The Ordinary Direct Acids For Skincare

The Ordinary Direct Acids: The How-To Guide

Acids in skincare can sound scary. We tend to think of acid as something very harsh and why would we want to put them anywhere near our skin.

Turns out that while some acids can be irritating they can also be your skin’s best friend. Think of acids in skincare as exfoliators – most of them break down the glue that holds skincells together and allows old and dead cells to be easily removed.

Some acids kill the bacteria that cause acne and some of them actually reduce inflammation in your skin.

Some are great for oily skin. Some work best with sensitive and acne-prone skin. There really is an acid for every skin type, skin tone and skin issue. Confused yet? We don’t blame you.

In this article, we are going to break down some of the most common acids in skincare.

The Ordinary is a brand that understands its consumers well, and so it is no surprise that they have a lot of excellent acid-based serums and creams.

We are also going to give you the outline of some of their best skin acid products and how to use them. So, let’s level up your skin acid knowledge.

What Is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from sugar cane. It has a low molecular weight, which means it can reach deeper into your skin to exfoliate more effectively. It removes dead skins to reveal the healthier skin underneath. 

The deep penetration also stimulates collagen production. Collagen creates firmer skin and lessens fine lines. The overall effect is smoother, brighter, healthier skin.

Skin experts don’t recommend glycolic acid for sensitive or damaged skin. If you know your skin is easily irritated, AHA might trigger unwanted skin reactions. It works best for normal, combination, and oily skin types. Glycolic acid can effectively clear away blemishes and acne. 

Avoid combining glycolic acid with other exfoliating ingredients and abrasive skin care routines, such as face scrubs or benzoyl peroxide, or retinol. Water can quickly neutralize glycolic acid. If you experience any tingling or discomfort during use, wash immediately with water.

What Is Mandelic Acid?

Mandelic acid is a gentler alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from bitter almonds. Most studies have featured acne effects, but mandelic acid can resolve skin issues like dark spots, fine lines, dullness, and acne. It can exfoliate and increase hydration receptiveness. 

Mandelic acid removes dead skin cells and helps cells fresher cells replenish faster. It promotes collagen production for firmer skin and smoothes fine lines. There is evidence that it can lighten dark spots and reduce hyperpigmentation.

As mandelic acid is gentler than other AHA products, you can use it on more skin types. You shouldn’t use it on damaged skin, but it’s suitable for sensitive skin types. However, it is possible to have side effects, including redness, swelling, and itchiness.

What is Lactic Acid?

Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from sour milk. It might seem like an odd source, but there’s a reason Cleopatra favored milk baths. It stimulates collagen production, increases cell turnover, and removes dead cells.

Lactic acid smoothes and softens skin. It can dissolve build-up around hair follicles to clear impurities.

The best feature of lactic acid is that it improves hydration retention. By aiding your skin’s natural moisture barrier, your skin will retain more natural moisture and feel less dry.

Lactic acid is popular. It’s an ingredient in many skincare products, from moisturizers to exfoliants. It’s the most gentle of AHA acids, even more than mandelic acid. All skin types can safely use lactic acid, including sensitive skin types.

What Is Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid found in willow bark, fruits, and vegetables. BHA easily seeps into pores and unclog impurities. It breaks up dead skin cells and decreases oil secretion for clearer skin. Salicylic acid also fights harmful bacteria.

Oily and combination skin types reap the most benefits, as they have an abundance of natural oils and moisturizer. Salicylic acid is excellent for treating acne-prone skin. Other skin types need more natural oils and hydration. 

Using salicylic acid once or twice a week is best, as more frequent use can dry or irritate skin. You can increase usage to once or twice a week if your skin is tolerant and you’re experiencing an acne outbreak. However, increases should remain short-term, and you should reduce frequency if your skin shows signs of peeling.

What Is Retinoic Acid?

Retinoic acids are a derivate of vitamin A, also known as retinoids. Retinoic acid is taken up by the skin directly and is a powerful skin exfoliating acid. This means that it speeds up the turnover of skin cells and brings new plump cells to the surface of your skin faster.

Retinoids come in different strengths depending on what type of retinoid they are. The strongest is retinoic acid, and the weaker retinoids are known as retinoid esters. The benefit of the weaker retinoids is that they don’t cause as much irritation or purging.

Retinoic acid is recognised by dermatologists as a skin game-changer, however it’s not for everyone because of the irritation factor.

