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The Ordinary Acids: A Complete Guide

Acids are a powerful tool to use in your skincare routine, and some of the best out there on the market right now are The Ordinary acids.

Whether you’re looking for a gentle exfoliator or something more intense, The Ordinary has a variety of acids that can target different skin concerns.

The Ordinary Acids

In this complete guide to The Ordinary acids, we’ll cover everything you need to know about these powerful exfoliating products, from which acid is best for your skin type to the best acids for different skin concerns.

Remember, you don’t have to be a skincare expert to benefit from The Ordinary’s acid range, but understanding the differences between their acid products will help determine which ones best suit your specific needs and preferences.

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Acids in Skincare

When it comes to skincare, exfoliating acids play a crucial role in addressing various skin concerns. Acids work by removing dead skin cells on the surface of your skin.

Exfoliating acids help reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, acne scars, sun damage, hyperpigmentation, and oiliness in your skin.

The most common acids used in skincare are alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs):

  • There are several types of AHAs, including glycolic acid, lactic acid, and mandelic acid, that exfoliate your skin’s surface for brighter, smoother skin.
  • BHAs include salicylic acid, which is highly effective for treating blackheads, breakouts, and acne-prone skin.

Other acids like azelaic acid have a milder exfoliating action and can help to reduce the appearance of redness, rosacea, and dark spots.

A Few Notes About Acid Use

As with any new skincare product, remember to patch test new acid products and gradually introduce acids into your skincare routine to avoid irritation and ease your way into enjoying their benefits.

It is important to note that acids can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, so always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher when using them as part of your skincare routine.

The Ordinary Acids

The Ordinary’s direct acids, which also can be considered exfoliating acids, address several skin concerns. There are multiple types of exfoliating acids in The Ordinary’s range, each with their own unique properties:

The Ordinary Acids infographic.

AHAs: Alpha Hydroxy Acids

AHAs, or alpha-hydroxy acids, are water-soluble and help exfoliate the surface layer of your skin for a brighter and more even complexion.

AHAs can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and improve skin texture and tone.

The Ordinary offers several AHA formulas:

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution, handheld.

The Ordinary’s Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution is one of The Ordinary’s best-selling products.

Formulated with 7% glycolic acid, this toner helps exfoliate the skin, reducing the appearance of blemishes and brightening the complexion.

It also contains amino acids, aloe vera, and Tasmanian pepperberry extract to soothe and offset some of the irritation that can come along with exfoliating acids.

Glycolic acid is the smallest of all the AHAs. It works by exfoliating the skin and encouraging cell turnover, which helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Due to its small molecule size, glycolic acid has the potential to penetrate deeper into your skin, making it ideal for targeting a variety of skin concerns.

Of course, with the benefits come drawbacks. Due to its smaller molecule size, glycolic acid can be more irritating and drying than other AHAs, so it’s important to start with a lower concentration and work your way up.

For more details on this customer-favorite glycolic acid, be sure to check out my guide on How To Use The Ordinary Glycolic Acid.

You can also read my full The Ordinary Glycolic acid review here.

The Ordinary Lactic Acid

Lactic acid is another AHA that helps to exfoliate the skin, reduce the appearance of fine lines, and improve overall skin texture.

Lactic acid has a larger molecule size than glycolic acid, meaning that it cannot penetrate as deeply into the skin. This makes lower concentrations of lactic acid an excellent option for more sensitive skin, as it’s less likely to cause irritation and inflammation.

Lactic acid is also known for its moisturizing properties, making it a great option for those with dehydrated or dry skin.

The Ordinary offers two concentrations of lactic acid: 5% Lactic Acid + HA 2%, and 10% Lactic Acid + HA.

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA, handheld.

The 5% lactic acid concentration of The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA is ideal for those just starting out with lactic acid or exfoliating acids, as it provides gentle yet effective exfoliation.

The serum also contains Tasmannia lanceolata fruit/leaf extract, which has anti-inflammatory benefits to offset potential irritation.

Sodium hyaluronate crosspolymer, a form of hyaluronic acid, helps moisturize and provide hydration with its unique cross-linked molecular structure that forms a protective mesh barrier on the skin.

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA, handheld.

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA is a more intensive option for those with resilient skin who are looking for a deeper lactic acid exfoliation.

