review the ordinary glycolic acid 7% toning solution

Stop the press! I’ve found a toner I will use. This is a big deal because I find toners utterly useless. I’ve gone without one for 10 years and my skin has always been the BETTER for it. But The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution changed my mind – and my skin.

For starters, it’s more than flowery-smelling water (for dry skin) or a drying concoction (for oily skin). This toner has what it takes to brighten the complexion, smooth out wrinkles, and leave your skin softer. Plus, it’s a dupe for Pixi Glow, which is almost impossible to get in the shops anymore (it sells out that fast!).

If you’re curious to know how it won over my heart and my skin and whether you should make the switch to (even the best products are NOT for everyone), read on:

About The Brand: The Ordinary

The Ordinary changed the world of skincare forever. In the old days, drugstore products were basic moisturising concoctions that made your skin softer and smoother – nothing more. If you wanted anti-aging actives, like retinol and glycolic acid, you had to up your budget and go for a much more expensive line – usually one created by a dermatologist.

Brandon Truaxe, the founder of The Ordinary, wanted to change that – as well as putting transparency back into the skincare world. Every product in the line features at least one active that’s scientifically proven to minimise wrinkles, fade away dark spots, or treat acne.

They keep the prices low by skimping on texture (their products aren’t always the most pleasant to use) and marketing (they rely heavenly on word of mouth, cos who wouldn’t want to promote skincare this cheap – and that actually works?). Granted, some of the products use actives that are more hype than science (like any other brand), but you can usually count on The Ordinary to do what it promises – without breaking the bank.

Key Ingredients In The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution: What Makes It Work?


Glycolic acid is my favourite exfoliant. I like multitaskers and this one does a lot of jobs:

Awesome, right? It’s so effective because it’s the smallest member of the Alpha Hydroxy Acids family so it penetrates skin more deeply than its siblings Lactic acid & co.

But, there’s a catch. In the skincare world, more effective usually means more irritating. Start with a low concentration (this one is low) a couple of times a week and build up both dose and frequency from there.

P.S. If you have oily or acne-prone skin, you can stop reading now. Glycolic acid is awesome… for dry and sun-damaged skin.  Your skin type needs Salicylic acid (it exfoliates the pores, too) and this toning solution doesn’t have it.

Related: The Complete Guide To Glycolic Acid

Struggling to create an anti-aging routine that really works? Download your FREE “Best Anti-Aging Skincare Routine” cheat sheet to get started. It features product recommendations + right application order:


Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, like collagen and elastin. Without them, your skin would lose all its firmness and elasticity. Each amino acid works slightly differently. Here’s the lowdown on the most famous amino acids used in The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution:

  • Alanine: Another amino acids, one of the building blocks for collagen and elastin, the proteins that keep your skin firm and elastic.
  • Arginine: It may help wounds and skin cell damage heal faster.
  • Aspartic Acid: An amino acid with light hydration properties that also helps build collagen.
  • Glutamic Acid:An amino acid that deeply hydrates skin.
  • Glycine: It helps repair damaged tissue and speeds up the healing process.
  • Histidine: It fights the free radicals that cause wrinkles and has anti-inflammatory properties that soothe skin.
  • Isoleucine: Another hydrating amino acids that makes skin soft and supple.
  • Phenylalanine: An essential amino acid that helps skin retain moisture.
  • Proline: It reduces the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines and restores collagen synthesis after UV exposure.
  • Serine: An amino acid that helps retain moisture in the skin. Hydrated skin = younger-looking skin.
  • Threonine: Another hydrating amino acid.
  • Valine: This amino acids soothes and hydrates skin.

Related: Why You Should Add Amino Acids To Your Skincare Routine


Hexyl Nicotinate is a vasodilator that “causes the blood vessels near to the surface of the skin to increase in diameter and to increase their blood flow.” It doesn’t really do much for the skin but I had to mention it because it can be irritating if you have super sensitive skin.

The Rest Of The Formula & Ingredients

NOTE: The colours indicate the effectiveness of an ingredient. It is ILLEGAL to put toxic and harmful ingredients in skincare products.

