The Ordinary’s most effective products according to science
We have picked The Ordinary’s best and most effective products for your skin type according to skincare science and active ingredients.
Deciem’s The Ordinary took the world by storm when it first got introduced a couple of years ago. Their philosophy “clinical formulations with integrity”, means honest skincare that provides clinical, effective solutions to our skin problems, while keeping it affordable yet high in quality. We have selected The Ordinary’s most effective products according science!
Their formulations are simple, with only a few ingredients (the ones that “do the magic”), and ditching ingredients like dye, fragrance, and most additives (the stuff we don’t want to put on our skin, but still find in almost every product out there). How great is this?! The Ordinary is also 100% transparent.
“A product is only as good as its worst ingredient”.
How we found The Ordinary‘s most effective products
As mentioned, we went through the ingredient list on all their products, and from there we picked the ones that had only good (and clinically well-proven) ingredients. After that, we tested the products for about a year – and we’re left with a big handful of magic that we want to tell you all about.
Note: If you are looking for a specific product that isn’t on our list, this might be the cause:
- One or more of a product’s ingredients are not documented enough
- Ingredients only have data from the manufacturer
- Long-term-safety issues
- High silicone content
- Some potentially good ingredients are only documented effective when taken orally.
Don’t know your skin type? Take our simple skin type quiz!
The Ordinary easily explained
So, we’ve already established that their large amount of products with difficult clinical names are a little confusing and not very user-friendly, at least when you’re not a dermatologist. But that’s OK. Because it’s cheap, effective, honest & transparent. And we’ll explain all you need to know anyway, in addition to introducing you to the ordinary’s most effective products!
The Ordinary have skin products in these categories:
- Retinol/Retinoids (anti-aging)Vitamin C (has different purposes, often used for anti-aging, pigment spots, textural irregularities, glow, etc.)
- Direct Acids (helps remove old skin, very important to improve hydration and reduce signs of aging)
- Antioxidants (Similar to vitamin c. Help rebuild and support the skin.)
- Hydrators and Oils (you´ve got to moisturize!)
- More Molecules (products for oily skin – minimizes pores, regulates sebum, etc.)
- Cleansers (the most important skincare step, read why here)
- Sunscreen (not included)
- Some make-up and hair care (not included)
(We’ll go through each category, showing the ordinary’s most effective products – and which of the alternatives is best for you and your skin)
Most of the products in these categories are serums.
What are serums?
Serums are lightweight skincare products that penetrate deeper into the skin than regular cream formulas. The ordinary has serums for all kinds of purposes and skin issues. We’ll help you to pick a couple of serums that suit your skin!
You apply the serums after cleansing, and before your oil and creamy moisturizer.
It’s important to know that some of the serums interfere with each other, and some should not be used in sunlight. We will get back to that later.
Also check out:
Cheap skin care products that are BETTER than expensive products!
Let’s DIVE STRAIGHT INTO IT!!
These are The Ordinary’s most effective products according to science:
(+ We’ll help you find the best (and worst) products for YOU and your skin)
The products below are The Ordinary’s most effective products in each category based on published science (well-proven ingredients) and user experiences. After each category, we summarize and help you find which of the products is right for your unique skin.
//The Ordinary’s most effective products
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Let’s start with exfoliators:
The Ordinary‘s most effective exfoliators
The Ordinary Salicylic Acid Mask
- The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Mask is a product that exfoliates the skin and pores to fight dryness, blemishes/acne, blackheads, congestion, and dull skin tone. It also works for anti-aging. Salicylic Acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that has several benefits and many brands sell it with the same amount of acid (2%) just much more expensive.
- Exfoliation is important because by removing the “dead skin layer” your actual skin can more easily suck up moisture and other ingredients in any product. This is the reason it helps fight dryness.
- It’s oil-free, silicone-free, and alcohol-free. Yay!
- Salicylic acid is in general skin-safe and most people tolerate it. We love it and saw some good results, especially on pores and acne.
- There are a bunch of good studies done on Salicylic acid, this one is good.
