The best The Ordinary products for acne-prone skin, tried and tested

From the brand’s cult niacinamide and retinol serums to azelic acid, clear blemishes with these hero buys

Chloë James
Tuesday 13 April 2021 06:00
<p>These top picks all produced visible results and benefits </p>

These top picks all produced visible results and benefits

It’s hard to believe The Ordinary only hit the skincare scene five years ago. Powered by understanding of plants and biochemistry, its affordability and functionality has solidified the brand as a firm favourite for skincare amateurs and experts alike.

But with such an extensive line of products, putting together your own skincare regime can be overwhelming – especially for acne-prone skin that is easily triggered by the wrong ingredients.

Key ingredients in acne products include niacinamide, AHAs (such as glycolic and lactic acids), BHAs (salicylic acid), azelaic acids, and retinol. All have their positives, but shouldn’t be used at the same time – combinations to avoid include retinol with any AHA or BHA, or two products containing the same active.

No matter your skin type, the important thing to remember is to start slow. While it’s tempting to revamp your entire routine overnight, introducing new products at different intervals will give you space to identify which products, if any, your skin doesn’t agree with.

To help you pick out your new skin saviours, we tested The Ordinary’s skincare range on our own acne to see which products put up the best fight. Every product was used over the course of at least one month, with some sitting in our skincare routines for upwards of a year.

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Anything overly irritating or drying was out – these are the products with visible results, fading current blemishes and keeping new ones at bay.

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The Ordinary lactic acid 10% + HA

We’re reluctant to name any skincare product our holy grail, but this comes closest to earning the title. Lactic acid is a chemical exfoliant with bigger molecules than other alpha-hydroxy acids, so it only targets the surface layer of skin and causes minimal irritation. With a 10 per cent concentration, this exfoliator is high-strength enough to encourage cell turnover and fight acne, but not so potent that you’re left red and raw.

The results speak for themselves. We started out by applying a thin layer to our whole face a couple of times a week, working our way up to nightly use. It’s a watery formula which sinks in easily without any sticky residue, and as it’s blended with hyaluronic acid it leaves your complexion plump rather than tight. Even after two uses, we were getting compliments on our glow over Zoom. Existing spots healed in record time and we didn’t experience any new breakouts or purging, which is rare for our tester. It also did a stellar job of holding oiliness at bay.

We personally found the 10 per cent solution more than comfortable enough to use when introduced slowly into our routine, but if you aren’t ready to take the plunge, The Ordinary also offers a weaker five per cent concentration. Considering the results, both are an absolute bargain.

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% peeling solution

This peeling solution is a firm favourite among TikTok’s skinfluencers, and for good reason. It’s much more powerful than your average peel, containing a blend of glycolic, lactic, tartaric, citric, hyaluronic and salicylic acids to exfoliate the topmost layer of your skin. With repeated use once or twice a week, it goes a long way in clearing up congestion and helps rapidly fade those post-acne marks. Even one single thin layer across dry skin for ten minutes gives impressive results, leaving skin tighter and more radiant.

Our tester saw marked improvement in her hyperpigmentation after a few weeks and also experienced fewer breakouts, probably thanks to the minimisation of excess oil. However, if you’re new to acid exfoliation, tread carefully. It’s extremely potent and may be too harsh for acid newbies or those with sensitive skin – we experienced a pretty powerful tingling sensation at first, and we’ve been regularly using acid products for years. Also be sure to always apply SPF for a week after each use.

The Ordinary glycolic acid 7% toning solution

For slightly milder exfoliation, this solution is made with glycolic and amino acids, ginseng, tasmanian pepperberry and soothing aloe vera. Like any toner, it’s designed for use after cleansing and before serums or moisturisers. It isn’t as harsh on your skin as other acid toners, but is just as powerful as you’d hope it to be – used once per day, it fades acne scarring and doesn’t dry out your skin in the process.

While we still experienced the odd breakout, larger blemishes were tamed much quicker than usual and after a couple of weeks our skin had a noticeable new glow. You could see the biggest difference in the texture of our forehead and chin, both of which smoothed out in a matter of days.

