Let's Talk About The Ordinary. By A Clean Beauty Blogger

An honest review of an 'abnormal' beauty brand


First of all, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge Brandon Truaxe in this post. The brains and founder of Deciem, the parent company of The Ordinary tragically passed away in January 2019. Although the end of his life was marred by negative publicity and erratic instagram posts, it needs to be said that he single handedly disrupted and revolutionised the skincare industry.


To skip the Deciem saga feel free to scroll straight down to the product review. I'll try to keep it brief!


A Bit of Brand History

Deciem is the Canadian parent company that founded The Ordinary. The company, whose tagline is "the abnormal beauty company", owns multiple skin and hair care brands.


Since launching The Ordinary in 2016, Deciem have lived up to their unusual tagline by garnering a cult following, numerous beauty awards, an unidentified investment from Estée Lauder, and made a reported $330 million in sales last year alone.


In case you're not familiar with The Ordinary skincare here's a quick break down:

  • Most of the products contain only one, or at most a couple of active ingredients which have been scientifically proven to be effective.

  • There's no 'fluff' involved with this company —no unnecessary packaging, ingredients, no misleading claims or confusing marketing jargon.

  • You can read very matter-of-fact explanations of what the ingredients do and straight forward instruction on the website.



But perhaps the best thing about The Ordinary are their mind-boggling, cheap prices. Most products retail between £5-£9!


Here's how Truaxe broke down the cost of a product that retails for $5.80: “Our Vitamin C is the best example. There are about 20 cents of vitamin C in it, and about 5 to 6 cents of other ingredients, and then the tube is about 20 cents and the box is about 10 cents. I mean, the product costs less than a dollar.”


The rest is the cost of testing, formulating, salaries, and other things, after which the brand takes a small net profit. It doesn’t spend any money on marketing except on its social media channels. Beauty products as they’ve been traditionally sold and marketed, according to Truaxe "are just a bunch of fluff being created, a bunch of fluff being bought, and a bunch of fluff being sold”


Brandon Truaxe: The Beauty Disruptor

The year leading up to Truaxe’s untimely death was fraught with hospitalization and drug use (both of which he denied), company drama, erratic online behaviour and messy firings. All of which became media fodder played out on the companies heavily followed Instagram account.


Estée Lauder took legal action against Truaxe in October 2018 after he announced on Instagram that he was shutting down the company because “financial crimes” had been committed.


An Ontario judge sided with the beauty giant and removed the troubled founder from his role as co-chief executive.


Deciem founder Brandon Truaxe (Image via Avestan)

In January 2019, a few months after being ousted from his company Brandon Truaxe died after falling from the balcony of his Toronto apartment.

Copy Cats Have Followed

Two years after Truaxe launched The Ordinary, L’Oréal hired Eva Longoria to teach us how to pronounce HY-A-LUR-ON-IC acid. And much to my delight, it’s now expected that brands share full ingredient lists and concentrations of active ingredients.


Brands like Good Molecules and The Inkey List launched with practically identical concepts and price points.

Then this year LVMH, the luxury conglomerate that owns Fendi, Fenty Beauty, Dior, Sephora and Tiffany & Co. among many others bought into Versed, an Ordinary copy-cat skincare brand sold at Target.


Read a far more in depth article about the Deciem saga here.




How To Buy The Ordinary Skincare


Let's Talk Ingredients

I chose the 4 products above to treat my melasma (pigmentation marks). This means that they all contain active ingredients that reduce dark marks by lightening and brightening, thus evening out the skin tone. Namely: AHAs, BHAs, Alpha-Arbutin, Vitamin C and Retinol.


The most important thing you need to know before buying The Ordinary products (or just skincare in general) is your skin type, your skin condition and issues, and the ingredients that will target said skin type, condition and issues.

In stark contrast to their name, The Ordinary is anything but! They have an extraordinary amount of products because they cater to every skin type, condition and issue.


So, do your research and be prepared by knowing which ingredients are right for you!


Once you know the ingredients your skin needs buying products –especially from scientific-based brands like The Ordinary, becomes significantly less overwhelming.






The Ordinary Product Review




Retinol 0.5% in Squalane £4.90 - 30ml

Ingredients: Squalane, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Retinol, Solanum Lycopersicum (Tomato) Fruit Extract, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Hydroxymethoxyphenyl Decanone, BHT


The Active Ingredient: Retinol

If you're new to Retinols, then 0.5% is a great place to start. Retinol is a form of Vitamin A that has been studied extensively for its use in reducing the appearances of fine lines, sun damage and general skin aging. While Retinol is a wonderful anti-aging ingredient, it can irritate the skin, so start with a low dosage and work your way up! As well as 0.5% The Ordinary also sell 0.2%, 1%, 2% and 5% retinols.


