I've tried quite a few products from The Ordinary now, and since they're everywhere at the moment I wanted to write about my thoughts on the brand and my experiences with their products in case anyone was considering buying a few things but wasn't sure where to start, or wanted some honest feedback before purchasing.
The Ordinary describes itself as offering "clinical formulations with integrity" and that integrity refers to both price and communication in skincare. I'd say that's a pretty apt description of the brand, as I'm sure the first thing you'll notice is how affordable their products are, as well as the way they choose to name and describe them. The founder has said that they still have a profit margin built into their pricing (of course they do, they're a business after all) so that certainly raises some questions about how other brands choose to price their products and whether or not they can justify it.
Although the scientific naming of their products is likely pretty confusing to the average consumer who isn't super into skincare, I really appreciate the lack of bullshit in their marketing. Made up claims about ingredients that don't have proven results, or sometimes claims that don't have any meaning at all really annoy me and so many brands do it to make their product sound warm and fuzzy or like it's going to perform miracles when it's not.
The Ordinary's products are generally named for their key ingredients, but if you don't know what that ingredient does then I think their product descriptions give you a pretty good idea. However, I can imagine for someone who is new to hearing about these ingredients that trying to put together a list of what they want to buy would be a total nightmare. They offer 4 different vitamin C products (plus another two that are coming soon) so it's difficult enough trying to decide which one is right for you, let alone if you don't really know what vitamin C does
But what can I say? You either put it in the "too hard" basket or you power on and make decisions about what you want to try. I am most definitely their target market, and I have no problem with the product naming because I'm really enthusiastic about skincare ingredients and they're speaking my language. So hopefully this post makes the brand a bit easier to understand for those of you who perhaps don't have the time, patience or inclination to work through it all yourself.
Where to get it?
You can buy their products directly from their website, and although I haven't done it myself, my understanding is their shipping is pretty reasonable. Being a Canadian brand, they obviously ship to Canada, as well as Australia and several other countries around the world. I'm fairly sure the website picks up on your location and adjusts the currency accordingly. If you're in Toronto you can go into a Deciem store to shop in person, and, upon googling, it appears there's a Deciem store in The Rocks in Sydney?! (Can anyone confirm or deny this? I had no idea!) If you're not in Sydney you can also order their products from RY.com.au as well as Adore Beauty, and internationally you can buy from Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty and even ASOS. Throughout this post I've linked directly to the Deciem website as it has all the info on every product, while other stores will often only show what's in stock.
How is it so Inexpensive?
Rather than thinking of this as pros vs cons, I wanted to offer some points to consider. The major advantage of the brand is that their products are both effective and affordable, but there are some sacrifices the brand makes in order to keep their prices so low. What I'm saying is also not automatically true for every single product, but I do think these points apply for the most part across the range, although they are just my opinion.
There are definitely fewer padding ingredients in the formulations of their products. Padding can be unnecessary and can drive up the cost of products, but it's not automatically a bad thing. Examples of what I mean when I say padding could be ingredients that do nothing, but they could also be ingredients that soften the skin, soothe irritation or create a more enjoyable texture. This means that some of their products might pill or stay tacky on the skin because there has been less emphasis put on creating a cosmetically elegant formula that's pleasurable to use.
Depending on your priorities you might try The Ordinary and decide you prefer what you were using before. These products are "no frills" and the price reflects that, so particularly if you have the money to spend and luxury products makes you feel good, as long as you've chosen wisely and have bought products with effective ingredients (because there are lots out there) then I can definitely see why you might still choose to pay more even with a brand like The Ordinary around.
The Ordinary don't claim that all of their products are the strongest and most effective on the market, they are just one of the very few brands that are transparent about the % of key ingredients used in their products (for the most part it's literally in the product name). When it comes to retinol, for example, most other over the counter brands don't state the % so I can't say if The Ordinary's is the strongest out there, but it's still definitely not going to be as strong as something that requires a prescription.
The brand itself is owned by Deciem, who also creates Hylamide, which is their mid-range offering, as well as NIOD which is their premium line. So it would be safe to assume that the brand invests more money and technology into the formulation of Hylamide products, and even more into NIOD. I would imagine The Ordinary's products either contain different forms of a key ingredient, or have them at a lower concentration, because (naturally) the products from the more expensive lines make more claims about what they can do for your skin. So it's worth keeping in mind that while The Ordinary does promise to be effective, it doesn't promise to be the most effective on the market.
