Table of Contents
- 1 Why Is It Important To Exfoliate?
- 2 The Ordinary Direct Acids – Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA)
- 3 The Ordinary Direct Acids – Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA)
- 4 The Ordinary AHA 30% BHA 2% Peeling Solution
- 5 How about the Azelaic Acid Suspension?
This post will be sharing a beginner’s guide to The Ordinary Direct Acids.
If there’s one thing The Ordinary popularized, it is single-ingredient chemical exfoliants. Before now, there were that many brands that provided affordable products. This is why a lot of us got introduced to exfoliation through facial scrubs and DIY Skincare. Thankfully, that is all in the past. For as low as $7, you can get a gentle chemical exfoliant from The Ordinary that will not damage your skin barrier.
Why Is It Important To Exfoliate?
Fun Fact: Did you know that the skin naturally exfoliates itself every 28 days? So, even if you don’t use any of The Ordinary Direct Acids, your skin will still shed dead skin cells every month.
So, why do we still use these acids? This is because sometimes these dead cells don’t shed completely. When that happens, it results in dryness, flakiness and clogged pores. We use chemical exfoliants to accelerate the shedding of dead skin cells.
Asides from shedding dead cells that clogs the pores and causes dullness, exfoliation helps to;
- even out the skin tone.
- help your skincare products penetrate deeper thereby improving their effectiveness.
- increase collagen production which minimizes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Chemical exfoliants are majorly divided into two: Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA). The Ordinary has three AHAs and one BHA in their portfolio which will be discussed shortly.
The Ordinary Direct Acids – Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA)
Before we dive into the The Ordinary AHAs, let’s discuss how they work.
Here’s a great explanation:
With time and sun exposure there is a gradual but slow-down in the rate at which old cells leave the surface of the skin and are replaced by newer cells. This results in a surface layer of dead skin cells that are responsible for the appearance of aged skin. Alpha hydroxy acids encourage the shedding of old, sun-damaged surface skin cells. They loosen the glue-like substances that hold the surface skin cells to each other, therefore allowing the dead skin to peel off gently. The skin underneath has a fresher, healthier look with a more even colour and texture. With high concentration and long-term use, alpha hydroxy acids may also affect the deeper layers of the skin. Collagen and elastin regenerate making fine lines less obvious.source
From the lowest to the highest percentages;
Lactic Acid ( 5 & 10%)
Suitable for dry, combination, aging skin
Lactic Acid is a byproduct of fermented sugar and starch in sour milk. Depending on the strength, it is a mild peeling agent that diminishes wrinkles, increases cell turnover and helps the skin hold on to moisture. Compared to the rest of the AHAs, the Lactic Acid molecule is very large so it can’t really penetrate deeply. As such, it offers just surface exfoliation.
The Ordinary Lactic Acid is formulated with Tasmanian pepper berry which is known to reduce the signs of inflammation and sensitivity which is often associated with chemical exfoliation. If you are new to acids, it is advisable to start with the 5% Lactic Acid and build tolerance before moving to 10%.
Glycolic Toning Solution (7%)
Suitable for all skin types
The infamous 7% Glycolic Toning Solution is probably one of The Ordinary’s most popular acids. The biggest issue with this product is the mislabelling. A lot of people have taken this product to be a daily exfoliating toner which shouldn’t be. While 7% is not that high, the formula is pretty strong. Personally, I prefer to use it to address the textural irregularities on my body and I’m loving the results.
Glycolic Acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid derived from sugarcane. Just like Retinol, it is one of the most well-studied AHAs. Unlike the rest of the AHAs, Glycolic Acid has the smallest molecule size. This means that it not only offers surface exfoliation but can also absorb deep into the pores to provide maximum benefits. The side effect of this is that if a formula -like The Ordinary- is very strong, the chances of inflammation, scarring and redness is very high.
This is why a lot of people have a love-hate relationship with this product. So, if you have sensitive or easily inflamed skin and you have a full bottle of Glycolic Acid, either reduce your usage to once or twice weekly or repurpose it for your body. As I mentioned earlier, it is an excellent body exfoliant.
Mandelic Acid (10%)
Suitable for all sensitive skin types
One of the underdogs and underrated products from The Ordinary is the Mandelic Acid. It is derived from bitter almonds and is the most gentle of all AHAs. Compared to Glycolic and Lactic Acid, it has a larger molecule size which makes it penetrate very slowly. As such the chances of irritation are extremely low. This also makes it very suitable for anyone with extremely sensitive skin.
Personally, I love Mandelic Acid because it is gentle enough to be layered with other actives. Asides from its been beneficial for textural irregularities, research has shown Mandelic Acid also helps brighten the skin. This makes it very effective in treating hyperpigmentation such as acne scars and melasma. As a result of its slow process, it works in the deeper layers to inhibit melanin production. So, while the results might not be as fast as other acids, it makes up in depth. Whew! What’s not to love?!
