The Ordinary has a huge line up of potent, quality skincare products. Acids, retinol, hydrators, vitamin C. You name it and they have. The tough part with The Ordinary is they have so many products it can become overwhelming very quickly. How can one even know what products to use together or not to mix when they all sound the same? Here’s how you can decipher all their products to create a perfect skincare routine.
When creating a routine with products from The Ordinary, you want to be careful with what you mix. For your morning routine choose a vitamin C, hydrator and SPF. For a nighttime routine you have more options but a cleanser, acid and hydrator is a great place to start. Once you follow this formula, you can find a skincare routine that your skin will be able to tolerate and improve with.
The Ordinary’s Products
- Antioxidants: EUK 134 0.1%, Pycnogenol 5%, Resveratrol 3% + Ferulic Acid 3%
- Cleansers: Squalane Cleanser
- Direct Acids: AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution, Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%, Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution, Lactic Acid 10% + HA, Lactic Acid 5% + HA, Mandelic Acid 10% + HA, Salicylic Acid 2% Masque, Salicylic Acid 2% Solution
- Hydrators and oils: “B” Oil, 100% Cold-Pressed Virgin Marula Oil, 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Borage Seed Oil, 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Moroccan Argan Oil, 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil, 100% Organic Virgin Chia Seed Oil, 100% Organic Virgin Sea-Buckthorn Fruit Oil, 100% Plant-Derived Hemi-Squalane, 100% Plant-Derived Squalane, Amino Acids + B5, Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, Marine Hyaluronics, Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA
- More molecules: 100% Niacinamide Powder, Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA, Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG, Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%
- Peptides: “Buffet”, “Buffet” + Copper Peptides 1%, Argireline Solution 10%, Matrixyl 10% + HA
- Retinoids: Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion (Previously Advanced Retinoid 2%), Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane, Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane, Retinol 0.2% in Squalane, Retinol 0.5% in Squalane, Retinol 1% in Squalane
- Vitamin C: 100% L-Ascorbic Acid Powder, Ascorbic Acid 8% + Alpha Arbutin 2%, Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12%, Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F, Ethylated Ascorbic Acid 15% Solution, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate 10%, Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%, Vitamin C Suspension 30% in Silicone
The golden rule: you never want to mix a direct acid with a retinol in the same routine. A direct acid is AHAs or BHAs. Salicylic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, etc are all direct acids. Retinol and acids are both active ingredients and can be super irritating and damaging to your skin if used in the same routine on the same night. Use them on alternating nights.
The same goes for Vitamin C. Vitamin C is used typically in your AM routine and you don’t want to mix it with direct acids or retinol.
The Ordinary does not recommend using the Direct Acids with the Peptides. The Peptides are formulated at a low pH meaning mixing them with direct acids makes them less effective. This loosens the bond between amino acids which reduces their efficacy. You won’t get all the benefits if you mix the two plus there is potential for irritation.
The Ordinary has an entire guide on their website about what products cannot be mixed with each other, find that here.
Creating an AM routine
Step 1: Cleansing.
Not everyone cleanses in the morning and that’s okay. The Ordinary only has one cleanser – the Squalane Cleanser which is an oil based cleanser so this makes choosing easy. It’s also very gentle and hydrating which is perfect for the AM.
Step 2: Vitamin C
Vitamin C conflicts with products containing Niacinamide, Peptides, Direct Acids, Retinoids, or EUK 134 0.1%.
The Ordinary has 8 different types of vitamin C on their website. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps to brighten the skin and fade dark spots. When paired with SPF, it helps it to be more effective at protecting your skin which is why it’s hailed as a must for an AM routine.
If you’re using the L-Ascorbic acid powder, you have to mix that into a gentle and simple moisturizer or oil to apply to your face.
Here is The Ordinary’s guide to all their Vitamin C serums and how to pick the best one for your skin type.
AND / OR
Step 3: Antioxidant
The Ordinary has 3 antioxidants – EUK 134 0.1%, Pycnogenol 5%, Resveratrol 3% + Ferulic Acid 3%. These support signs of aging, skin elasticity and hydration.
The Ordinary recommends using the Resveratrol 3% + Ferulic Acid 3% and Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% or Vitamin C Suspension 30% in Silicone to be mixed together and diluted with one of their oils. Mixing and diluting makes this less irritating for your skin. The combination of Vitamin C, Ferulic acid and Resveratrol is very effective at brightening the skin tone.
The Ordinary advises against mixing the antioxidants with each other or with the Buffet + Copper Peptides 1%.
Step 4: Hydrator and/or oil
The hydrators and oils do not conflict with any products!
I like to keep a simple morning routine, especially if layering makeup on top. After your vitamin C and or antioxidant, follow up with an oil or moisturizer. The Ordinary has a huge variety of oils, hydrators. These are less of an issue when it comes to layering as they are not actives and more about your preference.
