The Ordinary Acids: Which One Is Right For Me?

The Ordinary Skincare Acid Serums...Which One is Right For You?

The Ordinary have several options for Acids, Chemical Exfoliators that are used to resurface skin. At this point I have tried them all, and honestly find this category one of their biggest strengths even though Deciem does not recommend using acids to exfoliate skin. There is a product available for everyone, they come in different strengths, and they are all well-formulated products.
I have spoken previously about my frustration with drugstore or more affordable acid products. Some contain irritating ingredients like denatured alcohol or are formulated at an improper pH to actually be effective. This is where The Ordinary is ahead of the game, their acids are effective, affordable, and have great formulations.


Why Use Chemical Exfoliants?

As we age, our skin slows down shedding old, dead skin cells. This natural process happens quickly when our skin is younger, but with each passing year it slows creating a buildup of dead cells on the surface of skin. Think about the dead skin that builds up on most people’s heels. It’s dull, rough, and very unattractive. The same thing is happening to your face! By removing the dead cells it speeds up the natural cell turnover process forcing skin to make healthy, new cells. The new skin looks and feels younger, smoother, brighter and rejuvenated.

The Ordinary offers several options for chemical exfoliation, so which one is right for your skin? Let’s explore the different options, shall we?

Alpha Hydroxyl Acids (AHA)The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution

Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution

Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution is probably The Ordinary’s most popular option that is always out of stock. It comes in a huge 8 ounce bottle that is easy to apply to a cotton pad with its screw top pointed tip. You guessed it, it contains 7% Glycolic Acid in a liquid texture with a pH of 3.5-3.7. It is a true acid toner that should be used directly after cleansing.

Glycolic Acid has the smallest molecule of all the acids and can penetrate deeper into the skin, especially when formulated at the correct ph. The smaller molecule size it what makes Glycolic so effective, but also creates a greater potential for irritation. The Ordinary took this into consideration when creating this formula and added some skin soothing ingredients like Aloe Vera, Tasmanian Pepperberry, and Amino Acids. All soothing, welcome additions!

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution with Intrinsics Naturally Silken Wipes
The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7%, a liquid toner that is easily poured onto cotton pads. (Intrinsics Silken Wipes)

Glycolic Acid is an Alpha-Hydroxyl Acid (AHA) that resurfaces the top layer of skin by getting rid of any dead skin cells that are built up. All acids work in a similar way, by breaking the bonds that hold together dead skin cells, allowing the dead cells to slough off and reveal fresh new skin. This new skin is soft, smooth and glowing like it was when we were younger. Don’t worry, even though sometimes AHAs are referred to as a peel, a product used at home won’t actually make your skin peel! Glycolic acid is also perfect for those with dry skin because it is a water-binding agent. It helps cells learn how to retain their own moisture, making skin more effective at maintaining hydration levels.

The thing I love about this toner is that the bottle is so big and so well priced that I am able to use it on other parts of my body without feeling guilty doing so. Have little bumps on your legs? Have dark spots on the back of your hands? Have dry patches on your elbows, knees, or legs? Have bacne that often bothers you? This toner can be used for all those things too! It can be quickly applied after a shower with a cotton pad to any part of the body as long as you use sunscreen! I apply with an Intrinsics Naturally huge 4”x4” Cotton Pad (the best on the market just in case you are looking! Found on Amazon) to my legs and chest. I then follow with my regular body moisturizer of the night. It layers perfectly with a lotion, body butter or oil. Whatever fits my fancy for the night! The Glycolic Acid Toner is very helpful keeping my winterized dry, bumpy legs soft and smooth. Just thought I would share this little tip!

Intrinsics Naturally Silken Wipes, a light absorbency cotton that will not waste precious skincare products

Even with skin soothing ingredients, not everyone can use Glycolic Acid. Some skins cannot tolerate Glycolic even at lower concentrations. Whenever I use it at a high concentration, for multiple nights in a row, it can even cause irritation to my skin and I have been using acids for years. So for beginner acid users, sensitive skin, or those sensitive to glycolic, Lactic Acid is a gentler option.

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% +HA 2%
Lactic Acid, a gentler option.

Lactic Acid +HA 2% Serum

Lactic Acid is also an AHA, however it has a larger molecule size so it penetrates slower, lessening the possibility of irritation. The Ordinary has two different concentrations of Lactic Acid available, Lactic Acid 5% +HA and Lactic Acid 10% +HA. They are both pink tinted serums with a gel texture. The pink-ish tint is due to the inclusion of Tasmanian Pepperberry to decrease irritation. The serum spreads easily, layers well with other products and dries to a weightless finish. Some have experienced tackiness using this serum but this has never bothered me especially whenever another product is layered on top.

