Among the depths of Reddit and TikTok, there is a new horror: people spilling scarlet liquid from a glass vial dropper across their face. It’s The Ordinary Peeling Solution, the skin-care world’s newest obsession.
It looks like fresh placenta, tingles like mint chapstick, and costs less than a Frappuccino. It looks like the terrifying “vampire facial” that’s popular with Kim Kardashian West and Gwyneth Paltrow, but it’s blissfully not made out of your own blood. And it’s going viral, with claims that it gives you the brightest, clearest skin of your life.
I tried the product—a $7 at-home chemical peel—for several weeks. Here's what I found: If you use The Ordinary’s iconic blood red mask correctly, your skin will glow as if lit from within by a vintage chandelier. If you use it incorrectly, your skin will be raw, red, and even damaged.
Let’s do this right.
How to Use The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
If you've ever vigorously rubbed your face with a washcloth, or massaged your face with a textured scrub, congratulations—you've used a physical exfoliant. And now I am coming to your house to do a socially distanced intervention, because this is not the most sophisticated technique science can offer, and I want better for you and your precious face. Chemical exfoliation sounds like an Enlightenment-era torture invention, but it is actually a gentler, more effective way to shed old skin cells and reveal brighter, clearer skin. So! Bring out the blood-colored vials!
There’s never been a skin-care line quite like The Ordinary—obsessed with clinical results and pure ingredients, allergic to seductive branding and fake promises, the company is a rare case of All the Hype Is Deserved (truly, just read our extensive reviews of all the best The Ordinary products). The line gives luxury ingredients at fast food prices—if you’re willing to brush up on your high school science knowledge. A full skin-care routine from The Ordinary could set you back less than the cost of drinks and apps, and last much longer. But navigating The Ordinary’s site feels like reading the periodic table of the elements. Products are sorted into categories like Molecules and Peptides and have names like EUK 134 0.1%.
The right tiny glass bottles, which will make your bathroom look like a chic apothecary, can transform your face better than almost anything, short of a visit to the dermatologist. But the strength of The Ordinary’s formulations also means that you need to know what you’re doing—even if what you appear to be doing is pouring fake blood on your face. What is an AHA+BHA solution, and why should you (very, very carefully) put it on your face?
The Ordinary Peeling Solution is distinguished from the brand’s other exfoliators because it is a wash-off mask, unlike, for example, the Glycolic Acid 7% toning solution, which you swipe on with a cotton pad, or the Salicylic Acid 2% solution, which you use as a spot treatment. The peeling solution (peel, as in it peels off your microscopic skin particles, not peel, as in it forms a satisfying mask which you can remove from your skin in one piece) is also distinct because it combines multiple types of exfoliants. It includes AHAs, or alpha hydroxy acids (glycolic, lactic, tartaric, and citric) and beta hydroxy acid (salicylic acid) at a very high concentration. That means that the mask will essentially obliterate dead skin cells and debris that causes clogged pores, getting you three steps closer to glorious, Janelle Monáe skin. It also means that if you use it too often, leave it on too long, or if your skin is just too sensitive, your face will freak out.
Following the instructions that come with the product, I cleansed my skin and dried it thoroughly. (I like to double cleanse with an oil or balm rinsed off with a mild cleanser.) I dripped on the product, and rubbed it in, looking increasingly insane. Instagram has popularized the image of touching a glass vial of skin care directly to your skin. Doing this moves the dirt from your skin into your bottle of product and contaminates it. Resist this urge! If your hands are sensitive (I don’t know if you’ve heard, but we’re washing them a lot these days), it may make sense to apply the product with gloves or on a cotton pad.
I didn't mind the tiny pinprick feeling of the mask because it gave me joy to imagine that the chemicals were munching up the dead cells and oil on my face. After 10 minutes, it washed off easily with warm water (I also used a cleanser, to make sure that the acid didn’t continue to sit on my skin). I finished with an abundant amount of my favorite thick, soothing moisturizer from Klairs. I used the mask twice a week, avoiding any other acid products throughout the week, and significantly lowered my normal retinol usage. (I typically use this one from The Ordinary. I am extremely not sponsored; I just love the brand.)
The glowing effect was immediate. My skin looked refreshed and brighter when I washed off the mask, and the healthy, lit-up look lasted overnight and into the next few days. Over several uses, I noticed that some of the acne scarring on my face had lightened noticeably. For this result, I would have happily put any amount of real blood on my face. However! When I used the product the fourth time, I noticed that I had a small but noticeable red patch on my face that I had never seen before—not a scratch, not a breakout, just an angry, immovable red patch. I don’t think it’s dramatic to say this made me wish I had never been born. The Ordinary recommends using the product “no more than twice a week.” I was using it twice a week, like someone who takes these things very, very literally.
Learn from my mistake. If you, like me, are a queen of ignoring recommendations to patch-test new products, make an exception for this one. Use it only once a week to start. Play around with keeping it on for five minutes or seven minutes, especially if your skin gets red easily. Also, you can concentrate it on the areas of your skin that only need it most. And one absolute dire warning: If you use exfoliants but do not use SPF every single day, you are helping the sun damage your skin. Please don't do this! Even if you are inside every single day, you need to wear sunscreen if you are as vain about your skin as I am.
Heed my warnings, and ye shall be the glowiest, most naturally high-lit, citizen of the internet. Now let’s do some acid.
The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
Jenny Singer is a staff writer at Glamour. Follow her on Twitter @jeanvaljenny.
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