By far the most requested review I have ever received in my seven years of talking about products is for The Ordinary. by Deciem. It makes sense. The range exploded onto the skincare blogosphere almost overnight. Super robust formulas for next to no money. It's as alluring as it is perplexing.
Here's what Deciem says about the range, which is much better put than I could ever attempt to:
The Ordinary is an evolving collection of treatments offering familiar, effective clinical technologies positioned to raise pricing and communication integrity in skincare. The brand was created to celebrate integrity in its most humble and true form. Its offering is pioneering, not in the familiar technologies it uses, but in its honesty and integrity. The Ordinary is born to disallow commodity to be disguised as ingenuity. The Ordinary is "Clinical formulations with integrity".
The Ordinary is a brand from DECIEM. We are an umbrella of brands focused on advanced functional beauty. Our team is specialized in materials chemistry and biochemistry, and we have brought pioneering innovation in skincare through our core brands, Hylamide and NIOD. In the category of functional beauty, integrity is rare. Commonplace technologies are referred to as groundbreaking and insensible pricing strategies confuse the audience, disguising commodity technologies as advanced. The Ordinary exists to communicate with integrity and bring to market effective, more familiar technologies at honourable prices. The Ordinary takes pride in honesty, fights innovation stagnancy in the industry and indirectly celebrates the depth of innovation our brands, Hylamide and NIOD, continue to bring to the category.
This concept is absolutely genius if you ask me. Beauty products are the most marked up products in the entire world. You can thank Helena Rubinstein for that 😜 But if you charge the consumer almost exactly what the cost to produce the product is, you get a much lower price tag. Deciem says the products are simpler than ones from NIOD or even Hylamide, but I still think the formulas can hold their own in grand scheme of things. Let's explore the good and bad about the range, and the products I've tried.
It's the elephant in the room. It's almost guaranteed you won't find a good quality retinol for less money, anywhere else. It's revolutionary to remove the middle-man and the fluff in order to bring good products to consumers at a reasonable price. I think it's absolutely fantastic. It's honest and fair. What you get is really simple packaging that doesn't uses only black ink - colored inks are more expensive - and really basic bottles and tubes. It has a clinical look to it, and doesn't have any flashy bells and whistles.
Not only can you get a good retinoid for under $10, you can get vitamin boosted serums, plant oils, targeted solutions, and eye treatments. You can target many different skin concerns and types with products found in the range, which is great. Variety is the spice of life.
Deciem isn't one to shove a whole bunch of crap into their formulas, and I admire that. They even mention, "All DECIEM products, across all brands including The Ordinary, are free of parabens, sulphates, mineral oil, methylchloroisothiazolinone, methylisothiazolinone, animal oils, benzalkonium chloride, coal tar dyes, formaldehyde, mercury, oxybenzone. If you have questions about any ingredient that we use, please reach out to us and our lab will provide a response." The Ordinary. is no exception. You get good ingredients, and nothing more or less. On paper - AKA "theoretically" - the products should work.
I'm a marketing major and an Aries, so I'm gonna tell it like it is. Different pricing strategies mean different things. Whole numbers, like $35 or $35.00, suggest high quality. Think Sephora, Bloomingdale's, etc. Adding .99 to the end of a number, like $19.99, suggests more accessibility, but still a fairly high quality level. Think drugstores. Off-pricing, like $7.80, suggests the lowest quality. Think Forever 21, clearance items, etc. It's not a coincidence either. Look at other Deciem brands.
NIOD MMHC is $35.00 Hylamide Low-Molecular-HA is $20.00 The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 is $6.80
Nothing in The Ordinary. range follows the pricing structure of any of the other brands. It follows the off-pricing strategy, which would suggest lower quality. Does this mean the products are bad? I really have liked every product I've used from them, so I wouldn't say so. But then again, I haven't tried but a handful of what the brand has to offer. Do I think they're skimping in order to keep the price down? No. But what I know about marketing made me slightly hesitant to purchase. Skincare is not a facet that I'm willing to lower my standards for.
You can't build an entire skincare ritual solely from The Ordinary's range. There are no cleansers, toners, sunscreens, masks, or lip products. It's still a very new range, so I'm not going to discredit them for that. Not only that, who says a product range needs to have offerings for each category? I certainly don't. I prefer to cherry pick. I'm not the kind of person to buy a "clinical" cleansing product anyway.
Deciem has never been a brand that uses cut-and-dry methodology, and I respect them for that. They don't follow a "cleanse, tone, serum, moisturizer," methodology, and I think it's time someone challenged that. Who needs to be kept in a box anymore? Not me! However, as affordable as The Ordinary range is, it's not exactly accessible. There's not much information to explain the difference between Ascorbyl Isopalmitate and Ascorbyl Glucoside, so unless you "speak skincare," you may have a difficult time navigating the range. I respect that they want to keep a clinical approach to the range, but the pricing strategy appeals to more than just the clinical product client.
Now let's talk about the products I've tried!
Lactic Acid 5% + Hyaluronic Acid 2% $6.50 for 1 fl oz (30 mL) Available from Deciem
What it is: Lactic Acid is an alpha hydroxyl acid that exfoliates the skin. This 5% formulation offers very mild exfoliation and is supported with a purified Tasmanian pepperberry known to reduce signs of inflammation and sensitivity that is often associated with exfoliation. This formula contains a studied Tasmanian Pepperberry derivative to help reduce irritation associated with acid use. This derivative is of plant origin and varies in colour seasonally and this colour variation may be apparent in the formula from time to time. Contraindications: Lactic Acid should not be used on sensitive, peeling or compromised skin. Please refer to additional sun protection note and other warnings in provided Directions. This pH of this formula is approximately 3.8. Lactic Acid has a pKa of 3.8 and pKa is the most important aspect to consider in formulating with acids. pKa implies acid availability. When pKa is close to pH, there is an ideal balance between salt and acidity, maximizing effectiveness of the acid and reducing irritation. Higher pH numbers in such a case would increase salt which counter-intuitively would make the formula even more irritating than if the formula was more acidic.
