Beauty

This $7 Serum Is Like an Eraser for Dark Spots

If you’re on any type of social media, chances are you’re familiar with The Ordinary’s skin-care products. The brand’s array of affordable serums, creams, and oils — including the Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution and Readers’ Choice-winning AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution — have consistently been praised by board-certified dermatologists, micro, and macro beauty influencers alike (hey, @dermdoctor). Even Allure editors (who have access to just about every product under the sun) are devoted to some of the brand’s offerings, which made the release of the brand’s latest serum all the more exciting.

The Ordinary’s Salicylic Acid 2% Anhydrous Solution was made for fickle skin types like mine (which we’ll get to in a bit). What makes this treatment, in particular, stand out from its skin-care comrades, is its gentler approach to acid-based exfoliation, which has a reputation for irritating sensitive skin types. “The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Anhydrous Solution was created to cater to both inexperienced users, and those who found our [now discontinued] Salicylic Acid 2% Solution unsuitable for their skin,” says Rita Silva, the science communications associate manager at Deciem, the parent company of The Ordinary. 

Though the main ingredient in the Salicylic Acid 2% Anhydrous Solution is, salicylic acid, an exfoliating beta hydroxy acid known for its intensive, pore-unclogging abilities, my sensitive skin had no adverse reaction to it. According to cosmetic chemist Ginger King, 2 percent is the maximum concentration of salicylic acid that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows in a single over-the-counter skin-care product, so how is this serum so gentle? 

Silva says this is because the brand uses a waterless (also known as anhydrous) form of salicylic acid. “The anhydrous nature of this formula allows for the release of free-form, unionized acid, independent of pH, as the emollient base does not support ionization,” she says. Translation: Since there’s no water in this formula, it has no pH level, therefore, it won’t mess with the pH level of your skin.

This serum also contains squalane, an emollient known for its moisturizing abilities. “Squalane is similar to the natural sebum on our skin,” King adds. “It helps to moisturize skin and prevent any potential irritation from salicylic acid.” Another skin-comforting ingredient in this serum is polyglycerides, which King defines as a “modified oil that helps moisturize and provides a nice texture to the product.” Silva adds that the polyglycerides significantly slow the salicylic acid’s delivery to the skin, therefore providing a gentler approach to distributing this intensive acid on sensitive skin types.