The Ordinary offers some amazing skincare products at unbelievably low prices. But with so many products available, it can be tricky to know how to layer them correctly.
As with any skincare product, The Ordinary delivers active ingredients (the ingredients that provide the skincare benefits you are looking for) in various bases, from water-based solutions to oils and emulsions.
As you can see from the image above, The Ordinary has a lot of products (I’ve tried them all, with the exception of Mineral Filters SPF15!).
If you’re confused about what order to use The Ordinary products, you’re not alone.
So today, we’ll discuss how to layer The Ordinary products for the best performance and most comfortable wear on your skin.
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How To Layer The Ordinary Products
While we may start with the typical cleanse, tone, and moisturize steps of a basic skincare routine when planning how to layer your The Ordinary skincare products, we’ll go beyond these three simplistic steps when using multiple The Ordinary actives in our skincare routine to treat various skin concerns.
There are five different formats (consistencies and textures) of The Ordinary skincare products. Start with water-based products and finish with emulsions/creams:
In a nutshell, this is how The Ordinary products should be layered in order:
Step 1: Water-based Solutions
- Direct Acids
- More Molecules
- Water-based vitamin C
Step 2: Anhydrous Solutions
- Water-free vitamin C
- Water-free salicylic acid
- Retinol in squalane serums
- EUK 0.1%
- Resveratrol 3% + Ferulic Acid 3%
- Pycnogenol 5%
Step 3: Suspensions
- Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
- Vitamin C suspensions
Step 4: Oils
Step 5: Emulsions/Creams
- Natural Moisturizing Factors moisturizers
- Mineral UV Filters sunscreens
There are some basics to discuss before we start layering The Ordinary skincare products:
- One general rule of thumb is that water-based products should be applied before oil-based products, as a water-based product will not penetrate very well through an oil-based product if used first.
- The Ordinary recommends using no more than three serum formulas in a single regimen, so keep this in mind as you layer your products. You may think more is better, but if you use more than three serums, you are bound to experience pilling, which is when your serums ball up on your face and do not absorb evenly.
- Another important point is that some The Ordinary products conflict with each other, so be sure to review each product’s conflicts before combining it with other products. See my The Ordinary Conflicts guide with PDF for more details.
For complete AM and PM The Ordinary skincare routines by skin type, please see my post on how to build a skincare routine with The Ordinary.
Step 0: Wash Your Face
Let’s start from the very beginning, which involves a crucial step in your skincare routine before you even begin layering your skincare products: cleansing.
You want to ensure you have a clean face before layering your skincare actives. The Ordinary has only one cleanser, The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser.
In the morning, cleanse your face; in the evening, remove your makeup and then wash your face.
In your PM routine, you can use The Ordinary’s squalane cleanser twice, or use micellar water, cleansing oil, or cleansing balm to remove makeup, and then follow with Squalane Cleanser to clean your skin.
Step 1: The Ordinary Water-Based Solutions
Now that we have a clean canvas to work with, we’ll start by applying water-based The Ordinary products.
This is where you can start to mix and match The Ordinary products to target your specific skin concerns.
The Ordinary Direct Acids (Water-Based)
The Ordinary direct acids, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), should be applied to your face directly after cleansing.
Direct acids lower your skin’s pH, so it’s best to apply them before using any other active ingredients.
Use only one direct acid at a time in your morning or evening skincare routine.
The Ordinary direct acids include:
- AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution (rinse-off masque)
- Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution (AHA)
- Lactic Acid 5% + HA (AHA)
- Lactic Acid 10% + HA (AHA)
- Mandelic Acid 10% + HA (AHA)
- Salicylic Acid 2% Masque (BHA)
- Salicylic Acid 2% Solution (BHA)
AHAs: Alpha Hydroxy Acids
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid, lactic acid, and mandelic acid exfoliate the skin by breaking down the bonds between dead skin cells.
My Pick: The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
The Ordinary has a popular direct acid toner that works to exfoliate the skin: The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution. Here are some benefits:
- Improves dullness and uneven skin tone
- Reduces wrinkles, fine lines, and acne scars
- Shrinks pores
- With consistent use, improves skin texture
NOTE: Glycolic acid can be irritating, especially to sensitive skin. It is essential to start slowly by using it only once or twice a week and gradually increase frequency as your skin becomes used to it.
Related Post: How To Use The Ordinary Glycolic Acid
BHAs: Beta Hydroxy Acids
Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid exfoliate the skin’s surface; plus, they can penetrate deep into the pores to dissolve sebum (oil), dirt, and debris.
BHAs are excellent for oily and acne-prone skin types as they can help to unclog pores, reduce inflammation and calm the skin.
My Pick: The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution is a customer favorite for its blood red color and STRONG formula that combines AHAs with BHA salicylic acid:
- Removes dead skin cells for a smoother complexion.
- Evens out and revitalizes dull skin.
- Clears debris and oils to shrink pore size.
- Helps reduce fine lines and wrinkles.
It’s a rinse-off masque that should be used once or twice a week. See my post What To Use After The Ordinary Peeling Solution for more on this treatment.
NOTE: The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque (see my review here) is a water-based direct acid product, but it doesn’t fall into any of the five product format categories. The Ordinary describes its format as paste-like.
Salicylic acid 2% Masque should be applied to a clean face and rinsed off, and, like the Peeling Solution, should only be used once or twice a week.
Don’t Forget Sunscreen: Direct acids conflict with other potent actives, so be sure to follow usage instructions. Direct acids can also make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so be sure to always use sunscreen during the day when using The Ordinary AHA and BHA products.
The Ordinary Hydrators (Water-Based)
A hydrating serum is an excellent addition to any skincare routine, as every skin type needs hydration, even oily skin.
The Ordinary hydrators include:
Best-selling The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid + B5 delivers hydration while also plumping the skin and reducing the appearance of fine lines.
It can be used both morning and evening and has no conflicts, so it plays well with other The Ordinary products.
The Ordinary More Molecules (Water-Based)
Additional The Ordinary water-based serums include:
My Pick: The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% +Zinc 1%
While these water-based serums don’t fall into the other categories, they include some of The Ordinary best-sellers, like The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% +Zinc 1%.
- Enhances skin tone and diminishes blemishes.
- Boosts collagen and cell turnover for a youthful look.
- Helps reduce the appearance of enlarged pores.
- Ideal for oily and acne-prone skin types.
The Ordinary Eye Serums
This category also includes The Ordinary’s original eye product, The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG, which helps to reduce the appearance of dark circles and puffiness.
A little pricier than most The Ordinary products, The Ordinary Multi-Peptide Eye Serum addresses dark circles and puffiness like Caffeine Solution, PLUS signs of aging like crow’s feet, under eye wrinkles, eye bags, and skin texture.
The Ordinary Peptides (Water-Based)
The Ordinary peptide serums are all about addressing the signs of aging, like fine lines and wrinkles. Peptides help stimulate collagen production, resulting in firmer, more youthful-looking skin.
The Ordinary peptide serums include the following:
- Multi-Peptide + HA Serum (formerly known as “Buffet”)
- “Buffet” + Copper Peptides 1%
- Argireline Solution 10% (see my review here)
- Matrixyl 10% + HA
My Pick: The Ordinary Multi-Peptide + HA Serum
The Ordinary Multi-Peptide + HA Serum, (formerly known as “Buffet”), is a multi-peptide serum that targets multiple signs of aging:
- Improves the look of wrinkles, fine lines, crow’s feet, and loss of firmness and elasticity.
- Features multiple peptide complexes and 11 moisturizing amino acids.
- Lightwieght water-based formula infused with multiple hydrating hyaluronic acid complexes.
- Suitable for all skin types.
The Ordinary Water-Based Vitamin C Serum
The Ordinary Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12% is the only vitamin C water-based product from The Ordinary. It has a lightweight texture and does not leave a sticky residue on the skin.
This derivative has fewer conflicts than pure vitamin C (ascorbic acid) products, so it can be used twice a day for brighter, smoother skin.
The Ordinary Powders
For those of you familiar with The Ordinary and looking for a more customized skincare routine, you may want to consider using one of their powder formulas to create a personalized serum.
The Ordinary offers two powders:
The Ordinary powders are finely milled powders that must be mixed with other products before being applied to your skin.
Both of these formulas mix best with a water-based solution, but there are additional restrictions for use, so be sure to check their conflicts list on The Ordinary’s website.
Want a The Ordinary skincare routine that is tailored to your unique skin type and concerns? Take my exclusive The Ordinary Skincare Quiz now!
Step 2: The Ordinary Anhydrous Solutions
The Ordinary anhydrous solutions are another way of saying The Ordinary water-free solutions.
These The Ordinary products should be applied after water-based The Ordinary products but before suspensions, emulsions/creams, and oils.
The Ordinary anhydrous treatments can be an important step in your skincare routine as they help to target specific concerns.
The Ordinary anhydrous solutions include the following serums:
- Ascorbic Acid 8% + Alpha Arbutin 2%
- EUK 134 0.1%
- Ethylated Ascorbic Acid 15% Solution
- Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane
- Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane
- Resveratrol 3% + Ferulic Acid 3%
- Retinol 0.2% in Squalane (see my review here)
- Retinol 0.5% in Squalane (see my review here)
- Retinol 1% in Squalane (see my review here)
- Pycnogenol 5%
- Salicylic Acid 2% Anhydrous Solution
Whether you are looking to brighten your skin with vitamin C serum, reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles with retinoid and retinol serums or simply want to add an extra boost of antioxidant protection, The Ordinary anhydrous serums are formulated to address a variety of skin concerns.
