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Ever since The Ordinary launched my number one question is now “what should I buy?”. People are excited and somewhat confused, which I can completely understand. Choosing the right products for your skin type and needs can be a daunting task, especially when there are so many options. In the beginning it was pretty easy since there were only ten products, but now there are almost thirty (with more on the way), so it has become even harder to not only know which ones to buy, but how to use them. I wanted to create this guide with recommended routines in the hopes that in addition to my review, it will make it as easy as possible to use these products and get the most out of them. I also wanted to show you what a typical skincare routine looks like so you will be able to understand when to use a product and why.
What Order Do I Use The Products In?
Aside from wanting to know what to buy, my other biggest question is what order to use the products in. I realize that many of you are new to this crazy skincare world (welcome!) and have no idea what a “complete” routine looks like, so before I get in to the recommendations I wanted to give you a guide to what a typical one should look like and what order the products are used in. Unlike in my review where I grouped the products by ingredients, when you are actually using the products the order is determined by the texture. The general rule is “lightest to heaviest”, which just means you use products with light, thin, watery textures that absorb quickly before those with heavier/thicker textures like oils, balms and moisturizers. The reason for this is not only will the products layer and “sit” more comfortably on your skin, but they will also penetrate and perform better too. Here’s a look at what an average AM and PM routine should look like with a focus on how to incorporate The Ordinary products effectively.
AM Step 1 – Morning Cleanse: Skin Refresh/Product Prep
In this step you want to use something light, gentle and non-drying to refresh your skin and prepare it for the products you will apply next. These are examples of what I use and each one is a different texture. The Omorovicza Moor Cream Cleanser is a creamy clay that is purifying without being drying and feels really refreshing on hot days, the Oskia Renaissance Cleansing Gel (review here) is a light gel-balm that I have used for years (leave a comment if you’d like a 50% code for this), The Aurelia Miracle Cleanser (review here) is a thin creamy cleanser that is cooling, soothing and mildly purifying, Mahalo’s The Unveil is a beautiful light balm cleanser that provides gentle exfoliation and rinses away with just water (as do all of these), the de Mamiel Pure Calm Cleansing Dew is a gel-oil texture that is great when your skin is flaking from retinol and lastly NIOD’s Sanskrit Saponins (review here) is an excellent choice for those with oily skin.
I didn’t know whether to give this step an official number because some of you may choose to skip it entirely, but for me it is one of the most important parts of my routine and it goes after cleansing and before everything else. I have a review of SDSM here (SDSM2 coming soon), CAIS 1% here and CAIS 5% here. Most days I spritz SDSM all over and then while my skin is somewhat damp I apply CAIS. I like doing this because I find I use less CAIS and the combo just works so well together. You can also use the CAIS alone (which I sometimes do with the 5%) and then use SDSM afterwards as a traditional toner. If you don’t use these then skip to step 2 or 3.
This is a step popularized by Caroline Hirons and I know many of you love to do it. I’m not a fan anymore and don’t acid tone, but if you can’t live without this step then it would come after cleansing (and SDSM and CAIS if you use them) and before everything else. If you use CAIS then please wait at least one minute before apply the Toning Solution to make sure the copper serum has fully absorbed. When I acid toned I actually waited about 5 minutes. If you don’t do this step skip to number 3.
This is somewhat of a controversial step with some wondering if it’s even worth it, but for me it is an essential. Hydration is so important for healthy, balanced skin and with the right product you can get so much more. If you don’t use SDSM with CAIS after cleansing then try using it here. I picked the other four because they are beautiful, contain excellent ingredients and are reasonably priced. The de Mamiel Dewy Facial Mist is a stunning plant based serum quality mist, the iS Clinical Copper Firming Mist is a great option if you don’t use CAIS and I use it on days when I don’t have time for lots of steps, the Evolve Beauty Daily Defense Moisture Mist is an incredible price considering the high quality ingredients, as is the Hyalmide Hydra-Density Mist. I will have a review on all of these coming soon.