Obviously your choice will be based on your skin type. If you’re dry you may choose a hyaluronic acid and oil to lock in moisture. If you have oily skin, you may just want a light moisturizer. Remember, with hyaluronic acid you need to pair it with a hydrating layer so it can lock that moisture in.
Step 5: SPF.
SPF is so vital. Especially when using Vitamin C and acids. The Ordinary does have 2 SPFs but they are harder to find and may not be available depending on where you live. (SPF is intensely regulated outside the US.) Also they’re only SPF 15 and 30 and generally you want an SPF 50+ for your face. They are in the process of creating one.
Creating a PM routine
A nighttime routine with The Ordinary’s products is a little tougher as those tend to be more complex with more options. It’s important to look at what not to mix during your nighttime routine so you’re not irritating your skin.
Step 1: Cleanser
Again this step is easy because The Ordinary only has one cleanser – their Squalane Cleanser. This works as a first cleanse to remove makeup. If you wear makeup you’ll want a second, water based cleanser. The cleanser does not conflict with any products.
The Ordinary does not have any essences or face mists so the next step will be a serum. I usually start off with my acids, you can also start off with their Hyaluronic Acid serum to prep your skin.
Step 2: Direct acids
The Ordinary has a bunch of different direct acids to pick from. AHAs, BHAs and an azelaic acid. Avoid mixing all the direct acids with other Direct Acids, Peptides, Retinoids, Vitamin C (LAA/ELAA), 100% Niacinamide Powder or EUK 134 0.1%
AHAs are geared towards chemically exfoliating, clearing pores, fading dark spots and improving texture. Those include:
- Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution – Good for sensitive skin and beginners with acids. This is a toner rather than a serum.
- Lactic Acid 5% + HA – Good for sensitive skin, Lactic acid is a milder AHA.
- Lactic Acid 10% + HA – A stronger formulation for those more experienced with acids.
- Mandelic Acid 10% + HA – Another mild acid aimed at fading dark spots and works well with pigmented skin. The larger molecule works well for sensitive skin.
The Ordinary’s offering of BHAs is much slimmer. BHAs are oil soluble and work well for unclogging pores and oily, acne prone skin types. A good skincare routine for acne prone skin includes both AHAs and BHAs because your skin benefits from both.
- Salicylic Acid 2% Solution – Works to exfoliate the skin and remove acne causing impurities. This serum is 2% but can cause irritation.
Azelaic acid is neither an AHA or BHA. It works to treat inflammation, lightly exfoliate and unclog pores. It’s great for sensitive skin that cannot tolerate AHAs or BHAs. Some pair it with AHAs or BHAs – The Ordinary advises against this. So, it depends on what works for your skin.
The Ordinary advises not to mix the Azelaic Acid with Direct Acids, Peptides, Retinoids, Vitamin C (LAA/ELAA), 100% Niacinamide Powder or EUK 134 0.1%. There are dermatologists who say it is okay to mix AHAs/BHAs with Azelaic Acid.
The Ordinary does have AHA and BHA treatments and masks but those are not for everyday use. The same conflicting rules apply.
Step 2: Retinoids
None of the retinoids or retinol should be mixed with other Retinoids, Direct Acids, Vitamin C (LAA/ELAA), or “Buffet” + Copper Peptides 1%.
The Ordinary has 6 different retinoids in squalane for less irritation at varying percentages. Retinoids help to produce cell turnover leading to softer, smoother, baby soft skin. Retinoids can target wrinkles, dark spots, texture and improve radiance. FYI retinol is a type of retinoid, retinoid is a blanket term for products with Vitamin A.
Here is The Ordinary’s breakdown of their retinoids:
- Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion (Moderate Strength, No Irritation)
- Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane (Moderate Strength, No Irritation)
- Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane (High Strength, No to Low Irritation)
- Retinol 0.2% in Squalane (Low Strength, Moderate Irritation)
- Retinol 0.5% in Squalane (Moderate Strength, High Irritation)
- Retinol 1% in Squalane (High Strength, Very High Irritation)
Go for the first two, 2% granactive retinoids if you’re new to retinol. Retinoids and direct acids should NEVER be used on the same day, let alone the same routine. Combining the two will lead to irritation. Pick ONE for each PM routine. It is okay to alternate use on different nights.
This way, your skin is getting the benefit of AHAs, BHAs and retinoids in a combination that it can handle.
Step 3: Peptides & More Molecules
The peptides are not one size fits all for what they conflict with.
Peptides and More Molecules are not actives but serums that target specific skin issues. They are best used at night because many are less effective when paired with Vitamin C. A popular one is Niacinamide, Vitamin B3 which is effective at improving the skin’s texture. It’s a pretty mild ingredient that is very beneficial to the skin and many can use it without irritation.
The Ordinary has a Niacinamide powder and serum to choose from. The serum is a little bit easier to use as the powder needs to be mixed with a water based cream. It’s advised not to mix Niacinamde with their Vitamin C products.