The Ordinary anhydrous solutions may feel like oil on your skin immediately after application.
While some have squalane as their base, which has a lightweight, almost dry oil-type feel on the skin, others contain an ingredient called propanediol.
Propanediol is a humectant that helps products to spread more evenly on the skin and can help give the skin a dewy appearance, initially making it feel oil-like on the skin.
Once absorbed, this oily feeling will dissipate and should not leave the skin feeling greasy, just moisturized.
Step 3: The Ordinary Suspensions
The Ordinary suspensions should be applied after water-based and anhydrous solutions* but before oils and emulsions. The Ordinary suspension formulas include:
- Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
- Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
- Vitamin C Suspension 30% in Silicone
Suspensions contain solid and liquid ingredients that do not usually mix well together. Solid particles are not dissolved, so the product’s texture may not be as elegant as a complete homogenous formula.
The Ordinary has two vitamin C suspensions and an azelaic acid suspension. The vitamin C suspension in silicone is formulated to avoid the grittiness of the 23% suspension.
All three products can be tricky to combine with other skincare products due to their textures.
*You may find it easier to apply these formulas after your moisturizing step instead of before your moisturizer. It is a bit of trial and error to find the best layering technique for suspensions, so do what works best for your skin type and complexion.
Step 4: The Ordinary Oils
The next step, which is optional, is to apply a facial oil from The Ordinary.
While The Ordinary recommends applying oils before emulsions and suspensions, I choose to apply The Ordinary oils as the last step of my skincare routine before sunscreen since they tend to be occlusive and form a barrier on the skin.
You can try using an oil before and after your moisturizer and see what works best for your skin.
The Ordinary facial oils include:
- “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 Squalane
- 100% Plant-Derived Hemi-Squalane
- Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F
If you have combination, oily or acne-prone skin, you might want to skip an oil altogether, but if you have dry skin, a nourishing oil can help lock in moisture and give your skin a healthy glow.
My Pick for Lightweight Hydration: The Ordinary Squalane/Hemi-Squalane Serums
- Squalane is a hydrogenated form of squalene (with an e) found in our skin.
- Hemi-squalane offers an even lighter, dry-oil texture on the skin.
- Squalane and hemi-squalane clog pores or cause acne and breakouts.
- Both are a good option for those looking to avoid heavier moisturizers.
For more details on The Ordinary facial oils, please see my guide to The Ordinary Face Oils.
Step 5: The Ordinary Emulsions/Creams
The final step in your layering routine will be The Ordinary emulsion (cream) formulas:
- Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA
- The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + PhytoCeramides
- The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + Beta-Glucan
- Mineral UV Filters SPF 15 with Antioxidants
- Mineral UV Filters SPF 30 with Antioxidants
- Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion*
Emulsions are formulas that combine two liquids, such as water and oil. Emulsions are typically considered lighter versions of creams.
- For Normal to Combination Skin: The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA is The Ordinary’s original moisturizer and comes in a lightweight cream formula. It’s best for normal, to combination skin types.
- For Dehydrated and Dry Skin: The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + PhytoCeramides is a rich and nourishing miosturizer formulated for dehydrated and dry skin types. It’s filled with active ingredients to quench flaky, dry skin.
- For Combination to Oily Skin: The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + Beta-Glucan is a lightweight gel moisturizer formulated with a blend of natural moisturizing factors, beta glucan, and ceramides in a non-greasy formula.
Don’t Forget Sunscreen in Your AM Routine
Be sure to follow with sunscreen as the last step of your morning skincare routine. The Ordinary offers two mineral sunscreen options: an SPF 15 and an SPF 30. See my The Ordinary sunscreen review here.
I suggest going with the SPF 30 version for better sun protection.
* LAYERING NOTE: Because The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion is an emulsion, you should apply it after water-based serums, but before suspensions, creams, emulsions, and oils since it has a thinner serum texture.
Combining The Ordinary Serums
You can combine more than one The Ordinary serum to address the same or multiple skin concerns.
Just be sure to use no more than three serums at the same time to avoid pilling.
If you are using more than one water-based serum simultaneously, apply the serum that targets your most pressing skin concern FIRST.
Choose serums that work for your skin type, and remember that results take time. With consistency and some patience, you are bound to start seeing results.
Related Post: The Ordinary Skincare Routine for Beginners
The Bottom Line
The Ordinary has a lot of great products, but it can be tricky to figure out how to combine them into a skincare routine.
When layering The Ordinary products, start with water-based serums, follow with anhydrous solutions and suspensions, and finish with heavier creams and oils.
And don’t forget to use sunscreen daily as the last step of your skincare routine!
For more on The Ordinary, be sure to check out these posts:
Thanks for reading!