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Reader Question: Is The Ordinary worth the hype? And what ingredients should I get—there are so many! – Diana Verona
At first glance, The Ordinary seems very, well, ordinary. The color palette is monochrome, there are no flashy marketing statements splattered across the bottles, and the packaging looks more like a scientist’s arsenal than something you’d find on a vanity. Oh, and here’s the kicker – nothing costs more than $30.
So why is the brand generating so much buzz from TikTok users, beauty editors, and dermatologists alike? For starters, it is very beginner-friendly in skin care. Each product is extremely transparent, listing the exact percentage of active ingredients so you know you’re not falling victim to pixie dust. The brand’s clinical, science-backed approach to skincare has never been done before, let alone at this price point.
Before you write it off as cheap, remember that expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better in the skincare world. “Many things can contribute to a product’s price, including packaging and marketing, that have nothing to do with actual quality,” says Dr. Britt Craiglow, associate associate professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine. “In some cases, a product may contain fluffy additives and proprietary ingredients that are not necessarily effective but contribute to higher costs.”
In other words, The Ordinary is skincare simplified. You don’t get the fancy scents and indulgent textures (read: silicones), but you do score with products based on individual ingredients that deliver targeted results.
Despite the brand’s no-nonsense 101-style approach and attractive price point, building a streamlined routine can be intimidating. When you’re just dealing with active ingredients and percentages, the approach feels a bit…medicinal. But don’t worry – you don’t have to be a pseudo-cosmetic chemist to understand what you’re getting. I’ve broken down some of my favorite ingredients to keep in your closet, what they are and how to use them.
Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5
I firmly believe that everyone should be using Hyaluronic Acid (even oily skin needs proper hydration). And if you have dry skin, this winning combo is a daily must-have. ICYMI, Hyaluronic Acid, can attract up to 1,000 times its weight in water, while Vitamin B5 boosts moisture levels – together they soothe dehydrated skin in an instant.
Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%
This one’s great if your skin is acne-prone or tends to lean toward the oilier side — 10 percent niacinamide and 1 percent zinc double up to reduce sebum production, which can help prevent breakouts and reduce midday shine.
AHA 30% + BHA 2% peeling solution
This viral TikTok formula is probably The Ordinary’s most popular because it’s the ultimate at-home exfoliator. Fair warning: the crimson color is a bit off-putting unless you’re familiar with vampire facials, but the results are anything but vampiric. The blend of AHAs and BHAs gives your skin new life – it acts like a micro excavator, penetrating deep to remove skin impurities such as sebum and dead skin cells. For best results apply this first before applying your heavier creams.
The usual “buffet”
This formula is one of the more complicated picks in The Ordinary’s lineup, but the mashup of the ingredients they cooked up offers some pretty major benefits. It’s enriched with a powerful blend of peptides, amino acids and hyaluronic acid to plump and firm skin, leaving your complexion looking brighter, more elastic and younger-looking overall. However, do not use this together with direct acids or vitamin C.
Retinol 0.5% in Squalane
It’s no secret that retinol is a major player in the pro-aging game. But if you’re prone to irritation alongside retinol use, squalane is a welcome addition. In this formula, plant-based squalane helps stabilize the 0.5% pure retinol and reduce irritation. Don’t use this in the same routine as other retinoids, direct acids, or the “buffet” we just talked about — that would be exfoliating overkill.
Mandelic acid 10% + HA
Take action against annoying pigmentation? Derived from bitter almonds, this alpha hydroxy acid has larger molecules than other AHAs, which means it penetrates the skin more slowly. Translation: It’s gentler on the skin. This even contains hyaluronic acid to avoid further side effects.
Caffeine solution 5% + EGCG
Much like its beverage counterpart, this caffeine-infused solution revitalizes your skin. That’s because caffeine has anti-inflammatory effects when applied topically — it can temporarily constrict visible blood vessels and reduce gas and bloating by improving blood flow. As for the other acronym, EGCG (i.e. epigallocatechin gallatyl glucoside) is an ingredient derived from green tea leaves that can help reduce dark circles, so it’s ideal for use under the eyes.