The serum exfoliates the surface of your skin with 10% lactic acid and helps reduce the appearance of wrinkles and lines, making your complexion look brighter, smoother, and fresher.

The serum also contains Tasmanian pepperberry extract, which has anti-inflammatory benefits, as well as sodium hyaluronate crosspolymer, which has 5x the water-binding capacity of regular hyaluronic acid.

The 10% concentration can be used for more intense exfoliating action and should only be used if your skin has become accustomed to the lower 5% lactic acid concentration.

Mandelic Acid

Mandelic acid is AHA that’s even more gentle than glycolic and lactic acid. Mandelic acid is perfect if you’re looking to target dullness, uneven skin tone, and even mild acne and breakouts.

Mandelic acid’s benefits for acne are due to its antibacterial properties, so it’s great for congested skin types.

It also shows promise for brightening post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), so mandelic acid could be a great choice if you have PIH-based acne scars.

The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 10% + HA

The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 10% + HA, handheld.

The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 10% + HA has a gentle exfoliating action that helps brighten and even skin tone and improve skin clarity and skin texture with 10% mandelic acid.

Like many of The Ordinary’s other direct acids, the serum also contains Tasmanian pepperberry extract to reduce any potential irritation caused by acid use and sodium hyaluronate crosspolymer for extended hydration.

Formulated for all skin types, this is an excellent starter exfoliating acid since its larger molecular size means a slower, more even penetration into your skin.

Related Post: The Ordinary Lactic Acid vs Mandelic Acid

BHA: Beta Hydroxy Acid (Salicylic Acid)

Salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid (BHA), is a fantastic option if you struggle with blemishes or acne-prone skin.

This oil-soluble exfoliating acid penetrates and unclogs pores by breaking down the excess oil, dead skin cells, and debris that can cause breakouts.

Salicylic acid clarifies, smooths, and brightens, improving the look of textural irregularities and dullness.

It’s also known for its ability to fight inflammation and soothe irritated skin, another reason why it’s such a great option if you have acne-prone skin.

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution, handheld.

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution helps unclog pores, minimize breakouts, targets visible redness and comedones, and evens out your skin tone.

The 2% concentration of salicylic acid is in a water-based formula, so it’s ideal for oily skin and acne. It’s ideal for improving skin clarity for a more refined complexion and reducing the appearance of pores.

This serum is even suitable for teenagers with mild to moderate acne.

See my Salicylic Acid 2% Solution review for more details on this The Ordinary product.

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Anhydrous Solution

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Anhydrous Solution, handheld.

As a gentle alternative to The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution above, The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Anhydrous Solution is a water-free formula that contains squalane as the base.

This serum exfoliates with 2% salicylic acid while calming redness and reducing the appearance of uneven skin tone and textural irregularities.

Thanks to squalane in the formula, the serum is moisturizing and contains hydrating polyglycerides to offset any potential dryness from exfoliation.

Squalane is also super lightweight and non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog your pores.

Excellent for dry skin types that struggle with acne and pore congestion, this serum releases salicylic acid over time for a more balanced distribution of the active, which helps to reduce the potential for irritation.

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque, handheld.

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque is a charcoal and clay clarifying mask that helps unclog pores, reduce blemishes, and improve overall skin clarity.

The rinse-off mask contains 2% salicylic acid that exfoliates the skin to reduce excess oil, unclog pores, and reduce blemishes.

Charcoal powder and Kaolin clay help absorb excess sebum and other pore-clogging impurities for a clearer, more radiant complexion. Also, 4-T-Butylcyclohexanol, known by its tradename of SymSitive, helps reduce irritation.

This mask is an ideal weekly or bi-weekly treatment for blemish-prone skin. You leave it on for no more than 10 minutes before rinsing off with lukewarm water.

For Advanced Users: Multiple Exfoliating Acids in a Serum

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution, handheld.

For those experienced with exfoliating acids and without sensitive skin, The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution is a potent blend of AHAs and BHAs that helps exfoliate your skin, reduce blemishes, refine pores, and improve overall skin texture.

This solution contains 30% alpha hydroxy acids (glycolic/lactic/tartaric/citric) and 2% beta hydroxy acid (salicylic acid).

This is a very high concentration of direct acids, so it bears repeating: only use this peeling solution if your skin can tolerate high concentrations of acids. (My skin can’t tolerate it.)

