The Best (and Worst) Skincare Products from The Ordinary

What's worth buying from the brand everyone's talking about.
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What's worth buying from the brand everyone's talking about.
The Ordinary skincare review

If you're into skincare, you've heard of The Ordinary by now. 

The new Canadian brand has already revolutionized the industry by offering active ingredients in no-frills packaging at affordable prices. VERY affordable—most things are under $10!

No wonder I've been getting so many questions about them, such as:

  • "Haven't seen you comment on Deciem or The Ordinary line of products, I’d be really interested in your thoughts!" — Jen
  • "Would love to see your opinion on these products. Hearing some great things and such great prices." — Conny
  • "I heard of a company that is getting a lot of hype, it's called the Abnormal Beauty Company or Deciem. Their serums and other products are sooo affordable that I bought three and an oil for like $40 CAD. I was wondering if you had tried their products out and what you thought of them?" — Kelly
  • "Can you please tell me which toxic ingredients in The Ordinary's products that you try to avoid?" — Maia

So I thought I'd go through the line and explain which products I'd buy (and have bought already!) and which I'd skip.

The Ordinary skincare review

The Ordinary offers no-frills skincare at affordable prices.

In this review, we'll cover the following categories:

  • Retinoids
  • Vitamins
  • Acids
  • Hydrators
  • Other Molecules
  • Colours

They do have some more stuff launching soon, including Sun Care, so I'll update when that information becomes available!

Retinoids:

The Ordinary Advanced Retinoid 2%

The Ordinary Advanced Retinoid 2%

The Ordinary Advanced Retinoid 2%.

Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Glycerin, Ethyl Linoleate, Propanediol, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Cetearyl Isononanoate, Bisabolol, Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, Retinol, Tasmannia Lanceolata Fruit/Leaf Extract, Inulin Lauryl Carbamate, Glyceryl Stearate, Ceteareth-12, Ceteareth-20, Cetearyl Alcohol, Carrageenan, Xanthan gum, Acacia Senegal Gum, Cetyl Palmitate, Sucrose Laurate, Polysorbate 20, Isoceteth-20, Behentrimonium Chloride, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Disodium EDTA, Dehydroacetic Acid, Benzoic Acid, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin.

What it does: Targets signs of aging

  • The least expensive retinol I'm aware of.
  • One of the very few silicone-free options.
  • An okay alternative to Retinol Reform, reviewed here, which I still think is the best retinol we have available at the moment (thanks to its 5 percent each of retinol and lactic acid, and absence of silicones and PUFAs).
  • My main concern is the high ethyl linoleate, an unsaturated ester of alcohol and linoleic acid that is prone to oxidation.
  • The hydroxypinacolone retinoate is promising because it's supposed to be as active as prescription Retin-A, but with less irritation. However, keep in mind that most of the research to date is coming from the manufacturer. 
  • Also note that Health Canada limits hydroxypinacolone retinoate to a 1% concentration, so there's not actually 2% in here—the other 1% is an encapsulated retinol.
  • I will NOT be recommending this product once Cyberderm launches Retin+Erase later this year. Their formulation will contain the same active, hydroxypinacolone retinoate, at the maximum 1% concentration, and in a much cleaner formula with only four ingredients! I'm currently testing a lab sample—stay tuned for my review once it launches.

Where to buy: Well.ca, Hudson's Bay, Beautylish, ASOS, Adore Beauty, Beauty Bay, The Ordinary

Retinoid I'd skip: The Retinol 1% because it's less active, yet more irritating, and heavily silicone-based (I avoid silicones for these reasons). 

Vitamins:

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%.

Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Niacinamide, Pentylene Glycol, Zinc PCA, Tamarindus Indica Seed Gum, Xanthan Gum, Isoceteth-20, Ethoxydiglycol, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin.

What it does: Targets ALL types of skin issues (although they don't claim that!) 

  • One of the only high-dose niacinamide treatments I've seen.
  • Despite only marketing it an acne/oily skin treatment, niacinamide is actually one of the best ingredients for ALL skin issues!
  • This study found that topical niacinamide gets comparable results to 1% clindamycin gel for acne. According to this report, it can also reduce pore size and oil production while improving fine lines and wrinkles. 
  • I also recommend niacinamide for any type of pigmentation, dullness or sallowness (see this study comparing it to hydroquinone).
  • Should help calm redness and reduce inflammation as well.
  • My one concern here is the seed gum, which is primarily linoleic acid (unsaturated). Hopefully it's in lower quantities, since it's the fifth ingredient, but if you'd rather avoid it, I suggest Paula's Choice Resist 10% Niacinamide Booster.
  • Also note that the texture is a bit sticky.

