Fast food, fast fashion, and now fast skincare. Brands like The Ordinary and The Inkey List have made a name for themselves by making products that include high concentrations of proven ingredients, at prices that are almost unheard of the skincare world (less than $10 for a retinol serum?!). The Ordinary was the first mainstream brand to do this well, and now has a competitor in The Inkey List. Both are currently available at Sephora, and The Ordinary is expanding to Ulta shortly.
So… which is the better deal? Because the prices are so similar, I will be focusing on the ingredients!
Inkey List Retinol Serum vs. The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane
Retinol is the gold standard of anti-aging. I would say it’s second to none next to sunscreen. As Dr. Ranella Hirsch, M.D., former president-elect of the American Society of Dermatologic Surgeons, once said in an interview, “We have beautiful, profound data that shows if you use [retinoids] for 20 years, you’re going to look a lot better than someone who doesn’t.”
Retinol is not your typical antioxidant in that its central function is not just donating electrons to neutralize free radicals. Retinoids also work by inhibiting collagen-degrading enzymes, which researchers say may effectively preserve collagen for longer (Photochemistry and Photobiology, 2008). Think of collagen-degrading enzymes like little “Pac-Men” that circulate around in the skin degrading your collagen. As you age, you get more and more of these enzymes, plus more types of these enzymes that are created. And retinoids can help to eliminate them, both in numbers and in type.
The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane utilizes squalane to help nourish and moisturize the skin while the retinol does its work. It’s a very simple formula consisting of only 5 ingredients. The Inkey List Retinol Serum also uses squalane, and the ingredient list is a bit longer. The biggest bummer here is that retinol is listed pretty close to the bottom which tells me it is not in very high concentration. If you’re trying to choose between the two, I suggest going with The Ordinary for this reason.
The Inkey List Niacinamide vs. The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%
According to at least one study, niacinamide does it all: reduces fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmented spots, red blotchiness, and skin sallowness (yellowing), and increases elasticity. Further, according to a 2005 study by Draelos et. al., niacinamide may help alleviate some of the symptoms of rosacea by increasing hydration and barrier function of the stratum corneum (uppermost layer of the skin) and may have some anti-tumor characteristics as well. And finally, in a 1995 study by Takozaki et. al., it was reported that a 4% topical niacinamide treatment applied twice daily may help to treat acne by reducing inflammation with similar efficacy to 1% clindamycin gel. Hence, both redness and acne. There is also reason to believe that when combined with zinc it can also help treat acne. Researchers believe this is caused by “the variety of potential mechanisms of action of nicotinamide and zinc, including an anti-inflammatory effect via inhibition of leukocyte chemotaxis, lysosomal enzyme release, lymphocytic transformation, mast cell degranulation, bacteriostatic effect against Propionibacterium acnes, inhibition of vasoactive amines, preservation of intracellular coenzyme homeostasis, and decreased sebum production. Other possible mechanisms involve suppression of vascular permeability and inflammatory cell accumulation, as well as protection against DNA damage.”
It is for that reason that I recommend The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% over The Inkey List Niacinamide. If you’re struggling with acne it’s better to use a combination of the two rather than just niacinamide.
The Inkey List Vitamin C Cream vs. The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
I will cut right to the chase here; I prefer The Ordinary to The Inkey List’s vitamin C. The Inkey List is pure ascorbic acid in a dimethicone base. If your skin is sensitive to vitamin C, this one may be a little too strong for you. But the Ordinary has outdone it with their 23% ascorbic acid formulation. It’s not even a mix of 15% L-ascorbic acid with 8% of a more gentle form of vitamin C, like tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate. No, no, you’re getting the full monty: 23% ascorbic acid. It’s the highest concentration of vitamin C as L-ascorbic acid I’ve seen anywhere, like, ever! To get the full benefits of vitamin C you may want to add a moisturizer on top that is rich in CoQ10 or Vitamin E.
When it comes to “fast” skincare, The Ordinary reigns supreme. I prefer their simple, effective formulas with high concentrations of proven ingredients. A trend I see with products from The Inkey List is that they have longer ingredients labels with the proven ingredients (like retinol) towards the bottom and in a lower concentration. The Ordinary is the way to go!