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Shopping for skin-care products is no easy task. Everyone has different skin concerns (i.e. acne, rosacea, under-eye bags) and, on top of that, most products have a laundry list of unrecognizable ingredients. Even if you do know your skin type, you might not have a clue what key ingredients to buy. That’s where The Ordinary skin-care routine comes in. The skin-care brand has a cult following thanks to its simplified, single-ingredient, clinical-strength formulations and insanely low price points (the majority of products average $10 or less — an enigma in the skin-care world. (Related: Dermatologists Swear These Are the Best Beautycounter Products)
“The dirtiest secret of the skin-care industry is how marked up products are, [but] The Ordinary takes all of that out,” explains skin expert and medical esthetician Cassandra Bankson. “I like the brand’s affordability and dedication to science; it’s fragrance-free and is honest in its marketing,” notes Dr. Muneeb Shah, M.D. chief dermatology resident at Campbell University in North Carolina.
This simplified, transparent approach makes it easier to customize a regime for yourself since you can pick the exact ingredients you need. “I love that you can pick single-ingredient formulas, and mix-and-match them to create a routine, or integrate them with your other products,” explains Bankson. Just note you do have to be diligent about contraindications (i.e. how to layer certain ingredients and whether or not they are safe to use together), which the brand calls out in product descriptions and in the regimen guide. (More: Exactly How Long It Takes for Skin-Care Ingredients to Work, According to Dermatologists)
For the price and the quality, the brand is unbeatable. “In an economy that is so unpredictable, this inexpensive yet effective approach resonates with so many people (and wallets),” says Bankson. And while many of the brand’s products have notoriously good reviews, there are a few winners that Dr. Shah and Bankson recommend because they personally use them. Lucky for you, the pros outlined their top The Ordinary skin-care routine picks below and organized each by skin concern.
The Ordinary Skin-Care Routine: Best Products to Buy
Best The Ordinary Skin-Care Product for Acne: Salicylic Acid 2% Anhydrous Solution
If you struggle with congested pores, acne, or breakouts Dr. Shah points to this highly potent acid solution to add to your The Ordinary skin-care routine. It directly targets excess oil production that can lead to breakouts. The star ingredient, salicylic acid, works to “exfoliate, improve dark spots, and penetrate deep into pores to improve acne,” he says. What makes this product unique is that it’s anhydrous (meaning it contains no water), so it’s more potent. But, in this case, more potent doesn’t mean harsher. “Many salicylic acid formulations are drying but this [one] has a squalene oil base,” says Dr. Shah. In other words: it exfoliates pores while simultaneously hydrating — not an easy combo to achieve. (More: The Exact Order to Apply Your Skin-Care Products)
– 7 Available at Sephora
Best The Ordinary Skin-Care Product for Under-Eyes: Caffeine 5% + ECGC Depuffing Eye Serum
This The Ordinary skin-care product is a great way to waken up the undereye area, attests Dr. Shah. “This product contains caffeine, which is an antioxidant and vasoconstrictor that improves the appearance of prominent vessels and puffiness under the eye,” he explains. It also contains EGCG, which is derived from green tea (also a powerful antioxidant). Pro tip: You can use it all over your face, as Bankson does. “If you are someone who [has occasional puffiness, like on] nights that you eat too much sodium or sleep [face down], this is for you,” says Bankson.
– 8 Available at Sephora
Best The Ordinary Skin-Care Product for Acne and Rosacea: Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
If you struggle with any significant redness such as post-acne dark spots or rosacea, both skin pros recommend this suspension serum for your The Ordinary skin-care routine. This 10 percent azelaic acid (a naturally occurring acid that’s derived from grains) is simple and effective. “Azelaic acid is one of the few acne-fighting ingredients that’s also safe in pregnancy,” notes Dr. Shah. It’s “a primer-like formula” that you can use as a light moisturizer under make up, according to Bankson. “I haven’t been able to find anything [cheaper] — even prescription azelaic often runs more expensive than this one,” says Bankson.
