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Reader question: Is The Ordinary worth the hype? And which ingredients should I be getting—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 claims splashed 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 amongst TikTok-ers, beauty editors, and dermatologists alike? For starters, it’s very skincare beginner-friendly. Every product is extremely transparent and lists out the exact percentage of active ingredients, so you know you’re not falling victim to fairy dusting. The brand’s clinical, science-based approach to skincare hasn’t really been done before, let alone at this price point.
Before you write it off for being cheap, keep in mind that expensive doesn’t necessarily equate to better in the world of skincare. “A lot of things can contribute to a product’s price, including packaging and marketing, neither of which have anything to do with its actual quality,” says Britt Craiglow, M.D., associate adjunct professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. “In some cases, a product may contain fluffy additives and proprietary ingredients that are not necessarily effective, but contribute to a higher cost.”
In other words, The Ordinary is skincare simplified. You’re not getting the fancy fragrances and indulgent textures (read: silicones), but you are scoring single-ingredient-driven products that deliver targeted results.
Despite the brand’s direct 101-style approach and appealing price point, building a streamlined routine can be intimidating. When you’re dealing with nothing but active ingredients and percentages, the approach feels a bit…medical. But don’t worry—you don’t need to be a pseudo- cosmetic chemist to understand what you’re getting. I’ve broken down some of my favorite ingredients you should be keeping in your cabinet, what they are, and how to use them.
Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5
I’m a firm believer that everyone should be using hyaluronic acid (even oily skin needs proper hydration). And if you have dry skin, this winning combo is an everyday must. ICYMI, hyaluronic acid can attract up to 1,000 times its weight in water, while vitamin B5 boosts hydration levels—so together, they soothe dehydrated skin in a snap.
Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%
This one is great if your skin is acne-prone or tends to lean on the oilier side—10 percent niacinamide and one percent zinc double up to reduce sebum production, which can help prevent breakouts and diminish mid-day shine.
AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
This TikTok-viral formula is probably The Ordinary’s most popular for being the ultimate at-home peel. Fair warning: The blood-red color is a bit off-putting unless you’re familiar with the vampire facial, but the results are anything but vampiric. The blend of AHAs and BHAs gives your skin new life—it acts like a micro-excavator that penetrates deep to eliminate skin trash like sebum and dead skin cells. For best results, apply this first before putting on your heavier creams.
The Ordinary “Buffet”
This formula is one of the more complicated picks in The Ordinary’s lineup, but the mashup of ingredients they’ve cooked up delivers some pretty great benefits. It’s laced with a potent blend of peptides, amino acids, and hyaluronic acid work to plump and firm skin, so your complexion will look brighter, bouncier, and overall younger. However, don’t use this in tandem 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 tend to experience irritation alongside retinol application, squalane will be a welcome complement. In this formula, plant-derived squalane helps stabilize the 0.5 percent pure retinol and decrease irritation. Do not use this in the same routine as other retinoids, direct acids, or the ”Buffet” we just talked about—that would be exfoliation overkill.
Mandelic Acid 10% + HA
Batting pesky pigmentation? This alpha hydroxy acid derived from bitter almonds has larger-sized molecules than other AHAs, which means it penetrates the skin more slowly. Translation: It’s gentler on the skin. This one even contains hyaluronic acid to further assure no side effects.
Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG
Similar to the drink counterpart, this caffeine-infused solution revives your skin. That’s because caffeine is an anti-inflammatory when used topically—it can temporarily constrict visible blood vessels and de-puff by improving circulation. 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 undereye use.