(From left to right: The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG, The White Company x Deciem Eye Revive, Elemis Pro-Collagen Eye Renewal, NIOD Fractionated Eye Contour Concentrate, Exuviance Age Reverse Eye Contour, Hylamide SubQ Eyes, Skyn Iceland Brightening Eye Serum.)
This step is the one I struggle with the most and to be perfectly honest I end up skipping it most days in favour of taking SDSM and CAIS around the eyes. If you are diligent with this step or want to be then this is where it features. The reason for this is to get it straight on to the skin before you apply anything heavier that could act as a barrier. These are a few that I have used and really enjoyed over the past couple of years. Deciem have four with different textures and price points, but I also like the other three as an example of good non-Deceim alternatives.
(From left to right: Salicylic Acid 2%, Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, 2%, Argireline Solution 10%, Matrixyl 10% + HA“, Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 2%, Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA, “Buffet”, Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 10%.)
This is where the “lightest to heaviest” concept applies. Whatever serums you use, make sure the water-based (usually gel textured) one comes first, especially if it’s a hyaluronic acid. Products won’t be able to penetrate or perform properly if they are not layered correctly, especially with something like the hyaluronic acid because it draws whatever you apply on top deeper into the dermis for even better results. I would recommend using the HA 2% + B5 first then whichever of these you have on top. With the salicylic acid I like to either use it directly on my skin after toning or after the HA serum and before everything else. This way it can get to work faster because there are no product “barriers”. This step is also where you would apply essences or “lotions” popular in K-Beauty.
This step is were you would use your usual moisturizer that has a cream based texture (usually contains a mix of oils/butters etc) and depending on the ingredients can do a number of things beyond just moisturizing the skin. These are the four products from The Ordinary that I consider potential moisturizers. Obviously Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA is an excellent traditional example, but Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate 10% would work well too for those who are looking to incorporate a gentle Vitamin C without having too many layers. If you use the Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% then it would be used as or before your moisturizer, followed by sunscreen/primer. With the Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% this could work really well for those with acne-prone skin as a treament-moisturizer-primer in one. If you like to use oils during the day instead of moisturizers then this is where you would use them. If you like to use moisturizers AND oils then the oil would be used second.
This is such an important step because without it you are basically undoing all the results your other products are achieving. Sunscreen protects against all aspects of skin aging and without it you will have a harder time fixing whatever issues you have, even if you have acne. As many of you will know by now Deciem are releasing multiple sunscreens under NIOD and The Ordinary and there will be something for everyone. This is an essential step and there is no excuse to skip it now.
(From left to right: High-Adherence Silicone Primer, High-Spreadibility Fluid Primer, Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%.)
I didn’t include this in the official step because I know not all of you wear makeup and even if you do, don’t use a primer, but if you are someone who does or wants to then it would feature at the end of your skincare routine and before foundation. As I said earlier, the AA 10% could work very well as a primer for those with acne-prone skin because it has a similar texture to HASP, but with the added skin benefits to heal the skin.
At the end of the day it’s important to cleanse as soon as you can. Most of us have had makeup and/or sunscreen on our faces for hours or have just been out in the world exposed to pollution/dirt/grime etc. These are some of my favourite evening first cleanses because they are efficient and don’t strip my skin. If I am wearing a lot of makeup I will use the Hylamide High-Efficiency Face Cleaner because it works so well and is very inexpensive or I’ll use the Whamisa Organic Flowers Cleansing Oil, which I love for when my skin is a bit irritated. If I am wearing light or no makeup and my skin is a bit oily then I will use The White Company’s Super Balm (review here) and I love how clean and soft it leaves my skin. For a more indulgent cleanse on non-makeup days I use something like de Mamiel’s stunning Restorative Cleansing Balm or Votary’s beautiful Super Seed Cleansing Oil. You can use whatever texture works best for you, but usually an oil or balm is a good choice for a first cleanse.
