I reviewed the Ordinary as a brand back in early 2017 when they were not that well known. I quite liked the idea, but wasn’t sure it would fly. Well that shows how much I know, because since then they have created quite a stir. I think they have also been generating pretty good sales, in so far as you can tell these things. But they have certainly been generating a lot of attention. One reason for this is the, how can I put it, highly personal social media profile of the founder. But I think the much bigger reason is that they have developed a very distinctive offering which isn’t quite like anything else out there. I thought it would be fun to have a look in detail at one of their products.The one I have picked is pretty random – it was basically the first one I found. The Ordinary is one of a number of sub brands under the umbrella of the Deciem family. The Ordinary seems to be the most talked about, but Niod gets a fair share of the attention too. They have several other sub brands as well. I’m not quite sure how many. This isn’t really how branding is supposed to work of course, but Deciem do things their own way. The Chemistry brand is one of these sub brands. Its look and feel is pretty close to that of the Ordinary, but just a little more colourful. I thought I’d look at the hand cream. This is at an ambitious price point for a hand cream of £19 for 100ml. There are plenty of more expensive offerings in this category of course, but that’s still quite a lot of money. But there is quite a lot of stuff packed in.
The ingredient list is quite a read.
Aqua (Water), Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Propanediol, Cetearyl Glucoside, Cetearyl Alcohol, Glycerin, Cetyl Alcohol, Plukenetia Volubilis Seed Oil, Copper Lysinate/Prolinate, Plantago Lanceolata Leaf Extract, Methylglucoside Phosphate, Proline, Alanine, Serine, Pseudoalteromonas Ferment Extract, Tremella Fuciformis Sporocarp Extract, Tocopherol, Betaine, Cellulose, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Polyacrylate, Sodium Phosphate, Sodium Hydroxide, Potassium Sorbate, Caprylyl Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin, Parfum (Fragrance), Limonene, Linalool.
Let me use my formulation knowledge to remove all the ingredients from that list that are simply the cream base, to leave behind the stuff that is included to give the performance.
Plukenetia Volubilis Seed Oil, Copper Lysinate/Prolinate, Plantago Lanceolata Leaf Extract, Proline, Alanine, Serine, Pseudoalteromonas Ferment Extract, Tremella Fuciformis Sporocarp Extract
So those are the things you are paying the premium price for.
They also claim the propanediol as an active. In fact, they even tell you how much they are using – 7.5%. And they say what it does. It hydrates. This is true. There’s a dating app for just about every niche. The only one that doesn’t seem to be covered is alien abduction. Propanediol is a humectant. Humectants grab moisture and hold onto it, so your skin may well feel more hydrated as a result. This is however a trick that almost every moisturiser on the market uses, so is nothing special. It’s also rather a personal experience. Some of people get a lot of benefit from it. Others not so much. And your skin varies too. When it is particularly dry it will drink stuff up. Other times it will not work so well.
Incidentally I assume that they are using a material called Zemea. This is quite a good material to use because it is one that has less environmental impact than the alternatives. But this isn’t brought up on the product’s website.
The thing they do talk about is a Copper Peptide Complex, which they describe as Biological GHK. They talk about how it increases collagen production.
Peptides are of great interest to researchers into the skin. The skin is controlled by a range of small molecules – many of which are peptides. Unravelling the way this all works will take years but with diligent research it is possible we might be able to come up with some novel treatments that restore the skin to some extent to the way we would like it to be. These kinds of results are of great interest to the cosmetic industry. The years of waiting and the diligent work are of rather less interest. So the basic concept is already being used even though we don’t yet know how to achieve very much. Yes, peptides have shown some promising results already. But they aren’t really a fully proven technology yet.
GHK is a good example. This is a peptide that is found in low levels in the body. It has been shown to stimulate collagen production in the lab. And it has shown positive, if modest, improvements in some conditions in small scale clinical work. So it might well be a useful cosmetic active. It’s certainly a better bet than say Q10. I wouldn’t expect anything spectacular from it though.
This is what the Ordinary say about it.
When comparing the use of Biological GHK with collagen injections, Biological GHK showed a higher amount of collagen in the skin. Biological GHK also visibly decreases wrinkle depth by 15% in 15 days.
Which sounds fair enough. A 15% reduction in wrinkle depth would probably need a magnifying glass to be visible – but it is at least something.
The also use a plant extract. “Plantago Lanceolata reduces the appearance of dark spots in two months.” This is a material I recognised as coming from one of the major suppliers, and they have data on file to back up that claim. It isn’t peer reviewed as it has been published, but it is credible for two reasons. It comes from a large company who needs to maintain a good reputation. And it is such a modest effect that nobody would lie about it.
Pseudoalteromonas Ferment Extract is described as being for texture and hydration. So that’s just the two words. It doesn’t really do justice to this material, which is a glycoprotein extracted from a bacteria that survives in extreme cold in the Antarctic. There is a whole category of products derived from organisms like this one, called extremophiles, that are capable of dealing with high degrees of environmental stress. It’s an interesting story and there might be something in it, but Deciem choose not to make a big issue of it.
Sacha Inchi Oil is included for hydration. This appears on the ingredient list under its scientific name – Plukenetia Volubilis Seed Oil. If I were them I’d have put the common name in brackets on the pack to give punters a chance to work out what is going on without having to use Google. But as I have said, Deciem do things their way. Nonetheless I’d endorse this oil for its hydrating properties. It was being pushed about ten years ago, but never really caught on back then. It is a rich and very emollient oil and will probably hold moisture in the skin quite well.
Tremella Fuciformis Sporocarp Extract is included for hydration and smoothness. Once again, fair enough, but the opportunity to talk about this being derived from a mushroom that is rich in polysaccharides and which has been shown to be an effective moisturiser comparable to hyaluronic acid. Several big brands have used this material as the headline ingredient. But here it is just another one on the list.
So overall this is an expensive moisturiser, but it is one that packs a lot of goodies. Knowing the prices of some of the ingredients and being able to hazard a guess at the rest I’d say that it isn’t going to be particularly profitable. It will cost a lot to put all these materials in, so you are paying for chemistry not marketing. This is very much not how most companies work. In fact it seems almost perverse to seek out high value ingredients with good supporting data and interesting stories, include them at a high level in the formulation, and then hardly even mention them on the website. I’ve thought for a long time that the cosmetic business spends too much on promotion and not enough on the efficacy of the end product. But even I acknowledge that getting a product out there needs a bit more than telepathy. As I have already said, Deciem do things their own way.
The question is whether throwing this lot in together will give results. That’s quite hard to say. I haven’t actually tried it, but even if I had I would only know whether or not it worked for me. All you can do is give it a try. You’ll be getting quite a lot for your money.