Are you looking to find out which are the best The Ordinary products? Are you looking to read a rant about the incredible but also extremely frustrating company that changed skincare as we know it? If so, keep on reading.
Skincare brand The Ordinary started a revolution in the cosmetics industry, proving that high-powered skincare doesn’t have to be expensive and that scientifically-backed compounds are a bigger selling point than exotic-sounding extracts.
I give them a lot of credit for getting people interested in the science behind skincare, as well as for making some excellent products. However, they also have a massive portfolio! How can you choose the best The Ordinary products for yourself when there are so many options?
I’ve selected the best products from The Ordinary for each person’s needs to make it easy for you to choose what’s right for you. Then I mention a few issues I have with The Ordinary, including products that I think are totally unnecessary as well as the cons to the brand’s approach to skincare. Finally, I include a guide that’ll help you figure out how to start a skincare routine based on The Ordinary products.
In this article:
- Our Picks for the Best The Ordinary Products
- It’s Not All Good with The Ordinary
- How to Get Started with The Ordinary Skincare
Best The Ordinary Products Overview
- Best Overall: The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%
- Best for Sensitive Skin: The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
- Best for Exfoliation: The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA 2%
- Best for Anti-Aging: The Ordinary Retinol 0.2% in Squalane
- Best for Acne: The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution
- Best Face Oil: The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil
- Best Vitamin C: The Ordinary 100% L-Ascorbic Acid Powder
- Best for Cleansing: The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser
- Best Moisturizer: The Ordinary Marine Hyaluronics
- Best for Eyes: The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG
- Best for Intense Exfoliation: The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
Our Picks for the Best The Ordinary Products
Here we have reviewed some of our favorite The Ordinary products that we really do believe are worth trying!
This is probably The Ordinary’s most popular product because it just works for so many people in so many ways. Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 that has anti-aging effects as an antioxidant and hydrating agent, anti-acne effects as a mattifying agent, and anti-inflammatory effects, which help both sensitive and acne-prone skin. The serum itself is versatile – you can apply it straight to your skin if you’re a little oilier for that full mattifying effect, or dilute it in a moisturizer if your skin is dry or sensitive. It’s available at Sephora and Amazon.
Azelaic acid is usually sold as a prescription medication to treat acne and rosacea, so The Ordinary really shook things up by formulating it in a cosmetic. The result is a gentle product that helps with redness and sensitivity while also targeting breakouts and acne. It has a keratolytic effect, but it’s not a strong exfoliant like AHA or BHA, so it can be used on a daily basis. You can buy it from Ulta or Amazon.
Choosing the top exfoliant from The Ordinary is hard work because they have so many amazing options. We settled on lactic acid because it’s the gentlest and beginner-friendly way of exfoliating the skin, and thanks to the added hyaluronic acid, it’s also quite moisturizing!
Like its sibling glycolic acid and cousin salicylic acid, lactic acid works by dissolving the material that connects dead skin cells to each other, forcing them to shed and revealing youthful and fresh skin. Not everyone needs to exfoliate their skin, but for most of us, it can be helpful to alleviate all kinds of skin concerns, from acne to aging to pigmentation. Exfoliants also boost the effects of other skin treatments! Get it on Amazon or Sephora!
Retinoids, which are derived from vitamin A, are some of the most well-researched and verified anti-aging ingredients, so if you have fine lines you’d like to soften, this is the place to start. They help with all kinds of texture issues in the skin and are even useful for acne, large pores, and raised scarring.
I decided to recommend one of The Ordinary’s low-percentage retinol formulas instead of the granactive retinoid because there’s more research backing up the effectiveness of retinol. Granactive retinoids are gentler, sure, but we don’t actually know how well they work.
The retinol is suspended in squalane, so it does have an oily feel even though it should be safe for those with acne-prone skin. Those with more experience using retinoids can choose one of the higher percentage formulas. Find it at Ulta or Amazon!
At the time of writing, this product is being reformulated, but once it’s available again, it’s our easy pick for dealing with acne. Salicylic acid is a wonderful exfoliant that can work its way through oils and sebum. It also has an anti-inflammatory effect that’s ideal for minimizing pimples, and it has an inhibiting effect on bacteria that might help prevent pores from getting infected with the p. acnes bacteria.
Finally, it’s also milder than glycolic or lactic acids, so for most people, it’s appropriate for daily use. Until then, we’ll recommend a different salicylic acid product: the Salicylic Acid 2% Masque, which also includes mattifying kaolin clay and is available at Sephora and Amazon.
