Review: The Ordinary – Take 2 Review

The Ordinary

It wasn’t very long ago that I purchased a few products from The Ordinary and gave them a good ‘ole fashioned test run, albeit not a very successful introduction to this newly popular skincare line that has taken the world by storm. If you missed my first review on The Ordinary, please be sure to check that out first before reading on. In the first review, I provided some general information about the brand and my overall thoughts on this skincare brand, which I stand behind to this day.  After I wrapped up the last review, I contemplated the idea that few people ever use just one brand for all their skincare needs, and it wasn’t very fair or accurate for me to judge an entire skincare line based on my negative experiences with just three products. Even though my experience with those products was pretty bad, I put on my big girl pants and placed an order for 10 more products, two of which I tried the first time and decided to give a 2nd chance.

The Ordinary – About the Brand

The Ordinary is a skincare brand that touts “clinical formulations with integrity.” Their products contain active ingredients at a low, affordable price point without the fluff that you’ll find in other skincare brands. For the most part, their products contain singular ingredients which require the customer to know exactly what they need to address their skincare issues, which is a very different approach from other companies that sell “all in one” anti-aging serums and creams, promising the world in one product.  What has attracted customers around the world to this fairly new brand is the price point of their products. All of their products are less than $20, and the average price is between $8-10.  That’s unheard of in a beauty industry that tells us you “get what you pay for” and “more is better.” They’ve even recently dipped their toes into the makeup world, formulating very low-cost foundations in approximately 21 shades (currently).

During the past few months, The Ordinary has faced growing pains due to their quick rise in popularity thanks to beauty influencers like Wayne Goss who was one of the first beauty gurus to introduce this brand to the larger beauty community. Since that introduction, The Ordinary has joined forces with Beautylish to offer their products for low prices to the international community, backed by the promise of the money-back guarantee and superior customer service that Beautylish customers have come to love.  After The Ordinary launched on Beautylish, their entire supply sold out almost instantly, with some products remaining out-of-stock for several months. They literally can’t keep up with the customer demand, which is probably why Estee Lauder recently invested in The Ordinary’s parent company, Deciem. This partnership has brand fans very worried that the same beauty company that prides itself on being “abnormal” and different, will soon become just like all the others. Only time will tell how Estee Lauder’s minority stake investment will affect the company overall.

The Ordinary: My Review… Take 2

My overall goal in giving this brand another chance was to try to find one or two “hidden gem” products that can be used as a “dupe” for more costly products in my skincare regimen. It’s not very reasonable to believe that testing just a few products within a brand is representative of the quality or efficacy of all products in that brand, which is why I felt it was so important to try additional products despite my negative experience the first time. With that in mind, let’s dig in and talk about the 10 products I tested and re-tested:

The Buffet

This water-based serum seems to be one of The Ordinary’s most popular products. It’s one of the only products that is advertised as a The Ordinary“powerful anti-aging” serum with multiple ingredients such as peptides, pro-biotics, amino acids, and more. The other products in this brand are mostly 1 or 2 ingredient products, targeting specific skincare issues, while this combination product touts multiple anti-aging benefits.  I was pleasantly surprised and relieved that I didn’t experience any acne issues after using this product. As you know from my first review, one of the products I tried originally caused deep cystic acne issues on my chin area that required professional treatment and an entire month to heal. The Buffet hasn’t caused any issues with acne or irritation. I have actually repurchased this product and am now on my 2nd bottle. I use it every morning and evening before applying any cream or oil-based products.   For full disclosure, I have been mixing this serum with a dropper full of Timeless Matrixyl Synth’6, which is probably overkill since The Buffet already contains Matrixyl Synth. I really like this product and will probably continue using it in my daily regimen.  It keeps my dry skin hydrated and feeling plump. It advertises that it helps with fine lines, wrinkles, and crows feet. I don’t think I’ve used it long enough to attest to those claims, but it certainly contains the right ingredients to produce those benefits over an extended period of time. No skincare product can magically reduce or eliminate lines and wrinkles in just a month or two.

