The Ordinary Skincare – Worth the Hype?

The Ordinary Skincare has appeared from relative obscurity, but does it live up to the hype?

by Hanna Pluck

The Ordinary is a skincare brand that has seen a lot of coverage over the last year. As well as being listed on many ‘Best Skincare of 2019’ lists, it’s gripped social media with its eco-friendly packaging and no-nonsense approach to skincare. It’s seen particular coverage on apps like Tiktok, where users like @SkincarebyHyram sing its praises and its price point – generally around £5 a bottle – while using its pared down formulations to educate on skincare more generally. But it is really worth the hype?

Available on everything from their parent company Deciem’s website to Boots, The Ordinary offers products for almost every skincare concern. Their priciest products include their protective ranges, such as foundation and suncare, but most of their products are serums, offered in 30ml glass bottles with droppers, designed to lessen the bottles contact with the skin and therefore avoid potential bacterial growths that could potentially help acne spread. The bottles also serve as a selling point in their own right being minimalist and elegant in a way other affordable, respected skincare brands like CeraVe sadly just aren’t. As well as being infinitely recyclable glass instead of a plastic that can only be repurposed five or six times before it’s sent to a landfill providing one less weight on everyone’s ecological conscience.

Beyond this, the principle appeal of the brand is the simplification and transparency of their serums. You know, when you purchase a bottle of ‘Niacinamide 20% + Zinc 1%’, that you are getting exactly what it says on the bottle, without having to wonder whether you’re paying for a lot of marketing and trace amounts of active ingredients as you might with more conventional skin care brands.

This does, however, have its negatives. While their website offers some clarification on what these active ingredients do, it’s still not incredibly accessible to beginners, who might have to do their own research into their personal skin concerns and the science behind them in order to truly understand which active ingredients might be more appropriate for them. For example, The Ordinary offers both glycolic acid and lactic acid serums, which are chemical exfoliants that remove dead skin cells – except that glycolic acid is more powerful and penetrates more deeply, so people with sensitive skin might want to stick to lactic acid to start with.

Skin sensitivity is also where The Ordinary runs into most of its complaints. As most of their products seem to be designed to be supplementary to an existing skin care routine, the serums are often very powerful, and people with sensitive skin can run into issues. Their ‘AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution’ has done particularly well on social media – being about the colour and consistency of blood, it makes for great clickbait – but the brand recommends it to “experienced users of acid exfoliants” only, and that it is applied for no longer than 10 minutes and no more than once a week. Some users have developed severe irritation in reaction to this product, and patch tests are recommended for all products before they are widely applied.

Nonetheless, most of these poor reactions to products can be avoided with sufficient research, and I personally found The Ordinary products less irritating to the skin than their competitors at a similar price point, as they don’t include any of the scents or perfumes in their products that normally set my skin off.

Also, while the additional research could definitely be a deterrent for some, for me it was a breath of fresh air. The skin care market often feels flooded by witch oils, promising to turn back the clock a decade, or remove your acne forever, or shrink your pores while that one dermatologist you watch on YouTube scoffs that that’s not a thing. Honestly, I’m still not entirely sure what a toner is supposed to do. What does it even mean, to “tone” your face?

When you finally dig through to those real, unbiased scientific studies, to find real, unbiased results – you find the names of chemical compounds. At which point you either start scanning down the backs of bottles, trying to remember the difference between retinol and retinyl and wondering if it’s a bad sign if it’s halfway down the list, or you go to The Ordinary. Though if you mess up your vitamin A’s and C’s, or react poorly to the product, you’re losing £5 instead of £50 so you aren’t breaking the bank.