A face oil can be a wonderful skincare boost, helping to add a dose of nourishing antioxidants and fatty acids to the skin. There are a lot of oils to choose from, but we love rose hip seed oil because in addition to helping soften the skin, it also contains a ton of protective beta-carotene and soothing alpha-linolenic acid. It’s an oil that’s unlikely to cause breakouts, so it’s appropriate for everyone, and it can be used alone or mixed to boost other products. Order it online from Amazon or Sephora!
The Ordinary vitamin C portfolio is robust and, frankly, a little overwhelming. It’s a known fact the most potent form of vitamin C is ascorbic acid, but even then, there are a few products to choose from. We decided to recommend the powder because it’s stable, versatile, potent, and it allows the user to play chemist. It can be mixed with nearly anything, including water, face oil, moisturizer, and other serums (as long as there’s no conflict).
The benefits of ascorbic acid are many, but the two most major ones are its ability to fade hyperpigmentation and stimulate collagen production in order to firm up the skin and fade fine lines. Get it at Sephora or Amazon!
One of the best The Ordinary products, this is currently the brand’s only cleanser. We find it amusing how they can have such an abundance of products in other categories, but only one very essential product! That said, it’s a phenomenal cleanser that can work for all skin types. It’s an oil/ balm-type cleanser made with squalane, so it melts down even difficult-to-remove makeup quickly and easily, but it’s non-comedogenic. It emulsifies with water, so it’s very easy to just rinse it away completely. It’s sold on Amazon and Sephora.
When it comes to moisturizers, we don’t think The Ordinary really stands out. They have some decent options, but there are many other moisturizers that are just as good or even better at similar price points. With that said, we think this the nicest hydrator they offer, as it is based on some fantastic marine-derived humectants.
It is very lightweight and pleasant, so those with oily skin can use it as their only moisturizer, while for those with dry skin, it can be a really nice serum to use before a cream. It’s also fantastic as a mixer for diluting other The Ordinary products. It does have a slightly oceany or fishy scent that not everyone will like. Shop for it on Amazon or Sephora!
While quite a few of The Ordinary products are safe for the eye area, the combination of tightening caffeine and EGCG (Epigallocatechin Gallatyl Glucoside, a compound extract from green tea) is really wonderful for perking you up. Caffeine has a tightening effect that’s great when the skin under the eyes is puffy, and EGCG is a phenomenal soothing and antioxidant agent that helps diminish signs of sensitivity while protecting from premature aging. Find it on Amazon and Sephora!
If your skin is a little thicker, or you’ve been exfoliating with acids for years, then you might prefer glycolic acid, which is stronger than lactic acid. At 7%, this toner gives a thorough exfoliation, and you can use it up to once a day to smooth out the skin and eliminate all kinds of imperfections. The formula also includes rose water and cornflower extract to add a bit of moisture and prevent irritation, though since it’s a liquid, it’s still extremely light on the skin. You can find it at Sephora and Amazon.
It’s Not All Good with The Ordinary
The Ordinary has a unique approach to formulation. The formulas themselves are minimalistic with just one or two truly major ingredients. The result is anything but minimalistic, unfortunately. Users find themselves buying anywhere from 3-5 specialty products at once, and I’m not talking about basics like cleanser or sunscreen!
It’s not uncommon for people to end up with a bunch of The Ordinary products on their bathroom counter and no idea how to use them. Trying to figure out The Ordinary regimen guide is akin to constructing a puzzle or solving a complicated work problem. This might be integral to the brand’s ethos, but it’s also extremely confusing for “ordinary” people.
Beyond just being confusing, this can also be dangerous. Customers end up adopting massive, active-laden routines too quickly, often to terrible results. If you’ve been reading what I write about skincare for a while, you know that I always recommend only introducing one product at a time, but when you’ve just bought six new and exciting serums, it’s very hard to show restraint.
The problem is that when introducing too many skincare products at once, it’s very easy to over-exfoliate or aggravate the skin. If you have an allergic reaction or a breakout because of one of the products, you’ll have no way of knowing which product it was!
Selfishly, I find it annoying going through my favorite skincare forum and wading through question after question that really should have been sent to The Ordinary’s customer support line.
Then, I also have an issue with the sometimes-outrageous products The Ordinary releases, and the AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution, in particular, comes to mind. I know it might seem outrageous not to recommend one of the most highly-rated products from this brand, but the truth is that this peeling solution is just too intense for most people to manage.
Normally, such a high concentration of AHA would only be used in salon-strength chemical peels by aestheticians and facialists who have undergone training. This is because AHA at that level can actually burn or severely irritate the skin, especially if it’s used too often, in conjunction with other strong products, or if proper sun protection measures aren’t taken. If you have a ton of experience using acid-based exfoliants, know how to recognize early signs of over-exfoliation, and are very good at using SPF, then you can give this product a try, but beginners should absolutely stay away!
There are a few other The Ordinary products that are simply not great, from the sunscreens that leave a serious white cast to a few sticky or oddly textured serums and emulsions. It’s pretty normal for a brand to have a few duds, but we do have to wonder if The Ordinary sometimes rushes releasing things to market before truly perfecting a formula.
How to Get Started with The Ordinary Skincare
So now that you’ve read my rant, how on earth do you actually get yourself a The Ordinary routine that’ll work for you? Don’t worry, we’ve got a guide that will take you through the process.
Sort out Your Basics
Good skincare starts with the basics! Make sure your routine already includes a great daily sunscreen, a cleanser to remove debris in the evening, and a moisturizer. The Ordinary has a few different sunscreens (although they’re notorious for leaving a white cast, so they usually don’t work for anyone with medium skin or darker), a fabulous cleanser, and they also have a decent range of moisturizers and hydrators. However, you don’t have to use basics from The Ordinary to benefit from their other products.
One Product at a Time
Now you can consider which product from The Ordinary you would like to start using first. It’s really important to only introduce one product into your skincare routine at a time and to try it for a couple of weeks before introducing the next one, which is why you should only select one product instead of 2 or 3. If you introduce a few products at once and end up with irritation or acne, you won’t know which product was responsible.
Figure out Your Concerns
To decide which product to start with, consider what your main skin concerns are.
- Are you worried about preventing premature aging? Then you probably want to start with a retinoid or an exfoliant.
- Are you dealing with hormonal acne? In that case, you might want to start with an exfoliant or a skin-balancing ingredient like niacinamide.
- Do you feel like despite using a moisturizer, your skin still gets dehydrated frequently? In that case, you’ll want to explore their hydrating options.
- Is your main concern about acne scars or hyperpigmentation? In that case, vitamin C is a classic remedy.
Consider What You Should Avoid
With your skin concerns clarified, you now need to figure out what you don’t want in your routine. This can include taking note of ingredients you’re allergic to or ingredients that often break you out (although, for the most part, The Ordinary products are non-comedogenic).
How Strong Will You Go
Actives from The Ordinary come in a wide range of strengths. For example, they have exfoliating lactic acid serums at both 5% and 10% strength, which are both milder than their glycolic acid formulas. Some of their formulas are not harsh at all, like the niacinamide or any of their moisturizers.
If you’re new to skincare or if you have sensitive skin, definitely opt for something milder, even if it means that you won’t see major results as quickly. On the other hand, if you’re an experienced skincare user or if you have very hearty skin, you can go a little stronger. Once your skin gets used to a weaker product, you can repurchase the next “level” up if you like.
Depending on the product you choose to start with, you may not want to use it every day at first. When it comes to retinoids, direct acids, and some antioxidants, it’s best to only use the product twice a week at the start. Then, slowly increase the frequency, so the following week, you use it every other day or every two days, and then in the third week, you can finally work your way up to using it every day.
There are two reasons for this suggestion: first, with strong active ingredients, you run the risk of irritation, over-exfoliation, and even acid burns. This is true for actives from every brand – not just The Ordinary. By starting to use the product slowly, you can pay close attention to the skin to see if you can tolerate it and catch any problems before they get very bad.
The second reason is that the skin actually needs to get used to strong active ingredients. The first few times you use a strong ingredient, your skin might tingle or get a little red, but after a week or two of regular use, the skin starts tolerating the ingredient better.
So, it’s been a few weeks, and your skin is loving the new product you’ve introduced? Amazing! You’re now set to introduce the next product. You can just rinse and repeat the selection process by considering what other skin concerns you have, or you can instead choose a product that’ll help amp up the effects of the first product you’ve selected.
Check for Conflicts
Not all skincare products go together! In their Regimen Guide, you can learn about how different products conflict with each other. For example, vitamin C in its ascorbic acid form can have a conflict with niacinamide, and peptides can have a conflict with very acidic products. The conflicts are mostly pretty clear-cut, but occasionally putting together a routine can feel like a puzzle.
This doesn’t mean you can’t use both products at all in the same routine, but you can’t use them at the same time. For example, if the first product you introduced into your routine was an acid-based exfoliant in the evening, and you now want a mild anti-aging boost from a peptide-based product, just make sure to use the acids in the evening and the peptides in the morning.
If your routine gets more complicated over time, you can also use certain The Ordinary products on alternating days – this is especially useful for products that are likelier to irritate, like exfoliants and retinoids.
Photos via The Ordinary