The Ordinary Direct Acids – Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA)
Now that we have covered the Alpha Hydroxy Acids, let’s quickly go over the only beta hydroxy acid in The Ordinary’s portfolio.
Salicylic Acid Solution/Masque
Suitable for oily acne-prone skin
I’m not quite sure what happened but I heard the Salicylic Acid Solution was recalled because it caused severe chemical burns. It’s been over three years since it has been discontinued. Instead of reformulating the product, they gave us the Salicylic Acid Masque to pacify us. I’m not the greatest fan of masques but based on the general consensus, it works quite well.
Salicylic Acid is a Beta Hydroxy Acid that works by penetrating the walls of the skin’s pores to unclog it by getting rid of dead skin cells, excess oil and dirt that manifest as congestion and blemishes. So, if you have oily or acne-prone skin, BHAs should be your best friend. As for side effects, Salicylic Acid is generally safe but some people can experience stinging, itching or peeling depending on the formula of the product used.
Depending on how severe your acne is, sometimes Salicylic Acid might not be enough for you or you may be allergic to it. This is when you explore other acne treatments such as Benzoyl Peroxide, Sulfur and Adapalene.
If you’re feeling completely intimidated and overwhelmed by The Ordinary skincare I recommend taking Extraordinary Skin With The Ordinary. The Ordinary speed training created by my scientist friend Cheryl Woodman. Cheryl’s helped hundreds of ladies see real-life results, first hand. Click here to find out more about the course and see their reviews
The Ordinary AHA 30% BHA 2% Peeling Solution
Only suitable for those that have built high tolerance to acids.
This post will definitely not be complete without the famous ‘Red Peel’. I’ve written extensively on the safety measures and best practices when using this peel. You can read all about it here.
For the sake of this post, this is a medical-grade exfoliating peel with a whopping 30% AHAs which is predominantly Glycolic, Lactic, Tartaric and Citric Acid and 2% BHA which is simply Salicylic Acid. As such, it is not recommended for sensitive skin or those that a new to the world of acids.
Personally, it took me about two years of chemical exfoliation to build up a tolerance to use this product without irritation. Even at that, I still get some level of irritation some times. But with a solid hydrating routine before and after the peel, my skin bounces back in no time.
So, if you currently use other acids in your routine which you should, I’d recommend using this Peel during your monthly self-care routine. You really don’t need that much exfoliation weekly, much less twice a week.
How about the Azelaic Acid Suspension?
Technically, Azelaic Acid does not fall under AHAs or BHAs because it is a dicarboxylic acid and doesn’t offer as many exfoliating benefits as the rest. Instead, it is a multi-functional ingredient that slightly exfoliates, reduces the appearance of blemishes, fades post-acne scars and other discolourations and helps calms redness.
If you have acne-prone skin that is prone to redness and hyperpigmentation, your skin will enjoy the benefits of Azelaic Acid.
Dangers of Overexfoliation
While exfoliation is great to shed dead skin cells and improve the texture of our skin, you can actually over-do it. Just like any good thing, it needs to be done in moderation. Just because the brand says you should use a chemical exfoliant daily doesn’t mean it is safe to. Be a more conscious consumer. Always remember that these brands are here to make money so the faster you exhaust your skincare products, the faster you can repurchase. This is also why some packaging are sometimes ridiculous. They want you to come back and buy more products every three months.
Some dangers of over-exfoliation include;
- compromising the skin barrier which causes dehydration and broken capillaries/spider veins.
- disruption of the skin’s pH balance causing it to produce more oil to overcompensate.
- increases the risk of burns and scarring.
- causes irritation, redness, inflammation and sensitivity.
- peeling, flakiness and sudden breakouts.
When you think about it, all of these dangers are not worth the instant gratification you get from using the Peel twice a week. It’s honestly not worth it.
How often should you exfoliate when using The Ordinary Direct Acids?
When using single acids like Glycolic, Lactic, Mandelic or Salicylic Acid, you shouldn’t use it more than two to three times a week. If you are new to chemical exfoliation, start with Mandelic Acid or Lactic Acid and use it once a week until you have built tolerance enough to use it two-three times a week.
As for the AHA/BHA Peeling Solution, if you use other acids in your weekly routine, I suggest you use it just once a month. Again, your skin does not need that much heavy exfoliation that regularly. If you don’t use any of the direct acids in your routine, I recommend you use it twice a month. More often than not, you’re double cleansing and using Retinol which is also a form of exfoliation.
The Ordinary Direct Acids are a great introduction to the world of chemical exfoliation. While the products are incredibly affordable and accessible, that doesn’t mean you should go overboard. Start with one acid at a time and build your tolerance. Like I always say, there’s no award for being able to withstand super high percentages of actives. You’re just gonna damage your skin in the long run.