Both concentrations of the Lactic Acid serum contain Glycerin and Sodium Hyaluronate (hyaluronic acid derivative) for additional lightweight hydration. It is a really nice formula that I have emptied several bottles of! Lactic Acid should be used at night after cleansing.

Obviously the higher the concentration the stronger the acid. The Lactic Acid 5% should be used for sensitive skin, beginners, or anyone who wants mild exfoliation. The 10% serum can be used by those who want to step up their acid game, experienced users only! Lactic Acid works the same way Glycolic Acid does however since the molecule size is 50% larger than Glycolic Acid it takes longer to penetrate the skin. The results aren’t as fast as those seen with Glycolic Acid, however sometimes faster isn’t always better! Lactic Acid is a gentler option to add to your skincare routine especially if you are using other treatments like Retinol, acne medications, Vitamin C, etc. and concerned about adding another Active.

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution is not an acid that should be used every night! The Peeling Solution is an acid treatment mask that should be applied after cleansing, worn for 10 minutes and rinsed. You can then use your normal skincare products, just skip your regular acid. The mask is a thin-gel texture that is tinted red and is somewhat messy to apply! I personally apply this product from the dropper directly onto my face then spread with my other hand. It is said to be dyed red as a precaution so you won’t be tempted to leave it on overnight…genius!

The Peeling Solution as an acid ‘Booster.’ Most people who use this product frequently set aside usually one night every 7-10 days where they use this treatment. Remember anything you use after the Peeling Solution will penetrate deeper since the mask has removed the top surface of skin, so definitely keep this in mind. May want to skip any additional Actives (Retinol, Vitamin C, etc.,) and go with calming, hydrating products instead. Deciem instructs to use The Peeling Solution no more than twice a week.

The Peeling Solution has a 30% concentration of AHA, but that number is a bit tricky. That doesn’t mean it is 30% Glycolic Acid, which would be done in a dermatologists office. It is actually an acid blend consisting of Glycolic, Lactic, Tartaric and Citric Acids all combined together to equal 30% concentration. It also contains 2% Salicylic Acid. I mean it is a potent formulation, don’t get me wrong! The Solution has a pH of 3.6. A blend of acids like this gives a multi-level exfoliation, with all the acids working at various skin depths at a specific “job” to give amazing, glowing results. I have a wonderful table/infographic that explains each acid in more detail and contrasts the differences between each. I will share it in my next post!

Some consider this mask a dupe for the Drunk Elephant Sukari TLC BabyFacial. They both have high concentration of acids, and both garner similar results. Smooth, glowing skin. However, the textures are completely different. Baby Facial is a more traditional cream-texture mask while The Ordinary is more fluid. If you would like a full comparison of these two products please let me know below in the comments!

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution Serum

BHA: Salicylic Acid 2% Solution

Salicylic Acid 2% Solution was originally made to be a spot treatment, hence the 15 mL bottle. They have since released a 30 mL bottle. It is a very light clear gel, bordering on being a liquid. It dries weightlessly, leaving no tacky finish at all. It is easy to apply and easy to layer. The pH is 3.2-3.5 and contains 2% concentration of Salicylic Acid. Some people use this as a spot treatment, others use it all over the face. That’s up to you. I personally apply Salicylic Acid all over with no problems. Unless you are allergic to aspirin, then this product is a no-go for you, sorry. Salicylic Acid is actually quite gentle, even at higher concentrations.

Salicylic Acid is a Beta Hydroxyl Acid (BHA.) A BHA offers all the benefits on an AHA, revealing smoother, softer skin. However, what makes Salicylic Acid so special is its ability to penetrate the lining of the pore. Quite literally can “clean out” your pores and prevent new blemishes! It also is oil-soluble. Meaning it can soak up any excess oil that may be produced! By removing any debris or oil that is inside, it makes pores appear smaller.

Texture of The Ordinary Lactic Acid & Salicylic Acid 2% Serums
Texture: Lactic Acid (Left,) a more gel-like serum + Salicylic Acid 2% (Right,) a very fluid liquid.

Because Salicylic Acid can penetrate the pore itself, makes it a fabulous addition for anyone with clogged or enlarged pores, or for those who struggle with acne. Deciem states on this product’s description that “this is not medicine…effective medicine exists to successfully treat acne.” I feel like they are also playing a semantics game here too. It’s true that Salicylic Acid does not kill the bacteria associated with acne, is that why they suggest it isn’t a treatment for acne? While my skincare theory often aligns with Deciem, this is one of the few times it does not. I feel like acneic skin has to be treated for more than the active breakout. Salicylic Acid has the potential to help with other skin concerns that go hand in hand with acne. Other concerns like dark spots after blemishes have cleared up, enlarged pores, reducing redness, and it is an excellent anti-inflammatory ingredient. All good things for acne, therefore A treatment for acne, just not the only one you made need to use.