The Bad Ingredients:

  • BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene)

BHT is a synthetic antioxidant used as a preservative in cosmetics, skincare and food. It is a toluene-based ingredient –toluene is a chemical you may recognise from my "Toxic-Trio" post, it is one of the three chemical ingredients known as “The Toxic Trio” commonly found in nail polish and is linked to reproductive harm. Often labelled as E321 on food packaging. BHT was found in studies to cause liver and kidney damage, as well as other toxic effects.


My Thoughts:

Squalane is one of my all time favourite anti-aging face oils. I've been using Facetheory's Emolliating Squalane morning and night for years! Sadly, that's the only good thing I have to say about this serum. Unfortunately it irritated my skin, not sure if this was due to the tomato extract, the rosemary extract, or the BHT. I stuck with this serum for a few months though, as I wasn't sure if the irritation was just the normal retinol reaction. (I'll be posting about this retinol that I now use next)


Skin Tip:

Combining your acids while using retinol serum can cause skin irritation. For example; if you use an AHA + BHA cleanser/toner, or a vitamin C serum/cream, use these products at either different times of the day, or alternate days. Once your skin is more used to retinol, it will become less irritating.






Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA Serum £7 - 30ml

Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Alpha-Arbutin, Polyacrylate Crosspolymer-6, Hydrolyzed Sodium Hyaluronate, Propanediol, PPG-26-Buteth-26, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Lactic Acid, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Ethoxydiglycol, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin


The active ingredient: Alpha Arbutin

Alpha-Arbutin is a wonderful ingredient for lightening and evening out the skin tone by reducing dark marks like old acne scars and hyper-pigmentation/melasma. It is a biosynthetic ingredient extracted from bearberry leaves because of their melanin-inhibiting properties. Our bodies break down arbutin into glucose and hydroquinone. Arbutin is considered a safer, naturally occurring (but less effective) 'cousin' to the synthetic ingredient called hydroquinone. Hydroquinone is a skin bleaching agent that is banned in the uk unless prescribed by a doctor because it has serious side effects if used incorrectly.



The Bad Ingredients:


  • PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil

I dislike using any products on my skin that contain PEGs. What are PEGs?

PEG (POLYETHYLENE GLYCOL) are a class of synthetic polymers. POLYETHYLENE is the most common form of plastic, and when combined with GLYCOL it becomes a thick, sticky liquid used in lots of skincare and beauty products as emollients, emulsifiers and to help deliver other ingredients into the skin. Some PEGs however, should be avoided in skincare due to the risk of toxic and carcinogenic contamination.


  • Chlorphenesin

This is a synthetic chemical used as a preservative in skincare. Its reported to cause irritation and contact dermatitis for those with sensitive and dry skin. In 2008 the FDA put out a press release warning mothers not to use Mommy Bliss Nipple Cream containing chlorphenesin and phenoxyethanol because they may cause respiratory distress, vomiting and diarrhea in infants.


My Thoughts:

There have been a lot of comments and backlash in regards to The Ordinary changing their formulas. And I feel this Alpha-Arbutin serum has changed since I first bought it. I used this product for 2 months with pretty good results, but threw the 3rd bottle I purchased in the bin because it irritated my skin. In my opinion there are much better skin lightening products out there.


Skin Tip:

Note: If you are using alpha-arbutin in your routine to reduce dark marks and even out your skin tone, it will be far more effective if you incorporate other skin brightening/lightening ingredients like exfoliating acids and vitamin C into your regime as well.





Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%

£4.90 - 30ml


Ingredients: Ascorbic Acid, Squalane, Isodecyl Neopentanoate, Isononyl Isononanoate, Coconut Alkanes, Ethylene/Propylene/Styrene Copolymer, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Silica Dimethyl Silylate, Sodium Hyaluronate, Glucomannan, Coco-Caprylate/Caprate, Butylene/Ethylene/Styrene Copolymer, Acrylates/Ethylhexyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Trihydroxystearin, BHT


The Active Ingredient: Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)

The antioxidant properties of Vitamin C and its role in collagen synthesis make vitamin C a vital anti-aging skincare ingredient. Dietary and topical ascorbic acid have beneficial effects on skin cells, and some studies have shown that Vitamin C helps to brighten the skin, even out the skin tone, and may also prevent and treat sun damage.


The Bad Ingredients:

  • BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene)

The Ordinary really like this preservative. And to be fair, it is probably a reflection of the cheap price! (see Retinol review above for info on BHT)


My Thoughts:

This product has a lot of synthetic ingredients. And while none of them, apart from BHT are considered toxic, they can still be irritating. Due to it's highly potent dosage of Vitamin C (in the form of Ascorbic Acid) I got very good results with this cream. It works well as a one off product and definitely helped to reduce my hyper-pigmentation marks. But I wouldn't recommend making it a regular step in your daily regime.

I actually used this as a spot treatment on both my face and my body. Basically anywhere that I have dark marks, scars and pigmentation marks. Due to the high Vitamin C content this product feels very uncomfortable on your skin. You can literally feel the ascorbic acid working. Hence why I only use as a spot treatment!


Note: This cream has a very gritty feel to it. Which is due to the way the ascorbic acid is formulated.