- How to use: Use after cleansing. Apply a small amount all over your face, or as a spot treatment on just some areas. Remember to patch test. This product contains a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that may increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so it’s important to use sunscreen/limit sun exposure. Avoid the eye area.
The Ordinary Lactic Acid + HA
- The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA AND The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA. Two almost identical exfoliators. Both exfoliate the skin to help fight uneven tone, textural irregularities, and fine lines. The only difference between them is that the first one (5%) is weaker than the second one (10%). Lactic Acid is an Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA).
- Exfoliation is important because by removing the “dead skin layer” your actual skin can more easily suck up moisture and other ingredients in any product. This is the reason it helps fight dryness.
- These products are oil-free, silicone-free, and alcohol-free.
- Contains Tasmanian Pepperberry, which helps reduce irritation associated with acid use.
- This is a good study done on AHAs/Lactic Acid.
- How to use: Use after cleansing, and before serums, oils, and creams. You can also mix in a few drops in your cream to reduce strength in the beginning. Remember to patch test. Use PM. It may increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so use sunscreen. Avoid eye contour. Conflicts: Don’t use it with other strong acids, peptides, and the antioxidant EUK 134 0,1%.
Which should you choose?
Is Salicylic Acid or Lactic Acid best for your skin type?
If you have problematic skin, especially with oil, congestion, black/whiteheads, blemishes, etc. – choose the acid mentioned first, The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution. And if your skin is “normal”, sensitive or dry, choose the Lactic Acid + HA. And at last, if your skin is a combination, it’s an idea to use the Salicylic Acid as a spot treatment on troubled areas like an oily t-zone or an area full of pores, and then the Lactic Acid for the rest of the face. If you want to use both acids, remember to use them on different days, not together (unless the different acids come in the same product).
NOTE: The glycolic acid 7% toning solution is a popular choice for acid(toner). But too much glycolic is in general very drying and irritating. You don’t want that, since irritation can increase your skin issues and speed up the aging process.
If you want to learn more about direct acids, read this article about the best skincare ingredients to use for your skin type.
The Ordinary‘s most effective products
Retinol in squalane
- The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in squalane AND The Ordinary Retinol 1% in squalane are anti-age serums with different strength (0.5% and 1%) that treats fine lines, stimulates collagen production, and repairs all kinds of damage and general skin aging. It’s great for people with acne. Retinol is pretty much the only ingredient according to science that can reduce aging. Several other ingredients on the market can reduce signs of aging by giving moisture, protecting against further skin damage, etc. but retinol is, according to science, the only one that actually turns back time. If you treat your skin well, exfoliate, and use sun protection and retinol, very fine lines will most likely disappear over time, and deep wrinkles become reduced.
(The Ordinary retinoids explained, retinol vs retinoid)
- The Ordinary has two types of this super product, retinol serums, and retinoids serums (both come in different strengths). Easily explained, retinoids are an umbrella term, and retinol is a type of retinoid. Although they target the same issue, the two different serums work differently. We decided to ditch the retinoids-products and stick to the retinol products because retinol is more proven and backed up by significantly more science and published data compared to The Ordinary’s retinoid products, which also have some ingredients that concern us since we don’t know their long-time effects (HPR).
- Unfortunately, Retinol has a side effect, and that’s skin irritation. Not everyone experiences it though, in fact, none of us did. But what’s a little temporary side effect when we get results like these.
How to use The Ordinary Retinol in Squalane
- If you haven’t used any retinol before, you want to start with the retinol 0.5%, and then jump up to the retinol 1% after a couple of weeks.
- The Ordinary Retinol in squalane is silicone-free, unlike other (much more expensive) retinol products out there. The squalane in the product amplifies and stabilizes the retinol (or any other ingredient) squalane also nourishes and strengthens the skin’s lip barrier. We haven’t seen a more stable retinol product on the market.
- The product is lightweight, and the squalane (oil) absorbs into the skin after 5-10 minutes. It’s not clogging, since the squalane is a very different type of oil – we’ll get back to that.
- Here and here are good studies on retinoids.