  • Green: It’s effective, proven to work, and helps the product do the best possible job for your skin.
  • Yellow: There’s not much proof it works (at least, yet).
  • Red: What is this doing here?!
  • Aqua (Water): The main solvent in this product, it helps dissolve other ingredients in here.
  • Rosa damascena flower water: Floral waters are diluted versions of essential oils. They contain the same active ingredients, but in much smaller concentrations. This is derived from the flowers of the Damask Rise, which have antioxidant properties. But the fragrant components can irritate sensitive skin.
  • Centaurea cyanus flower water: Derived from cornflower, it has anti-inflammatory and soothing properties that calm down redness and irritations.
  • Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Water: Moisturising and soothing, it makes skin soft and reduces irritations.
  • Propanediol: It’s a solvent that dissolves other ingredients in the formula. It also acts a humectant, increase moisture content in the skin for softer skin.
  • Glycerin: It’s a humectant that attracts and binds water to the skin, increasing its moisture content, and leaving it softer and smoother.
  • Triethanolamine: It balances the product’s pH and thickens the formula.
  • Aminomethyl Propanol: It’s used to adjust the pH of a formula.
  • Panax Ginseng Root Extract: A powerful source of antioxidants that helps fight premature wrinkles and the signs of aging.
  • Tasmania Lanceolata Fruit/Leaf Extract: The berries of this plant have powerful anti-inflammatory properties that can relieve redness and irritations.
  • PCA: Derived from amino acids, it helps boost hydration in the uppermost layers of your skin.
  • Sodium PCA: Part of the skin’s natural protective barrier, it helps skin attract and retain moisture, keeping it softer, suppler, and younger-looking.
  • Sodium Lactate: The sodium salt of lactic acid, it hydrates skin and has minor antioxidant properties.
  • Fructose: A.k.a. fruit sugar, it binds water to the skin and keeps it hydrated.
  • Glucose: Another sugar that keeps skin hydrated and makes it softer.
  • Sucrose:  A type of sugar, usually refined from cane or beet sugar. It binds water to the skin to keep it hydrated.
  • Urea: A natural component of your skin’s natural protective barrier, it increases moisture levels in the skin and has a mild exfoliating action.
  • Dextrin: A blend of polysaccharides that helps to moisturize skin, leaving it softer and plumper.
  • Citric Acid: It helps to adjust the pH of a product.
  • Polysorbate 20: It’s an emulsifier that prevents the watery and oily parts of the product from separating.
  • Gellan Gum: A plant-derived texture enhancer that also helps keep cosmetic formulas stable during storage.
  • Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate: It neutralises the metal ions in the water that would otherwise spoil the formula.
  • Sodium Chloride: A.k.a. table salt, it thickens the texture of cosmetics.
  • Hexylene Glycol: It’s a solvent also used to thin out thick formulas.
  • Potassium Sorbate: A preservative that kills bacteria before they can spoil the product.
  • Sodium Benzoate: A preservative that makes skincare products last longer.
  • 1,2-Hexanediol: It’s a solvent that also boost the anti-microbial activity of other preservatives.
  • Caprylyl Glycol: It makes skin softer and smoother and boosts the effectiveness of other preservatives.


This toner has a liquidy and runny texture that absorbs quickly into your skin. I recommend you apply it with a cotton pad to avoid making a messy and wasting product unnecessarily.


This toner is fragrance-free. That’s a GOOD thing. I know fragrance-free products don’t smell the best. What you’re smelling is the ingredients – and there’s a reason why most brands cover them up with a flowery scent. But fragrances can be irritating, especially if you have sensitive skin. If you ask me (and I guess you are), irritants have no place in skincare.

How To Use It

This isn’t just a toner. It’s an exfoliating toner. So, use it like you would use every other glycolic acid products. Daily exfoliation can be drying and irritating, so I recommend you apply it every other night, after cleansing. Alternate it with retinol products at night. These two actives are very powerful and can irritate skin when used together. Finally, don’t use it during the day – exfoliation thins skin, making it more prone to sun damage.


This exfoliant comes in a see-through bottle with a big opening. The good news: it’ll last you for a long time. The bad news? It’s not the most practical and always releases more product than you need. Plus, glycolic acid will spoil overtime when exposed to light. Store it in a dark place.

​If you’re feeling completely intimidated and overwhelmed by The Ordinary skincare I recommend taking Extraordinary Skin With The Ordinary. A The Ordinary speed training created by my scientist friend Cheryl Woodman. Cheryl’s helped hundreds of ladies see real-life results, first hand. Click here to find out more about the course and see their reviews. (affiliate link)

The Ordinary Skincare Routine - Where to start with The Ordinary skincare

Performance & Personal Opinion

Exfoliating toners are the only type of toner I bother with. I must get my exfoliating fix somewhere and if a toner can do the job, awesome.

I alternate The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution at night with a retinol serum. It’s a liquid, so I pour a little on a cotton pad and apply it to my skin. If it’s your first time with glycolic acid, you’ll probably experience a gentle tingling. That’s totally normal.

If you get a burning sensation, on the other hand, that’s your cue to discontinue it. If your skin is too sensitive, it’ll never go along well with glycolic acid. 🙁 As for me, I’m used to acids so I had no tingling or burning.

After just a couple of uses, I could already see a difference. My skin’s texture is smoother. The pores around my nose (the only area where you can see pores on my face – I know I’m lucky) look smaller and tighter. My whole face glows.

With regular use, glycolic acid also helps fade dark spots, including the brownish mark those nasty pimples sometimes leaves behind. But I don’t have them (again, lucky, I know!) so I can’t personally vouch for this.

But the science is clear: if you have light hyperpigmentation, glycolic acid can help. If you have severe hyperpigmentation, use it together with a more powerful skin-lightener.

For now, this is good enough for me. 🙂

Related: Battle Of The Skin-Lighteners: Which Is The Best Alternative To Hydroquinone?

the ordinary glycolic acid toning solution

How Does The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution Compare To Pixi Glow?

TEXTURE Runny Runny

Pixi Glow contains a lot of the same actives as The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution: amino acids to hydrate skin, ginseng to fight premature wrinkles, and glycolic acid to exfoliate skin. The Ordinary contains a slightly higher concentration, so it works a little better and faster. Texture-wise, they’re both very lightweight to the point of being runny. The main difference is that Pixi Glow contains fragrance, so it’s NOT suitable for sensitive skin.

How Does The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution Compare To The Other Exfoliants From The Ordinary?

I don’t care if it comes in the form of a toner or a serum. An exfoliant is an exfoliant. The Ordinary has several exfoliants because different skin types have different needs. So, which one is best for you? Here’s a quick guide to help you make the best choice for your skin:

  • The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution (£6.30): This peeling solution features a very high concentration of exfoliating acids, including Glycolic and Salicylic, that’s great at fading away dark spots and cleansing pores. But, it’s VERY irritating. This is only for experienced acid users who have built tolerance to high doses. Available at Beauty BayBootsCult BeautySelfridgesThe Ordinary, and Ulta.
  • The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA (£6.00): Lactic acid exfoliates, hydrates, and brightens skin. It’s the gentlest exfoliant, so even sensitive skin can use it. This exfoliant also contains hydrating hyaluronic acid for an extra dose of moisture. Available at Beauty BayBootsCult BeautySelfridgesSephoraThe Ordinary, and Ulta.
  • The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA (£6.00): It has the same formula as The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA but with a higher concentration of Lactic Acid. If your skin is sensitive, but can take a higher dose, this is for you.. Available at Beauty BayBootsCult BeautySelfridgesSephoraThe Ordinary, and Ulta.
  • The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 10% + HA (£6.90): A very gentle exfoliant that brightens and smoothens the complexion. It’s the least effective in this list, so use it only if you can’t tolerate any other acids. Available at Beauty BayBootsSelfridgesSephoraThe Ordinary, and Ulta.
  • The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Anhydrous Solution (£5.60): Anhydrous means water-free. Instead of a water-base, it has an oily, moisturising Squalane base that makes the exfoliant gentler to use. Salicylic acid is a great option for oily skin because it unclogs pores to prevent and treat blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples. Available at Beauty BayBootsCult BeautySelfridgesSephoraThe Ordinary, and Ulta.
  • The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution (£5.10): Salicylic acid is the best exfoliant for oily skin. It penetrates your pores, unclogging them from within to prevent and remove blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples. It has a water-base, for those who prefer a more lightweight texture. Available at Beauty BayCult BeautySephoraThe Ordinary, and Ulta.

What I Like The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution

  • Lightweight, fast-absorbing texture.
  • Exfoliates skin, making skin softer and smoother.
  • Slightly hydrating.
  • It brightens the complexion.
  • Overtime, it helps to fade away dark spots.
  • Fragrance-free.
  • Affordable price.

What I DON’T Like The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution

  • The packaging isn’t very practical to use.

Who Should Use This?

Glycolic acid is the best exfoliating acid for dry skin and dark spots. Instead, I DON’T recommend it to:

Does The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution Live Up To Its Claims?

This 7% toning solution offers mild exfoliation for improved skin radiance and visible clarity. True.
The formula also improves the appearance of skin texture with continued use.  True.

Is The Ordinary Cruelty-Free?

Yes, The Ordinary is cruelty-free. They don’t test on animals and don’t outsource this process to anyone else either. Phew!

Price & Availability

$8.70/£6.80 at Cult Beauty, The Ordinary, Sephora, and Ulta

The Verdict: Should You Buy It?

If you’re looking for a glycolic acid exfoliant and are on a budget, this is one of the best on the market. It’ll exfoliate your skin, brighten your complexion, and fade away dark spots.

Dupes & Alternatives

  • Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant ($34.00): I know this is considerably pricier, but I prefer it. It has a slightly higher concentration of Glycolic acid, plus antioxidants with soothing properties to fight premature aging. Available at Paula’s Choice, Sephora and SpaceNK.
  • The Inkey List Glycolic Acid Toner (£11.99): This has the highest concentration of Glycolic Acid (10%) of all the exfoliants on this list. But this is all you get. No extra amino acids, antioxidants, or anything of the sort. Basic, but it gets the job done. Available at Boots, Cult Beauty, Sephora and The Inkey List.


Aqua (Water), Glycolic Acid, Rosa damascena flower water, Centaurea cyanus flower water, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Water, Propanediol, Glycerin, Triethanolamine, Aminomethyl Propanol, Panax Ginseng Root Extract, Tasmania Lanceolata Fruit/Leaf Extract, Aspartic Acid, Alanine, Glycine, Serine, Valine, Isoleucine, Proline, Threonine, Histidine, Phenylalanine, Glutamic Acid, Arginine, PCA, Sodium PCA, Sodium Lactate, Fructose, Glucose, Sucrose, Urea, Hexyl Nicotinate, Dextrin, Citric Acid, Polysorbate 20, Gellan Gum, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Sodium Chloride, Hexylene Glycol, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, 1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol