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THE ORDINARY VS. THE INKEY LIST | WHICH AFFORDABLE SKINCARE BRAND IS BEST?


Advertisement information: this post discusses items gifted to me with no obligation to share them (marked *). In addition I have / have had a brand relationship with The Ordinary, Feel Unique, Cult Beauty and Beauty Bay (gifting) and Boots and the Inkey List (paid advertorial content). My blog has Skimlinks and RewardStyle installed to automatically monetise purchases of products I link on my blog, therefore this post may contain affiliate links. All opinions remain my own and please refer to my Disclosure Page  for further detail -

One of the questions I get asked a lot on social media is whether I prefer the Ordinary or the Inkey List for affordable, active-driven skincare, or to the compare individual similar products they offer. Today I'm going to address all of that!

- ABOUT THE BRANDS -

The Ordinary (a brand by Deciem, the same Canadian umbrella behind Niod and Hylamide) were, of course, on the scene earlier than the Inkey List and really did revolutionise skincare when they launched a colossal collection of very affordable single-ingredient skincare products. Understandably, many people found this confusing, and to this day many are still unsure what ingredients do or how to use the products. The Inkey List are a UK brand who've been around for a couple of years now. To be honest, when they first launched; I did assume they were just doing a really similar thing to the Ordinary, however as they grew I came to realise that definitely wasn't the case; of course a brand is going to initially launch with the products most people want, like your niacinamide or hyaluronic acid, however as they've grown there's been less of an overlap between the two brands. Whilst I have a few like-for-like comparisons in this post, many of the products we're looking at just occupy a similar place in my routine. I do find the Inkey List a tad more expensive, but we'll talk about value for money a little later on. 

In terms of my relationship with each brand; I think I'm pretty impartial, but I do want to properly disclose. Obviously, I always have my advertisement information at the top of the post but I don't want anyone to see that and think 'well Inkey have sponsored her so she's obviously going to pick them!' Because it doesn't quite paint an accurate picture. I've had a longstanding relationship with Deciem directly in terms of gifting and I've met their team several times and they've always been so fantastic and warm towards me. When the Inkey List first launched, I was actually gifted a couple of prototype products by their PR agency at the time who advised they'd send the finished products once they were finalised, however that never happened. Their PR agency then changed (which is quite possibly why the final products were never sent out), because I was invited to an event earlier this year by a different agency for Inkey which I couldn't make (because it was in London on a weekday) but I did mention that I was a big fan of the brand and would be interested in gifting opportunities with them, however they advised me that the brand are very specific on who they wanted PR sent to. However, a few months later a different agency selected me to work on a campaign they were doing (perhaps as they were looking to reach a wider audience with that piece than their usual circle of influencers), so I jumped at the opportunity and therefore have done paid work with them, though I'm not on their PR list and the only products they have ever gifted me were in relation to that work. So, in effect, I do have a much closer relationship with Deciem and have that direct contact, whereas I don't know the Inkey List beyond watching their founders on Instagram Lives, as I've only ever been via 3rd parties. However, Inkey have paid me before, which people think is some sort of ultimate decider! 

- BRANDING AND PACKAGING -    

The Ordinary are all about simplicity, which is a great thing in many ways, but does have its downsides. Whilst the Ordinary's regimen guide is really helpful, I do think they Inkey List do a little more in terms of education on what ingredients do, who they might be for and how to correctly use them. Their packaging and Instagram account are both treasure troves of information and I really like that. I do think Deciem could do more, especially when it comes to telling people how to correctly use their Peeling Solution...

Both brands are affordable and therefore keep it simple when it comes to packaging. By and large, both brands have functional packaging, with one or two missteps. I do like the Inkey List's branding with the black and white and the amount of information on their unit cartons, however given they're a touch more expensive than the Ordinary, I would have preferred higher-quality packaging, The glass with a dropper used by the Ordinary feels more premium and can be recycled, whereas the plastic used by the Inkey List can sometimes feel a bit cheap and isn't always the best in terms of getting product out!

