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Review: The Ordinary

Extraordinarily ordinary?

I deliberated for ages over whether The Ordinary from Deciem deserves to be a ‘Best Pick’ — I found their customer service terrible and I can’t stand their pseudo-science and exaggerated claims — but they have a couple of gems that have made their way into my regular skincare routine. They’re the skincare equivalent of (now defunct) American Apparel — plenty of hype, some truly excellent stuff, and idiocy that might just eventually sink the company. Clever gimmick and initial hype can only go so far.

Let’s start with the good, shall we? I love the white and grey aesthetic of the packaging! It’s simple but in a pleasingly luxurious way. The products are both luxurious and incredibly affordable. Beautiful packaging and key ingredients that would rival some expensive cosmeceutical brand on the marketing. And that’s why it’s such a surprise when you see the prices — they are $4.50–17.80, and everything is boxed and perfectly presented. It’s the glass-bottled serums that I think are the best thing, though — they layer very well and can easily fit into a routine (unlike the ones that come in a tube!). The beauty (or the downfall) of The Ordinary serums is their simplicity. Each features just 1 (max. 2) key ingredient and it is quite clearly labelled as to its concentration, purpose and effect.

This also brings me to the bad. I don’t trust “clinical” brands any more than I trust “all-natural” ones. The focus on delivery systems, use of science-y jargon and chemical names, and listing percentages appeal to the wannabe scientists and the skincare enthusiasts. It implies science without actually providing the necessary proof of clinical studies and relevant data. It’s a gimmick much like the fear-mongering appeal of “green” brands, and one that I don’t appreciate. “Clinical formulations with integrity”, they state, bold statement when they have not provided evidence to support any of their clinical claims. Integrity is earned — it’s not given just by filling PR releases with science-y jargon. Deciem’s advert for The Ordinary implies integrity equals low price. Surely Deciem remembers they also have other skincare lines and they’re significantly more expensive!?

Review The Ordinary Squalan

Anyway, sidetracked. After testing a good number of The Ordinary for more than 6 months, my most favourite, perhaps unsurprisingly, happens to be as simple as a formulation can be — 100% Plant-Derived Squalane — just one ingredient. The colourless, scent-less “oil” (in quotation because squalane technically isn’t an oil) gives dry skin a major moisture boost without sitting heavy. I use it straight or mix a drop or 2 into my moisturiser or facial oil. It also works brilliantly at taming flyaways and smoothing dry ends without making roots lank and greasy. It’s identical in every way to HABA’s Squalane II but for a small fraction of the price — ¥2,700 versus CDN$7.90 for 30ml.

I also like Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F. Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate (a.k.a Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate) is one of the most expensive vitamin C derivatives and The Ordinary’s version, CDN$17.80 for 30ml, is barely more expensive than purchasing it as a raw ingredient. The oil serum is light enough to use in warmer weather but substantial enough really nourish and brighten the skin during the winter months. This isn’t for everyone — those with oily, acne-prone skin might want to sidestep this — but it’s a great option if you’re curious to see what this form of vitamin C can do for your skin. Their other glass bottled serums that I tried, disappointingly, didn’t show real, tangible results on my skin.

I can’t wholeheartedly recommend The Ordinary. Ultimately, the brand is very aptly named, as it is quite ordinary — a run-of-the-mill brand with a clever gimmick and some good products. Their customer service is some of the worst I’ve seen. Add to that their arrogant attitude when paying customers (products I have are a combination of personal purchase, gift, and PR samples) do complain, and it just completely turns me off. I don’t care how cheap the products are, poor customer service is automatically a deal-breaker for me. Lots of companies push out similar products and do it better than they do. They aren’t as special as they think.

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34 Comments on Review: The Ordinary

  1. The Granactive Retinoid Emulsion 2% is misunderstood by many – it contains both Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate and the standard encapsulated Retinol that is found in the other Retinoid formulations with Squalane. The 2% figure represents the combination of both HPR and regular Retinol %ww in the emulsion. HPR may or may not work, but the emulsion works because it still has standard Retinol, which comes right after HPR in the ingredients list.

