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decoding the ordinary skincare

The Ordinary is the little Canadian brand that could. Since its launch in 2016, it's been one of the world's most-buzzed-about beauty brands and it's become an international cult favourite. Why? Targeted, science-driven formulas at itty bitty prices. Like $6 for a moisturizer and $7 for a serum.

The tricky part? The Ordinary is complicated. With nearly 40 serums and concentrates each with a different focus or star ingredient, it can feel like you need a science degree to decipher what's right for you.

I don't have a science degree but once upon a time I was a skincare trainer, so I've done my best to answer your most-asked questions about The Ordinary and I've reviewed several of their most popular products. Let's dive in!

building a routine with the ordinary

I have to give The Ordinary heaps of credit: they know their line is complex so they've created a helpful, in-depth Regimen Guide on their site. It's fascinating and incredibly informative, so if you're a fellow skincare nerd I recommend popping over there to read it. But here's the coles notes.

Essentially in any skincare routine you'll want:

- a cleanser

- a serum or oil

- a moisturizer

- a sunscreen

That's hugely simplified, but in my mind, that's your minimum viable product. Once you're comfortable with the basics you can experiment and add things like toners and mists, physical or chemical exfoliants, retinols (careful with those!), peels, and masks.

A general rule: if you're not sure of the correct order use the products in your routine, think of applying your products from thinnest to thickest. So cleanser first, then toner or mist, then serums and oils, then moisturizer. And in daytime, sunscreen is your very last step AFTER your regular moisturizer.

Apply water-based products before oil-based products, and your moisturizer or sunscreen is last because it creates a barrier on the skin.

1. The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser, $7.90

The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser is soap-free, oil-free, and scent-free, and designed to be gentle enough even for daily use on sensitive skin. Which is good cuz this is the only cleanser they make. To use: squirt a bit into your hands then rub together for 10-30 seconds. You'll see the texture change from a balm to an oil, then massage gently over DRY skin. Rinse with warm water and you're set. I adore this cleanser: it's gentle yet removes all my makeup, and my skin feels soft and never stripped.

2. The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution, $8.70

Gosh I love The Ordinary Glycolic Acid. Acids sound scary but hear me out: you're using a chemical reaction to exfoliate rather than something gritty like ground nuts or sugar. My skin is a wee bit sensitive and prone to redness, and I find chemical exfoliants are often gentler and less likely cause rosacea flare-ups than physical exfoliants. At most, my skin feels tingly for a moment. To use: squirt onto a cotton pad (reusable is best) and smooth over cleansed skin. Don't rinse.

3. The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, $6.80

4. The Ordinary "Buffet", $14.80

If you're completely overwhelmed by all the serums in this lineup, The Ordinary "Buffet" is the one to get. It contains a slew of highly scientific ingredients to target various signs of aging, like reducing fine lines and increasing firmness and elasticity. A high-quality, well-made, well-priced serum that can be used on pretty much any skin type and you could use it both day and night if you want. To use: after toning, apply a few drops to your finger tips, then gently pat into the skin.

5.. The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Moroccan Argan Oil, $6.80

Argan oil is incredible stuff but I'll be straight with you: this one kinda stinks. Like literally. The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Moroccan Argan Oil (phew, what a name!) is high quality and multipurpose since it can hydrate both skin and hair. The Ordinary uses pure, unrefined argan that has a naturally occuring scent that's kinda... barnyard. Or patchouli-esque? The scent takes some getting used to so may not be right for everyone. To use: after toning or any water-based serums, apply a few drops to your finger tips then gently pat into the skin.

5. The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA, $5.80

For less than $6, you simply won't find a better moisturizer. And because it's made for all skin types, it's the only one in this line-up. The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA is an incredibly well-rounded formula that feels hydrating but never greasy, plays well with makeup, doesn't pill, and doesn't have any detectable scent. Buy this. It's SO good. To use: after serums or oils, squeeze a blob onto your finger tips then gently massage or pat into the skin.

6. The Ordinary Mineral UV Filters SPF 30 with Antioxidants, $9.70

Oooouf. This is the only product I feel like I can't recommend. I'm a massive sunscreen nerd and had such high hopes. I mean, it's called The Ordinary Mineral UV Filters SPF 30 with Antioxidants. There's everything but the kitchen sink in there. Pros: great price, sleek packaging for tossing in your purse, gym bag, or travel bag (when we can do all those things). Cons: mineral sunscreens often have a white cast. But this... was purple. I literally had a pale violet cast on my skin. It did dissipate with time, but very weird indeed. And it pilled a fair bit. The Ordinary is working on several other sunscreens this year, so I'd suggest waiting for those.

tl; dr

To sum up: The Ordinary is a powerhouse Canadian brand making ethical, exceptional quality skincare at prices so low they've disrupted the entire industry. I've been using this brand for years, and it can go toe to toe with luxury brands that cost much, much more. Generally each serum does just one thing, so you may need two or more to treat different skin concerns. But event if you buy three, you're still likely spending less than $20.

And shout-out to their foundations: I didn't include them in this review since I focused on skincare, but their foundation formulas (serum and coverage) come in 21 shades, and are only $7.

Helpful info:

WHERE TO BUY: you can purchase on The Ordinary's site, linked throughout this post. Also available online at and Hudson's Bay.

RETURNS: when you buy directly through The Ordinary, they offer an epic 365-day return policy.

VALUE SIZES: The Ordinary now makes larger value sizes of many of their bestsellers, so you get even more bang for your buck.

Hope this has been helpful, and let me know if you try The Ordinary!

Not sponsored, I purchased these products myself. And I bought the pretty bouquet at Flowers Talk Tivoli.

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