- PRODUCT COMPARISON -  

The Cleanser: The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser | £13.95 (150ml) | full review | vs. the Inkey List Oat Cleansing Balm | £9.99 (150ml) | full review

Let's start off with a skincare basic: the cleanser! Weirdly, I felt lukewarm about both of these cleansers when I first used them, however the love grew over time. Both cleansers are very gentle and suitable for sensitive and / or compromised skin. I'd say both formulas are better-suited to normal and dry skin types than oily or combination, too. The Inkey List's formula is a true cleansing balm; it comes in a tube, which is a nightmare at first but gets better as you get further into the product. As you massage it in, it melts into an oil, which emulsifies on contact with water. I personally tend to use this to remove makeup (it's both gentle and effective for this purpose), however for dry skin, this could also be used as a moisturising morning cleanse because it contains oat kernel oil and other moisturisers like sunflower oil and sweet almond oil. The Ordinary's formula is actually a touch more expensive here, for the supersized edition, which is the same ml volume as the Inkey List's cleanser. However I do prefer this formula; it goes from a sort of cream-balm into a melting texture and does have that emulsification, which means it removes makeup really well. What I enjoy about this is that it's not a traditional balm, it's like a hybrid cleanser (a little reminiscent of Oskia's Renaissance Cleansing Gel) so it feels more natural as a morning cleanse on my skin personally. It's formulated primarily with squalane, which is a great barrier repair ingredient and skin moisturiser. It's close but the Ordinary just about get the point here!

The Exfoliating Toner: The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution | £6.80 (240ml) | full review | vs. The Inkey List PHA Toner | £9.99 (100ml) | full review

This isn't a like-for-like comparison, so is perhaps a little unfair but they're both exfoliating toners so we're doing it! Glycolic Acid is an AHA, with the ability to brighten and smooth the skin chemically. It's definitely on the harsher side when it comes to acids, but many people find it gives them the most dramatic results. PHAs, on the other hand, are far gentler; they have a large molecular size so exfoliate more on a surface level. I've realised I don't like the Ordinary's glycolic toner. Spoiler! However, I repurchased it to talk about in this post. Yes, it smooths my skin, and even helps with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation a little, but I find it drying and harsh. I definitely wouldn't use this every day and, in a sea of acid toners, this just doesn't stand out to me as anything special. Plus, the packaging is a leaky mess! The PHA toner has somewhat awkward but relatively secure packaging and I personally far prefer it. It doesn't dry out or irritate my skin but still delivers those smoothing benefits and makes quick work of dry patches. It's not even a contest: Inkey win this round, despite the huge price-per-ml difference here!

The Antioxidant Serum: the Ordinary Resveratrol 3% + Ferulic Acid 3% | £5.50 (30ml) | vs. the Inkey List Q10 Serum | £4.99 (30ml) | full review

Getting into serums: I'm going to talk about two different formulations with different ingredients that are aimed at the same skin concern. Antioxidants are formulated to condition and protect the skin against free radical damage and the early signs of aging. Obviously, it's kind of hard to judge whether an ingredient is protecting your skin from future damage in a typical product testing period, therefore I judge things more off the overall look and feel of my skin. I actually didn't think I'd used the Ordinary's formula before, but I have, however tested it out again for a little bit just to ensure I still felt similarly about it (and I do! Or, I actually think I prefer it now I'm more open to this type of formula.) Resveratrol is an antioxidant derived from the skin of red grapes and ferulic acid is also an antioxidant that helps stabilise the formula and boost the efficacy of the antioxidants it's paired with. This is an oil-based formula so I recommend it for normal, dry and mature skin types (I have no issues wearing this under makeup myself and it doesn't look overly shiny on my skin). It's incredibly moisturising, gives my skin an immediate glow and my complexion looks smooth and healthy after use. The Inkey List's antioxidant serum is formulated with Q10, which is a powerhouse antioxidant I believe was originally brought to market by L'Oreal. I think this serum has a beautiful texture that melts into the skin and feels really hydrating and not at all sticky or tacky. Again, it gives my skin a fresh, healthy glow and ensures it looks its absolute best. I really like both these serums so, although I'm trying to avoid this on the whole, I'm going to call it a draw!

