Check out our tip sheet, below, on when to apply MakeupAlley’s top-rated products from The Ordinary and the results you can expect from the active ingredients.
Plus expert advice from Dr. Michelle Henry, a board-certified dermatologist and Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College.
EXFOLIANT: This formulation boasts both AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta hydroxy acids). AHAs help slough off surface debris while BHAs help purge clogged pores. This combo is great at combating breakouts and improving skin tone and texture.
PERFECT FOR: Those with spot-prone skin or deeper pigmentary issues, such as melasma.
DERM LOWDOWN: “This can be used periodically when you want more deep exfoliation. Those with sensitive skin should avoid.”
AVOID: Combining with strong acids since unpredictable negative reactions, such as burning, could occur.
USAGE: Apply to clean, dry skin; no more than twice a week for 10 minutes. Expect some slight tingling. You might want to swipe on hyaluronic acid or a rich moisturizer afterwards to calm down any inflammation.
EXFOLIANT: A water-based AHA formula that works to reduce fine lines and even out skin tone and texture. The addition of hyaluronic acid (HA) helps beef up your moisture level.
PERFECT FOR: Acne-prone skin that can’t tolerate high levels of retinoic or glycolic acids.
DERM LOWDOWN: “Lactic acid is gentler than a retinoic acid or a glycolic acid. It’s a great entry-level exfoliator that will help smooth out rough skin textures and uneven complexions.”
AVOID: Not recommended for those with sensitive skin. Also, do not use in conjunction with other strong acids or peptides.
USAGE: Apply in the evening, after cleansing and toning, but before slathering on heavier treatments like oils or creams. Use sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun.
EXFOLIANT: Salicylic acid is the all-star ingredient in this deep-cleansing mask. It unclogs pores and breaks down surface debris to reveal fresh, glowing skin. The mask's clay and charcoal base makes it great for soaking up sebum. But don't fret, due to the addition of squalane in the formula, it won't dry out your skin.
PERFECT FOR: Those with oily, blemish-prone skin
DERM LOWDOWN: “Charcoal is really absorbent and will reduce some of the oil on your skin. Salicylic acid will do that as well. It's better for those with acne than glycolic acid. Salicylic acid is a really tiny molecule that will penetrate the pores and works it way well into oily follicles. ”
AVOID: If your skin is sensitive. Also, take extra care if utilizing other acids in your skincare regimen.
USAGE: Use one or two times per week (no longer than 10 minutes each session) after cleansing and drying your face. Do not apply to wet skin.
VERY MILD EXFOLIANT: Mandelic acid is a gentler to use than other AHAs and is a great entry-level chemical exfoliator.
PERFECT FOR: Most skin types.
DERM LOWDOWN: “Mandelic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that is similar to glycolic acid, but it is much weaker than glycolic acid or lactic acid. It is made from bitter almonds. Pairing it with hyaluronic acid makes it really, really gentle, so that it will exfoliate and hydrate the skin at the same time. If you have oily skin, you might want to go straight to a formula with glycolic acid.”
AVOID: If your skin is broken or irritated. Also, it's never a good idea to double up on the acids, so don't combine with products containing salicylic acid or glycolic acid.
USAGE: Use once a day, preferably in the evening. If heading outdoors, sunscreen application afterward is a must due to increased susceptibility to the sun when using acids.
SKIN BRIGHTENER AND EXFOLIANT: This AHA toner helps even out skin tone and provides mild exfoliation.
PERFECT FOR: Most skin types; however, you might want to build up tolerance if you have very sensitive skin or skip altogether.
DERM LOWDOWN: “Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that is made from sugarcane. In very low percentages, it’s safe for everyone to use even those who are pregnant. It’s both an exfoliant and a humectant so it will draw in water; thus, it’s perfect for those who can’t tolerate salicylic acid.”
AVOID: Pairing it with salicylic acid and retinoic acid.
USAGE: Use no more than once a day—ideally in the evening—after cleansing, but before applying your serum.
SKIN BRIGHTENER AND ANTIOXIDANT: A very potent concentration of vitamin C. This powder is meant to be mixed with your favorite moisturizer. It works to brighten the complexion and fade dark spots.
PERFECT FOR: Those with dull, uneven skin looking for a complexion boost.
DERM LOWDOWN: “L-ascorbic acid is one of the most active forms of Vitamin C.”
AVOID: Combining with retinoic acid; otherwise, the efficacy of both products will be reduced, since they operate optimally at different pH levels. If you want to use both, use one in the morning and the other in the evening; or try applying an hour apart. Also, do not use with formulations containing niacinamide or EUK 134 since they can also affect the integrity of L-ascorbic acid.
USAGE: Can be used in the morning or evening.
SKIN BRIGHTENER: This oil-soluble concoction is a high-strength, very stable form of vitamin C; however, it is not as potent as L-ascorbic acid. The vitamin F provides essential fatty acids and acts as a buffer so there’s less stinging.
PERFECT FOR: Most skin types.
DERM LOWDOWN: “Because this is a very stable form of vitamin C, you’ll have a lower risk of degradation if you’re using other products. However, it is not as active as ascorbic acid; therefore, it’s less potent. Vitamin F is not really a vitamin but a combination of essential fatty acids that hydrate and moisturize the skin.”
AVOID: If your skin is irritated.
USAGE: Fine for daily use, either in the morning or at night, before applying other oils or creams.
SKIN BRIGHTENER: This complexion wonder helps diminish dark spots and smooth out uneven skin tone.
PERFECT FOR: All skin types, even those with rosacea or super-sensitive skin.
DERM LOWDOWN: “Azelaic acid comes from yeast [that lives on healthy skin]. It’s great for unclogging pores. It’s an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, and helps combat acne as well as lighten dark spots. It actively blocks tyrosinase, the enzyme which produces pigment.”
USAGE: Use daily, either AM or PM. This cream-gel should be applied after any water-based serums or treatments but before heavy creams or oils. Sunscreen is a must during the daytime when using this product.
ANTI-AGING: Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that helps boost cell turnover and collagen production. This somewhat potent retinol formula is perfect for those seeking to smooth skin texture, minimize fine lines, and even out skin tone.
CAUTION: Those with sensitive skin should slowly build up their tolerance: use twice a week and then build up frequency from there. Or, try The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion; it's a gentler retinol with less irritation.
DERM LOWDOWN: “Again, squalane mimics our skins' natural oils, so it will help lessen the irritation that we get from retinol.”
AVOID: Using with other retinoid treatments.
USAGE: Best to use in the evenings. Apply it after water-based serums, but before any heavy creams or facial oils. Also, retinoids will make your skin extremely sensitive to the sun. Don't forget to slather on the sunscreen before leaving the house.
ANTI-AGING: This encapsulated retinoid formula is considered to be less irritating to the skin than the brand's other retinol formulas.
PERFECT FOR: Retinol rookies looking to minimize fine lines and wrinkles.
DERM LOWDOWN: “To be honest, taking a cursory glance at its formulation, I’m not quite sure how it’s different than other stronger retinoic formulations. I would have to take a deeper look to give an un-biased critique.”
AVOID: Unprotected sun exposure. Retinoids increase skin sensitivity. Sunscreen is a must. Should not be combined with other retinoid products.
USAGE: Incorporate into your nighttime regimen, after water-based treatments but before heavier creams or oils.
ANTI-AGING ANTIOXIDANT: Free radicals are unstable molecules generated through environmental aggressors, such as pollution, smoking, UV rays, blue light and stress. They attack healthy skin cells by zapping them of oxygen, which in turn accelerates the aging process. Antioxidants neutralize the free radical damage that leads to crinkly skin, wrinkles and uneven complexions.
PERFECT FOR: All skin types.
DERM LOWDOWN: “Resveratrol is a super potent antioxidant derived from grapes. Ferulic acid is an antioxidant that stabilizes other antioxidants; [the brand] pairs it with resveratrol to help stabilize the formula. The combo of the two form an antioxidant powerhouse.”
USAGE: After cleansing skin, apply after any water-based serums but before using heavier creams or oils. May be used solo or as a cocktail with other antioxidant skincare treatments, such as vitamin C, to turbo boost antioxidant benefits.
ANTIOXIDANT: This dynamo complex of niacinamide (also known as vitamin B3) and zinc helps protect your skin from oxidative stress, regulates oil, decongests pores, reduces fine lines and wrinkles, and minimizes redness and blotchiness.
PERFECT FOR: Acne-prone, sensitive skin or those with oily complexions.
DERM LOWDOWN: “[Niacinamide] is anti-inflammatory, so it's going to help with acne. It also helps to lighten dark spots. The combination of niacinamide and zinc is more soothing, so it's perfect for those with sensitive skin.”
AVOID: Do not apply at the same time as Vitamin C. Instead alternate your skincare routine, applying this formula in the AM and vitamin C in the PM so as not to reduce your vitamin C treatment's efficacy.
USAGE: Apply to clean, dry skin before heavier creams or oils. Can be used morning and night (but alternate AM/PM if also incorporating vitamin C into your routine).
ANTI-AGING: This copper peptide formulation works to support collagen synthesis, fibroblast production, and amp up overall skin health.
PERFECT FOR: Any skin type, particularly those with mature skin.
DERM LOWDOWN: “Peptides help stimulate collagen. This is great for those in their 30s or 40s who are starting to notice a reduction in skin tightness and [an increase in] laxity.”
AVOID: Paring with AHAs or vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid or ethylated ascorbic acid). Do not introduce formulations containing other copper peptides into your skin care routine.
USAGE: Use daily in the morning and evening, after cleansing.
MOISTURIZER: This moisture booster is composed of hyaluronic acid molecules of different sizes to ensure multi-depth hydration penetration. The result is plumper, more radiant skin.
PERFECT FOR: All skin types.
DERM LOWDOWN: “Vitamin B5 is a great emollient, and HA—the acronym for hyaluronic acid—is a good hydrator, so the combination of the two will both hydrate and moisturize the skin.”
USAGE: Smooth on this lightweight serum daily, in the AM and PM, before any oils and creams.
ANTI-AGING MOISTURIZER: A wonderful facial oil, rich in linoleic acid and provitamin A, that works to combat dull, congested skin as well as the fine lines and dark blotches of photo-aging. The cold-pressed process doesn't involve heat, resulting in a more potent oil.
PERFECT FOR: Dehydrated, sensitive skin.
DERM LOWDOWN: “Rose hip oil contains a ton of vitamin A which could make it good for those with acne-prone skin. It also has some vitamin C in it, which can help reduce dark marks. Plus, it’s an excellent moisturizer.”
USAGE: Use daily after cleansing, ideally in the evening, after water-based treatments.
ANTIOXIDANT MOISTURIZER: An unrefined formula, this oil is an effective hydrating antioxidant. It restores glow to skin and shine to hair.
PERFECT FOR: All skin types and dry hair types.
DERM LOWDOWN: “It has a ton of fatty acids which try to mimic the types of oils the skin naturally produces. Of the oils, it is not as likely to clog pores as coconut oil which is hyper-comedogenic...[marula oil] is not. It's full of antioxidants, and is easily absorbed into your skin.”
USAGE: Dot on clean dry skin as needed. Can be used on wet or dry hair. If hair is fine, apply to ends only avoiding the roots so as not to weigh it down.