The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution review

I don’t know what it is about my nose, but blackheads love it. It’s the only area where they show up (well, that and the skin just around it). All the time. They make my nose look like a dalmata and enlarge my pores so much, I swear you can see them from the moon. The only thing that gives them the boot and keeps them from coming back is salicylic acid (but I have to be super diligent with it).

I usually get my fix from Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant but this year, I’m cheating on it with The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution. Finally, this baby is back in stock and I couldn’t be happier with it. It’s a more basic version of Paula’s Choice (hey, for the price, you can’t really complain), but it does the job just as well. Will I switch back to my first love? Mmmm….

About The Brand: The Ordinary

Did you know The Ordinary is the most sought-after skincare brand? Can’t say I’m surprised. The brain child of tortured genius Brandon Truaxe, the brand was the first of its kind to bring powerful actives to drugstores for a fraction of the cost. While before you had to spend an arm and a leg to get high concentrations of retinol, now you could get your mitts on it for roughly the price of two cups of coffee. How amazing is that?

Critics said it couldn’t be done. But Brandon did it – and now the skincare world is full of copycats. The catch? Each product contains only one active. Yes, that active can fight acne, reduce wrinkles or whatever it says on the tin, but it won’t go the extra mile. I like to think of The Ordinary as a skincare supplement. If I’m missing an ingredient from my skincare routine, I’ll turn to this brand. If I’m looking for a multi-tasking product, I won’t find it here.

Key Ingredients In The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution: What Makes It Work?


Pretty much every exfoliant out there promises to clean your pores and rid them of the crap that’s clogging them up. But unless they use an acid that’s oil-soluble and can get through the skin’s lipid (oil) barrier, they can’t. Salicylic acid (also called BHA) is the only acid that can do the feat. It penetrates the pores and unclogs them from within.

This is essential when you’re dealing with blackheads (and other types of acne). If you just scrub away the black head of the blemish and leave the tail inside the pore, it’s only a matter of time before that little bugger rears its ugly head again.

Salicylic acid also exfoliates the surface of the skin so the dead cells that pile up on its surface can’t fall into the pores and clog them up again. Plus, surface exfoliation make skin softer, smoother and more even-toned.

FYI, this makes exfoliation a regular job. If your skin’s prone to blackheads and pimples, using salicylic acid every day can keep them from coming back in the first place. One more thing: salicylic acid also has anti-inflammatory properties. It means it can soothe irritations and reduce the redness that always comes along with pimples.

Related: Why Salicylic Acid Is The Key To Spot-Free Skin

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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 the product, it helps dissolve other ingredients.
  • Saccharide Isomerate: A mixture of hydrating corn-derived sugars, it has humectant properties that attract water from the air into the skin and bind it there. The result? Softer, smoother, hydrated skin.
  • Cocamidopropyl Dimethylamine: A cleansing agent with foaming properties. It’s used here to stabilise Salicylic Acid, so that it works better for longer.
  • Hydroxyethylcellulose: A popular thickening agent in skincare products.
  • Polysorbate 20: A cleansing agent that also helps the oily and watery parts of a formula from separating.
  • Citric Acid: An exfoliant, it’s used here to adjust the pH of the product, so that it works its best without irritating skin.
  • Sodium Citrate: Another pH-adjuster.
  • Sodium Hydroxide: Yep, this ingredient helps to balance the pH of skincare products too.
  • Phenoxyethanol: A gentle preservative that prevents bacterial contamination and keeps your skincare products safe for longer.
  • Chlorphenesin: Another preservative that prevents any nasties from growing in your skincare products and spoil them.


This exfoliant has a weird texture. It’s a watery-gel that dries down a little tacky. If you apply a little too much, it also foams a little. I’ve never seen anything like that before and it’s probably due to the cleansing agent used to stabilise Salicylic Acid. This is also what you get for the price. The Ordinary doesn’t cut corners on effectiveness, like so many other brands do. But they do cut corners on texture – and that’s not always pleasant.