Price:  $14.80 Sephora,Ulta

Granactive Retinol 2% Emulsion

The Granactive Retinol 2% Emulsion (previously called Advanced Retinoid 2%) is a water-based retinoid that is touted as the “second generation” of retinols. Retinoid products are known for being somewhat harsh, oftentimes causing redness, peeling, and general irritation. This version seems to be quite effective without all the irritation. The Ordinary advertises this as a “second generation” retinoid, which is supposed to have much less irritation and negative effects from the original retinoids available (think Retin-A and Tretinoin). The retinoid is encapsulated to allow a slower delivery mechanism over an extended period of time. I recommend that you save any retinol products for night time use and use sunscreen during the day, as retinol causes increased sensitivity to the sun and can cause you to burn easily.  If your skin leans more on the sensitive side, and you’re looking for a retinol/retinoid product to try, I recommend this product vs. the Retinol 1% product that I also reviewed (below).  This is much gentler, although you may still experience some minor peeling with this product. Just remember, that’s exactly what a retinol should do, as a fresh, brighter layer of skin comes to the surface when the dead, dull layer of skin is peeled away by the product.  Retinol is a product that should be used long-term and consistently for the best results, both short-term and long-term. I really like this retinoid, and I usually rotate it with my stronger retinoid/retinol products, every other day. Don’t combine this on the same day with any other retinol product, which I’ve made the mistake of doing. If you over-do it, it can cause raw, red skin that stays irritated for days.

Updated Information as of 8/9/18 – This product was changed and renamed recently. The new formulation notes the following information for this product:

This formulation combines two forms of next-generation retinoid actives:

a) A 2% concentration of Granactive Retinoid which is a complex of solubilized Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate (HPR). HPR is a highly-advanced form of retinoid which is, in fact, a non-prescription ester of all-trans direct retinoic acid that offers a multi-fold better effect against signs of aging than retinol, retinyl palmitate and nearly all other forms of non-prescription retinoid;

b) A sustained-delivery form of pure retinol in a protective capsule system which supports both the delivery and the effect of Granactive Retinoid.

Price:  $9.60 at Sephora

AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

The AHA/BHA Peeling Solution is absolutely packed with a variety of acids including glycolic acid, lactic acid, citric acids, salicylic acids, and much more!  I can honestly say that this peel packs a serious punch! It’s very strong, so I don’t recommend it for anyone with sensitive skin.  Before using this product, do a small patch test to make sure you can tolerate it without adverse effects. I don’t have sensitive skin, but the first time I tried this, I could only leave it on my skin for less than 30 seconds before quickly washing it off. I quickly learned not to combine it with any other acid products on the same day, including acid toners. I burned myself after combining it with my Lotion P50 toner on the same day, in addition to Retinol. Big mistake! When used correctly, it’s a very effective peel. It burns, yes. Don’t use this more than 2 times a week. I’m currently using it just once a week. I’ve seen some reviews saying that they don’t notice their skin actually “peeling” with this product, but that’s normal. Just because a product is labeled as a “peel,” it doesn’t mean your skin will actually visibly peel away. The acids are very effective at removing the outer dry, dull layers of the skin, but you shouldn’t really notice flakes of skin coming off unless you’re using it too frequently or your skin is sensitive to the formula.  You will notice a difference in the brightness of your skin, or at least I did. At this price point, you really can’t beat this.  It’s an effective option for people without sensitive skin who are seeking an affordable peel.

Price:  $7.20 at Ulta

Lactic Acid 10 + HA 2%

This was my second attempt at giving the Lactic Acid a try, and to be quite honest, my opinion hasn’t changed much since the first review. This time I used it for a few weeks to provide a more fair assessment. I’ll preface this by saying that I’m a true skincare junkie, and I incorporate a lot of acids into my daily skincare routine. For me personally, this lactic acid doesn’t seem effective enough to continue using or recommend for people like me who are diligent with their daily skincare routine. On the other hand, if this is the only acid that you use on a daily basis, and your skincare regimen is on the simpler side, this will probably work very well for you and produce visible benefits. The first time I used it, I didn’t feel anything whatsoever on my skin. It just didn’t “feel” like it was working. This time, it’s about the same, although I do feel a slight tingling sensation if I apply it after using other acid products, when my skin is already slightly sensitive.  I do not consider it a dupe for higher end lactic acid products such as Sunday Riley Good Genes or Lotion P50. Keep in mind that everyone is different. I recommend you read other reviews on this product if it’s something you’re interested in. The reviews span the spectrum, with some people saying it works great…. to people like me who say, “eh.”  If you have sensitive skin or you’re not accustomed to using lactic acid products, I recommend trying the Lactic Acid 5% version.

