Intelligent Beauty

A definitive A-Z guide to The Ordinary

Last Updated: 09/02/2022

Anything but ordinary, {The Ordinary} is transforming the beauty industry landscape. An affordable wardrobe of pure, potent skin care ingredients – ranging from AHAs to retinol – these super-charged treatments are phenomenally efficacious. Want products that promise results (without frills) at purse-friendly prices? Look no further. Here’s a comprehensive guide to The Ordinary, including what does what, the best The Ordinary products for different skin types and expert tips for how to use this popular brand…

A is for…

{AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution}: refines skin’s texture and combats congestion

Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) exfoliate the skin’s uppermost layer of dulling dead cells while beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) ‘unclog’ blocked pores to promote clarity and restore radiance. This is a concentrated formula for those who’re used to using acids. Apply as a 10 minute mask, 1-2 times per week in the evening.

{Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA}: inhibits melanin production to restore skin’s uniformity of tone

Supercharged with alpha arbutin (a safe skin-brightening ingredient that reduces melanin production), this high-potency, gel-like serum targets dark spots and sun speckles to prevent new and diminish existing brown patches. Use as a serum each morning and evening.

{Alpha Lipoic Acid 5%}: brightening and revitalising

Featuring a high concentration of alpha lipoic acid – a potent antioxidant – this anti-ageing serum helps revitalise lacklustre skin types to improve both tone and vibrancy. Use no more than 2-3 times a week, morning or evening. Dilute with an oil to reduce the likelihood of reactivity (it’s concentrated stuff!).

{100% Organic Cold-Pressed Moroccan Argan Oil}: repairs and softens skin and hair

Rich in fatty acids, vitamins, phenols and carotenes, this multitasking miracle oil reduces flaking and supports skin’s overall health while fortifying fragile lengths and adding a subtle, light-reflective lustre – perfect for dry complexions and stressed-out strands.

{Argireline Solution 10%}: works to reduce and prevent wrinkles

Working to inhibit muscle movement (pausing the contractions that cause furrows), this lightweight serum improves visibility of frown lines, ‘elevens’ and other persistent wrinkles. Ultra-lightweight, apply to forehead and around the eyes ahead of heavier serums, oils or creams.

 

{100% L-Ascorbic Acid Powder}: a potent, powdered form of brightening vitamin C

This powder packs a powerful skin-brightening and free radical-fighting punch. A concentrated, stable form of antioxidant-rich vitamin C, this can be easily mixed into treatments (except for those containing niacinamide or EUK 134) to rapidly fade pigmentation and scarring. Tingling is likely so proceed with caution if you’re sensitive.

{Ascorbic Acid 8% + Alpha Arbutin 2%}: a fusion of powerful brightening agents

Vitamin C is an effective antioxidant that brightens the skin tone and reducing signs of ageing, while alpha arbutin is a highly purified biosynthetic active ingredient that reduce the look of dark spots and uneven skin tone.

{Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12%}: a gentler form of skin-brightening vitamin C

A more gradual, less ‘tingly’ type of vit C than it’s ‘ascorbic’ siblings, this mild iteration is better for those with reactive complexions – working a little less swiftly (but no less surely), to shield from aggressors and counteract dullness to unify uneven skin tones.

{Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F}: brightens and elasticises

Featuring Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate (an oil-soluble derivative of vitamin C) and vitamin F (a potent source of strengthening fatty acids) this gentle daily treatment can be used both morning and evening, to restore vibrancy to compromised complexions. Ideal for city dwellers, this is the perfect way to fortify and shield your face from elemental stress.

{Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%}: shields from aggressors

An effective antioxidant, this non-irritating cream protects skin from free radical damage while brightening, refining and diminishing the visibility of blemishes.

B is for…

{“Buffet”}: multi-tasking age-defying treatment

This multi-peptide serum features a comprehensive array of advanced anti-ageing technologies, including Matrixyl 3000 to stimulate collagen synthesis and hyaluronic acid to plump fine lines and wrinkles. It can be applied daily, morning and evening.

*n.b. the name is The Ordinary’s sassy nod to brands referring to ‘overpriced’ products with a combination of ingredients as a ‘buffet’ for the skin.

C is for…

{Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG}: awakens tired eyes

A wake up call for skin, this featherweight elixir is an espresso for sleep-deprived eyes. Boasting caffeine and EGCG (a potent polyphenol found in green tea), it delivers a shot of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories to the eye area – diminishing dark circles and reducing tell-tale puffiness.

{Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%}: an ultra-active, brightening and anti-ageing antidote

Crafted from vitamin c – in its pure form of L-Ascorbic Acid – alongside hyaluronic acid, this antioxidant-rich treatment brightens and improves uneven skin tone while plumping and hydrating. Use daily in the morning or evening, allowing a few moments for complete absorption.

G is for…

{Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution}: exfoliates gently

Featuring glycolic acid (an alpha-hydroxy acid that dissolves the ‘glue’ that binds dulling dead cells to skin’s surface) this gentle toning solution offers mild exfoliation to boost radiance and visibly restore skin’s clarity. Use once a day in the evening.

H is for…

 

{Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5}: softens, smooths and strengthens dehydrated skin

Offering heroic hydration from hyaluronic acid (with a boost of vitamin B5 to enhance efficacy) this oil-free treatment penetrates deeply, attracting water molecules to leave skin ‘plumped’ and moisturised with a fresh, dewy feel.

L is for…

{Lactic Acid 10% + HA 2%}: reduces pigmentation, diminishes acne scars and age spots

Lactic acid (an exfoliating alpha-hydroxy acid) and Tasmanian pepperberry (which reduces signs of inflammation) combine to stimulate cell regeneration, reduce pigmentation and improve overall skin texture. Apply once a day in the evening for maximum, brightening benefit.

Work your way up to using {Lactic Acid 10% + HA 2%}.

M is for…

{Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate Solution 10%}: brightens and reduces signs of ageing

A water-soluble derivative of vitamin C, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate is an effective antioxidant that brightens the skin tone and helps to reduce signs of ageing – it’s delivered as a lightweight cream. Use daily in the morning and the evening to restore skin’s youthful luminosity and lustre.

{Matrixyl 10% + HA}: for pronounced lines and wrinkles

Utilising two ‘generations’ of this miraculous ingredient – Matrixyl 3000 and Matrixyl Synthe’6 – at a combined concentration of 10%, this super-charged serum stimulates collagen synthesis to reduce the appearance of static and dynamic lines and wrinkles, while hyaluronic acid provides superficial ‘plumping’ to diminish visibility of fine lines.

N is for…

{Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA}: hydrating booster for chronically dry skin

Made up of compounds including amino acids and hyaluronic acid, Natural Moisturizing Factors are elements (often impaired in parched, Sahara-esque complexions) that keep the uppermost layer of skin well hydrated. This non-greasy cream offers a direct topical boost, to ‘train’ dry skin to become more self-sufficient.

{Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%}: battles breakouts

This potent serum targets breakouts, minimises visible pores and clears congestion by balancing skin’s oil production. Apply to problem-prone complexions, morning and evening before heavier creams.

R is for…

{Advanced Retinoid 2%}: advanced anti-ageing

Super-charged with a high concentration of two ‘next generation’ retinoids – vitamin A derivatives which ‘irritate’ sluggish skin cells to kick-start creation of essential scaffolding: the elastin and collagen which keeps skin strong, supple and resilient. Apply a few drops in the evening, as part of your night-time skin ritual.

{Retinol Serum 0.5% in Squalane}: age-defying powerhouse

This highly stable, water-free, high strength age-defying solution features 0.5% pure retinol to encourage cell turnover, revealing healthier, softer skin while also tackling blemishes, dark spots and defying signs of ageing. Start with the 0.2% retinol option to allow skin to build up tolerance.

S is for…

{Salicylic Acid 2% Solution}: unclogs pores, clears and clarifies skin

Featuring salicylic acid (a beta-hydroxy acid that successfully ‘excavates’ embedded grime) and witch hazel, this blemish-battling solution penetrates the interior walls of pores to ‘unclog’, battle blackheads and help counteract congestion. Use as a targeted on-the-spot treatment or apply all over to maintain a clear complexion.

{High-dherence Silicone Primer}: minimises pores

Formulated with advanced adaptive silicone particles that let your make up last longer, this primer works to blur the look of imperfections to create the optimum base for make up application. Use it as the last step in your skin care routine.

{100% Plant-Derived Squalane}: a multi-purpose hydrator

Squalane, a saturated and stable hydrocarbon found naturally in the skin, is an exceptional hydrator that can prevent the ongoing evaporation of much-needed moisture and in turn, maintain skin’s suppleness and ‘bounce’. that can impair suppleness. Apply a few drops to entire face – or use to protect hair from heat styling.

{Squalane Cleanser}: for gentle, moisturising cleansing

With a combination of squalane and other lipophilic esters, this clever potion dissolves make up and the day’s dirt while simultaneously moisturising skin. The hard-working formula feels balm-like when first applied, changing to a clear oil-like texture when warmed into your skin.

WHICH THE ORDINARY PRODUCTS SHOULD YOU USE?