This exfoliant is fragrance-free – and that’s how I like my skincare products. I know it’s not for everyone. Fragrance makes your skincare products smell amazing but, it’s also one of the most irritating ingredients used in skincare. For sensitive skin, it’s a no-no.

How To Use It

Salicylic Acid is an exfoliant, so every day is a no-no – unless you have very severe acne and your doctor has told you it’s ok to exfoliate daily. Everyone else, use it every other night. It’s enough to get rid of blackheads and acne without irritating skin. You could potentially use it during the day, but the more layers you pile on in the morning, the harder it is for your sunscreen to spread evenly. So night it is. Alternate it with retinol. For most people, these two actives are too harsh to be used one after the other.


This exfoliant comes in a small, white bottle with a dropper applicator. It looks sleek on my vanity, sort of like a little potion. It’s also very practical. It dispenses the right amount of product you need and there’s no wastage.

Performance & Personal Opinion

Ever wondered why The Ordinary is so cheap? They give you all the best active ingredients to target your skin concerns, but they compromise on textures. The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution is the perfect example. While Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant has a lovely, silky texture, The Ordinary Salicylic 2% Solution is tacky and foamy.

If that’s cool with you, you’ll get the same results from both exfoliants. Within a week, The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution made all my blackheads disappear. Usually, I use salicylic acid at night only on my nose area cos that’s where the little buggers like to take up residence. But a week before my period is due, when hormones are sending my sebaceous glands into overdrive and forcing them to produce way too much oil than my skin needs, I also apply a couple of drops on my chin area, where I’m prone to hormonal acne.

It usually does the trick but on the rare occasion a pimple does spring up on my chin (because pimples are evil and if they can pop up before a special occasion, they will), I apply a drop of this on the nasty bugger a couple of times a day to make it go away a little faster. It’s not a magical potion and doesn’t make the pimple disappear overnight. But the next day, the pimple does look smaller and less red. I repeat the process a couple more days and puff, my skin’s clear again.

Keep in mind, though, that salicylic acid works best at prevention than cure. If you have a pimple that’s come to a head, waiting three days for it to disappear completely can feel like an eternity. That’s why, if your skin is prone to them, it’s best to use this stuff regularly to prevent them in the first place. I didn’t experience any dryness or irritation even though I use it daily on some areas. If your skin’s on the sensitive side, though, you may want to use it a little less often, just in case.

the ordinary salicylic acid 2 solution

How Does The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution Compare To The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Anhydrous Solution?

Anhydrous means “without water.” Unlike most exfoliants that use it as their base, The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Anhydrous Solution doesn’t use a drop of water. Usually, exfoliating acids need a low pH to work their magic on their skin. Without water, there’s no pH. One less thing to worry about. So how does it work instead?

This exfoliant has an oily base, so you need to be careful what you apply afterwards. A water-based serum or moisturiser on top won’t work and may cause pilling. It’s a good option for those who don’t mind oil-based products. But if your skin is acne-prone and already has too much oil, the non-anhydrous version is better. If you’re interested in the Anhydrous version, you can get it for £6.40 at Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty, Sephora, SpaceNK, The Ordinary, Ulta.

How Does The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution Compare To The Other The Ordinary Exfoliants?

The Ordinary has a gazillion exfoliants – and they all use a different acids. Comparing Salicylic Acid to Glycolic Acid is like comparing apples to oranges – one isn’t better than the other, they’re just different. Said that, different skin types need different acids, so you do want to know which one would better suit your needs instead of just going for Salicylic because it’s popular, know what I mean? Here’s a quick guide to help you pick the best The Ordinary exfoliant for your unique skin type and needs:

  • The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution (£8.40): This solution treats acne, fades away dark spots, and boosts collagen to fade away wrinkles. But it’s too harsh for most skin types. Unless your skin is used to very high concentrations of acids and you know how to use them safely, stay away! Available at Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty, Sephora, SpaceNK, The Ordinary, and Ulta.
  • The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution (£11.50): A thin, toner-like exfoliant that exfoliates and brightens the complexion, but can’t fight acne. It’s best suitable for dry skin. Available at Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty, Sephora, SpaceNK, The Ordinary, and Ulta.
  • The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA (£6.90): The gentlest and most hydrating exfoliant the. brand makes. It removes dead cells, makes the complexion brighter, and hydrates skin. I only recommend it to very sensitive skin that can’t tolerate any other exfoliant. Available at Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty, Sephora, The Ordinary and Ulta.
  • The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA (£7.90): Lactic acid exfoliates and hydrates skin at the same time. It’s also the gentlest of the acids, so the best choice for sensitive skin. Available at Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty, Sephora, SpaceNK, The Ordinary and Ulta.
  • The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 10% + HA (£6.50): It exfoliates skin, brightens the complexion, and even helps treats acne. It’s a larger molecule than Salicylic Acid, so it doesn’t penetrate skin as well. Translation: it gives you results much slower. I only recommend it to oily, sensitive skin that can’t tolerate Salicylic Acid. Available at Beauty Bay, SpaceNK, The Ordinary and Ulta.

How Does The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution Compare To Other Common Salicylic Acid Exfoliants?

Wondering how The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution compares to other popular alternatives on the market? Let’s find out:

  • FaceTheory BHA Exfoliating Serum S3 (£18.00): A 2% Salicylic Acid formula enriched with antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties to treat acne and prevent wrinkles. Available at FaceTheory.
  • Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant (£35.00): I know this is a lot more expensive, but there’s a reason for that. It’s a more hydrating formula that also contains green tea to soothe skin and provide antioxidant benefits to fight free radicals and keep skin young. If you want a more complete formula that goes the extra mile, this is it. Available at Cult Beauty, Net-A-Porter, Paula’s Choice, Sephora, SpaceNK.
  • The Inkey List Beta Hydroxy Acid Serum (£12.99): Enriched with Hyaluronic Acid, it exfoliates, hydrates, and has a better, lightweight texture that doesn’t foam. Available at Cult Beauty and Sephora.

What I Like About The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution

  • Fragrance-free.
  • Removes blackheads and whiteheads.
  • Treats acne and pimples.
  • Reduces the redness that comes along with acne.
  • Practical and sleek packaging.
  • Doesn’t irritate skin (unless you use it too much).
  • Cost-effective.

What I DON’T Like About The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution

  • Texture foams a little.

Who Should Use This?

Like all Salicylic Acid exfoliants, this is most suitable for oily, combination, and acne-prone skin. If your skin is producing excess oil or you have blackheads, this is the only exfoliant you need.

Does The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution Live Up To Its Claims?

This 2% treatment solution helps exfoliate the inside walls of pores to fight the appearance of blemishes and for better visible skin clarity with continued use.  True.
Use in the AM and PM.  I don’t recommend exfoliating twice a day every day (unless you use it on pimples only) because that’s too much for skin and can cause dryness and irritation.

Is The Ordinary Cruelty-Free?

Yes, The Ordinary is cruelty-free. They don’t test on animals and don’t allow their products to be tested either.

Price & Availability

$5.30/£4.20 at Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty, Sephora, SpaceNK, The Ordinary, and Ulta

The Verdict: Should You Buy It?

If you’re looking for a cheap BHA exfoliant and you don’t mind the foaming texture, this is worth checking out.

Dupess & Alternatives

  • FaceTheory BHA Exfoliating Serum S3 (£18.00): Enriched with antioxidants to treat wrinkles and acne. Available at FaceTheory.
  • Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant (£35.00): Hydrating, soothing, and acne-fighting. Available at Cult Beauty, Net-A-Porter, Paula’s Choice, Sephora, SpaceNK.
  • The Inkey List Beta Hydroxy Acid Serum (£12.99): Hydrating and non-foaming. Available at Cult Beauty and Sephora.


Aqua (Water), Saccharide Isomerate, Cocamidopropyl Dimethylamine, Salicylic Acid, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Polysorbate 20, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Hydroxide, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin.