I first heard about The Ordinary’s 23% Vitamin C Suspension with 2% HA Spheres on r/skincareaddiction. I was just starting to learn about vitamin C serums and knew that shelf stability was a problem for vitamin C in skincare. The way people talked about this product was as if it was revolutionary – a shelf stable but highly potent serum from an up-and-coming beauty brand making big waves for offering quality formulations at affordable prices.

Summary

Good: Really great price for how potent and effective it is is.
Bad: The texture sucks and it can sting or be irritating for some people.
Would I Buy Again: Since the potency and price are great I might try this again in the future if I’ve exhausted a few other options I want to try.
Would I Recommend: I would recommend this if you’re on a budget and you want maximum potency. It’s only about $6USD an ounce so it’s not a huge investment to try even if you find you don’t like it.

What’s so great about it?

What sets this serum apart is that the very potent ascorbic acid is in an anhydrous or water free solution, which means that it doesn’t degrade and your skin gets maximum vitamin C potency. It was sold out for months (which I took as a good sign) and by the time I got my hands on a tube I was right in the middle of a bottle of C Firma. I tried it a few times anyway because I was so excited to see what it could do.

What I had already tried

By the time I actually got this serum and used it I had already tried 4 or 5 ascorbic acid serums so I wasn’t a vitamin C beginner.

First Impressions

How I used it

The first time I used it was before bed, right after cleansing. I squeezed a generous dollop onto my fingers and spread it across my face and down my neck. A lot of the reviews I read before buying mentioned the gritty texture. I thought I could handle it if it’s for a serum that works so I went into it with an open mind, thinking I was prepared.

The feeling = gritty

It is really gritty. It’s a very fine grit so I can’t really compare it to salt or anything. If I had to I’d say baking soda was the closest, but there are also larger bits throughout that make it a little more uneven than baking soda. Looking at it spread across my hand, it doesn’t look very grainy at all – that’s how fine the grit is.

It doesn’t feel nice to apply by any stretch. Actually it feels pretty bad. The grit scrapes across skin as you try to spread it and I always wonder if it’s creating little tears every time I use it.

layering with other cosmetics

After that first application I didn’t layer any moisturizer on top of it, since it feels pretty emollient on it’s own.

Irritation

I noticed a little bit of tingling, but then the tingling turned into stinging and the stinging turned into itching and burning. I think I woke up a few times that night feeling sharp little pinches like fire ants on my face, along my jawline, and on my neck. It was really uncomfortable.

Since then I’ve probably used it a total of a dozen times and I haven’t had a reaction like that again. Now I can apply it at night and not feel anything, so I guess my skin built up a tolerance for it.

The company confirms as much on the product page.

A very strong tingling but non-irritating sensation is expected during the first 1-2 weeks of use until the skin’s tolerance to such high exposure is elevated. If the sensation is too strong to tolerate, the formula can be mixed on each application with other creams or serums of your preference. Deciem

Does it work?

As far as effectiveness goes, I haven’t used it very consistently so it’s hard to make an accurate guess. Generally, I think it works. It’s a really high concentration of ascorbic acid and when I use it I wake up to glowing, plump and hydrated feeling skin – potentially a result of the dehydrated hyaluronic acid spheres in it.

Although it does seem like it could be very effective long-term, the issues with texture and the general feeling of using it make it unlikely to enter my regular rotation. To be fair, it’s also because there are a lot of other serums on the market that I want to try.

At the moment I’m using it once or twice a week as an extra boost to my existing regime. It’s possible I might return to this in the future and give it a solid 3-4 weeks of consistent use to see if it performs better than some of my other favorites. I might also try the Vitamin C Suspension 30% in Silicone next time.

How it Compares to Other Serums

Other serums I’ve tried:

  1. Cosmetic Skin Solutions 20% Vitamin C with Ferulic Acid & Hyaluronic Acid: fav
  2. Drunk Elephant C Firma: also fav but expensive – see my review
  3. Cosmetic Skin Solutions Vitamin C + E Serum: pretty good
  4. Timeless 20% Vitamin C + E + Ferulic: pretty good
  5. Amara Organics 20% Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid & Vitamin E: meh
  6. The Ordinary Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate 20% in Vitamin F: hated it – so drying for me

All of these except the ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate are ascorbic acid in a water-like liquid (usually propylene glycol.) It’s a pretty standard formula and they all feel fairly similar, barring any differences in potency.

