I Tried 8 of the Best Products from The Ordinary—Here Are My Honest Thoughts

High-quality meets affordable.

By Lourdes Avila Uribe

When it comes to trying out skincare products, your girl here has been around the block. And while I’ve sometimes said that the secret to good skin is being willing to shell out money, I’m willing to eat my words when it comes to cult-fave skincare brand, The Ordinary. I’ve learned firsthand: yes, it is actually possible to get quality skincare at a low cost. So, I’m on a mission to save us all some cash and find the best The Ordinary products.

The reason most high-quality skincare products are so expensive is that they use powerful active ingredients that actually work, thereby justifying a higher price point. They require complex formulations that make them highly effective while also infusing gentle, skin-loving ingredients that will help to neutralize harsh effects without rendering them ineffective. Yet somehow, The Ordinary uses those same active ingredients at a fraction of the cost, making that highly-coveted glow much more accessible. For this The Ordinary product review, I’ve rounded up some of the brand’s most popular products and put them to the test.

Forget about the other The Ordinary skincare reviews you may have seen because we’re going deep on each of these. Thanks to almost a decade of beauty writing, I’ve been fortunate enough to have access to extremely expensive products from other brands that use these same ingredients.

Are they really comparable? You’re about to find out. And let’s just kick this off by saying that if you even think about using any of these active ingredients without also using a daily SPF then you, my friend, are playing yourself.

Read on for the full scoop on the best The Ordinary products:

the ordinary lactic acid

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA $6.80

Without a shadow of a doubt, this Lactic acid serum is not only one of the best The Ordinary products, but it is by far my favorite. I am a bit of a lactic acid devotee, preferring it to Vitamin C and other AHAs and BHAs. Lactic acid exfoliates the skin, encouraging cell turnover that reduces dark spots, discoloration, redness, fine lines, and wrinkles, and gives you a serious glow. Unsurprisingly, I use the 10% strength, though they also have a 5% strength which I would recommend as a jumping-off point if you’ve never used lactic acid in your routine before.

While I wouldn’t say it gives me the exact same immediate results as Sunday Riley’s Good Genes—its significantly more expensive counterpart—it is an excellent substitution when looking for a cost-friendly option. The Ordinary’s Lactic Acid uses Tasmanian pepper berry to reduce the signs of inflammation and occasional sensitivity that can occur when you use a high-strength chemical exfoliator, while Good Genes uses a combination of licorice, lemongrass, and prickly pear extract to brighten and soothe redness.

I really appreciate that despite the fact it has a really strong concentration of acid, this serum doesn’t have a strong lingering scent, as I’m very sensitive to that. If you’ve never used an acid before you might find the smell a bit sour, but it doesn’t really linger. And while lactic acid might feel a bit tingly or spicy when you first start using it, it should never burn. All in all, it’s the perfect beginner’s lactic acid while also being an excellent supplement for those who go hard with skincare products as I do.

Pro tip: Alternate using The Ordinary’s Lactic Acid and a more expensive counterpart to extend the life of the pricier option. 

the ordinary rosehip seed oil

The Ordinary Organic Cold-Pressed Rosehip Seed Oil $9.80

This rosehip seed oil is the very first The Ordinary product I ever tried and I always have it in my bathroom. It’s a daily moisturizer that can be worn on its own or over your moisturizer and other skincare products to seal in moisture and protect your skin from free radicals. Rosehip seed oil supports healthy, hydrated skin but also targets visible signs of aging, making it a powerful tool in your skincare arsenal, especially if you’re battling dry and dull skin. (Me, every winter.)

It’s sustainably sourced, completely unrefined, and (partly due to its high omega fatty acid content) does have a natural scent, but I find it to be easy to tolerate and gentle. As a matter of fact, if you ever come across a rosehip seed oil that doesn’t have a scent, then it is likely refined and isn’t as effective. Not all rosehip seed oils are alike!

My favorite thing about this oil is that it is deeply hydrating and gives the skin a beautiful glow without clogging your pores. I’m extremely prone to hormonal acne and this is one of the few oils that doesn’t cause me to break out. (The only other two oils I willingly put on my skin are over $100, so this is a very financially helpful alternative.) It glides on smoothly and has a luxurious slip, making it perfect for facial massage, gua sha, and jade rolling. All in all, you can’t go wrong with this simple addition to your skincare routine.

the ordinary buffet

The Ordinary Buffet $14.80

I’ll be honest, I was skeptical of this super popular serum before I first tried it out. It’s a multi-peptide serum enriched with hyaluronic acid, amino acids, and bioderivatives that fight multiple signs of aging. These peptides work to reduce the look of lines, wrinkles, and other surface “irregularities” like discoloration, dullness, and dryness. It’s water-based, so you want to apply it before your moisturizer, as opposed to oil-based serums that go on last.

The texture is very light and watery, which is what you want from a serum since you are layering it on under other products. It has an ever-so-slightly tacky finish that was a bit offputting at first but eventually went away. I didn’t notice a strong fragrance, if anything was present it was subtle enough that my other ten thousand skincare products overpowered it.

My general feeling about Buffet is that while it is not necessarily the top priority in my own personal routine, it is an absolutely excellent starter serum—and definitely one of the best The Ordinary products. It has comparable ingredients to other starter serums like the Glossier trio, but is much more affordable and lasts longer. If you’re dipping your toes into a more extensive skincare routine then this is absolutely the place to start. If you’re a more seasoned skincare fiend, you may find it to be a nice supplement on days when your skin needs a break from stronger active ingredients. Use it both morning and night for the best results.