The peel contains a Tasmanian pepperberry extract that helps reduce irritation associated with acid use.

Hyaluronic acid crosspolymer helps hydrate and plump your skin. Black carrot extract is filled with antioxidants to help protect your skin from environmental stress.

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution, open bottle with applicator.

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution should be used no more than once or twice a week and left on for no longer than 10 minutes before rinsing with lukewarm water.

Be sure to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 when using this treatment (and all direct acids) since it can increase your skin’s sensitivity to sun exposure.

Azelaic Acid

Neither an AHA nor BHA, azelaic acid is a dicarboxylic acid that helps reduce redness, inflammation, and pigmentation issues, such as dark spots.

It’s effective in combating acne and rosacea, making it a go-to choice for many dealing with these common skin concerns.

The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%

The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%, handheld.

If you deal with redness and uneven skin tone, The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% is a cream-like formulation that helps reduce dullness, textural irregularities, and patchy uneven skin tone.

This suspension contains 10% azelaic acid, a naturally occurring acid found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. It works to reduce redness, unclog pores, and exfoliate your skin.

One of the main benefits of azelaic acid is that it tends to be less irritating than other direct acids like glycolic and lactic acid. So, it’s great for sensitive skin that can’t tolerate more potent acids.

The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% is formulated to be gentle enough to use twice a day in our skincare routine. See my The Ordinary azeliac acid review here.

The Ordinary Hydrating Acid: Hyaluronic Acid

If you are new to acids, you may not know that not all acids are exfoliating. Hyaluronic acid (HA) does not exfoliate; instead, it helps hydrate and plump your skin.

Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring molecule in our skin that binds to water, attracting and holding up to 1,000 times its own weight in water.

HA acts like a sponge and helps replenish your skin’s hydration levels while smoothing the look of wrinkles and fine lines.

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, handheld.

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 is a lightweight serum that contains multiple forms of hyaluronic acid plus vitamin B5 to help hydrate and retain moisture in the skin.

Low-, medium- and high-molecular-weight hyaluronic acid combined with a next-generation HA crosspolymer work together to target different layers of the skin to replenish your skin with long-lasting moisture.

Vitamin B5 (panthenol) helps bind moisture and soothe your skin.

Clinical tests show that this serum boosts hydration after a week, strengthens your skin barrier, and smoothes the look of wrinkles and fine lines after four weeks.

So, the moral of the story is that you’ll see results, but you must be consistent!

Just remember, hyaluronic acid is NOT AN EXFOLIATING ACID, so most skin types, including sensitive skin, can use it.

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 is gentle enough for use every day, either in the morning and/or at night.

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA and The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA, flatlay.

The Ordinary Acid Conflicts

There are some products with which all The Ordinary direct acids should not be mixed.

Since exfoliating acids are formulated at a low pH, they can react with other products with a higher pH, compromising the effectiveness of both products.

Some actives (like pure vitamin C) are also formulated at a low pH and can cause irritation and redness when mixed with exfoliating acids.

Retinoids should not be used alongside exfoliating acids either, as they can further irritate the skin.

The Ordinary suggests avoiding using the following actives with direct acids:

  • Copper Peptides
  • The Ordinary EUK 134 0.1%
  • Peptides
  • Niacinamide Powder
  • Other Direct Acids
  • Pure/Ethylated Vitamin C
  • Retinoids including Retinol

For more on mixing and matching The Ordinary products, check out my post on The Ordinary conflicts, which includes a handy PDF download that outlines all of the The Ordinary product conflicts.

Want a The Ordinary skincare routine that is tailored to your unique skin type and concerns? Take my exclusive The Ordinary Skincare Quiz now!

Using The Ordinary Acids To Address Specific Skin Concerns

It’s essential to choose the right Ordinary acids to address your unique skin concerns effectively. Luckily The Ordinary offers a variety of acids to help you tackle issues like redness, breakouts, and enlarged pores.

Redness and Rosacea

If you’re dealing with redness and rosacea, azelaic acid has anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe and calm irritated skin.

Incorporating azelaic acid into your routine can lessen redness and improve your overall skin tone.

Try It: The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%

Breakouts and Acne

Breakouts and acne can be a major source of frustration. The Ordinary has several options to combat acne-prone skin. One such ingredient is salicylic acid, which is ideal for reducing breakouts as it exfoliates the skin and unclogs pores.