Where to buy: Well.ca, Hudson's Bay, Beautylish, Cult BeautyASOS, Adore Beauty, The Ordinary

The Ordinary Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12%

The Ordinary Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12%

The Ordinary Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12%.

Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Ascorbyl Glucoside, Propanediol, Triethanolamine, Aminomethyl Propanol, Isoceteth-20, Xanthan gum, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Ethoxydiglycol, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, 1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol.

What it does: Brightens; targets signs of aging

  • The brand's best vitamin C option, in my opinion.
  • Although the ascorbyl glucoside is not as powerful as the industry standard, L-ascorbic acid, I think it makes up for that in stability (so important!) and texture (non-oily).
  • Should help with overall brightening and evening skin tone.
  • Also could be useful on blackheads to prevent oxidation of the oil.

Where to buy: Well.ca, Hudson's Bay, Beautylish, ASOS, Adore Beauty, Beauty Bay, The Ordinary

Vitamins I'd skip: The Vitamin C Suspension 30% in Silicone is an automatic miss because of all the silicones, which could interfere with penetration (besides being clogging and dehydrating). I'm also wary of the Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% because of the isodecyl neopentanoate, which has been compared to cyclomethicone—and I suspect could cause the same issues for my skin! I would skip the Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F, because not only is it weaker but the C is suspended in ethyl linoleate. The Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate 10% has both the isodecyl neopentanoate and a PUFA oil, so it's a double no for me.

Acids:

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution.

Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Hamamelis Virginiana Leaf Water, Cocamidopropyl Dimethylamine, Salicylic Acid, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Citric Acid, Polysorbate 20, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Ethoxydiglycol, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, 1,2-hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol.

What it does: Exfoliates; unclogs pores; targets acne and congestion

  • An inexpensive alternative to the pricey Paula's Choice BHA.
  • An ideal treatment for acne, blackheads or congestion. (I've had great success using BHAs like Lotion 50, twice a day.)
  • But it's not just for acne! As I explained here, salicylic acid can also be used in the same way as glycolic acid to exfoliate and brighten, with less irritation. 
  • Be aware that it can be drying, so may not be suitable for dry or sensitive skin—or you can try applying it less often. Consider doing a patch test first or short contact therapy to build up a tolerance.
  • I consider salicylic acid the safest type of acid to use, and it's also anti-inflammatory. So I'm not sure why they state otherwise and suggest benzoyl peroxide is safer, even though it's an oxidizing agent—it ages the skin! As long as you don't overdo it, I see no reason to avoid salicylic acid.

Where to buy: Beautylish, Cult BeautyASOS, Adore BeautyThe Ordinary

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA 2% 

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA 2%

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA 2%.

Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Lactic Acid, Glycerin, Pentylene Glycol, Triethanolamine, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Tasmannia Lanceolata Fruit/Leaf Extract, Arginine, Potassium Citrate, Acacia Senegal Gum, Xanthan Gum, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, PPG-26-Buteth-26, Ethyl 2,2-Dimethylhydrocinnamal, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Ethylhexylglycerin, 1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol.

What it does: Gently exfoliates

  • Their mildest acid exfoliator.
  • I'd start with this one if I was new to acids.
  • If you want to use AHAs, I generally recommend lactic instead of glycolic acid, since it's gentler and hydrating.
  • I like that it has glycerin, hyaluronic acid and a fruit extract to decrease irritation.
  • Should have a brightening, smoothing effect.

Where to buy: Well.ca, Hudson's BayASOS, Adore Beauty, Beauty BayThe Ordinary

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA 2%

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA 2%

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA 2%.

Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Lactic Acid, Glycerin, Pentylene Glycol, Potassium Citrate, Arginine, Triethanolamine, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Tasmannia Lanceolata Fruit/leaf Extract, Acacia Senegal Gum, Xanthan Gum, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, PPG-26-Buteth-26, Ethyl 2,2-Dimethylhydrocinnamal, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Ethylhexylglycerin, 1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol.

What it does: Exfoliates

  • This is their stronger lactic acid option, and I think either one would be fine, depending on what your skin can tolerate.
  • Again, it includes ingredients that should help reduce irritation. 
  • Good for improving skin texture, pigmentation and acne scars (although I'd still argue that salicylic acid is a better choice for these reasons). 

Where to buy: Well.caHudson's Bay, ASOS, Cult BeautyAdore BeautyBeauty Bay

The Ordinary Alpha Lipoic Acid 5%

The Ordinary Alpha Lipoic Acid 5%

The Ordinary Alpha Lipoic Acid 5%.

