I’m so excited to share this The INKEY List vs The Ordinary review with you. If The Ordinary and The INKEY List were to be chocolate (you know I have to go there ;)) then together they’re like opening up a pack of Revels.
On the outside they’re looking pretty similar… when you bite in, there’s a world of difference between them.
Chocolate orange. Coffee flavour. Raisins.
You never know what you’re going to get.
Well… until you read this The INKEY List vs. The Ordinary review.
Because I’m a scientist who’s got your back 🙂
And you’re about to find out the 6 key ways The INKEY List vs The Ordinary differ. Meaning you’re about to find out which is YOUR holy grail line.
Plus, some gossip on the inside workings of these two companies.
Are you ready for it? Eek. Let’s get to this.
The INKEY List vs. The Ordinary – quick recap, how they’re the same
Oooeee when The Ordinary first launched back in 2016 they hit our shelves with a bang. Never before had we been offered such ingredient transparency. Actives like retinoids, hyaluronic acid and niacinamide in declared concentrations and at a ridiculously purse-friendly price tag.
Psst – how much active a serum has matters big time – it’s one of the key ways we know if you’re going to start seeing skin benefits.
And in the turbulent seas of The Ordinary’s big bang launch, we saw a swarm of me-too’s hanging onto their coattails.
It seemed like every other skincare company wanted in.
Paula’s Choice launched boosters. Companies like Beauty Bay made their own branded versions. True rivals and competitors like The INKEY List popped up.
We were spoilt for choice. Hooray.
But it’s also super overwhelming eh. Which is why I’m laying it out straight for you here in this The INKEY List vs. The Ordinary review.
We start at the beginning. What makes The INKEY List vs. The Ordinary the same? How are they true rivals?
Here’s why my friend;
- Both use EXCEPTIONALLY well-proven actives in concentrations that can benefit your skin
- Both are budget-friendly
- The INKEY List and The Ordinary are both free from fragrance and essential oils – winning for sensitive skin (!)
- Both are fully transparent about the ingredients they use
- Both focus on their serums being ‘skincare boosters’ – meaning you’re adding them in to power-it-up your existing routine – taking it from candlelight to a 1000W lightbulb of brightness 😉
So, which is better The Ordinary or The INKEY List? To find out which is best for your special skin, we now need to know how they differ. I’ve got just the exposé for you 😉
Which Is Better The Ordinary or The INKEY List?
I’m so excited to share this bit with you because as a skincare formulator this is my bread and butter. I know what those crazy-sounding science words on the ingredients lists mean – and I can also expose some cheeky formula hacks which might make you think a formula’s working – when it’s actually temporary magic. Yikes eh. Keep reading to see what I mean.
Okay so we start at the beginning.
1. The INKEY List offers more ‘whole’ formula’s vs. The Ordinary
What do I mean by this? Well, imagine if you went to buy a cupcake. If you purchased a cupcake from The Ordinary you would have to buy the cake, the icing and the cherry on top separately. Which might look something like their niacinamide serum followed by their Natural Moisturising Factors followed by their 100% plant-derived squalane.
But if you purchase a cupcake from The INKEY List, you can just buy a whole cupcake straight out. You could just for example get their new Symbright moisturiser.
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That’s because The Ordinary rarely mix oils with water-based actives in their formulas. Which means right now they have a wardrobe full of serums and just one moisturiser.
This is versus The INKEY List who have a heap of moisturisers too.
Psst – a moisturiser is just water and oil-based actives mixed together.
The INKEY List vs. The Ordinary; which do I recommend based on this key difference? I love that The INKEY List have multiple moisturiser options, however, in general actives penetrate your skin more effectively in thinner formulas – meaning serums do it best. The Ordinary wins for me on this one. But it’s super close – because if you like to sleepwalk through your morning skincare routine – then The INKEY list wins out.
You can grab my free How to Mix The Ordinary cheatsheet here if you need help getting started.