One Note Products
As I said, The Ordinary's products are typically named after their key ingredients, and that's likely the most beneficial thing you're going to find in the formulas. Outside of the Buffet, they're all one note products, which is neither good nor bad. You might have a particular concern that you want to target with one of their products, but on the flip side, you might have lots of things you want to address and may find more value and convenience in using a more expensive product that can target all of them in one hit.
The brand recommends the use of no more than 3 serums at a time, which is still a lot, especially if you've got several other steps in your skincare routine. Some people might love that they can customise their routine so much, but I can definitely see why others might find it too time consuming/too much of a hassle/too difficult to keep track of, so again a single product that can do several things in one go might be your preference, even if it costs more money.
Products I've Tried
So on to the actual product reviews, I've tried quite a few things from the line, and as with my Glossier post I'm going to have another section at the end that's kind of an anti-haul for the brand where I talk about the products I haven't tried, whether I'm interested in them or not, and why.
Ascorbyl Glucoside 12%
Let's attempt to tackle the most complicated part first, as I mentioned earlier they have 4 different vitamin C products on offer at the time of writing this post, as well as an additional two on their website that are said to be coming soon.
If you want to try one of them but aren't sure which one is right for you, they have a guide that compares the different options on their website, and I would suggest looking for reviews on each product and deciding based on the reviews and the format you prefer, because I'm pretty sure that's what I did when I picked the Ascorbyl Glucoside 12%. If you have the opportunity to go to a Deciem store then it might be worth trying out the texture of each product to help with your decision.
I've not used any of the others as yet, but from what I know the Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% is certainly the most potent because it contains 23% pure L-Ascorbic Acid, which is what your skin converts the various forms and derivatives of vitamin C into to make them useful.
However, by all reports it's quite gritty and pretty unpleasant to use (although the texture is necessary for the efficacy of the vitamin C). I've tried it on the back of my hand in store and that put me off buying it, but if you have serious pigmentation issues and are on a budget you might want to give it a try. There are very few products like this on the market, and the only other one I'm aware of is the DLC C-Scape, which I've heard works really well for pigmentation, but is obviously a lot more expensive.
Anyway, back to the one I've tried - while I enjoy the light serum-gel texture of the Ascorbyl Glucoside 12%, in fact more than the Hylamide Booster C25 because it doesn't run through your fingers when you're trying to apply it, I'm quite sure that it's less potent than the Hylamide offering, but that's based on research not from a difference in my experience. Vitamin C is a tricky one because I use it more for it's antioxidant protection than anything else. It also helps fade pigmentation, but so do acids and retinol which I also use regularly, so I can't say I notice a major difference when I try a new vitamin C product.
This is definitely good enough though, and if you don't currently have a vitamin C product in your routine then choosing one from The Ordinary would be a great starting point. Once I use this up I can't say that I'd repurchase it. I'd probably try one of the other two vitamin C products I haven't spoken about, or I might go with another brand. I haven't settled on anything that I'm completely in love with just yet, but if my budget is a concern when the time comes it's entirely possible I'll stick with The Ordinary or go back to Hylamide.
Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 2%
For whatever reason there seem to be very few products on the market that put niacinamide front and centre in the formula. The only other one I can think of off the top of my head is Glossier's Super Pure, which is half the size, a lot more expensive and really difficult to get your hands on outside of the US (and now Canada). I'm so glad I picked up The Ordinary's Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 2% as it's worked incredibly well for me.
I typically only experience proper breakouts during that time of the month, but I'm often plagued with general uneven texture/congestion in the form of little bumps that don't turn into anything around my chin/jawline. After a couple of days of using this I immediately noticed a difference - it finally cleared up my persistent and very annoying congestion, which nothing else has ever really been able to do! Everyone's skin is different so I can't guarantee this will work for you, but it has definitely helped me and given how affordable it is I completely recommend giving it a try if you have a similar issue.
I've heard reports about it pilling but I haven't experienced any issues with that myself, so I'm sure it depends on what products you combine it with. Aside from what it's done for my skin, Niacinamide has proven research behind it that shows that it also has the ability to improve the appearance of pores, help fade pigmentation and reduce the appearance of fine lines. Personally, I'm completely sold on this product.
Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
I've already mentioned the Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution in a favourites post and talked about how much more affordable it is than other options out there. It does exactly the same thing as other gentle exfoliating toners but is now far and away the cheapest and most readily available (provided it's in stock). Aside from a backup bottle of Pixi's Glow Tonic which I'm yet to open, I'm probably only going to be using this as my exfoliating toner from now on.