- How to use: Use after cleansing, before oil/creams. Start with 2-3 times a week until your skin gets used to it. Patch test. Use only at night. Avoid the eye area. Retinol makes your skin temporarily sensitive to the sun, so use sunscreen against further damage (very important = if you’re not careful with the sun when you use retinol your skin can end up looking older). It’s an idea to use retinol in periods, for instance during the winter or rainy season when you’re not exposed to the sun as often. (Also, when you first start with retinol, your skin might look a little thinner, but after a few weeks it will look fuller and better than ever before). Conflicts: other retinol/retinoid treatments.
To summarize retinol:
Everyone has to own a good retinol product, and the one mentioned above from the ordinary is perfect: clean, cheap, stable, and highly effective. You most likely won’t get irritated skin unless you have extremely dry or sensitive skin, or severe acne – if you have serious acne, give Murads popular retinol a try instead, it’s oil-free. Remember sunscreen. Put on a good moisturizer on top of the retinol, we like THIS clean and simple ONE from The Ordinary (we’ll mention it further down the page).
The Ordinary’s most effective products – ‘MORE MOLECULES‘
- The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% is a popular water-based serum (vitamin B3) that regulates and balances sebum activity, therefore minimizing pores and reducing the appearance of blemishes and congestion. There are also studies proving that it’s an effective ingredient for brightening skin tone, reducing redness and pigmentation, and improving fine lines, amongst other benefits.
- Niacinamide is, as you might know, a very popular (and proven!) ingredient. The consistency feels like silk on the skin. The Ordinary’s niacinamide is great because it has such a high concentration of niacinamide at a low cost. Additionally, it’s clean, vegan, and cruelty-free just like all the other The Ordinary products. Another slightly stronger option is this niacinamide serum from Naturium, it contains as much as 12% niacinamide and 2% zin.
- Everyone should use Niacinamide, but it’s especially great for people with oily skin or oily zones. Here’s a good study on niacinamide.
- Even though niacinamide reduces the look of blemishes and balances sebum production, it’s not an acne treatment. For acne, the ordinary retinol mentioned earlier is a better option for treatment, next to using Salicylic Acid. (If you have really serious acne, prescription medicine like isotretinoin might be the only option. This is like a strong retinol treatment taken orally for a short amount of time. Ask your doctor.) No matter what treatment, niacinamide is a great maintenance serum to use after, next to the retinol serum.
- Some people break out a little when they start with niacinamide, this is perfectly normal. The skin just needs to get used to it, and it’s worth the wait because this product is powerful!
- Choose Niacinamide instead of vitamin C, if you don’t want to use both. Don’t use them at the same time.
The Ordinary Caffeine Solution
(Under eye serum)
- The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG is their only product meant especially for the eye area. It reduces puffiness and may reduce dark circles.
- Has a light texture, and contains a very high concentration of caffeine, which increases circulation. Purified Epigallocatechin Gallatyl Glucoside (EGCG) from green tea leaves are said to reduce inflammation and are in general good for the skin’s appearance.
- We didn’t see any difference regarding dark circles; however, we did see a reduction of swollen under-eyes, which is the reason we included this product in the list. If you have puffy/swollen eyes (not genetically though) keep this serum in the refrigerator and apply it every morning / when you feel like you need to. If you on the other hand have dark circles or hollow/sunken eye contours as an issue, you most likely won’t love this product. But of course, you can still give it a try, because the high caffeine concentration does have a bunch of other great benefits that your eye area will enjoy.
- Some people claim that the caffeine solution 5% + EGCG temporarily reduces cellulite. You can always do some self-testing if you don’t want to wait for a scientist to give you an answer. The product is cheap and safe, so it definitely won’t hurt to try!
- How to use: AM and PM. It’s water-based, apply it before oils and cream. No conflicts, you can use this product with any other product. If you want to try it on cellulites, make sure to let it absorb before you go to bed/put on clothes. The product comes in a 30 ml bottle, which lasts forever for the eye area, but for a bigger part of the body, you might want to start with 2-3 bottles. Like with all things, you have to use it for some time before you see potential results. Buy here.
The Ordinary’s most effective hydrators and oils:
We’ve picked 1 oil, 2 serums, and 1 cream.