2. The INKEY List offers more traditional ‘formats’ & can be easier to use
Say you’re looking for a moisturiser. The INKEY List has a heap. What about a spot treatment? Yes, they have that covered too. A cleanser? There are multiple options to choose from.
This is just not true for The Ordinary.
The Ordinary are focused on simple serum boosters.
You have booster options for some of the most important actives;
- Vitamin C
However, The INKEY List are different.
They have options for all those skincare products you’re used to;
- Spot treatments
- And yes they have serums and face oils too
It makes The INKEY List a little easier to navigate vs. The Ordinary. You know what these products do. You can see a moisturiser and know when to use it. Layering is less complicated.
The INKEY List vs. The Ordinary; which do I recommend based on this key difference? The INKEY List win on this one, especially if you’re new to skincare, there are so many ways you can go wrong with The Ordinary and if you do, you can really do your skin some harm. We’re talking about chemical burns. Eek. It’s why I created Extraordinary Skin with The Ordinary – which helps you find out how to use The Ordinary safely, without overwhelm and in a way which gets you visible benefits.
3. The INKEY List use some instant benefit actives
This is the temporary magic my friend. And there’s nothing wrong with temporary magic if you’re aware you’re using it. Otherwise, you might think you’re using a formula which ‘really works’. One which makes you go WOW – my skin’s amazing, I’ve found ‘the one’ for me, when actually what you’ve found is the baby makeup and skincare would make if they ever ‘got it on’.
Come see what I mean. Take for example The INKEY List’s new Symbright moisturiser.
This is the ingredients list;
Psst – don’t worry if this looks like gobble-de-gook. I’m showing you what to pay attention to after 🙂
The INKEY List Symbright Moisturiser ingredients list; Water (Aqua /Eau), Glycerin, Glyceryl Stearate SE, Cetearyl Alcohol, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Stearic Acid, Phenoxyethanol, Benzyl Alcohol, Carbomer, Sclareolide, Mica, Kappaphycus Alvarezii Extract, Ethylhexylglycerin, Dehydroacetic Acid, Sodium Hydroxide, Terminalia Ferdinandiana Fruit Extract, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Sea Water, CI 77891 (Titanium Dioxide)
Did you see that highlighted ingredient? The one named – mica?
Mica is a light-reflecting powder. It can make your skin look instantly brighter as it scatters light away from your skin.
Kinda like tin foil 😉
There’s nothing wrong with using these instant effect actives. The INKEY List are even super transparent about it in their Hepta-Peptide treatment which uses an ‘instant blurring effect’ active. It’s like day-long soft-touch focus.
You just want to know you’re using it eh.
The INKEY List vs. The Ordinary; which do I recommend based on this key difference? Hmm, this one’s hard to say. Because I know which formulas The INKEY List use instant effect actives in, I’m ok with this. It’s a personal preference. And heck, if it makes skin look better, I’m all in. However I just want to know, so I’m not relying on something which can only make skin look better, not be better long term.
P.s. If you stop using a formula for a week and instantly see that brightening effect vanish – that’s a sign key actives aren’t working to get your skin real change. Long-lasting change.
The Ordinary formulas don’t use these instant benefit actives so you know the skin changes you’re seeing are the real deal. Wahoo.
4. The INKEY List is more ‘natural’
When the INKEY List launched back in 2018 – which by the way, they did in an 18-week timeline – that’s crazy quick. They launched with 15 products which spanned from a hemp seed moisturiser to a Turmeric cream to a Kaolin mud mask.
And they’ve continued to lean towards natural.
Take for example their Oat Cleansing Balm or their new Symbright moisturiser which also features 2% Kakadu Plum Extract and 1% Red Algae Complex.
The INKEY List are not a ‘natural’ beauty brand but they do lean towards using a fair few natural actives.
If natural is your jam, then The INKEY List may be for you.
But keep in mind natural doesn’t always mean effective. Which is why The INKEY List do not solely rely on natural actives.