Ingredients: Propanediol, Thioctic Acid.

What it does: Brightens; improves skin texture; targets signs of aging

  • An antioxidant alternative to vitamin C.
  • Meant to be applied two or three times a week.
  • Seems promising, because it inhibits the cross-linking that contributes to wrinkles.
  • However, keep in mind that most of the research on alpha lipoic acid was done and popularized by Dr. Nicholas Perricone, who has a conflict of interest because he uses it in his own products
  • Because it is so concentrated, some people have found it too harsh.

Where to buy: Beautylish, Cult BeautyAdore Beauty, Beauty Bay, The Ordinary

Acids I'd skip: I wish the Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% didn't contain dimethicone, because otherwise I'd be all over it. That said, the reviews seem positive so it may be worth a shot. I hesitate to recommend the Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution or the AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution for anything but short-term use, because I recently discovered that glycolic acid triggers cell death through the same mechanism as hypoxia. 

Hydrators:

The Ordinary Hylauronic Acid 2% + B5

The Ordinary Hylauronic Acid 2% + B5

The Ordinary Hylauronic Acid 2% + B5

Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Sodium Hyaluronate, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Panthenol, Ahnfeltia Concinna Extract, Glycerin, Pentylene Glycol, Propanediol, Polyacrylate Crosspolymer-6, PPG-26-Buteth-26, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Citric Acid, Ethoxydiglycol, Caprylyl Glycol, Hexylene Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin.

What it does: Hydrates

  • The most affordable hyaluronic acid serum I've seen.
  • Their answer to SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Gel.
  • Unlike many hyaluronic acid products, which sit on the surface and actually draw moisture OUT of the skin (more about that here), this one is formulated to penetrate and improve hydration levels.
  • My main concern is that it contains low-molecular weight hyaluronic acid, which is associated with inflammation and scarring.
  • For that reason, this isn't a product I would personally use, but since it contains high- and medium- weight hyaluronic acid as well, you're at least getting a variety of molecule sizes. (I'd still recommend Consonant HydrExtreme instead, since it outperforms hyaluronic acid and is made with just two natural ingredients.)

Where to buy: Well.ca, Hudson's BayBeautylish, Cult BeautyASOSAdore Beauty, The Ordinary

The Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Squalane

The Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Squalane

The Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Squalane.

Ingredients: Squalane.

What it does: Hydrates; protects skin from water loss

  • The least expensive squalane oil on the market.
  • I've tried this and three other squalanes—Peter Thomas Roth, Indie Lee and Biossance—and I can't tell the difference between them.
  • A very stable (100 percent saturated) and non-comedogenic oil, suitable for all skin types.
  • My all-time favourite face oil for moisturizing! Read more about its benefits here.
  • This is the best oil to buy from their line.

Where to buy: Well.ca, Beautylish, Cult BeautyASOS, Adore Beauty, Beauty Bay, The Ordinary

The Ordinary 100% Cold-Pressed Virgin Marula Oil

The Ordinary 100% Cold-Pressed Virgin Marula Oil

The Ordinary 100% Cold-Pressed Virgin Marula Oil.

Ingredients: Sclerocarya Birrea Seed Oil.

What it does: Hydrates; protects skin from water loss

  • A much cheaper alternative to the popular Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Luxury Face Oil.
  • It's fairly stable—mostly monounsaturated, and only 4 to 7 percent polyunsaturated, which I think is acceptable. But not as safe or beneficial as squalane, or even jojoba oil.
  • Since it's heavier and more occlusive, this is probably not a suitable oil for acne-prone skin. 

Where to buy: Beautylish, Adore Beauty, The Ordinary

The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA

The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA

The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA.

Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Cetyl Alcohol, Propanediol, Stearyl Alcohol, Glycerin, Sodium Hyaluronate, Arginine, Aspartic Acid, Glycine, Alanine, Serine, Valine, Isoleucine, Proline, Threonine, Histidine, Phenylalanine, Glucose, Maltose, Fructose, Trehalose, Sodium PCA, PCA, Sodium Lactate, Urea, Allantoin, Linoleic Acid, Oleic Acid, Phytosteryl Canola Glycerides, Palmitic Acid, Stearic Acid, Lecithin, Triolein, Tocopherol, Carbomer, Isoceteth-20, Polysorbate 60, Sodium Chloride, Citric Acid, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Pentylene Glycol, Triethanolamine, Sodium Hydroxide, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin.