The Treatment Serum: the Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% | £5 (30ml) | full review | vs. the Inkey List Niacinamide Serum* | £6.99 (30ml)

Niacinamide is a powerhouse ingredient that most skin types can benefit from using. It can regulate oil production, reduce redness and inflammation, strengthen the skin barrier and even reduce the appearance of pores and fine lines. My first experience with this ingredient was through the Ordinary and this serum was a slow-burn hero; it's that everyday maintenance that over time will really help keep the skin healthy and clear. I definitely don't suffer from breakouts like I used to, but it's still really helpful as a skin-calmer, particularly during the winter months when my skin can feel a little more tender and I sometimes suffer from redness. The Inkey List's formula is a touch more expensive, but I do think the texture is somewhat more pleasant. Whilst the Ordinary's isn't overly uncomfortable, it does have a slight tackiness to it, whereas the Inkey List's formula melts into the skin. The Ordinary's has the added benefit of zinc, which helps to calm inflammation and the Inkey List's formula also includes hyaluronic acid and some other skin moisturisers. I'm going to call this one a draw; I think the Ordinary's formula gives me those amazing niacinamide benefits on another level but the Inkey List's formula is more well-rounded if you want something that hydrates and moisturises at the same time as treating the skin.

The Hydrating Serum: the Ordinary's Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 | £5.90 (30ml) | full review | vs. Inkey List Hyaluronic Acid Serum | £5.99 (30ml) | full review

Hyaluronic Acid is a skincare staple for me; it's a humectant so draws water into the skin. The more molecular sizes of hyaluronic acid the formula contains, the more layers it can deliver hydration to. I recommend applying it to damp skin so that it can draw on that water as opposed to pulling the water from the surface into the deeper layers. One of my major bugbears is that many hyaluronic acid serums, particularly on the more affordable side, can feel sticky, tacky and filmy on the skin. To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of the Ordinary's for that reason. Whilst I do notice an increased level of hydration after using this serum, it's just too sticky and I dislike the texture too much to reach for this over the likes of Niod and Pestle and Mortar. The Inkey List's formula is much better in that respect, giving me healthier, plumper skin without that unpleasant stickiness, so they're the winner here for me.

The Eye Treatment: the Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG | £5.80 (30ml) | full review | vs. the Inkey List Caffeine Eye Cream | £8.99 (15ml) | full review

Spoilers up top: both of these products are just 'ok' to me. I did really like the Ordinary's formula when I first tried it a couple of years ago, but it's a lightweight gel and these days, I just feel as though I need a bit more. Likewise, the Inkey List's formula is a little creamier but still feels like it has more of a serum-like texture, so neither of these are heavy-duty eye creams. Caffeine's primary purpose is as an antioxidant, and the idea of 'waking up' your eye area with it is a bit of a myth. Both of these treatments do help with the puffiness around my eyes but neither shifted my dark circles (and not much can). I'm going to give this one to the Ordinary because I liked it enough to use up a bottle of it and it's far better value for money.