    • The issue is that retinol is highly unstable. The lack of delivery system in place and their dropper bottle packaging (which lets air and light in) make their retinol very questionable. Personally, The Ordinary retinoid products aren’t something I’d invest my time in.

  2. MUAC mandelic acid peel has a bit sky high shipping rate for me so I was thinking on buying The Ordinary’s 10% mandelic acid, seems to me that they have their own theory about the above 10% strength, kinda concerned it will be too low since the starting strength for MUAC is 25%, hm.

    • Deciem’s flowery nonsense and marketing guff. It’s Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, which is new and unproven. The only evidence showing it to have beneficial results comes from the manufacturer itself. There are no unbiased, independent clinical studies on it. It’s not something I’d bother using — if it’s in serum that also contains established, proven actives, sure, but on its own like The Ordinary’s, no.

  3. I know this is primarily a Japanese beauty blog, but please do more reviews on Western skin care products (especially the more affordable ones)!!! I’m always thrilled when you review a Western product because then I can actually get it without a lot of hassle.

  4. i’m glad someone else agrees that their customer service to be horrible… had terrible experiences with them too.

  5. Great read. Do you find some vit. C derivatives superior to others or, again, it just varies skin to skin?

    • Yes, I feel it highly depends on your skin and expectation. Certain vitamin C derivatives have been shown to better target specific skin concerns than others.

  6. Hi! Thanks for the in-depth review. This is awesome! I was looking for a review that questioned their big claims and separated the “fluff” from the ones actually work.

    Have you tried the Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG? How do you find it and do you think there’s a similar product that performs better? Many thanks!

    • Yes, like the majority of The Ordinary serums in dropper bottles, it had a nice texture that was easy to incoporate into any routines, but I saw no visible visible difference.

  7. Have you tried the Alpha arbutin 2% + HA? if you have did you like it or can you recommend a japanese product that is similar if better?
    I must say it’s really nice to see a down to earth review of the Ordinary, I find their pseudo-science kind of off putting too.

  8. Hmmm… I like their products and have a few. Maybe I’ve been reading different info than you (I found the Ordinary through Google and then read through their ingredients and site), but I don’t get why you would say they are pseudo-scientific. Perhaps you could elaborate so I can understand better? I’m a science student so I can read a study but this isn’t my area (cosmetics and skincare is just a pet interest of mine.) I’ve looked at some (not all) of their products and many of them seem to have promising ingredients, some less so. I haven’t seen any advertising they may have so I didn’t realize they were trying to be super “sciency”, apart from the “clinical” label that all brands seem to throw around.
    And I do agree that with so many great brands out there, why put up with bad customer service? But for me (on student loan) the low prices and solid ingredients of some of their serums are well worth it (btw, I order their products from another site that I use a lot,, and I also haven’t needed to return anything because my purchases turned out well for me!) On the other hand, a brand like Paula’s Choice which has superior customer service, is way outside of my budget. I would say that many of the ingredients chosen by the Ordinary (like niacinamide, vitamin C, retinol) are supported by a fair bit of science. Some of their products, like their anti-aging “Buffet” serum are probably too bare-bones to do what they claim. In my opinion, using the retinol and/or niacinamide serums would be a far better anti-aging approach. I also really appreciate that they give the concentrations of these actives, along with the formula’s pH on their site.
    PS, I love your site and it’s a particularly invaluable resource for finding English ingredient lists for Japanese products. I also really enjoy your reviews. Thanks for all your great work! ❤️

    • In my opinion, their “clinical formulations with integrity” motto and the moral high ground they use to market the brand are hollow without providing any proof of relevant proof of clinical studies to any of their claims. For example, they (the brand and the Deciem’s CEO) constantly claim that exfoliating acids are inflammatory, but I have yet to see any sources — in fact, it’s simply not true as BHA is anti-inflammatory. Niancinamide’s max effectiveness has always been at 5% but they sell theirs at 10% and critique others for not having a scientific basis. Almost every single product listing on their site contains unsupported and/or exaggerated claims. Yes, they do use scientifically proven ingredients (for the most part), but that’s just a part of the big picture.

  9. Did you try the azelaic acid suspension? I’m considering getting it but it seems to be quite silicone heavy so I’d love to hear your opinion of it.