What it does: Hydrates; targets signs of aging

  • A very unique amino acid-based moisturizer.
  • Amino acids not only hydrate the skin, but also perform many of the same functions as retinoids, such as improving fine lines and wrinkles and treating sun damage.
  • One of the few silicone-free moisturizers on the market.
  • Contains mostly stable, coconut-derived fatty acids (the caprylic/capric triglyceride). The linoleic acid is polyunsaturated, but it's far down the list so not a huge concern.

Where to buy: Well.ca, Hudson's BayBeautylish, Cult BeautyASOS, Adore Beauty, Beauty Bay, The Ordinary

Hydrators I'd skip: The 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil and the 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Moroccan Argan Oil are both too polyunsaturated and prone to oxidation. Since I avoid silicones for these reasons, I can't recommend the High-Adherence Silicone Primer or the High-Spreadability Fluid Primer.

Other Molecules:

The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA

The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA

The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA.

Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Alpha-Arbutin, Polyacrylate Crosspolymer-6, Hydrolyzed Sodium Hyaluronate, Propanediol, PPG-26-Buteth-26, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Lactic Acid, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Ethoxydiglycol, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin.

What it does: Brightens; treats and helps prevent pigmentation

  • A brightening ingredient that treats pigmentation by inhibiting the formation of melanin.
  • Gets converted into hydroquinone in the body.
  • I think it's a safer choice than hydroquinone, and less irritating.
  • But I'd still recommend niacinamide or vitamin C as safer brightening treatments. This study shows that niacinamide offers similar effects to hydroquinone with fewer side effects.

Where to buy: Well.ca, Hudson's BayBeautylish, Cult BeautyASOS, Beauty Bay, The Ordinary

The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG

The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG

The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG.

Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Caffeine, Propanediol, Maltodextrin, Glycerin, Epigallocatechin Gallatyl Glucoside, Gallyl Glucoside, Hyaluronic Acid, Oxidized Glutathione, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Seed Extract, Polypodium Vulgare Rhizome Extract, Cetraria Islandica Thallus Extract, Sphagnum Magellanicum Extract, Urea, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Polyacrylate Crosspolymer-6, Xanthan gum, Lactic Acid, Citric Acid, Dehydroacetic Acid, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Propyl Gallate, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Ethoxydiglycol, Benzyl Alcohol, 1,2-Hexanediol, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol.

What it does: Targets dark circles and puffiness

  • A great choice if you're looking for a solution to under-eye puffiness.
  • I'm not as convinced it will do that much for dark circles, as those are usually related to food allergies, low thyroid or both.
  • Caffeine has many other beneficial effects for the skin, including repairing sun damage, acting like a sunscreen (though it's NOT a replacement for sunscreen!) and inhibiting carcinogenesis.
  • The soybean seed extract is not ideal, but at least it's further down the list.

Where to buy: Well.ca, Hudson's BayBeautylish, Cult BeautyASOS, Adore Beauty, Beauty Bay, The Ordinary

Other molecules I'd skip: The Matrixyl 10% + HA, "Buffet" and Argireline Solution 10% are all peptide-based serums and while they may be okay short-term, I'm not convinced of their efficacy or long-term safety. Dr. Leslie Baumann is one prominent dermatologist who thinks peptides are overrated and may interact negatively with other ingredients. According to biochemist Loren Pickart, Matrixyl can cause the skin to create inflammatory scar proteins. The argireline is said to "relax" facial tension like Botox, but there are just too many reports of people experiencing sagging (!!) for me to be comfortable with it. I'll stick with retinol for now!

Colours:

Unfortunately, both the Serum Foundation and the Coverage Foundation contain silicones, which always affect my skin negatively. (Same with the High-Adherence Silicone Primer and the High-Spreadability Fluid Primer, which they list under this category as well as under Hydrators.) Read more here on my opinion of silicones.

Conclusion

The Ordinary skincare review

The Ordinary's skincare offerings are too affordable not to try.

​I hope this gives you a better idea of where I stand on The Ordinary

Yes, there are a few things I'd avoid, and I definitely don't agree with certain ingredient claims that they profess to be "facts." I wonder a bit about the quality of ingredients we're getting, and whether, in the rush to market, they've gone through appropriate testing. 

However, any skincare aficionado would be impressed by their concept of simple, affordable, ingredient-focused serums, which have never existed before. Plus, they're really too affordable NOT to try! If they don't work for you, it's no big hit to your wallet, right?

So to sum up, these are the products I most recommend:

I hope this has helped you in your purchasing decisions. I'd love to hear what you think!

Have you tried anything from The Ordinary?
Which products have worked / not worked for you?