Price:  $6.79

Argireline Solution 10%

Argireline is a product that I had never heard of until I was browsing the Beautylish website and saw a review from Wayne Goss recommending this. The product is advertised to help soften expression lines, such as in the forehead area where someone may normally get Botox injections. It’s a very thin, lightweight water-based solution, and it literally feels like water in your hand. A few drops will go a long way to cover the expression lines around the forehead and eye area. It absorbs almost immediately.  I have been using this twice a day before applying my thicker water-based serums. Unfortunately I can’t attest to it working miracles along my forehead lines yet. I’ve been using it just over a month so far. It hasn’t caused any issues with acne or irritation, so that’s a plus. I’ll do another check-in 6+ months from now and report on any results after using it long-term. I’ve done some research on this ingredient and found studies reporting an average improvement of 30% on lines and wrinkles when using an Argireline serum.  Supposedly it works very similar to Botox and is made of similar peptides. The primary difference is that Botox is injected directly into the muscle where it’s able to work more effectively whereas Argireline has to absorb into the skin and obviously isn’t as potent.

Price:  $7.90 at Sephora

High Spreadability Fluid Primer

The High Spreadability Fluid Primer has pretty high ratings on the Beautylish website so I decided to give it a try. This is a silicone-based makeup primer that smooths and evens out the skin before makeup application. Think of this as a slightly thinner version of the Smashbox Photo Finish primer. The products are very similar, although this is much thinner and spreads across the face with more ease. I’ve used it several times, and it’s pretty decent. It’s not my favorite primer, but that’s because I typically don’t wear silicone based primers on my dry skin. It’s a very affordable option and dupe for people who do like silicone primers. Primers are a very individual preference, depending on your skin type and needs.  I have dry skin and typically stay away from silicone primers, but this one doesn’t make my dry skin worse like some others do. The only thing I don’t like about silicone primers, including this one, is they have a tendency to “ball up” or peel away when applying foundation with a brush… on me they do, anyway.

Price:  $7.90

Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution

This is a glycolic acid toner that pretty much stays sold out on the Beautylish website. Some people have compared it to the Pixi Glow Tonic or Lotion P50. I wouldn’t go that far, although some people may like this better depending on your skin type and preferences. Again, remember that my skin is highly accustomed to powerful acid products, so your experience and opinion on this product may differ. I actually think this is a pretty decent glycolic toner. It’s not very strong for me personally, which means that it could be an option for people who don’t normally tolerate glycolic acid toners well or whose skin tends to run on the sensitive side.  It contains aloe vera and ginseng to help soothe the skin and calm the stronger effects of the glycolic acid. I like the Pixi Glow Tonic better than this, but that’s just my preference. This toner doesn’t have any noticeable strong scents like the Pixi or P50 products do. You really can’t beat the price for the amount of product you receive. If you can get your hands on this, definitely give it a try. I’ve been using this on alternating days when my skin is a little more sensitive from over-using my other acid products. Unfortunately this product sells out as soon as it restocks, almost immediately.

Price:  $8.70 at SephoraUlta

Vitamin C Suspension 23%

My first experience with this product was really bad. Please be sure to read my first review for all the background information on this product, as well as the issues I encountered.  Since I posted my original review, I’ve read many other reviews from people whose experience was similar to mind, people who experienced chemical burns after using this product.  This is a very harsh, strong form of Vitamin C that should not be used by anyone with sensitive skin, which The Ordinary indicates on their website. I also recommend using caution when combining this product with any retinol/retinoid products. It may be too harsh for your skin, especially on a daily basis. I recommend alternating days of use.

I’ve been testing this product out again, off and on, for the past month.  As I did the first time, I tried various application methods to see if I could raise my tolerance to the product without suffering another chemical burn. I did experience some chemical burns on my neck area and learned to stop using it there. My skin is too thin and sensitive on my neck to tolerate this.  I finally reached a point where I can use it every-other-day on my face but with some modifications.  I mix it in my palm with 2-3 pumps of the Belif Hungarian Water Essence. Sometimes I add in a few drops of Hyaluronic Acid or another water-based serum to dilute it down as much as possible.  I mix it up really well in the palm of my hand until all the granules are completely dissolved.  I apply after other water-based serums such as The Buffet, Lancome Genifique, and my Timeless serums, and I only apply this at night. The consistency can be very gritty, and it does not well wear under makeup.