The Moisturiser: the Ordinary Natural Moisturising Factors + HA | £4.90 (30ml) | full review | vs. the Inkey List Multi-Biotic* | £12.99 (30ml)

These products really aren't similar in terms of their ingredients as such, but it would be weird to do a comparison review without the skincare essential that is a moisturiser. The Ordinary's formula is a great gentle option that will work for most skin types (bar very oily or very dry) because it's pretty simple and non-sensitising. It's full of fatty acids, hyaluronic acid and other skin-similar ingredients to contribute towards a healthy skin barrier. I personally find it moisturising but not at all heavy or rich. Yes, it's quite basic; but it works and it's something I'm happy to recommend to people on a budget. The Multi-Biotic is a more complex formula; pre, pro and post biotics help to manage the bacteria living on the skin's surface to promote a healthy balance. That's what gives this product a slightly yeasty smell, which could be off-putting for some. I like the light lotion texture; for normal skin like mine, this is exactly what I look for in a summer moisturiser. My main negative, though, is that with some serum and sunscreen combinations, this can pill up. That kind of prevents me from reaching for it as much as I'd like, because I have so many other moisturisers I don't have this issue with. I've heard really good things about their peptide moisturiser, so I think if you're looking for one to try from the Inkey List, I'd opt for that over this. The moisturiser round goes to the Ordinary.


I have to preface this by saying that the Ordinary's peeling solution is a great product that's been much maligned thanks to TikTok. Just to briefly run through the rules of using this product: 1. if you have sensitive skin, I'd probably skip this entirely, if not: patch test before use, 2. leave this on for no more than 10 minutes: a mild tingling is normal but burning / prolonged redness is not, so if it begins to irritate your skin in any way then rinse it off immediately, 3. it should be used no more than once or twice a week, 4. do not combine it with any other actives like retinol or Vitamin C or other treatments, such as microneedling, 5. wear sunscreen! That out of the way; for me, this blend of exfoliating acids (alongside glycolic acid there's also salicylic acid, which is oil-soluble, so can really penetrate into those pores) has helped me maintain clear, smooth and radiant skin through weekly use. I don't think it's for everyone, but for me it's been fantastic and I've paid many times more the price of this for results that were nowhere near as dramatic. The Inkey List's answer to it is an apple cider vinegar peel, which also contains 10% glycolic acid. I have to say; I was a little surprised they launched this product as I see Inkey as a science-led brand and ACV for the skin does veer a little into that DIY skin hacks / TikTok territory. It's also formulated with the high-percentage glycolic acid, so I can't help but wonder if that's what gives the results! It does work for me though, again it's quite a strong formulation, so the same guidance applies as with the Ordinary's. I do notice smoother, more radiant skin after use but it's not as dramatic as with the Ordinary's formula, plus this is far more expensive, so it's a no-brainer: the Ordinary wins this round.

The Oil: the Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Squalane | £5.50 (30ml) | vs. the Inkey List Squalane Oil | £8.99 (30ml)

Squalane is one of my favourite skincare ingredients. It's a plant-derived alternative to the oils our skin naturally produces, making it fantastic for dry and sensitive skin types. It effectively replenishes what your skin has lost and I like to use it as the final step in my evening skincare routine. It's basic, it's unglamourous, but it works! I honestly find these formulas to be interchangeable; they're both very moisturising on my skin but aren't overly greasy and don't clog my pores. They aren't going to transform your skin, but they're a great boost of nourishment and this is one of the few ingredients I can use when my skin is feeling sensitive. As I said, these formulas are pretty much the same in my experience, so purely based on the price difference; I'm declaring the Ordinary as the winner of this round.

- SO, WHO WINS? -

Ultimately, I've given more of the rounds to the Ordinary, but I actually think these brands are doing different things. The Inkey List has a smaller range but on average, my success rate is higher with their products. However, when it comes to products I can't be without, there are probably a couple more of the Ordinary's line in that category for me. They each offer me different things, in a lot of cases; the Ordinary has a mandelic acid, pycnogenol and more Vitamin C options, whereas the Inkey List has collagen, PHAs and bakuchiol, and these are products unique to each. Ultimately I'm a big champion of both brands for different things, however hopefully in the areas of overlap, the above comparison has helped you decide which to go for. So there we have it: a fence-sitting post neither brand would really thank me for!


Have you tried either brand? Which is your overall favourite?


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