The Ordinary’s Vitamin C Suspension is unlike any of these. Even the ascorbyl isotetrapalmitate is still a liquid (albeit an oil) but the C suspension is more like a chalky paste, as shown in this comparison picture.

My Cosmetic Skin Solutions serum is starting to oxidize – notice the orange tinge. Time to use it up asap.

In my experience the more potent a serum is, the more dramatic the effects are even after one application. When I used serums 1 – 3, I would see a difference right away. Glowy skin that just got glowier and smoother the longer I used the serum. I take that as a sign of a very good high potency serum.

I think the suspension is as potent as serums 1 and 2, which is pretty amazing considering it’s 1/6th of the cost of Cosmetic Skin Solutions and 1/16th of the cost of the C Firma. I’m just really not into how it feels. Too bad.

How to use it

It can be used both AM and PM. I’ve only used it PM because I don’t like layering sunscreen over the grittiness. The company recommends mixing it with a cream to reduce the grittiness and tingling – I guess that cream could be a sunscreen?

I sent out a few questions online to figure this out – still waiting for answers and will update this when I know for sure.

Who is it for

I wouldn’t recommend this if you have sensitive skin. If you’re new to ascorbic acid as well you may want to combine it with a cream and use sparingly for the first week or so since it’s so potent.

Ingredients

Overall the ingredients list isn’t bad. Ascorbic acid is of course the first ingredient as it should be. Hyaluronic acid also appears and the rest seems to be mostly emollients, skin conditioning agents, and stabilizers of various forms. Everything is non-toxic according to the EWG except maybe the BHT.

Ascorbic Acid: The most potent form of vitamin C
Squalane: non-comedogenic emollient and hydrator
Isodecyl Neopentanoate: skin conditioning/ emollient
Isononyl Isononanoate: skin conditioning/ emollient
Coconut Alkanes: emollient and solvent
Ethylene/Propylene/Styrene Copolymer: for viscosity
Ethylhexyl Palmitate: skin conditioning/ emollient
Silica Dimethyl Silylate: anti-caking/bukling/viscosity
Sodium Hyaluronate: hyaluronic acid
Glucomannan: emulsifier/thickener
Coco-Caprylate/Caprate: skin conditioning / emollient
Butylene/Ethylene/Styrene Copolymer: viscosity agent
Acrylates/Ethylhexyl Acrylate Crosspolymer: film former
Trihydroxystearin: skin conditioning / occlusive / viscosity agent
BHT: preservative

Reviews 

The reviews aren’t bad but they aren’t great. The one’s I’ve read usually mention the texture and I’m sure that’s a lot of the reason the reviews aren’t better than they are.

The Brand

The Ordinary is owned by Deciem, a skincare startup out of Canada that’s started moving from a cult favourite in skincare circles to mainstream popular over the last year. The Ordinary has a pretty extensive line of vitamin C serums. The fact that the brand understands that there’s no one size fits all solution in skincare is a good sign to me.

Where to Buy

If you’re in North America you can find it on Amazon or on Deciem’s website – they ship globally as far as I know.

Author

My name is Cristina and I'm the founder of bold + blush. I used to think that my bad skin was something I had no control over. Now at almost 31 I have better skin than I had 10 years ago. After I learned how to care for my skin the right way I realized there's a whole world of factual information out there buried under all the beauty industry BS. I use bold + blush to share my findings and help other people get on the road to better skin. Sometimes I also write about hair care, fitness and self improvement. If you want to ask a question or talk about skincare you can tweet, comment, or email me - I always respond.

1 Comment

  1. I’ve found the best way to avoid the gritty feeling, is mixing two or three little dots of this and the same amount of The Ordinary’s hyaluronic acid or their new marine hyaluronics [which I’ve been loving in place of their straight hyaluronic acid serum] in the palm of my hand and then dotting and working it into my skin.. then my sunscreen. That little tip saved me from it pilling up or becoming extra greasy!

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