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A stripped back guide to the no-frills skincare brand that’s anything but basic

There was a time the beauty industry kept the real science behind the scenes. Sure, you could buy a spendy elixir made from rare plant dew gathered at dawn, or a gold-lidded jar of distilled babies’ tears (and we’re only just exaggerating), but highly efficacious skincare using proven ingredients at prices we can all afford? Not a chance. And then in 2013 along came The Ordinary, with its functional-looking line of clearly labelled formulas, showcasing hero ingredients such as peptides, retinol, hyaluronic acid and vitamin C. In short, the stuff that really works. So far, so revolutionary. But where another brand might have one simple vitamin C serum for example, The Ordinary will have a whole range of powders, suspensions and solutions in wildly differing percentages. It’s an offering that’s not only mega in scope but seemingly requires a chemistry degree before you can pronounce the names on the bottles, let alone put them into a skincare routine.

Which is where we come in. And although there’s no such thing as one skincare regime to rule all others (no matter what the brand), there are some key fundamentals that can help you put together an effective morning and evening routine. Roll up for your as-basic-as-possible The Ordinary explainer.

Morning skincare routine

1. Cleanse

Don’t even think about skipping it – you need to wash off all the sweat and dead cells (true story) accumulated during your action-packed quarantine dreams. Plus, if you’re planning on applying any skincare or make-up afterwards, this is where the prep starts.

The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser, £5.50, works by gently trapping and removing impurities on the surface of your skin without stripping away its natural oils – unlike harsh, sulphate-loaded cleansers that can leave you feeling dry and tight. Rub between your palms before applying to a dry face; massage in then rinse away.

2. Trap in moisture

A juicy splodge of hyaluronic acid, a molecule that helps skin to conserve moisture, keeps skin plump and hydrated. A pea-sized amount of lightweight The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, £5.90, is the one here. The B5 helps to strengthen the skin barrier, thus extending your skin’s capacity to hold onto water while fending off daily wear and tear.

3. Treat

Now for a shot of vitamin C – it’s the potent antioxidant that dermatologists agree is key to brightening skin tone, helping to prevent pigmentation and slowing collagen breakdown. You’ll reap maximum rewards if you apply it in the morning as it’ll help to reinforce the sun protection prowess of your SPF product while fending off damaging free-radicals that come at you during the day by way of pollution, smoke and radiation.

Many of us already pop some vit C on the daily (The Ordinary reports that sales of  Vitamin C Suspension 30% in Silicone, £5.75, have rocketed by 161% since lockdown began) but this is strong stuff so if you’re a vitamin C newbie or have sensitive skin, start your vitamin habit with Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%, £4.90. It’s still potent but will ease you in nicely while our old friend hyaluronic acid comes to your rescue on the moisture front. Speaking of which…

4. Hydrate

Depending on your skin type (and how emollient your SPF is) you may find you can skip this step, but most skin will likely benefit from an added moisture hit.

The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA, £4.90, is your relatively rich daily hydrator. If you still like the texture and feel after you’ve used your first tube, go large for £6.80. It’s better for the environment from a packaging point of view and you’ll save precious pounds too. Let’s face it, the travel sized minis are pretty redundant right now anyway and the sales figures are showing it – The Ordinary’s ‘super size me’ options have seen a 35% lift in purchases.

5. SPF

Yes you do still need to wear SPF in lockdown, since 90% of skin ageing is triggered by UV exposure and your living room window is a portal. Mineral sunscreens are considered less irritating to skin than chemically based formulas and The Ordinary Mineral UV Filters SPF 30, £8.90, is the brand’s highest mineral based formula. It has a lot going for it in terms of soothing hydrators, but one downside is the white cast it leaves behind skin. If you’ve got dark skin this will be especially apparent in which case we’ll give the off-menu recommendation of Ultrasun Face Anti-pigmentation SPF50+, £32, which provides high level protection that’s suitable for sensitive skin and doesn’t come off ashy. One brand can’t give you everything.

Evening Routine

1. Cleanse

This time around, you’re double cleansing (exactly as it sounds: cleanse, rinse and repeat) using a warm flannel or muslin cloth, especially if you’ve been wearing make-up or SPF, both of which are designed to stick to the skin as long as possible, so need thorough attention.

2. Exfoliate

Twice a week max, especially if you’re using the much ‘grammed The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution, £6.30, which often pops up on Stories owing to the blood red ‘vampire facial’ hue created by its fusion of pore clearing, surface smoothing acids. A patch test is advisable before applying all over your face. Even then, use only in the evening as AHA acids leave skin more sensitive to sun damage and never leave for more than ten minutes.

For a gentler facial acid trip, Lactic Acid 5% + HA, £5.80, is the one. It doesn’t pack such a punch in terms of fading pigmentation but it leaves skin soft and is a milder starting point for sensitive skin or chemical exfoliant beginners.

3. Treat

On days you’re not exfoliating, this is where retinol, and all other Vitamin A derivatives come in. Vitamin A is one of only two skincare ingredients clinically proven to definitively delay signs of premature ageing (the other is SPF) but be aware that not everyone can tolerate it so it’s best to start ‘low and slow’. Begin with a gentle retinol formula (in the case of The Ordinary, Retinol 0.2% in Squalane, £4.20) and apply a small amount once or twice a week, building up to every other day or moving onto a stronger formula as your skin develops a tolerance. It’s not wholly dissimilar to weaning. On which note, steer clear of vitamin A if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. There’s plenty of time to get on the retinol train later, and in the meantime an all-rounder serum such as The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%, £5, can have a reversing effect on breakouts and dullness.

4. Moisturise

Wait at least twenty minutes post retinol application and then it’s on with The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA, £4.90. If you’re a facial oil fan and have dry skin, consider layering The Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Squalane Oil, £5.50, over the top of your hyaluronic acid serum for ‘no messing’ nourishment instead.

All that said, any skincare routine has an element of ‘you do you’, so Deciem (The Ordinary’s parent company) recently launched an At Home consultation service which allows you to chat or schedule a video call with an in-house expert. Whether you have questions about individual products or a new routine, or want to find out what the hell you can put on that raging spot, they’ll shed some light and (if you give them the go ahead) can check in three weeks later to see how you’re getting on. It’s not a facial, but in the current times, it’s something.

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