Salicylic Acid 2% Solution
Although the brand themselves state that they don't recommend the use of Salicylic Acid, I believe that's more in reference to persistent acne that requires treatment from a dermatologist, or for use on open blemishes. I doubt anything crazy bad would happen, I think it's just a matter of it not being very gentle with your compromised skin, but I use it on open blemishes and it's fine for me. As with the above, I mentioned it in that favourites posts and can't imagine how another salicylic acid spot treatment is going to convince me to spend more than the $5 that this one costs.
Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
This is the one I've been using for the least amount of time, and as with the Niacinamide 10% I can't think of any other products that put this ingredient front and centre.
It's typically in prescription creams for sufferers of rosacea which manifests as noticeable redness, uneven texture and acne on the face. I don't have rosacea, but I'm very fair while my cheeks and chin are quite pink. I wanted to try it to see if it could take that down a notch or two as I don't like wearing full coverage foundations, but I'd also prefer for the pinkness to not show through as much.
The actual product is quite a thick cream and I don't particularly enjoy the texture. Honestly it's a bit of a pain to work into my routine because I already have a good balance of different ingredients coming from different products, but it gets tricky when you throw another one into the mix, particularly when its texture doesn't lend itself to being mixed with other products.
So far I haven't seen a noticeable reduction in the red/pink areas of my face, but I also haven't been using this twice a day as the brand suggests. If you suffer from rosacea and aren't already using a prescription product then this would definitely be worth checking out, and if I do start to see results over time then I'll be sure to mention it in a future post. But at this stage I can't say whether it works for general redness or not.
My understanding when I bought the Buffet is that it's the more affordable version of the Hylamide SubQ Anti-Age serum which I have used before and really enjoyed. In the Buffet product description they actually recommend the Hylamide serum for those who want a "stronger effort" against the signs of ageing.
Both products are aimed at hydration as well as reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles using hyaluronic acid and various peptide complexes. Peptides are cell-communicating ingredients that essentially tell the body to produce more collagen, which is what keeps the skin firm.
I'm lucky enough not to currently have wrinkles (touch wood), and only have a few fine lines under my eyes, so I can't say that I've noticed a huge difference when using either Buffet or SubQ in that department.
Their function for me is more to provide hydration act as a preventative measure, however, if you do have wrinkles or fine lines, it's worth giving a peptide based product a try to see if you notice results, and certainly one from The Ordinary is as affordable as they come. At the very least, I enjoy having a hydrating option in my routine as I like a good lightweight serum in the morning, and making sure my skin is hydrated means that my makeup usually applies and looks better.
However, between the two I definitely prefer the SubQ as the texture is thinner, it sinks into the skin more easily and it isn't sticky, which I find Buffet can be. In other words, it's a more cosmetically elegant formula, which as I said earlier is not a primary focus for The Ordinary. If you've got the budget for it I'd definitely choose SubQ because even at full price it's still a LOT more affordable than most other peptide serums on the market, especially if you're in Australia and can pick it up on sale at Priceline.
Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG
I'm pretty skeptical about caffeine in skincare, but I trust that The Ordinary wouldn't bother putting their resources into research and subsequently creating a product they didn't believe would deliver results. The trouble is that results from caffeine are only temporary so if I stopped using this I would stop seeing results as it's not a long-term solution.
The Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG claims to reduce the appearance of dark circles and puffiness in the under-eye area, and while I don't think much can be done skincare-wise to help dark circles, I do think using a drop of this morning and night has helped reduce the puffiness under my eyes a bit.
If your under-eyes are particularly dehydrated you may prefer something richer than this, and if you want to be high maintenance about it (which I mean in a nice way) you could mix a drop of this with an eye cream to get the best of both worlds. Realistically, I use all my skincare around my eye area and have never had any reactions, so I don't believe a dedicated eye product is strictly necessary, but I'm perfectly happy using this right now.
Products I Haven't Tried & Why
I thought that as well as talking about the products I've tried, it would also be helpful if I touched on some that I haven't and include my reasons for not buying them, and whether or not I would in the future.
Retinol 1% and Advanced Retinoid 2%
I'm current using Sunday Riley's Luna (from this duo / AU) so I'm not in need of any additional retinol products for now. Differin is a prescription strength retinol that has recently been made an over the counter product in the US, so my plan for when I finish Luna is to try and get my hands on Differin. Failing that, I probably will try one of these, but that's why I haven't already bought one.
Lactic Acid 5% + HA 2% and Lactic Acid 10% + HA 2%
As with the above, I haven't bought either of their lactic acid treatments as I've got my bases covered at the moment with Sunday Riley's Good Genes (from that duo) as well as minis of Drunk Elephant's T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum (AU) and the REN Wake Wonderful Night-Time Facial (AU). I don't use an exfoliating treatment every night, so it can take me a while to get through them so I don't have any need to try either of these for now. Of course everyone's skin is different, but I've heard even some seasoned lactic acid users experienced significant irritation with the 10%, so I would proceed with caution. If I were buying one for myself I would start with the 5% just because I'm concerned about having a reaction. But I would say this is probably a pretty good example of the type of products they offer that lack "padding" ingredients that might sooth the skin and prevent that irritation.
Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 and Matrixyl 10% + HA
The Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 seems to be one of their most popular products as most people these days are familiar with hyaluronic acid's ability to retain moisture and help hydrate your skin. However, it's my understanding that the Buffet is basically their Hyaluronic Acid and Matrixyl products combined - hydration plus peptides, so I figured if I'm applying an extra product to my face it might as well be a multi-tasker instead of buying either one of these products alone.
AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
Because I use treatments like the ones I mentioned above a few nights a week, as well as the glycolic toner most days, I found after a while that I didn't really have a need for exfoliating masks or treatments as I don't need that much exfoliation. Because it's such a regular part of my routine I haven't felt any need to buy this treatment (or any others from other brands) because I don't think I'd get that much use out of it.
100% Cold Pressed Oils - Organic Rose Hip Seed, Organic Moroccan Argan and Virgin Marula
While I've had a bad experience with Rose Hip Oil in the past and am not personally interested in revisiting the ingredient, if you're a fan then The Ordinary one is probably pretty good. The same goes for Argan Oil, which is the star of the Josie Maran (AU) line, as well as being a popular ingredient in lots of hair and body products these days. Marula Oil is the least common, in fact one of the only products that comes to mind for me is the Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Luxury Facial Oil (AU) which is vastly more expensive.
If you already use any of these oils from other brands, then I would definitely consider switching to The Ordinary. These are all cold-pressed, so if the processing is the same as your favourite organic brand, then there really isn't going to be much difference. Maybe one will be slightly thicker or thinner, or another will sink in more easily, but value is in the eye of the beholder. If you can justify the price of the Drunk Elephant one then go right ahead, but I would suggest that these oils from The Ordinary are probably some of the only fairly priced ones on the market, keeping in mind that these prices still include their profit margin, so you'd better believe other brands are giving themselves a much higher margin at your expense.
I personally prefer my facial oils to be made up of a combination of different beneficial oils rather than a single ingredient, so I may or may not pick up the Argan or Marula in the future, but I'm not dying to try either of them. Although I do really like using a few drops of oil on the ends of my hair and they can be great body moisturisers as well, so for the prices The Ordinary are charging I think they're well worth considering.
Ways to Use
In terms of how to use their products, no one ever said every product has to be applied to your entire face. If you get congested on your forehead you could apply the Niacinamide 10% there, and Buffet to the dry areas on your cheeks. Because the products are so affordable it also gives people the opportunity to use more targeted treatments on certain areas that might need them. If the two serums were $70 each, a lot of people might have to choose one over the other, but when a brand makes their products so accessible, it means you can have it all and use them as you see fit.
What you could also do, if you were extremely high maintenance (which I say endearingly), is use The Ordinary on your neck and decolletage and save your super expensive skincare for your face. The Ordinary's products are certainly good enough for the face, but we are constantly told that we should be applying our skincare all the way down our neck and chest (#takeittothetits, if you will). But that can be a bit painful when you know you're using twice as much product and you've paid so much money for it. It's a lot easier to be liberal with something that costs $10 than something that costs $100. I'm not at that stage personally, because it's a lot more work to have dedicated neck and decolletage products, but I'm just saying it's an option if you like being really extra with your skincare.
In my experience with using the brand, they have some products that have been real stand outs, as well as some that haven't wowed me at this stage. I hesitate to say that they're great for people starting out with skincare, because actually they're suitable for anyone of any age and with any budget. Just because you can afford the likes of Sisley or La Mer, doesn't mean you want to spend that kind of money, and maybe you're fed up with handing over $300 for a cream that doesn't do what you hoped it would. There is no shame in wanting to save a bit of money and prioritise other things in life, especially if you can do it and still see results. Conversely, The Ordinary are no-frills, so if luxury is a big factor for you and you don't mind spending extra, as long as you choose your products wisely then it will still be money well spent. You may prefer the formula or experience of using something else, even if the results are similar, but there's no shame in treating yourself either.
The bottom line is if you're on a tight budget, I really wouldn't look elsewhere for effective anti-ageing products. If you don't really know where to start or which brands to believe, you could do a LOT worse buying blinding from most other brands than you could from The Ordinary. But if your budget is more flexible then it's up to you to decide how important that luxury factor is, and where in your routine you might prefer to treat yourself.