Let’s take a look at the best The Ordinary products to use based on your skin type:

BEST THE ORDINARY PRODUCTS FOR SENSITIVE SKIN

If your skin is easily irritated and prone to flare ups, redness and bumpiness, then it’s important to choose gentle products and maintain a consistent skin care routine.

In the morning, use {Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5} and {Natural Moisturising Factors + HA}, and at night use {100% Plant-Derived Squalane} and the same moisturiser as you did in the AM.

BEST THE ORDINARY PRODUCTS FOR OILY SKIN

{Oily skin} occurs due to excessive sebum production, which can lead to shine, enlarged pores, breakouts and rough skin texture. Choosing products that specifically target oily skin can help to reduce sebum secretion, tackling the root cause of these problems.

Use {Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%} and {Natural Moisturising Factors + HA} morning and night, and in the morning end your skin care routine with {High-Adherence Silicone Primer}.

BEST THE ORDINARY PRODUCTS FOR BREAKOUT-PRONE SKIN

If you’re prone to persistent pimples, then these are the best The Ordinary products to assist you in the battle against spots.

Start your day with {Squalane Cleanser} and {Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%} (always followed by an SPF), and use the same cleanser and {Salicylic Acid 2% Masque} at night.

BEST THE ORDINARY PRODUCTS FOR DRY SKIN

If you have dry skin, you’ll know that the right skin care products can be the difference between flaky and tight-feeling skin, and a hydrated and glowing complexion.

Use {Squalane Cleanser} and {Natural Moisturising Factors + HA} morning and night, and add {100% Organic Cold-Pressed Borage Seed Oil} or {100% Plant-Derived Squalane} to your evening routine.

BEST THE ORDINARY PRODUCTS FOR ANTI-AGEING

As we get older, our bodies produce less elastin and collagen, leading to the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Ageing is inevitable and unavoidable, but the right skin care products can plump the skin, making lines less visible.

Start your day with {“Buffet” Multi-Technology Peptide Serum} and {Mineral UV Filters SPF 30 With Antioxidants}, and end it with {Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane} and {Natural Moisturising Factors + HA}.

BEST THE ORDINARY PRODUCTS FOR UNEVEN SKIN TONE

An uneven skin tone – think redness, dark spots and an uneven texture – can be caused by sun exposure, hyperpigmentation, pregnancy and age. Balance it out with the help of these products from The Ordinary.

Apply {Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA} twice a day, followed by {Mineral UV Filters SPF 30 With Antioxidants} in the morning. Use {Lactic Acid 5% + HA 2%} in the evening – starting a couple of times a week and building up your tolerance until you can use it every day.

HOW TO USE THE ORDINARY

Here are a few tips to consider when buying and using new products from The Ordinary:

  1. Acclimatise your skin to new active treatments, such as retinol, retinoids, vitamin C and acids. Start on the lowest formulations first and slowly build up usage to avoid sensitivity. Start by introducing them a few days a week (nights only for retinol), or every other day depending on the product and your tolerance.
  2. Try patch testing new products from The Ordinary first before introducing them to your routine (particularly those with sensitivities) to see how your skin responds. You can do this by applying a small amount to your inner wrist or elbow and waiting 48 hours.
  3. Slow and steady wins the race. If you’re wanting to overhaul your routine try to just make small, incremental changes before switching everything over. This gives your skin time to adapt to each new product to avoid sensitivity, and you can see what each formula does for your skin too!
  4. Not everything plays well together in The Ordinary, so don’t forget to check what should and shouldn’t be used in the same application. You can always reach out to our {Cult Concierge} team if you’re unsure about mixing your new Cult favourites to make sure you’re getting the most out of your routine.
  5. Unsure of what order to apply your products in? Follow the guideline of working from the lightest to the heaviest textures. Start by applying your water-based products first after cleansing and exfoliating, following with oil-based and then emulsion-based formulas (don’t forget your SPF in the day).
  6. Less is more! Avoid using more than three targeted The Ordinary serums per routine – your skin can only absorb so much product! Consistency and patience are key above anything else in your routine.

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Verity Douglas

Verity Douglas

Content Editor

Verity is our Content Editor and a Cult Beauty veteran. Currently on maternity leave, raising Cult Beauty’s honorary ‘word nerd’, Tabitha, she speaks fluent ‘beauty’ and loves nothing more than the marriage of language and lip balm (and cleanser and candles… ad infinitum). Nothing can stop her from quoting Nancy Mitford, treating herself to yet another Bella Freud candle for her desk or buying that pilgrim-esque collared or heavily fringed outfit she’s been eyeing. You can trust her to debunk widespread beauty myths and dispense invaluable advice with ease…