– 10 Available at Sephora
Best The Ordinary Skin-Care Product for Oily Skin: Niacinamid and Zinc
This alcohol-free serum is super lightweight but still effective. “Without being overly drying, it helps to balance out the skin and is especially helpful for those who struggle with excess oil production,” notes Bankson. It’s all thanks to a tag team of niacinamide (a form of vitamin B3) and zinc. Bankson explains that niacinamide “works to help the skin regulate oil production and produce more ceramides, which make up the outside of our skin barrier.” It also helps with preventing pigmentation from spreading. “The ingredient combined with zinc salt helps keep you matte without overly drying out skin,” she adds. Pro tip: This product can pill under your makeup, so she recommends applying it to areas where you really need it (like your t-zone). (More: Why Ceramides Are a Skin-Care MVP)
– 7 Available at Sephora
Best The Ordinary Skin-Care Product for A Glow: Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
If your skin is feeling a little dull, this 7 percent toning solution buffs away dead skin cells with a few swipes of a cotton pad. It’s so effective that it’s “one of the most potent toners on the market,” according to Bankson. That’s why you should only use it one to three times a week in your The Ordinary skin-care routine, she says. “Glycolic acid has a very small molecule, so this product penetrates deep,” she adds. The formula is also topped with derivatives of tasmanian pepperberry, ginseng root, and aloe vera that all help support a luminous glow.
– 10 Available at Sephora
Best The Ordinary Skin-Care Product for Hydration: Pycnogenol 5%
You wouldn’t know it by looking at it, but this tiny bottle packs a major antioxidant punch. The key ingredient is pycnogenol — a trademarked formula that contains procyanidins, bioflavonoids (two types of polyphenols), and organic acids that work synergistically to rejuvenate the skin. “This serum booster keeps you glowing, fresh, and better equipped to take on the day; it works by directly fighting free radicals, so that your skin doesn’t have to sacrifice itself,” says Bankson. Since it’s a natural plant extract derived from pine bark, it smells divine. Banskon likens the fresh pine scent to her camping memories. “It has one of the most nostalgic and relaxing scents naturally, since the formula is fragrance free,” says Bankson.
– 10 Available at Sephora
Best The Ordinary Skin-Care Product for Dark Spots and Hyperpigmentation: Ascorbic Acid 8% + Alpha Arbutin 2%
“This bottle contains two of the best anti-hyperpigmentation ingredients that exist,” says Bankson. The duo in question: ascorbic acid and alpha arbutin. Ascorbic acid is really just a potent form of vitamin C that “can help stop the skin from creating the pigment that often happens after sun exposure, trauma to the skin, or blemishes,” she says. Alpha arbutin, on the other hand, “is related to the prescription brightening product, hydroquinone.” Both are known to help prevent unevenness and pigment malformation in the skin. “They work directly by creating a ‘road block’ in the middle of the pathway that your skin sells used to create melanin, the pigment that often shows up on our faces,” says Bankson. Bonus tip: It works even better when combined with, or layered underneath, a sunscreen notes Bankson. (BTW these are some of the best vitamin C serums)
– 11 Available at Sephora
Best The Ordinary Skin-Care Product for Exfoliation: AHA BHA Peeling Solution
If your skin feels like it needs a general refresh, give this deep red peel a whirl in your The Ordinary skin-care routine. “It looks like a bloodbath,” says Bankson, but the results speak for themselves. 30 percent AHA exfoliates the top layer of the skin for a brighter complexion, while 2 percent BHA provides a deeper exfoliation to help control blemishes and improve radiance. “[Together] they can also help with acne scar retexturizing and overall luminosity,” explains Bankson. It has the highest concentrations of acid you can get over-the-counter without being a licensed professional, according to Bankson. Other ingredients include Tasmanian pepperberry to help reduce irritation, hyaluronic acid for moisture, Vitamin B5 to assist healing, and black carrot as an antioxidant. Because it’s so potent and can be irritating, patch test and proceed with caution, says Bankson.
Available at Sephora