This is a product that I recommend for only a very specific group of people. If you don’t have sensitive skin and are a skincare junkie who routinely uses potent skincare products, you may be able to tolerate this product. But proceed with caution regardless of your skin type. It’s a very effective form of Vitamin C that is very inexpensive if you can raise your tolerance enough to use it.  My days of spending  $80+ for another popular Vitamin C product and brand (in the l-absorbic acid form) are over. I alternate this product with the Vitamin C serum from Timeless, which I’m a huge fan of. I recommend the Timeless version more, but that’s a topic for another review.

Price: $5.80

Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%

The Azelaic Acid Suspension is a cream-based acid that is supposed to brighten the skin, reduce blemishes, and even out skin tone and texture. I’ve heard that it’s a great product to help reduce redness from rosacia or other issues. I usually have a lot of redness around my cheek area and was hoping this would be a great solution to help that. I hesitate to judge this product too unfairly, but I haven’t really noticed any benefits yet. Then again, I haven’t used it consistently over the past month since I purchased it either. There’s a reason for that. This product doesn’t spread out over the skin or absorb very well. It also doesn’t layer well with other skincare products. I can’t quite put my finger on why I don’t like it, but I just don’t. It’s even difficult to squeeze out of the tube. If I have to work that hard to use a product, I won’t use it. While I can’t say this is a bad product or ineffective, it’s not something I can recommend right now. I’ll continue to use up what’s left of my tube and provide an update later if I feel any differently.

Price:  $7.90  Ulta

Final Thoughts and Recommendation

I’m really glad that I gave this brand another try. Very few people use one brand for their entire skincare regimen, and it was important for me to try more products before drawing conclusions about The Ordinary as a whole. I definitely believe there are some great products in this brand. As with any brand, it’s a trial and error thing to find those diamonds in the rough. If you can find even one product out of the line that helps, it’s worth trying out.

The Ordinary is an innovative brand that provides key ingredient products at an incredibly affordable price point. I highly recommend this brand for those on a budget seeking drugstore-priced skincare options. Actually, the brand is more affordable than most drugstore brands, and their partnership with Beautylish makes them more accessible to customers internationally. For those who are accustomed to high quality, potent skincare products, you may find one or two products in this brand that you can use as dupes for more expensive products, but I don’t think you’ll want to eliminate your favorite high-end products any time soon in lieu of this brand. For those who don’t currently have an established skincare regimen, are new to skincare, or are ready to dip your toes into the world of anti-aging skincare, this is a perfect place to start.  That is the consumer market that will experience the most benefit and witness noticeable results after incorporating a few products from this brand into their daily routine.  Even skincare junkies like me can save a little money on a few key products.

Ultimately, the products that I recommend the most are the Granactive Retinol 2% Emulsion, the Buffet, and the Glycolic Toning Solution. For those who have a strong tolerance and no issues with sensitive skin, the Vitamin C Suspension is worth giving a try, as long as you mix it with a serum/essence to dilute it slightly before application.

It’s important to conduct a patch test of any new products, especially within this brand, based on my personal experience. Some products have been known to cause acne issues, irritation, and skin sensitivity.  For the most part, the products contain potent ingredients that pack a punch. To effectively select products from The Ordinary brand, you need a clear understanding of skincare ingredients, your personal skin concerns, and a knowledge of which ingredients can address those concerns.  The brand is skinny on marketing, packaging, and fluff. It’s a brand that provides key ingredients in simple packaging for a non-inflated price. That’s a brand that I can stand behind!


This blog was updated on 8/09/18.  One of the products previously detailed in this review was recently discontinued and another was renamed and reformulated. The discontinued product (Retinol 1%) was removed completely from this review to avoid confusion. The Retinoid 2% product was renamed to Granactive Retinol 2% Emulsion.

Updated again February 2020 – Products are now available at Ulta and Sephora.

Where to Purchase The Ordinary

The Ordinary products are available at Ulta and Sephora.

Update as of February 2020: The Ordinary is now available at Ulta and Sephora. Some of the products original reviewed may or may not be available.

Have you tried any products from The Ordinary? Is this on your shopping list to try? Comment below or on my Instagram page and let me know your thoughts! 

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