The Ordinary’s best oil: 100% Plant-Derived Squalane
- The Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Squalane. Let’s start with the “oil”. You’ve seen this product before because this squalane is the base in so many of their products. As a base squalane enhances the effect of the product and makes it more stable. Squalane is a saturated and very stable hydrocarbon that’s found naturally in our skin. In this case, it’s made from 100% pure plant-derived squalane. This ‘oil’ fits all skin types because it’s non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog your pores, in fact, it helps regulate excess oil production. The ‘oil’ is lightweight and non-greasy, and your skin absorbs it fast. It’s a great hydrator, even for the eye area and lips. It protects the skin from free radicals. It’s non-irritation which makes it great together with irritating products and treatments. The squalane is antibacterial and helps soothe skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. The list of benefits feels endless…
- If you want to buy one of their oils, this should be your only option. In general, squalane is the only type of oil you should put on your skin, because it’s so many issues with traditional oils, like clogging and oxidizing, making you age faster and making your skin exposed to sun damage. Remember this. If you’re ever in a store looking to buy a new beauty product and it contains regular oils like almond oil, rosehip oil, etc. Stay away. Read more about the benefits of squalane oil here, and why you should never use traditional oils on your face.
- How to use: Use AM and PM after water-based serums. Buy here.
- You can use the squalane in so many ways, the sky is the limit. Some suggestions:
Different ways to use the ordinary squalane:
*Use as a pre-cleanser, massage into the face and especially in the nose area to get a good cleanse of the pores. (Like dissolves like).
*As a moisturizer. Use it after serums, or maybe add some drops into your cream.
*For normal/dry skin: add a few drops into your hand and mix with foundation for moisture and extra glow.
*Make a moisture mist (mix water and oil in a spray bottle) and spray it all over your face throughout the day.
*As a hair-oil, to add shine and reduce damage.
We’ve written a whole article about squalane oils, oil cleansing and benefits here. And, this oil is a great ingredient if you want to make your own bb-cream at home.
The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid
- The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 is a water-based serum that hydrates and repairs the skin. Here’s a good study.
- You have most likely seen Instagram influencers etc. use Hyaluronic Acid serum (from any brand) as it is a popular product, HOWEVER, important; easily explained, hyaluronic acid as a serum attracts the moisture it can find, usually from the air surrounding you, and in that way adds moisture to your skin. This is a wonderful deal for an LA-based girl or someone else who lives in a humid climate surrounded by moisture which the hyaluronic acid can steal and attach to their skin. For people living in colder and dryer climates, or maybe spends a lot of time in a plane: not so good. In this case, the product steals the moisture you already have in the skin, and you end up with dryer skin than ever before. So, if you live in a humid place – you can choose between this product or the next one. If you live in a cold/dry/mixed place, skip this product and look at the one below instead, the amino acids + B5.
- The consistency of (all products) with hyaluronic acid in such a large amount is a little sticky but absorbs into the skin after a few minutes. Buy the hyaluronic acid here.
- How to use: AM and PM, before oily serums and cream. No conflicts.
The Ordinary Amino Acids
- The Ordinary Amino Acids + B5 is a water-based serum that hydrates the skin, it also repairs and helps maintain healthy skin.
- It’s lightweight and oil-free, perfect as an invisible non-greasy layer under makeup.
- When we started using Amino Acids + B5 last winter, none of us struggled with the same level of dryness as we used to, so this product is definitely a keeper.
- It has more proven benefits than the product mentioned above, and it fits all skin types.
- This product can cause a temporary tingling sensation when you apply it, especially if your skin is very dry. This is perfectly normal. You can mix it with the cream mentioned below if you want to reduce its strength.
- How to use: AM and PM, before oily serums and cream. No conflicts. It’s ideal to apply alone all over the face and then finish with the cream below to get enough moisture. If you struggle with extra dry skin, you can use this serum + squalane oil + cream = moisturized and delicious skin 😀
- If they’re sold out – this clean amino acid serum from Paula’s Choice is a great choice. It’s highly appreciated all over the world. It’s water-based, so it’s very lightweight, non-greasy, and absorbs easily.