The Ordinary has an entire range of what they called granactive retinoids – these are unique to the ordinary skincare range and made specifically to give the benefits of retinoic acid without irritation.

What Is Azelaic Acid?

Azelaic Acid is made by the wonderfully named Malassezia furfur – which is a yeast that lives on normal skin. Azelaic acid is a relatively new addition to the skincare menu. It is used to treat mild to moderate acne and is particularly useful for treating inflamed acne and rosacea.

It is gentle on the skin and reduces inflammation in the skin. So if inflamed acne, redness or rosacea is an issue for you then azelaic acid is a great ingredient to add to your skincare routine.

The Ordinary Direct Acid Skincare Products

The Ordinary is a branch of the company known as DECEIM. Their tagline is ‘The Abnormal Beauty Company’.

We certainly agree with that, as do most skincare nerds from around the world agree. They curate a collection of innovative skincare treatments. Their products are oil-free, alcohol-free, silicone-free, nut-free, and gluten-free.

All of their skincare products are cruelty-free and vegan-friendly.

The Ordinary does not test its products on animals.

Before using any new product, it’s helpful to use a patch test.

The Ordinary formulas we’re discussing all contain AHAs or BHAs. It’s crucial to know how your skin will react.

Guidelines will vary depending on the solution, but placing a small amount of the formula on your skin, washing off, and observing for three days is the general practice.

 Without further ado, let’s explore some AHA and BHA products made by The Ordinary.

Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution

The Ordinary toning solution formula comprises 7% glycolic acid, amino acids, ginseng, aloe vera, and Tasmanian pepper berry. The 270 ml bottle includes a dropper. 

The formula ph range is 3.5-3.7. The solution contains 3.6 glycolic acid with a 3.6 pk score. When a solution’s pk score is close to the ph score, it determines the acid availability. In other words, the closer the score, the better overall effectiveness. 

The Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution provides mild exfoliation, so you can say goodbye to dead skin cells. Your overall skin texture will be more radiant. 

Glycolic acid is best for normal, combination, or oily skin types. Sensitive skin types should avoid using glycolic acid products. You shouldn’t use the product on peeling or damaged skin. If irritation occurs, stop usage.

Tasmanian pepper berry reduces irritation sometimes caused by acid solutions. As a natural product, the Tasmanian pepper berry can change color depending on the season harvested. The color of the plant can sometimes alter the color of the toning solution.

The formula also includes ginseng root and aloe vera. Ginseng acts as an anti-inflammatory that reduces irritation and redness. The aloe vera is soothing and helps moisturize dry skin.

Recommended Usage

Use the toning solution no more than once daily, preferably in the evening, on clean, dry skin. Saturate a cotton pad or cloth with the formula and gently wipe across the face and neck.

As a hydroxy acid, glycolic acid products can increase sun sensitivity. It’s essential to wear sunscreen and limit sun exposure while using the solution.

Mandelic Acid 10% + HA

Mandelic Acid 10% + HA contains the AHA mandelic acid and hyaluronic acid (HA). The ph range is 3.5-3.7. The dermal peeling is gentler than other AHAs.

The molecular weight of mandelic acid is heavier than other AHAs, weighing 152.1 daltons versus other AHAs weighing 76 daltons. The heavier weight allows slower absorption and gentler dermal peeling. It is suitable for all skin types.

However, if you know you have sensitive skin or you have peeling or damaged skin, you shouldn’t use this product.

The addition of hyaluronic acid hydrates your skin and helps with inflammation. Your body naturally produces hyaluronic acid. As we age, your skin has fewer natural acids and oils. When your skin is dry, it shows fine lines more easily. You can reduce wrinkles and aid healing by regulating inflammation.

Recommended Usage 

Use the toning solution once per day, preferably in the evening, on clean, dry skin. If you experience mild irritation, you can dilute the formula with other treatments or water. Weakening the concentration makes it more gentle and improves skin tolerance. Avoid contact with your eyes.

As a hydroxy acid, mandelic acid may increase sun sensitivity. It’s essential to wear sunscreen and limit sun exposure while using the solution. 

Lactic Acid 10% + HA

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA is a superficial peeling, high-strength lactic acid. The ph range is 3.6-3.8. The solution contains 3.8 lactic acid with a ph score of 3.8, which allows for greater effectiveness and acid availability.

The lactic acid mildly exfoliates the skin, making it suitable for all skin types. Most sensitive or dry skin types can use lactic acid, but you should not use it on peeling, damaged, or irritated skin.