Plus, salicylic acid works wonders on blackheads, dissolving debris trapped inside your pores.

Acne Scars

For those struggling with acne scars, consider incorporating an exfoliating acid into your skincare regimen.

AHAs, such as glycolic acid, help accelerate cell turnover and promote collagen production, leading to a smoother, more even skin texture.

Dullness and Textural Irregularities

When it comes to dull skin and textural irregularities, AHAs or BHAs will both work to help brighten and smooth your complexion. AHAs, like lactic and glycolic acids, can reduce dullness by gently exfoliating the top layers of skin.

BHAs, such as salicylic acid, also effectively exfoliate but tend to be better for oily skin types because they penetrate more deeply into the pores.

Wrinkles & Fine Lines

Wrinkles and fine lines are a natural part of the aging process. Thankfully, AHAs like lactic acid can help soften the look of these skin concerns.

These exfoliants encourage cell turnover while also stimulating collagen production for more youthful-looking and brighter skin.

Hyperpigmentation and Dark Spots

When it comes to hyperpigmentation and dark spots, exfoliating acids do an excellent job of lightening these tough spots.

Choose an acid based on your skin type and tolerance. For sensitive skin, go with something gentler, like mandelic acid.

Dehydration and Dryness

The best The Ordinary serum for dry skin and dehydration is The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, since hyaluronic acid is an effective humectant that draws moisture to your skin.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

How do I choose the right The Ordinary acid for my skin?

To choose the proper acid for your skin, first determine your skin concerns and skin type.

For instance, if you have dry or sensitive skin, a milder acid, like lactic acid, may be more suitable.

If you have oily or acne-prone skin, you might want to use an oil-soluble acid like salicylic acid.

Can I mix The Ordinary acids with other skincare ingredients?

While some ingredients can be safely combined, following The Ordinary’s Regimen Guide is crucial to ensure the effectiveness and safety of your skincare routine.

Some combinations might cause irritation or reduce the effectiveness of the products. Always patch test and monitor your skin’s response.

How often should I use The Ordinary peeling solution?

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution should be used no more than twice a week, preferably in the evening. Overusing the peeling solution can lead to skin irritation and sensitivity, so it’s essential to follow the product instructions and listen to your skin’s needs.

How does hyaluronic acid differ from direct acids?

While it has the word “acid” in its name, it doesn’t function in the same way as exfoliating acids do. The Ordinary’s hyaluronic acid serum focuses on providing hydration to the skin.

Hyaluronic acid is different from direct acids (exfoliating acids) because it’s a humectant rather than an exfoliating ingredient. It works by attracting and retaining moisture in the skin, helping to keep your skin hydrated and plump.

What not to mix with hyaluronic acid?

Hyaluronic acid can be combined with most other skincare ingredients since it’s a hydrating ingredient and doesn’t exfoliate the skin.

Can I use The Ordinary glycolic acid and lactic acid together?

Using glycolic acid and lactic acid together is not recommended as this combination could be too strong for your skin. Only use them at the same time if they are present in the same product.

How does The Ordinary’s Salicylic Acid 2% Masque differ from its Salicylic Acid 2% Solution?

While both products contain the BHA salicylic acid, the masque is designed to be used 1-2 times a week as a rinse-off treatment. The masque also contains charcoal and clays for deep cleansing. The solution is a daily treatment that targets blemishes and unclogs pores.

What is a The Ordinary beginner acid?

The best The Ordinary beginner acid depends on your skin type. For dry skin, lactic acid (5% concentration) is a good option, as it’s gentle and hydrating. Mandelic acid is a great beginner acid for oily skin, as it can help with breakouts and unclog pores.

Related Post: The Ordinary Skincare Routine For Beginners

The Bottom Line

Whether you’re seeking to combat acne, lighten hyperpigmentation, or smooth fine lines, there’s an acid to fit your needs.

Start slowly, patch test new products, and carefully monitor your skin’s reaction. You may also want to use a gentle cleanser (like The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser) and a nourishing moisturizer to maintain your skin’s natural moisture balance.

And don’t forget the sunscreen!

Lastly, remember that the key to successful skincare is patience and consistency.

Thanks for reading!

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