PM Step 2 – Skin Cleanse and Product Prep
After the first cleanse to remove makeup etc, the second cleanse is all about cleaning your actual skin and you can use the same cleanser as you did in the morning. I personally like to use something that caters to my skin’s needs that day so if it’s oily I will use NIOD SS or the de Mamiel Pure Calm Cleansing Dew, if it’s irritated I’ll use Aurelia’s Miracle Cleanser or if it’s dry I will use the Oskia Renaissance Cleansing Gel (which can be left on as a mask) and if I feel my skin is looking dull I will use Mahalo’s The Unveil. Just make sure whatever cleanser you use doesn’t dry out the skin too much, no matter what you skin type is.
(Same as above. Please see AM steps for more info.)
Step 3 – Acids and Retinols
(From left to right: Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution, Lactic Acid 10% + HA 2%, Lactic Acid 5% + HA 2%, Advanced Retinoid 2%, Retinol 1%.)
Unlike in the morning, this is a pretty versatile step where you can use your acid toner, one of the lactic acid serums or a retinol product. With the acids it’s important they are applied first so they can actually work on the skin and with the retinols it is my personal preference (although I have read this recommended too) to apply them directly to the skin for the best results. The Retinoid 2% is an emulsion so you could easily carry on with your normal routine without any issues, but with the Retinol 1% because of the silicones, you should only be able to apply an oil or balm on top, which is what I do. If you have very dry or sensitive skin I would suggest using a HA based serum before the Retinol 1% to help act as buffer to “protect” the skin. I also like to keep things simple on retinol nights and just use that as my treatment and serum in one and then protect and heal the skin with an oil or balm.
If you want to use a wash off acid like The Peeling Solution or use the lactic acids as a wash off mask then apply those after cleansing. If you use SDSM and CAIS then wait at least half an hour before applying those, but if you don’t then just go straight into your toner step. This is also where you would use a face mask like my favourite Flavanone Mud (review here) – after cleansing and before acids/toners/retinols.
AM Step 3 – Toners/Mists/Spritzes etc
Just like with your evening second cleanse, your evening toner step can use the same product as you did in the morning. Again, I like to choose something that suits my skin’s needs and you can use any that you like as long as it doesn’t contain alcohol, which can be very drying and create unbalance for the skin. Please see the above AM step for more info on these.
PM Step 4 – Eyes
(Same as above. Please see AM steps for more info.)
PM Step 5 – Serums
(Same as above. Please see AM steps for more info.)
As with the morning routine you can use whichever serum suits your skin’s need and just be sure to apply them lightest to heaviest. In the evenings your serums will usually be more treatment based and contain more active ingredients that focus on your main skin concerns. I like to alternate between tackling acne and hyperpigmentation when I’m not using a retinol.
PM Step 6 – Moisturizers/Oils/Balms
(From left to right: 100% Cold-Pressed Virgin Marula Oil, 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil, 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Moroccan Argan Oil, 100% Plant-Derived Squalane, Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F, Alpha Lipoic Acid 5%.)
Oils are another controversial step because of the fact that many from green beauty brands contain essential oils, which some find irritating and because some people believe they can get all the hydration they need from them, which isn’t true. Saying that, they are a beautiful and important step to nourish, heal, soothe, protect, treat and fortify the skin. There are so many out there and whatever you use it will be the last step in your evening routine (after moisturizer or before a balm or mixed together, if you use those). From The Ordinary you have the four traditional oils as well as the Vit C 20% because it has an oil texture. You would also use the Alpha Lipoic Acid 5% in this step because of the texture and Deciem recommend mixing it with your usual oil 2-3 times a week, which I think works really well.
(Some of my favourite oil blends from left to right: Votary Super Seed Facial Oil, Rosalena Beauty & The Beast Facial Oil, La Belle Lune Organic Skin, Vanderohe No. 1 Nourishing Face Serum, de Mamiel Spring Facial Oil.)
Even though it seems like a lot of work, these routines take around 5 minutes or less, depending on what you’re using and how much time you want to spend. I can do my full morning routine in under 5 minutes if I am rushing, but I can also take hours for my evening routine if I am indulging in facial massages or multi-masking. Once you’ve got the hang of it, you will find doing this effortless, quick and hopefully fun! Of course, you can pick and choose which steps you need and what works for you and don’t be afraid to experiment. Sometimes I do just two steps when I don’t have time and in the summer I often just cleanse, tone and apply sunscreen. It’s all about what you like and what your skin needs, this is just a guide to give you a general idea of how skincare routines work.