    • Yes, Azelaic Acid Suspension and the Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate were the only 2 treatments/serums in tubes with textures that I didn’t mind. It felt significantly less silicone-y than the Retinol 1%, which to me felt like if I were to mix Aquaphor and silicone primer.

      I’m not entirely sure what Azelaic Acid Suspension actually does for my skin, even after finishing my tube. Maybe a brightening effect, but I’m not entirely certain it’s due to that. Azelaic acid is a such a rarity in skincare products — this is the only one that I can think of that it’s available without an Rx — that I actually tried to repurchase to see whether I can see more definitive results (and that was also when the customer service fiasco happened).

      • Hi Ratzilla! Thank you for the review! I tried the Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%. I have acne-prone skin and was suffering from mild redness on my cheeks. I was worried that it would be acne rosacea and I wanted to try some Azelaic Acid product without a prescription. This 10% Azelaic Acid was cheap and easy to get, and it did work on my red cheeks.

      • Did you use the Azelaic Acid at morning or night? I’ve heard the texture is very silicone-y so I’m concerned whether it would pill up or interfere with sunscreen.

  10. Hi, Ratzilla! I have acne-prone skin and the Lactic Acid 10% + HA 2% has been good at dealing with and preventing acne so I was wondering how was the Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution? I am looking for something to replace my Biologique Recherche P50T so I’ve been looking into this. I hope it’s not like Pixi Glow Tonic cause I disliked that.

    I also have the Vitamin C Suspension 13% + HA Spheres 2% (pilled when put on top of my serums + real oily) and Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% (haven’t seen results yet). I guess my skin’s meant to be with acids!

    • I love the dispensing spout of the Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution. It makes it super quick and easy to use. I’ve never tried Biologique Recherche or Pixi products, so I can’t really compare but I didn’t find it exfoliating compared other glycolic acid solutions of about the same strength. At least The Ordinary didn’t purposely add a repulsive scent to it like their Lactic Acid.

      • Thanks for sharing this! Finally got it and just wanna share that it’s great to use under serums or moisturizers. It actually made me appreciate the Vitamin C Suspension 23% since having damp skin makes the grit disappear.

    • Yes, I did. It had a very nice skin feel and layered well. Aside from its slight moisturising effect, it didn’t do anything that I can see (and I finished my bottle).

      Peptides on their own aren’t actually proven to work (and when they do, it’s unhelpfully little) and the serum is essential a peptide serum with some hydrating ingredient thrown in. Personally I’m not inclined to invest my time, money, and skin into an ‘anti-ageing” product that goes against current evidence (both my personal and the scarce research).

      • So, what anti-aging ingredients do you recommend? What products do you use in your doubting for anti-aging?

          • And about Matrixyl… This ingredient are not proven to work? I’ve seen it in other brands..

            • As far as I know, the only clinical evidence showing it to have beneficial results comes from the company that developed it. There are no unbiased, independent clinical studies published in peer-reviewed medical journals on it (the “gold standard”), so it remains unproven. It could be a waste of time or could be something there. I personally wouldn’t use it. If it’s in serum that also contains established, proven actives, sure, but on its own, no.

  11. You didn’t happen to try their Vitamin C Suspension 23%
    + HA Spheres 2%, did you? It looks promising but I couldn’t say for sure.

    • I did. For me, it was the worst out of all the ones I’ve tried. Its texture reminded me of those at-home microdermabrasion scrubs popular years ago, very oily and gritty.

      • oh gross. I was thinking of getting it for my neck and body since it’s cheap, but would the oil ruin my clothes?

        • It doesn’t actually contain oils. It’s ascorbic acid powder (vitamin C) suspended in a boatloads of emollients, giving it a very odd filmy, and grainy feel. For me, it pilled everytime I tried to layered over other products (even The Ordinary’s own stuff). I had to use it alone and it just sort of sat of top, never really completely absorbed. It would probably rub off and oxidise on your clothes.

          • Oh gosh, gross. Well, I hope if you find any affordable Vit C for body that you post about it. Thanks so much for always responding to comments! ^_^

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