Pro tip: After you apply Buffet to the skin, let it sink in for a couple of minutes before you do the rest of your routine so that it can be fully absorbed and doesn’t cause product pilling.

the ordinary peeling solution

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution $7.20

It’s possible that you’ve seen videos of people using this popular blood-red solution—it makes for quite the Instagram post! And even as someone who has tried just about every skincare product on earth, I was intimidated by this peeling solution. Formulated for people who struggle with visible blemishes, acne, and are looking to improve skin texture, this chemical exfoliator is the real deal.

It’s made with glycolic acid and lactic acid that exfoliate the outer layers of the skin and salicylic acid, which exfoliates inside the pores to clear them out. You leave it on for 10 minutes, wash it off, and then voila! Glowing, youthful skin. Think of the best mask you’ve ever used and triple the effects. I won’t lie, it is spicy and leaves your skin pretty red in the immediate aftermath. However, it normalizes fairly quickly. I definitely wouldn’t do it moments before Harry Styles walked in the room, but with a half-hour or so of downtime, you’re ready to go and seriously glowing. Those with very sensitive skin or who aren’t used to active ingredients might feel more discomfort, so work your way up to 10 minutes if it feels like too much for you.

After using this mini-peel, stick to hydrating, nourishing products only and give the actives a break for a day. You don’t want to risk over-exfoliating your skin and accidentally breaking down your skin’s natural moisture barrier.

the ordinary caffeine solution

The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG $6.70

As a lifelong victim of dark under-eye circles, I was super excited to try this product—excited, but also skeptical. It’s a highly concentrated serum with caffeine and EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate glucoside) that is made from green tea leaves. It’s known for its soothing antiaging properties and ability to protect the skin from free radicals. It’s this green tea catechin that works to visibly reduce darkness and puffiness.

The solution has an extremely light texture, which initially confused me because I am used to slathering on ungodly amounts of eye cream. However, once I got used to the serum it felt pretty soothing.

It is also worth noting that for me personally, it did not mix well with other active ingredients on my skin. I had a slight reaction to it (mild burn, irritation) the first time I used it because I also had on my other regular skincare products, which contain ingredients like lactic acid and retinol. Not one to be deterred, I cut out all other actives and only used the Caffeine Solution for a few days to see if my skin could adjust. And while it definitely perked up my general eye area, I have to admit that I prefer a thicker cream consistency for my eye area. It’s most certainly one of the best The Ordinary products, but it wasn’t my favorite.

the ordinary retinol serum

The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane $6.70

I’ll cop to being a retinol die hard, so I was honestly worried that even the highest concentration that The Ordinary carries wouldn’t be enough for me. Luckily, my ridiculous fears were unfounded. This powerful solution contains 1% pure retinol, which reduces the look of fine lines, wrinkles, sun damage, hyperpigmentation, and leaves skin feeling soft and smooth.

Retinol can be incredibly drying and irritating if it isn’t paired with another ultra-hydrating ingredient, and I’m pleased to report that the squalane was able to effectively keep those issues at bay. This is just about as high of a concentration of retinol as you can get without a prescription from a dermatologist, so if you are looking to dive headfirst into powerful skincare, this is a good place to start. (I would not recommend this for anyone who hasn’t at least dabbled in retinoids before. Start with lower concentrations and work your way up!)

My skin tolerated this retinol really well. Full disclosure, I cut out all other products with active ingredients while using it—there is simply no need as it does all the heavy lifting. It definitely has a distinct scent, but it’s the same as all the other retinols I’ve used so it didn’t bother me. It has a very light texture and consistency, which I appreciated because I slathered on a super gentle moisturizer and oil over it to ensure that my skin stayed hydrated and soothed. When you’re ready, don’t miss out on this game-changer—it is definitely one of the best The Ordinary products.

the ordinary glycolic acid toning solution

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution $8.70

As a result of past negative experiences with glycolic acid, I was most wary of trying this exfoliating toning solution. It’s made with glycolic acid, which is an AHA that exfoliates the skin, Tasmanian pepper berry that helps to reduce irritation that can come from using strong acids, ginseng root, and aloe vera, which soothe and brighten the skin. That alone was enough to give me pause. Three additional ingredients are necessary to offset the chemical power of the first? I was shaking in my combat boots.

Did that stop me from trying it? Please do not disrespect me, of course, it did not. Once again, I discontinued the use of other active ingredients while testing this toning solution, which is meant for daily use. Even though there was a definite tingle, it was gentler than I expected (probably thanks to the three other soothing ingredients) while still leaving my skin feeling super fresh, smooth, and soft. Given that I use so many other actives, it’s unlikely that I would permanently give any of them up to use this alone, but I still found that I had positive quick results. It’s a nice tool to have in the skincare arsenal.

If you’ve been using other toning solutions like Pixi Glow Tonic or the more expensive PCA Skin Nutrient Toner, then you’ll definitely want to upgrade to this solution. It is just as effective, if not, frankly, more so, and at a fraction of the cost.

the ordinary squalane cleanser

The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser $7.90

When you’re using wildly powerful active ingredients like the ones above, you’re going to want to reset the skin every day with a gentle and effective cleanser. I keep coming back to the squalane cleanser because, aside from the fact that it’s one of the best The Ordinary products, my skin loves it.

This oil cleanser dissolves makeup, dirt, and grime in mere moments—leaving skin hydrated, supple, and smooth. The last thing you want to do is strip the skin with harsh, foamy cleansers, and this is the perfect antidote. It’s rich, nourishing, and soothing. The squalane cleanser has an almost gel-like consistency that goes on dry skin and quickly breaks everything down, leaving you feeling fresh and clean.

I rub this all over my entire face, including my eyes—it’s the perfect opportunity to indulge in a little facial massage as you work it all in. If you have dry or flaky skin then you’ll definitely want to check out this cleanser. It’s a keeper!

Did your favorite The Ordinary product make our list? If not, share what we missed below!