From The Ordinary's website: The format of this formula is a suspension of very fine L-Ascorbic Acid powder and, as such, provides the most direct exposure of extremely high concentrations of Vitamin C topically. With such format, there are 2 important things to consider:


1) A very strong tingling but non-irritating sensation is expected during the first 1-2 weeks of use until the skin's tolerance to such high exposure is elevated. If the sensation is too strong to tolerate, the formula can be mixed on each application with other creams or serums of your preference.


2) The powder exposure to the skin disallows the formula to feel like a serum, lotion or cream and each application requires a few seconds to feel absorbed by the skin. This formula feels gritty for a few seconds after application. If you prefer to avoid this gritty feel, we suggest our Vitamin C Suspension 30% in Silicone.


Skin Tip:

It should be noted that the stability of vitamin C in skincare is a concern, as exposure light, oxygen and heat will slowly degrade vitamin C. So try and use this cream as quick as you can after opening it. Also, as with retinol, don't combine your acids with this cream!







Peeling Solution AHA 10% + BHA 2% £6.30 - 30ml

Ingredients: Glycolic Acid, Aqua (Water), Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Water, Sodium Hydroxide, Daucus Carota Sativa Extract, Propanediol, Cocamidopropyl Dimethylamine, Salicylic Acid, Potassium Citrate, Lactic Acid, Tartaric Acid, Citric Acid, Panthenol, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Tasmannia Lanceolata Fruit/Leaf Extract, Glycerin, Pentylene Glycol, Xanthan gum, Polysorbate 20, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Ethylhexylglycerin, 1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol


The Active Ingredients: Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, Tartaric Acid, Citric Acid, Salicylic Acid.

Alpah Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) are a group of naturally occurring acids, derived from sugars in particular plants and fruit. For example; Glycol Acid (sugar cane), Lactic Acid (fermented milk, fruits), Citric Acid (citrus fruits), Mandelic Acid (bitter almonds), Tartaric Acid and Malic Acid (grapes, apples, pears and cherries).


The use of glycolic acid face peels in varying concentrations has been proven to greatly improve the skin tone by reduce hyperpigmentation marks and acne scars. It gets to work primarily on the surface of the skin dissolving the 'glue-like' cement that holds dead skin cells together accelerating the natural shedding process and basically 'resurfacing' the skin. AHAs are water-loving molecules which means they also give the skin a hydration boost!


Salicylic acid is a Beta-Hydroxy Acid (BHA) that belongs to a class of ingredients called salicylates. Found naturally in plants such as willow bark and wintergreen leaves they are thought to protect the plant against insect damage and disease. Salicylic acid gives the same skin renewal and texture-improving results as AHAs, but this acid is especially beneficial for oily/acne prone skin. This is due to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, its ability to penetrate deeper into the skin, and the fact that its an oil-loving molecule. Which means it is able to get deep inside blocked pores, dissolving oil, and dead skin cells that cause blackheads.


Check out my review on The Ordinary Peeling Solution where I go into more detail about exfoliating acids.


The Bad Ingredients:

  • Cocamidopropyl Dimethylamine

This is used in formulas as an emulsifier –to help mix oil with water, but can be an irritant to sensitive skin.


  • Ethylhexylglycerin

This chemical ingredient is a skin conditioning agent. It's classed as a mild skin irritant.


My Thoughts:

Again, I'm not crazy about a couple of the synthetic ingredients in this product. But it works well for my skin and I continue to use this product. In fact it's a staple part of my skincare regime and a favourite with my clients too. I alternate my monthly home facials between detox clay mask, hydrating sheet mask, and this peel.


Skin Tip:

Due to the high glycolic acid content in this product I would not recommend it for sensitive skin types. Lactic acid and mandelic acid are other AHAs you can get from The Ordinary that are considered more gentle and therefore better suited for sensitive skin or beginners. It's best to start off at a low concentration and build up. Even for normal skin types!



My Honest Opinion Of The Ordinary

As a 'clean beauty' advocate I have mixed thoughts about The Ordinary. On one hand I love their transparency and how they shook up the skincare industry. I think it's a great brand if you know and understand your skin type, and exactly which ingredients you need. And, also if you're are on a teen or on a budget!


On the other hand, if you're unsure of your skin type and conditions, or find skincare confusing then I don't think The Ordinary is for you. Also, if you have sensitive skin quite a few of their products contain synthetic ingredients that could irritate your skin.


Please note that when I say 'synthetic ingredients' I'm not referring to the active ingredients, like acids, retinols, niacinamide or peptides, but the ingredients added to do jobs like preserve, emulsify or stabilize formulas, or deliver the active ingredients into the deeper layers of the epidermis.


Do I Still Use The Ordinary Products?

Out of the 4 products I continue to use only one of them ––The AHA Peeling Solution. I really like this product, it gives me great results when used in combination with other skin lightening products. I alternate it with my other masks when I do my monthly facial.


Do you know which ingredients to buy for your skin type and conditions?

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