When it comes to acne-prone skin, The Ordinary knows its stuff. TikTokers, beauty editors and dermatologists alike are obsessed with the brand’s Granactive Retinoid 2% In Emulsion, £8, which minimises spots and smooths skin texture over time, while the Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution, £6.80, recently went viral for helping to fade hyperpigmentation and skin staining left behind by breakouts. This week, The Ordinary has rather excitingly added another soon-to-be buzzy product to its skincare dynasty.
If you’re a fan of The Ordinary, you’ll know that this isn’t the brand’s first foray into skincare ingredient salicylic acid. Though popular, their initial product (Salicylic Acid Solution) was discontinued a while ago and the newbie seems to have taken its place. But what even is salicylic acid and how does it work for spots? Without subjecting you to a snooze-inducing science lesson, salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (or BHA) and it exfoliates skin. Though gentle, it penetrates deep inside the pores to break up the paste-like mixture of oil and dead skin before it can form breakouts. Skin experts are especially fond of the ingredient in concentrations of 2% for treating pesky blackheads.
Unlike the previous serum, the salicylic acid is now suspended in a squalane formula, which is a highly moisturising ingredient found naturally in skin. The texture is akin to a very lightweight oil but if you’re breakout-prone, don’t let that put you off. Squalane is non-comedogenic so it’s less likely to clog your skin. In other words, the serum offers the same effective exfoliating benefits as its discontinued counterpart but the texture ensures you don’t come away with flaky, irritated skin, as can be the case with many skincare acids.
As someone who contends with hormonal whiteheads, blackheads and painful under-the-skin bumps most days, I had to give this a go. The Ordinary claims that the product can be used in both the morning and the evening but on a derm’s recommendation, I like to use exfoliating acids in my nighttime routine (with a heavy helping of SPF during the day, as acids can make skin sensitive to sunlight). I applied half a dropper-full to cleansed skin and massaged it in, avoiding delicate areas like my eyelids and lips. My skin gets very oily and shiny so I much prefer products that lend a matte look and feel. This felt a little heavier compared to what I’m used to and left behind a sheen. Still, with the weather this cold, I was grateful for the extra blanket of moisture. On the first night I followed with my trusty moisturiser but I think this might’ve been a bit much for me. If your skin type is oily like mine, you might do well with just the serum. While the product is intended for use all over the face, there’s nothing stopping you from concentrating it to your nose if it’s only blackheads you’re looking to treat.
Like popular ingredients such as retinol, salicylic acid is reported to cause a process called ‘purging‘, whereby a backlog of clogged pores may come to the surface. After three nights I noticed a small handful of white bumps on my cheeks but no new blackheads at all (result). Any bumps you experience when using a new skincare product like this should resolve themselves over time but if your skin is irritated or sore, stop using the product. Having used lots of salicylic acid products in the past (my favourites include Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, £29, The Inkey List’s Salicylic Acid Cleanser, £10.99, and Medik8’s Blemish SOS, £19), my skin responded well to this. It felt a lot softer, too, which I put down to the squalane.
Just like all of The Ordinary’s products, this one won’t break the bank at an affordable £5.20, and the formula is housed in UV protective packaging to prolong efficacy. Overall, I’d say this is a great serum for those who want to combat small spots and blackheads without the dreaded dry, rough skin that comes with most exfoliating acids. Will it assume cult status like many other The Ordinary products targeted at breakouts? Only time will tell. But you really can’t go wrong for the price.
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