A cult serum and new retinal: 6 buzzy products under $25 you should try from The Ordinary.

If you're one of the dames out there who isn't familiar with The Ordinary skincare products (rare! unusual!) — we're going to give you a bit of a rundown. Because while some of their products have reached cult status, it can be a little bit (very) confusing knowing what you should use on your skin.

From the outside, buying one of their many laboratory-looking products seems like a pretty sweet deal.

Affordable? Tick. Scientific? Sure is. And they must work, given all the percentages and long, smart-sounding words in the product names. Oh, and you can pick them up from the chemist while you're doing your grocery shop.

WATCH: Here are a few ways to improve your skin while you snooze! Post continues after video.

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The Ordinary is often mentioned by beauty editors and experts when talking about whether you really can get decent skincare on a budget, because each product contains a single, powerful active ingredient that'll do lovely things to your face.

The downside? It's tricky to know where to start.

That's because, to keep the cost of the products low, the brand's packaging is ridiculously simple. You won't find any explanation of what each product actually does or what skin type it's for on the packaging. All you get is the name (which looks like you need a PhD to understand), and how to use it.


This can make figuring out which products to try from The Ordinary intimidating. And even though you can buy most of the products for less than $25, it quickly adds up after trial and error.

It's for this reason we've put together a quick list of six brilliant products from The Ordinary almost anyone can use. Plus, what each one does and how it may help improve your skin.

1. The Ordinary Retinal 0.2% Emulsion, $25.50.


What is retinal?

In case you're not across the differences between retinal and retinol (honestly, fair) both ingredients are part of the vitamin A family and offer the same benefits — they both boost cellular turnover and encourage collagen production to improve things like fine lines.

However, the difference is in how they work. Basically, retinal is faster and more potent than retinol, and is more tolerable for sensitive skin — so it involves less chance of irritation. We love less irritation!

What does The Ordinary Retinal 0.2% Emulsion do for your skin?

It's a stabilised retinaldehyde serum that targets signs of ageing, crow's feet, uneven skin tone and texture, for brighter, more even skin. For a small (15ml) tube, it packs a serious punch when it comes to delivering results.

While it contains ingredients to help target skin discomfort and dryness, it's important to note that this is the big guns, recommended for experienced users of retinoids.

If you're new to the vitamin A game, you're probably better off starting with something like the Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion, $27.70, or the Retinol 0.2% in Squalane, $12.90, before moving your way up the ladder as your skin builds tolerance.

2. The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution, $9.60.


What is salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that is commonly used in acne treatments to help decongest pores, clear excess oil and reduce redness and inflammation.

What does The Ordinary Salicylic Acid do for your skin?

This powerhouse formula removes pore-clogging dead skin cells and gently exfoliates the skin, for a clearer complexion. 

It's important to note that unlike the old version, the new formulation is suitable for all skin types — not just oily skin. It now contains squalane — a moistuirsing ingredient that helps lock in hydration. Meaning? Less irritation.

So, if you have breakout-prone skin, this could be one for you!

3. The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, $12.90.


What is hyaluronic acid?

Hyaluronic acid is a molecule used in skincare because of its ability to draw moisture into the skin. It's a 'super hydrator' — one gram of hyaluronic acid can hold up to six litres of water.

Essentially, it'll make your skin look and feel like you're drinking enough water.

What is B5?

B5, also known as panthenol, is a humectant. This means it's a substance that keeps things... moist. Because of its ability to attract and hold moisture, it's also great for dry and dehydrated skin types.

What does The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid do for your skin?

Whether you have dry, oily or sensitive skin, many of us could benefit from adding a hyaluronic acid serum like this one into our skincare routines. Using a serum with both of these super-hydrating ingredients will help your skin hold on to moisture. Applying morning and/or night can help your skin look plump and juicy, and soften the appearance of fine lines.


4. The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%, $9.90.

What is niacinamide?

Niacinamide, also known as vitamin B3, is an ingredient that can reduce the appearance of enlarged pores, uneven skin tone, wrinkles, and dry skin. Oh, and it also helps to hydrate the skin AND repair an impaired skin barrier.

What is zinc?

When applied to the skin, zinc may reduce blemishes and blemish-related redness. This is because it may have anti-inflammatory effects. It may also aid in controlling oil production. (I say 'may' because there isn't enough conclusive research).


What does The Ordinary Niacinamide do for your skin?

This serum is especially great for oily or acne-prone skin types, but anyone can use it to help clear skin congestion, and reduce the appearance of pores.

5. The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane, $19.80.

What is a 'granactive retinoid'?

Granactive Retinoid is a form of vitamin A. There are a few different types of vitamin A, like retinol, retinoid and retinoic acid, and different people's skin reacts differently to each. This Granactive Retinoid is a moderate strength form of vitamin A that is usually well-tolerated by the skin.


What is squalane?

Squalane is a lipid (a fat) that's naturally found in our sebum (the oily stuff in our pores). An easy way to think of it is: if hyaluronic acid holds onto moisture, squalane is moisture.

In this serum, the squalane is plant-derived. Back in the day, squalane in skincare used to be taken from shark livers. The reason it's in this serum is to help deliver the retinoid to the skin in the most stable, non-irritating way. Basically, the retinoid sits inside a little bubble of oil to help the skin tolerate the super-active ingredient.

What does The Ordinary Retinoid do for your skin?

This is an anti-ageing serum/oil and may help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. If you've never used a vitamin A product before, ignore the instructions on the packet and start off by applying to cleansed skin every second or third night to avoid skin irritation.

6. The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA 2%, $12.70.


What is lactic acid?

Lactic acid is a gentle alpha-hydroxy-acid (or AHA). AHAs work by dissolving or eating away the dead skin cells on the uppermost layers on your skin that can make your face look and feel dull or textured.

What is HA?

HA is the abbreviation of hyaluronic acid (see above!).

What does The Ordinary Lactic Acid do for your skin?

Using a lactic acid serum, or any AHA serum, will help smooth the texture and increase the brightness of your skin. And because lactic acid is a gentle AHA, sensitive skin types can give this serum a try. As with the retinoid, go slow and use this serum every second night on cleansed skin before moisturising.

Finally, if in doubt, start off by picking just one product to try based on your biggest skin concern. Then once you know your skin likes it, you can try adding in another. And another.

At Mamamia, we independently choose and write about products our writers genuinely recommend. We have affiliate partnerships so if you use these links to buy something, Mamamia may earn a small commission. 

Have you tried The Ordinary? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

This post was first published in July 2020 and has since been updated.

Feature Image: Supplied.