The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors
(Cream moisturizer for surface protection)
- The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA is a clean and simple cream that gives immediate hydration and repairs the skin. “Natural Moisturizing Factors (NMF)” are elements that keep the outer layer of the skin protected and well-hydrated. The product is made out of compounds that we have naturally in our skin.
- It’s one of the few silicone-free moisturizers on the market. It’s also oil-free, lightweight, and of course, vegan and cruelty-free like all the other The Ordinary products.
- It contains amino acids, like the product above. This means it’s not only hydrating but has a bunch of other benefits like reparation of different kinds of skin damage.
- The cream is non-greasy, feels REALLY good on the skin, and absorbs quickly, so it’s great under make-up.
- Should be a good fit for any skin type. It’s also great to mix in the vitamin c powder L-Ascorbic Acid Powder mentioned further down, for some extra superpower.
- How to use: AM and PM. No conflicts. Use this emulsion as the last step of skincare, before sunscreen/primer/makeup, etc.
Psst, if you struggle with dry skin: check out these ways to treat dry skin – 5 steps to deeply moisturize dry and dehydrated skin.
The Ordinary’s most effective cleanser
- The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser is a mild cleanser that suits all skin types.
- It has moisturizing glycerin and squalene oil (relax, it won’t clog your pores), it also contains vitamin e which protects against free radicals.
- In addition to being moisturizing, it’s sulfate and soap-free, so it won’t dry out your skin.
- This cleanser is clean, cheap, and good for your skin. A much better option than many of the cleansers out there who are filled with stuff like bad chemicals and perfume.
- So, if you need a new one – go for it. It’s a creamy texture and it feels great.
- If you have acne, it’s important to use a cleanser containing BHAs or/and AHAs. You can definitely use this squalane cleanser as a pre-cleanse, but you need something stronger as well. Consider this CLEAR cleanser from Paula’s choice. It contains salicylic acid (BHAs) which gives you an extra good pore cleanse without stripping your skin. It’s a popular product. Another wonderful cleanser is this cleanser from SkinMedica, it contains both AHA and BHA, which makes it a good match for dry and oily skin.
Learn more about squalane oil, cleansing, and learn why it’s the most important skincare step.
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The Ordinary 100% L-Ascorbic Acid Powder
This is the only way to safely use vitamin-c serums
- The Ordinary 100% L-Ascorbic Acid Powder is the most powerful vitamin c product, and it gives your skin a natural glow and works against uneven skin tone and signs of aging. This is a very popular product (and for a good reason), so unfortunately it’s often out of stock. If it’s in stock – make sure to stack it up! Otherwise, this is another best-selling powder from resurrection that is just as good and even a little cheaper.
- L-Ascorbic Acid Powder is a powder that you mix with another product and apply to your face, since it’s an unmixed powder, the product remains fresh. This is an issue with c-vitamin products, they’re not stable for very long, which results in cellular damage to your skin.
- The product comes as a powder in a little jar, with a small scoop inside. You mix half a scoop with another serum or cream (we preferred to mix it with THIS cream, which makes the skin feel soft like a baby butt). Since the product is just the powder that you mix yourself, the product remains fresh, new, and effective for a long time. This is very good because usually c-vitamin products oxidize and have a very short shelf time.
- How to use: Mix half a scoop of the powder with any other The Ordinary product except niacinamide, EUK 134, or highly acidic treatments + peptides. We preferred to mix it with THIS super clean and cheap cream from the Ordinary mentioned above. Remember to patch test. It’s normal to feel a tingle. Use ideally PM, but both are fine. Avoid the eye area.
Check out this article if you want to find the perfect skincare ingredients and steps to use (and avoid) for your skin type and struggles!
Out of the products above, these are the best of the best, and an absolute MUST-HAVE for every skin type:
The Ordinary Retinol in squalane
The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%
The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5
Most of the ingredient studies at the National Center for Biotechnology Information
Deciem // Ordinary’s home page
Always checking if a brand really is cruelty-free //Peta
The Ordinary revolutionized // stichfashion
On T.O being cheap //TheNewYorker
Skincare science thoughts // labmuffin
//The Ordinary‘s most effective products according to science (with scientific proof)
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