Few brands have revolutionized the way we shop for skin care the way The Ordinary has. Before the Canadian brand burst onto the scene, accessibility to cheap high-quality products had mostly been restricted to makeup. Even with so much innovation among drugstore skin-care brands, few affordable options really rival what luxury serums and moisturizers have to offer.
But despite its low price point, the brand can be intimidating. Because the names of the products refer to skin-care ingredients–not results—they all sound like something out of an advanced medical textbook. Meaning you’re left trying to decipher what the hell ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate (a vitamin C derivative) or epigallocatechin gallatyl glucoside (an anti-inflammatory compound in green tea) does. That’s where we come in.
Our editors went through hundreds of dollars of The Ordinary skin-care products to help explain the cryptic descriptions of each and narrow down what’s actually worth adding to your medicine cabinet. Read on for our honest reviews of the best The Ordinary products.
The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5
I read the internet, so I know properly moisturized skin depends on more than just a nice lotion. For true, deep moisture, you're supposed to use a serum or acid that can penetrate deeper than your standard emollient. Enter hyaluronic acid, which I've wanted to use for months but have never purchased because the one time I went into a store (which shall remain nameless) to shop for one, a woman there recommended a brand that retailed for $185. No! So I jumped at the chance to test this, which costs less than $10. I've used it for about three weeks and don't know that I've detected a major difference in the texture of my skin, but I have benefited from the serious glow it imparts. It leaves my face dewy but not oily. I like the finish so much I've skipped makeup for most of the month. And if that doesn't sell you, maybe this will: Out of all the options out there, Honayst readers voted this the best hyaluronic acid serum in our Beauty Awards. —Mattie Kahn, culture director
The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA 2%
I'm typically a generous person (playing Beauty Santa is among my favorite things about my job), but there are two things I won't share with anyone over my dead body: Sunday Riley Good Genes and Dr. Dennis Gross Hyaluronic Marine Oil-Free Moisture Cushion. The first is a $122 lactic acid serum, which is considered the gold standard of lactic acid (it's the gentlest exfoliating acid and great for people with more sensitive skin like me). The latter is a $60 hyaluronic acid (or H.A.) moisturizer that gives you dewy baby skin. In other words: My expectations are high. But for $7, I'll be damned if this isn't a wonderful alternative for someone who can't afford to drop nearly $200 on half their skin-care routine. The mornings after I use it (usually three times a week), my skin is brighter, glowier, and smidge bouncier. While it's still no Good Genes, it's a great runner-up. —Lindsay Schallon, senior beauty editor
The Ordinary High-Adherence Silicone Primer
The first thing I noticed about The Ordinary's High-Adherence Silicone Primer was its texture, which feels just like a creamy moisturizing lotion. Once applied, it made my skin feel so soft that I almost didn't want to put on makeup for fear of losing the silkiness. I, of course, eventually did, and it was a good thing: My makeup went on smooth and stayed matte throughout the day. My one complaint is that I wish the labeling explained the effects it would have, since I probably would have totally passed by this in a store for that reason. But at least now you know. —Marla Goller, video producer
The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil
This oil is one of my most beloved must-haves. After searching for an inexpensive rosehip oil (I personally don't believe in paying over $20 for a single oil), I finally decided to try this one and I'm so glad I did. It's great for moisturizing and nourishing my skin, yet it still feels lightweight. Using it in tandem with a retinol has significantly faded my postacne hyperpigmentation, and it definitely makes a difference in the glow factor. I will say it has a slightly earthy smell, but for skin this good I'm willing to overlook it. —B.C.
The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension
I've always been curious about azelaic acid, since I've heard it can treat both acne and dark spots while being safe enough to use even during pregnancy. (Although I'm not expecting, for the record.) The texture felt super luxe and absorbed nicely, and while I didn't notice an improvement of a stubborn breakout, my postacne dark spots looked less opaque than they had. —Deanna Pai, contributor
The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG
I've honestly never believed a product could help with sleepy undereyes until I tried this one. While it doesn't help with dark circles (sadly, not much will), the lightweight serum instantly depuffs and smooths out any baggage I'm dealing with. It brightens my eyes in seconds, and makes it look like I got a full eight hours of sleep. —B.C.
The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid* 2% Emulsion
I'm incredibly cautious with retinol because of my rosacea, but now that I'm in my thirties, I really need its skin-rejuvenating abilities. I'm happy to report that this is an incredibly gentle option. The serum is an almost milky consistency, and after a month of using it, I started to see a few lines on my forehead fade. It's also been a wonder for smoothing out the texture of my skin. —L.S.
The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
The only issue I have with this Ordinary vitamin C cream is that it doesn’t come in a larger size. I’ve been on the hunt for a strong but nonirritating option for a while, and this formula is just that. Perfect for my prebedtime ritual, it's is only $5; plus, it can be mixed with my other favorite serums to reduce its somewhat gritty texture. If you’re looking to fight wrinkles and even out your skin tone, this one is a great bet. —Sarah Morse, contributor
The Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Squalane
Squalane is a fantastic hydrator—it's nonsticky, fast-absorbing, and has humectant (meaning, moisture-drawing) properties that work in tandem to make your skin look crazy plump. The downside is that it's traditionally derived from animals. But that's not the case with this serum. Instead, it's powered by plants, so I feel even better about using it when I see dewy, bouncy skin in the mirror.
The Ordinary Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F
The name of this sounds insane (and impossible to pronounce), and I'll admit that, going in, I had no idea what it did. After a little research and a test- drive, though, I'm sold. It's basically a form of vitamin C (which helps brighten and even out your skin tone), while vitamin F is a fatty acid rich in omega-6 that helps maintain your skin barrier (when it's disrupted, all kinds of things like acne and redness occur). I noticed a major difference in the condition of my skin after just one use—it was noticeably smoother, firmer, and overall much brighter and more radiant. Like I said, sold. —Stephanie Griffin, contributor
The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in Squalane
Please save yourself hundreds of dollars on luxury antiaging treatments and buy a retinol from The Ordinary, which costs less than an hour of minimum-wage labor and is backed by rigorous research instead of random claims of “pearl essence” or whatever. I particularly like this one because it's lower-strength and delivered with squalane, so it's a bit less irritating than other ones out there. Start by using it one to three times per week, use it only at night, and know that if you don’t wear sunscreen after using it, it will damage your skin. Play by those rules and be wowed. —J.S.
The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 10% + HA
Mandelic acid is really slept on—and hard to find—so it's exciting to see this hyperpigmentation-fighting superstar available at a lower price point. It's super gentle yet has helped reduce some of my acne as well as the scars it leaves behind. I can't wait to keep using it. —B.C.
The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque
This pocket-sized, super-affordable charcoal-colored mask is the only thing that's been helping with my quarantine breakouts. I rate it highly for both skintertainment and effectiveness. It gives me a bright, exfoliated glow without irritating my skin, and when it's on my face it makes me look like Dick Van Dyke doing the chimney sweep dance in Mary Poppins. There is simply nothing more I want from a product.