What Should I Use For My Skin Type?
Now on to my recommendations! Before we begin, it is very important to note that everyone’s skin is unique and will react differently to the exact same products or ingredients. There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” product and these regimens are recommendations, not guarantees. Taking care of your skin is a process and results require consistency and patience, and in a lot of cases, simplicity. Even though there are a lot of products in this range, you do not need them all. I would suggest starting with around 5-7 depending on your skin type and recording your routines to track the effects. I would also recommend not starting every new product at once, but I know that’s not always easy, so please proceed with caution and pay attention to your skin for any changes, irritation or inflammation.
PM – Double Cleanse, NIOD SDSM and CAIS (if you use them), Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution or Advanced Retinoid 2%, Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rosehip Seed Oil and/or 100% Cold-Pressed Virgin Marula Oil.
The goal of this routine is to calm inflammation, support a healthy functioning skin barrier, balance oil production, heal blemishes and prevent new ones from forming. Hydration is extremely important for compromised (acne prone) skin and improving barrier function will help it to heal and protect itself from infections and bacteria that lead to inflammation and blemishes.
AM – Cleanse, NIOD SDSM and CAIS (if you use them) or hydrating toner, Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12% (or any of the others), Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA, sunscreen and/or High-Spreadability Fluid Primer.
PM – Double Cleanse, NIOD SDSM and CAIS (if you use them), Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution or Advanced Retinoid 2% or Lactic Acid 5% + HA, Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, 100% Plant-Derived Squalane and/or 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Moroccan Argan Oil.
Obviously with this skin type the goal is keeping the skin hydrated and moisturized. Each step does exactly that and should help the skin stay plump, smooth and soft.
AM – Cleanse, NIOD SDSM and CAIS (if you use them), balancing toner or Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution, Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, Niacinamide 10% + Zinc PCA 1%, sunscreen and/or Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% or High Adherence Silicone Primer.
With oily or combination skin the most important thing is balance. These products will help the skin regulate it’s oil production by providing it with the moisture it needs. The acids will help stop pores getting clogged by the excess oil and sebum.
PM – Double Cleanse, NIOD SDSM and CAIS (if you use them), Advanced Retinoid 2%, Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F, 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rosehip Seed Oil.
Improving dull skin takes time and patience, but this routine should help the skin shed it’s hypigmented cells revealing a bright, clear, uniform skin tone.
PM – Double Cleanse, NIOD SDSM and CAIS (if you use them), soothing toner, “Buffet” or Lactic Acid 5% + HA if your skin can handle it, 100% Plant-Derived Squalane and/or 100% Cold-Pressed Virgin Marula Oil.
Extras: Advanced Retinoid 2% if you need it and again, if your skin can handle it, which is should.
Sensitive skin needs balance and consistency to function at it’s best, so please go slowly, don’t over do it and always be gentle.
PM – Double Cleanse, NIOD SDSM and CAIS (if you use them), Lactic Acid 10% + HA, Matrixyl 10% + HA, Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F or Advanced Retinoid 2%, 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Moroccan Argan Oil and 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rosehip Seed Oil.
Mature skin needs lots of hydration and targeted treatments to keep skin smooth, soft and youthful, which is exactly what these products should help you achieve.
As I said earlier, skincare is not an exact science and your skin may react exactly as it should or not at all. These recommendations are a guide to help you choose the right products for you, but once you have them, it’s important you track how your skin responds. You must be consistent and patient to allow the products time to work, although if your skin becomes irritated or you get breakouts then you should reassess your routines to find the problem and adjust accordingly. Start slow, be gentle, stay committed and pay attention to your skin because this is how you will learn what works and what doesn’t.
I will consistently update this post as and when more products are added and if you feel your skin type/issue hasn’t been addressed then please let me know so I can include it. Feel free to ask questions and good luck!