I have had great success reducing the “life span,” if you will, of an active cyst using Salicylic Acid. Other benefits from BHA I have experienced is smaller, clearer pores, and overall clearer, more refined skin and texture. Another benefit of salicylic acid is in the treatment of milia, the small white bumps that are unable to be “popped.” (Although some stubborn spots may need a higher concentration than 2%.) Salicylic Acid is an ingredient I feel like everyone at least needs to try, just to see how positively your skin will respond to it. If your concern is enlarged, clogged pores my recommendation would be to try Salicylic Acid and Niacinamide. The two will whip those pores into shape!

For a higher concentration of Salicylic Acid for stubborn spots or milia read my post on The Pore Plunger: Paula’s Choice 4% BHA. 

The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
Texture Of Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% is a white cream that feels light and silky on skin.

Azelaic Acid

When most people think about an acid for exfoliation, they rarely think about Azelaic Acid. That’s because it isn’t available in many over the counter products here in the States. However if you search for Finacea you will find a ton of amazing testimonials for getting rid of acne. Finacea or Azalex is a prescription form of Azelaic Acid in a 15-20% concentration.

Azelaic Acid, in theory, is a special acid because not only does it exfoliate the skin it has many other skin benefits as well, making it an attractive option for many skin concerns. Azelaic Acid is an excellent ingredient for those with acne prone skin because unlike Salicylic Acid, it can kill the bacteria associated with acne. It can also reduce inflammation which it a great choice for those with rosacea. It “possesses a direct anti-inflammatory effect due to its scavenger activity of free oxygen radical.” Sometimes touted as an alternative to Hydroquinone, it has brightening capabilities that help with hyperpigmentation, melasma, and post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH,) because it reduces synthesis of melanin. In short Azelaic Acid reduces redness and any discoloration and also produces smoother, brighter, clearer skin.

Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% can be used at night, during the day under spf, or both. The pH is higher than the other acids at 4.0-5.0. It is also applied at a different step than most other acids. If you are using water based serums, like Buffet or Niacinamide for example, you would want to apply them before Azelaic Acid. Then your moisturizer, oil or sunscreen can be applied after.

Amazing right? I thought so too. However, unlike the lighter formula of the other TO acids, the Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% is a white hued cream. Heavy on silicones, particularly Dimethicone. Don’t get me wrong Dimethicone isn’t a bad ingredient. Some people love the silky, sometimes powdery matte feeling it leaves on the skin. (It is the primary ingredient found in most makeup primers.) I’m just not a huge fan. It can cause piling when used with other products if not used with great care, and I find myself carefully choosing and planning which products I use with the Azelaic Acid Suspension. For a skincare junkie like myself that enjoys layering products of varying textures it just isn’t ideal for me on a frequent basis. When I do use it, I really enjoy the results and I do think if given a chance, Azelaic Acid Suspension can garner great long term results! A lot of people have had amazing acne clearing results with Azelaic Acid, I just wish the formula from The Ordinary was a little different texture, that’s all.

The Ordinary Skincare Acid Serum Options

In Closing….

That’s it! All the acid options from The Ordinary! I really am so very sorry this post is incredibly long! I initially sat down to write a short comparison post and it turned into a very detailed llloooonnnnggg post. As you can tell, I love acids and have so much more I could write! Initially I had included some general information about using acids in this post, but it just wasn’t very practical. So please do read the supplemental post A Few Things About Acids. I think you may find it helpful, especially for new acid users. It contains more info on incorporating acids into your routines, how often to use acids, chemical vs. physical exfoliation, how to choose which acid to use, and more general information I have learned over the years. It isn’t brand specific so it can be useful for any brand.

I think acids are game changer for skin that I have personally witnessed myself. Some exciting news that some of you may already have noticed, Deciem is releasing a Mandelic Acid 10% Solution hopefully very soon! Mandelic Acid is a very gentle acid that is perfect for those with dry, very sensitive skin. I’m waiting very impatiently!

Thank you for reading, I hoped you learned something new today! I am very passionate about acids and will answer any questions you may have in the comments!

Until Next Time-



Other Fabulous Posts:

More on The Ordinary’s Glycolic Acid Toner

The Best Cotton: Intrinsics Silken Wipes

Using The Ordinary for Acne Prone Skin

The Pore Plunger: Paula’s Choice 4% BHA

Deciem’s Hydrating Serums: Buffet vs. Hyaluronic Acid 2%



***My experience with the products above date back to 2016! I purchased them all myself and all thoughts and experiences are honest and unbiased. Some affiliate links are used. If you support my content and make a purchase using one of my links, at no additional cost, I am very grateful! My relationship with Deciem or any other company is completely unrelated to my content. Thanks for all your continued support!  
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