The INKEY List vs. The Ordinary; which do I recommend based on this key difference? Personally, I don’t make a distinction based on this key difference, I’m all about if active ingredients work and if they’re skin-similar/skin-identical/if your skin will know how to use them. Natural is second to this because let’s face it, not everything that’s natural – arsenic I’m looking at you 😉 – is good for you. Although don’t get me wrong, I do love a good natural active. And if you tell me this is your Jam as I’m making you a skincare routine which works, then you’re about to get the best natural skincare routine you’ve ever had.
5. The INKEY List are now more innovative
The recent launches are exciting! Although this may be because The Ordinary has not launched a new and exciting product in a while. What feels like years.
And that’s for a reason. There’s a whole back story here.
The Ordinary launched in 2016 as a startup venture pioneered by Brandon Truaxe. In 2018 the company politics were publicly aired in a shocking way. On Instagram. Due to The Ordinary’s quick rise to fame perhaps, it seemed their leader was in need of help.
At the time beauty giant Estee Lauder owned a minority share in The Ordinary. Now they’re a majority shareholder. And that’s changed things.
Psst – Estee Lauder is a grandad company and they tend to make slow moves. They’re not agile like a startup.
The INKEY List still have agility. And it’s exciting to watch.
However, where The INKEY List focuses new launches on new and exciting actives, I will always return to The Ordinary for tried and tested actives. For example, you can’t beat The Ordinary’s vitamin C and retinoid portfolio.
Both are super-dooperly well-proven.
Vs. The INKEY List who have 3 vitamin C offerings (with only one being a true vitamin C booster) plus a retinol cream and a retinol eye cream.
You can see the difference here eh.
The INKEY List vs. The Ordinary; which do I recommend based on this key difference? For tried and tested results it’s The Ordinary. For new and exciting actives – which I will always sandwich between tried and tested actives – it’s The INKEY List.
Psst – if you want to get a head start on layering those tried and tested actives in a skin-safe way, get your free copy of my How to Mix The Ordinary Skincare cheatsheet – click here to get it now.
6. The INKEY List have plastic packaging, with not a dropper in sight
I’ve saved this one till last because it does not benefit your skin 😉 but it is also a key difference.
The Ordinary are super focused on glass dropper bottles. It fits with their clinical look and feel. And the amber coloured ones also help to protect the precious actives inside from light damage. Wahoo. More of the good stuff is saved for your skin.
This is vs. the INKEY List who use plastic packaging. Their serums are in disc-top caps which are not always the easiest things to use – although you quickly get used to it. And I love that they use new packaging inventions like the pump jar their peptide moisturiser comes in. This stops you from contaminating jar moisturisers with chocolate-covered fingers 😉
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But the most important part – are they both recyclable?
Yes and yes. Wahoo. And here are the finer details;
- All of The INKEY Lists bottles are fully recyclable – however, their caps aren’t – they recommend you remove them. Their cardboard packs are also fully recyclable. Big brownie points.
- The Ordinary match this but go one further, you can recycle their dropper caps if you live near a The Ordinary store – plus psst – they’ll also accept packaging from ANY other skincare brand – stores are based in Toronto, Vancouver and Mississauga – can you tell The Ordinary are Canadian founded? 😉
The INKEY List vs. The Ordinary; which do I recommend based on this key difference? I’ve got to say The Ordinary seems to be going above and beyond on this one.
Which Is Better The Ordinary or The INKEY List?
Don’t make me choose… you’re going to make me choose – aren’t you 😉
Ok, I’m going to make this super simple.
I choose The Ordinary for tried and tested actives.
I choose The INKEY List for new and exciting actives.
Which means The Ordinary are my bread and butter. The INKEY List are my icing on top.
Which is your favourite? Come let me know in the comments below.
Cheryl Woodman is a scientist & award winning skincare formulator who’s more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim is to help you care for your skin in the best ways possible. She’s founder of the natural & fragrance free skincare brand Honesty while also hosting 1 to 1 skincare coaching to help you get your best skin yet. Find out more here.