The formula also contains Tasmanian pepper berry to reduce general skin irritation. The color of the product may not be similar to the online image, as the natural plant product can vary in color.

Recommended Usage 

Apply the Lactic Acid 10% formula once daily, preferably in the evening. You can dilute the concoction with other treatments to reduce irritation and improve skin tolerance.

We’ve mentioned before that AHAs like lactic acid can increase sun sensitivity, and it’s true again here. When using the product, remember to wear sunscreen outdoors and avoid direct sun.

Salicylic Acid 2% Solution

The solution here has 2% salicylic acid combined with witch hazel. Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that exfoliates skin. The acid seeps into the inside walls of pores to fight blemishes and increase skin clarity. The ph range is 3.2-4.0.

Witch hazel can relieve skin irritation and tighten pores. It can help firm skin and reduce the occurrence of clogged pores. It also removes excess oils, which can reduce acne outbreaks. Witch hazel has historical precedent as an effective treatment for soothing skin and aiding in healing.

However, salicylic acid and witch hazel aren’t always the best friends of sensitive skin. The solution is most effective for oily and combination skin types. You can use salicylic acid on normal skin types, but don’t use it on peeling or damaged skin. Avoid contacting the acid with your eyes.

Recommended Usage

The Salicylic Acid 2% Solution can be used AM or PM as part of your daily routine. Apply a small dot to blemishes and spots for visible improvement. You can also apply a small amount to your entire face for overall improvement.

If dryness or peeling occurs, change your regular usage to every other day. If irritation continues after decreasing use, cease treatment and consult a doctor.

Sun sensitivity alert: Like AHAs, BHAs can also increase sun sensitivity. Wear sunscreen and keep out of direct sunlight when using the product.

Salicylic Acid 2% Mask

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Mask is a rinse-off formula. The mask’s key ingredients are 2% salicylic acid, vegetable charcoal, Amazonian clays, and squalane. The ph range is 3.5-4.5.

Squalane mimics your skin’s natural oils and has antioxidant properties. Your skin produces squalene (notice the spelling with an ‘e’), an oil moisturizer that decreases with age. Squalane is simply squalene harvested from other sources, like plants. The process converts that ‘e’ into an ‘a’ because the former isan unsaturated fat and the latter is saturated fat.

The mask targets tone and texture to stimulate smoother, even texture and color. The BHA removes dead skin cells and allows the formula to reach dermal layers effectively.

Charcoal and clays are deep cleansers because of their porosity. Like little sponges, charcoal and clay aid in unclogging pores by attaching and removing impurities.

The mask is best for oily and combination skin types. Normal skin types that experience acne breakouts can also benefit. We don’t suggest trying it on sensitive skin, especially if the skin is irritated or damaged.

Recommended Usage

You can use the mask once or twice weekly on clean, dry skin. Apply an even layer across the skin and then let it sit for no more than ten minutes. Rinse off the mask with lukewarm water.

Again, be careful of any increased sun sensitivity. Wearing sunscreen, covering skin, and avoiding direct sunlight will help you avoid sun damage. Limit sun exposure while using the product and a week after ceasing use.


The Ordinary AHA/BHA Peel contains a 30% AHA concentration of glycolic, lactic, tartaric, and citric acids and a 2% salicylic acid. The formula has Vitamin B5 and antioxidant-rich Black Carrot to encourage healing and reduces skin damage. The ph range is 3.5-3.7.

Tasmanian pepper berry appears again. You might remember from our previous product descriptions that the plant extract reduces irritation and can affect the color of the peel.

Vitamin B5 enhances the healing process and retains the moisture your skin needs. Some studies have linked an increase in the vitamin to a decrease in acne breakouts.

The AHA/BHA Peel allows for deeper exfoliation for emptying clogged pores and removing dead cells. It fights scarring and improves skin texture. The formula also helps reduce fine lines. 

Recommended Usage

The AHA/BHA Peel should be used in the evening or as a before-bed routine. You can use the peel twice weekly. Apply an even layer across clean, dry skin. Let the mask sit for no more than ten minutes, and then rinse with lukewarm water.

As the peel contains both AHA and BHA, it can influence your skin’s sun sensitivity. Wear sunscreen and avoid direct sunlight while using the product for an additional week after using the mask.

If you really want to level up your skincare routine then you should take a look at the acid menu. The Ordinary as always makes that very easy.

If in doubt see a dermatologist for the best advice.