The Ordinary niacinamide 10% + zinc 1%

This product almost always crops up in anti-acne skincare recommendations, and for good reason. Niacinamide is an anti-inflammatory proven to reduce the swelling and redness of your blemishes, as well as fighting hyperpigmentation and oiliness with zinc. This serum promises to put these abilities to good use and reduce the appearance of blemishes and congestion.

It’s easy to use, with a lightweight, watery consistency that sinks in very quickly. We found it easy to slip into our routine, diving straight in with twice-daily application. Discouraged at first by the lack of results, we powered through, and it’s lucky we did. We never saw a radical impact on hyperpigmentation, but gradually our skin began to brighten and spots stopped reaching the same stage of painful inflammation like they did before. The number of breakouts reduced, and with further use we expect they’ll continue to become fewer and further between. Progress is slow, but worth it for the overall improvement in our complexion.

The Ordinary salicylic acid 2% masque

Salicylic acid is one of the most effective ingredients for fighting acne, as it exfoliates skin and reduces inflammation. If you find yourself particularly sensitive to irritation, this masque is a solid option – combining salicylic acid with charcoal and clay, it rinses off after just ten minutes, in which time it aims to deeply cleanse skin and unclog your pores. This promise is common with clay masks, but this delivered some of the best results we’ve seen. Used twice a week, our entire face felt smooth and refreshed, with blemishes and blackheads reducing in size far quicker than usual. We also saw good results after using it as a spot treatment.

The Ordinary retinol 0.2% in squalane

Retinol is one of skincare’s hero ingredients, stimulating the production of new skin cells and helping to fade hyperpigmentation, unclog pores and reduce breakouts and signs of aging. It has a reputation for being abrasive, but this low-strength option is a good place to start. It’s suspended in squalane, so is less likely to cause extreme dryness or peeling than some retinols.

We started slow, applying it every other night after our other serums. It has an oily consistency, but absorbs quickly without any greasiness in the morning. We didn’t experience any irritation, so worked our way up to the 0.5 per cent concentration once this was finished, and then on to the one per cent.

Patience is key with this product. It’s vital you start with a low concentration or you risk severe irritation, but over the course of the 0.2 per cent we only saw improvement in the texture of our skin. As we moved on to the 0.5 per cent, our blemishes started to calm down, and once we were onto one per cent our skin looked much clearer than it had in months. However, we did also start to experience tightness and flaking around the upper lip area, so make sure you have a good moisturiser on hand.

The Ordinary azelaic acid suspension 10%

Azelaic acid doesn’t get enough credit. Not only is it anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and a pro at brightening and smoothing skin, it’s much less irritating than other acid products. This formulation is quite dense but warms up on your fingers, making it easier to massage across your face before moisturiser.

The effects aren’t instantaneous. After a month we looked in the mirror and suddenly realised our acne marks had faded considerably. Much easier to see was its impact on existing and new bouts of acne. We started to use it mid-breakout and didn’t get any new spots. Our only issue was that you get very little product in each container, so expect to top-up on a regular basis.

The Ordinary 100% organic cold-pressed rose hip seed oil

It sounds counterproductive to use oil on oily, acne-prone skin, but hear us out. This cold-pressed, organic oil is packed full of nutrients and essential fatty acids, including linoleic acid – a lack of which has been linked to clogged pores and acne.

Applied prior to moisturiser, this provides an extra layer of hydration. This gave us a healthy glow overnight which never escalated to excessive oiliness, and even seemed to reduce greasiness in our T-zone. Most importantly, it gave us the dose of hydration we’ve struggled to find without aggravating our skin. It also works well with just about every other product on this list.

The verdict: The Ordinary products for acne

In an ideal world, we would cocktail a handful of these products to give our skin the best chance of keeping acne at bay, but if we had to rely on just one it would be The Ordinary lactic acid 10% + HA. We also love the rapid results of the salicylic acid 2% masque, and the intensity of the AHA 30% + BHA 2% peeling solution.

Read our best of Glossier round-up where we separate the hype from the holy grails

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