This is a pink-tinged jelly-serum that smoothes onto the skin and leaves the slightest bit of tack. It doesn't sting, but definitely has a bit of zing to it. You can tell it's exfoliating. I picked this one up because it's very different to most anything I've seen. It's actually quite challenging to find a very mild acid products because most ranges try to out-do each other with high percentages of AHAs or BHAs. Sometimes, my skin can't handle even a 5% glycolic, so having something even more mild than that is really unique.
I like how it sits in my exfoliant wardrobe. There's nothing like it, but yet it's still effective. I may try the 10% Lactic, but I already have higher percentage lactic acid products I love. Hard to say.
Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Lactic Acid, Glycerin, Pentylene Glycol, Triethanolamine, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Tasmannia Lanceolata Fruit/Leaf Extract, Arginine, Potassium Citrate, Acacia Senegal Gum, Xanthan Gum, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, PPG-26-Buteth-26, Ethyl 2,2-Dimethylhydrocinnamal, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Ethylhexylglycerin, 1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol.
Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% $5.90 for 1 fl oz (30 mL) Available from Deciem
What it is: Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) is indicated to reduce the appearance of skin blemishes and congestion. A high 10% concentration of this vitamin is supported in the formula by zinc salt of pyrrolidone carboxylic acid to balance visible aspects of sebum activity. Contraindications: If topical Vitamin C is used as part of skincare, it should be applied at alternate times with this formula (ideally Vitamin C in the PM and this formula in the AM). Otherwise, Niacinamide can affect integrity of pure-form Vitamin C (L-Ascorbic Acid). Note: While Niacinamide and Zinc PCA reduce the look of blemishes and balance visible sebum activity, neither is a treatment for acne. For persistent acne-related conditions, we recommend the use of Benzoyl Peroxide and/or Retinoic Acid. We do not recommend the use of Salicylic Acid. This formulation can be used alongside acne treatments if desired for added visible skin benefits.
You could refer to me as a niacinamide cheerleader and I wouldn't be mad. It's a fantastic ingredient that can benefit most skin types and can improve most skin concerns. I know a few people who don't get on well with niacinamide, but suffice to say that's a rarity.
If you're dehydrated with skin that is easily congested or you have larger pores, look no further. Niacinamide improves barrier function - which will help it to hold onto water better - and can improve the appearance of large pores.
It's a jelly-serum that absorbs quite quickly and leaves a smooth finish. Not silicone smooth, but hydrated smooth. This one definitely feels active. It's a cross between a very mild sting from acid exfoliation and the bit of vibration or numbing you can get from a Vitamin C or concentrated peptide formula. Not uncomfortable, but noticeable. I found this to be hydrating, and I did notice a bit of decongestion. Definitely not as rapid or obvious as a BHA though.
Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Niacinamide, Pentylene Glycol, Zinc PCA, Tamarindus Indica Seed Gum, Carrageenan, Acacia Senegal Gum, Xanthan Gum, Cocoyl Proline, Ethoxydiglycol, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin.
Advanced Retinoid 2% $9.80 for 1 fl oz (30 mL) Available from Deciem
What it is: This formulation combines two forms of next-generation retinoid actives in a combined concentration of 2% by weight: These two actives are:a) Solubilized Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate 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 ageing 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 Solubilized Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate. Both forms of retinoid used avoid the irritation associated with retinoid (including retinol) use while delivering better visible results against signs of ageing.
My very favorite of the bunch. It's a milky emulsion that smells exactly like my grandmother's house - fried mochi and the sweet staleness of old clothes preserved in guest room closets. It's weirdly familiar to me, but I may be alone in that. The reason I love it is it's quite a potent formula for hardly any money. It's a combination of retinol, hydroxypinacolone retinoate, Tasmanian pepperberry - said to reduce inflammation, and some humectants + emollients.
When using this consistently - i.e. multiple nights in a row - I did not experience any dryness, peeling, irritation, or sensitivity. This could be due to the fact that the formula is an emulsion, or that the gallon of oil I drench my skin in afterwards cushioned the blow, if you will. If you're new to retinol, this may be a product to consider. You should start slow - every two days for the first week to see how your skin responds. If you don't experience any adverse reactions, feel free to gradually increase frequency until it becomes part of your nightly ritual.
This is by far a champion in the price vs. quality curve. A high concentration of retinoids at an extremely reasonable price is what makes this my number one pick of the three Ordinary products I've tried.
Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Ethyl Linoleate, Propanediol, Glycerin, Cetearyl Isononanoate, Bisabolol, Retinol, Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, Tasmannia Lanceolata Fruit/Leaf Extract, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Inulin Lauryl Carbamate, Glyceryl Stearate, Ceteareth-12, Ceteareth-20, Cetearyl Alcohol, Carrageenan, Acacia Senegal Gum, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Cetyl Palmitate, Sucrose Laurate, Polysorbate 20, Behentrimonium Chloride, Disodium EDTA, Dehydroacetic Acid, Benzoic Acid, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin.
I think the concept of the range is absolutely phenomenal, and I really have enjoyed the products I've used. With that said, I don't think who the range is targeted to and who is actually buying the products are the same. All it means is that we as consumers need to able to "speak skincare," in order to understand the range. It takes time, but it's worth it. Believe me when I'm saying that I learn something new about skincare every single day.