Matrixyl 10% + HA is a high strength peptide serum that targets wrinkles. Peptides can be mixed with retinol and actually work even better together. While it’s best not to mix them with an AHA, it makes the peptides less effective. Matrixyl conflicts with Vitamin C and the Direct Acids.
Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA targets dark spots and hyperpigmentation. It has no conflicts. Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG targets puffy under eyes and dark circles. It has no conflicts. Buffet and Argireline Solution 10% targets signs of aging and should not be mixed with Vitamin C.
Buffet + Copper Peptides 1% should not be used with Vitamin C or direct acid as the copper makes them less effective.
Step 4: Hydrators and Oils
All the hydrators and oils are free to use without conflict! If you have dry skin, feel free to layer the Hyaluronic Acid, B Oil and Natural Moisturizing Factors moisturizer. If you have oily skin, you may just need the Natural Moisturizing Factors. You have a little bit more creativity with these products but I recommended reading the descriptions to see what exactly you’re getting.
Step 5: Extras
AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution and Salicylic Acid 2% Masque are weekly exfoliating treatments. They should be used once a week at most if your skin can tolerate it. They should replace a night of exfoliation and should not be paired with direct acids, retinoids, copper products or Vitamin C.
Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG is used to target puffy eyes and dark spots. Sort of like an eye cream. It can be used as needed in your morning or nightime routine.
Here’s a few examples of routines for different skin types. Notice there is not chemical exfoliation or a retinol with daily use. That takes time and your skin may not need that much chemical exfoliation. You won’t regret airing on the side of caution when building a new routine.
Dry, sensitive skin PM routine
Monday: Squalane Cleanser, Niacinamide 10%, Hyaluronic Acid Serum, B Oil, Natural Moisturizing Factor.
Tuesday: Squalane Lactic Acid 5% serum, Hyaluronic Acid Serum, B oil.
Wednesday: Squalane Cleanser, Marine Hyaluronics Serum, B Oil.
Thursday: Squalane Cleanser, Hyaluronic Acid Serum, B Oil.
Friday: Squalane Lactic Acid 5% serum, Hyaluronic Acid Serum, B oil.
Saturday: Squalane Cleanser, Marine Hyaluronics Serum, B Oil, Natural Moisturizing Factor
Sunday: Squalane Cleanser, Niacinamide 10% + HA, Hyaluronic Acid Serum, B Oil.
Mostly hydrating products with some exfoliation. The number of hydrating products you layer depends on how dry your skin may be. If your skin isn’t super dry then you don’t need an HA, oil and moisturizer. Chemical exfoliation is good for the skin because it removes dead skin cells to unveil a brighter, smoother complexion. It’s not the enemy, it just depends on your skin type to dictate how often you should do it.
A good AM routine would include – Ascorbic Acid 8% + Alpha Arbutin 2%, Hyaluronic Acid Serum, Natural Moisturizing Factor, SPF 50+.
Oily skin targeting texture and dark spots PM routine
Nighttime routine could look something like the following. You could switch out a chemical exfoliation day for a retinol.
Monday: Squalane cleanser, Mandelic Acid 10% + HA, Niacinamide 10% + HA, Natural Moisturizing Factor
Tuesday: Squalane Cleanser, Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA, Hyaluronic Acid 10%, Natural Moisturizing Factor
Wednesday: Squalane Cleanser, Salicylic Acid 10% Mask, Natural Moisturizing Factor
Thursday: Squalane Cleanser, Niacinamide 10% + HA, Natural Moisturizing Factor
Friday: Squalane Cleanser, Niacinamide 10% + HA, Natural Moisturizing Factor
Saturday: Squalane Cleanser, Salicylic Acid 2%, Natural Moisturizing Factor
Sunday: Squalane Cleanser, Niacinamide 10% + HA, Natural Moisturizing Factor
A good AM routine would include – Squalane cleanser, Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12% or Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% (not both), Natural Moisturizing Factors, SPF 50+.
Figuring out what products from The Ordinary that can and cannot be used together is a little tough but here’s a general rule of thumb to remember.
- Never mix acids and retinol whether it be by The Ordinary or another brand.
- Do not mix the Vitamin C products with direct acids or retinol.
The peptides and Niacinamide powder is a little more specific but these are good rules to abide by when choosing products. Most important when going with a new skincare routine – if it irritates your skin that should rule above all and you should stop using those products.
Acids, retinol and Vitamin C are the most irritating which is why they are active ingredients. But, they can do such good things for the skin.
Start off on the lesser end of the spectrum. Once your skin can tolerate your new skincare build it up from there. Maybe that looks like upping your chemical exfoliation schedule from 2 times a week to 3 or 4. Once you start seeing results and your skin is improving you will be addicted! Just remember, please wear SPF – this will protect your skin and improve texture and dark spots!