticed about The Ordinary is that all of their exfoliating products use chemical exfoliants, like AHAs and BHA. But keep in mind that as we age, our skin’s natural shedding process slows down. Excess dead cells build up on the outermost layer of the skin, resulting in a rough, dull complexion. All of this is to say you may need more than just chemical exfoliants to achieve deep exfoliation. That’s why we’d like to recommend Formulyst’s Retexturizing Microdermabrasion Exfoliator. 

Formulyst is a cruelty free skin care brand that believes in long-term skin care treatments rather than short-term cover-ups. Formulyst’s Retexturizing Microdermabrasion Exfoliator is formulated to gently exfoliate built-up layers of dead skin to expose the younger, more vibrant-looking skin beneath. The formula contains fine aluminum oxide crystals to effectively remove dirt, excess oil, and dead cells, while nutrient-rich jojoba oil, red tea extract, apricot kernel oil, squalane, and hyaluronic acid deeply nourish and soothe newly exposed skin. Overall, Formulyst Retexturizing Microdermabrasion Exfoliator can help reveal smoother skin with less visible lines and wrinkles.

There’s no need to compromise when it comes to finding skincare that is effective and safe. Carrot & Stick takes a tough love approach to skincare, perfectly balancing the power of plants with cutting edge science. Not only is Carrot & Stick good for your skin, it is also good for the environment as the formulas skip harmful chemicals as well as the preservatives, emulsifiers and thickeners commonly found in skincare products.

References:
J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2010 Feb; 3(2): 22–41
Int J Dermatol 1995 Jun;34(6):434-7.
Int J Dermatol 2013 Aug;52(8):999-1004.
Clin Interv Aging. 2006 Dec; 1(4): 327–348.
J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2009 Jan; 2(1): 26–30.

THE BEST SKIN CARE LINES 2021

1

Formulyst

The philosophy of Formulyst is long-term and effective skincare, rather than covering up any imperfections. The comprehensive line of products tackles everything from wrinkles to dark spots and dry skin. While some brands rely on unnecessary fillers and scents, Formulyst focuses on ingredients that help create results, such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.Read More
2

Carrot & Stick

Carrot & Stick takes a tough love approach to skincare. What does this mean? It perfectly balances the power of plants with innovative science, offering the best of both worlds.Read More
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Advanced Dermatology

The Advanced Dermatology skin care regimen addresses the most pressing aging concerns.Read More

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  • TDR Original review: Mar 05, 2021. Reply

    Serums and peels are the best sellers for The Ordinary. Serums are a much bigger category for the brand then moisturisers or eye creams. The Ordinary has a younger audience and their products are catered to people with acne, oily skin and breakouts. This demographic often does not need a cream and prefer serums because of their high concentration of actives. The skincare guide and review will help you find the right product for you.

    Acne scarring is another area that the brand is focused on. They have multiple chemical exfoliants that work well for superficial acne scarring. The brand also markets make up, haircare and body lotions.

    FAQ’s

    The brand is ingredient focused and they have played a significant role in making everyday ingredients more widely known. Hero ingredients include niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, azelaic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid, vitamin c, caffeine, zinc, other aha and bha’s, alpha arbutin, rosehip oil, resveratrol and squalane. Another ingredient is Matrixl, which is a peptide brand and targets ageing skin. Antioxidants are another big area the brand is focused on.

    Where can you buy The Ordinary? Sephora, Ulta, SkinStore, Amazon, Beautybay, Walmart, JC Penny, Boots , Target and Nordstrom. Unfortunately you cannot buy the products from Walgreens, CVS or Rite Aide.

    How to use The Ordinary products? The key is to start with the lightest product and work your way to the thickest products. Multiple serums can be layered and mixed. Do not incorporate too many products into your routine at once or you may breakout. You can start with a patch test on your arm if you have sensitive skin. Start with a set or samples to see which products work for you.

    Are The Ordinary products vegan? Many of the brands products are vegan. While they are not Sephora clean, many of their products are clean and non toxic.

  • TDR Original review: Mar 04, 2021. Reply

    You might be surprised to hear that the largest shareholder of The Ordinary is Estee Lauder Companies, given the low price point of each products. The Ordinary markets a range of budge skin care products including face lotions, eye creams, moisturisers, exfoliators, multiple serums (including vitamin c, hyaluronic acid and retinol serums).

    Here’s the full list of skincare products from The Ordinary

    Salicylic Acid 2% Masque
    Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA
    Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5
    Ascorbic Acid 8% + Alpha Arbutin 2%
    100% Plant-Derived Squalane
    Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12%
    100% Cold-Pressed Virgin Marula Oil
    Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
    Squalane Cleanser
    Lactic Acid 5% + HA
    Retinol 0.2% in Squalane
    Mandelic Acid 10% + HA
    Argireline Solution 10%
    100% Organic Cold-Pressed Moroccan Argan Oil
    Marine Hyaluronics
    100% Organic Virgin Chia Seed Oil
    100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil
    “Buffet”
    Lactic Acid 10% + HA
    Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F
    Amino Acids + B5
    Pycnogenol 5%
    Resveratrol 3% + Ferulic Acid 3%
    Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA
    Retinol 0.5% in Squalane
    100% Plant-Derived Hemi-Squalane
    Mineral UV Filters SPF 30 with Antioxidants
    “Buffet” + Copper Peptides 1%
    EUK 134 0.1%
    100% Organic Cold-Pressed Borage Seed Oil
    Vitamin C Suspension 30% in Silicone
    100% Organic Virgin Sea-Buckthorn Fruit Oil
    “B” Oil
    Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion (Previously Advanced Retinoid 2%)
    AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
    Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane
    Salicylic Acid 2% Solution
    Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane
    Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
    Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate 10%

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