At Refinery29 Australia, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team, but we may earn commission or other compensation from the links on this page.
From Accutane (a brutal but effective last resort) to Proactiv’s three-step system (never again), I’ve got a decade-plus of acne under my belt. I’ve spent years (and what I can only imagine is a truly staggering amount of money) testing products to treat acne past, present, and future. As with most skin concerns, prevention is the best plan of action (*reapplies sunscreen*), and I’ve got my active breakout first line of defense on lock, too. However, it’s past acne that continues to haunt me, and always proves to be the most difficult — and expensive — to address.
Professional laser treatments done by a dermatologist are a fast track that doesn’t come cheap, but even OTC cosmeceutical serums are still very much an investment. Cue The Ordinary to the rescue. The radically transparent skincare brand has made a name for itself with potent, affordable products that democratised skincare for people who didn’t want to pay triple-digit prices for quality formulas. And the brand’s latest serum, Aloe 2% + NAG 2% Solution, aims to address a white space in the market: Post-acne care.
“While the acne-treating space is saturated with products featuring ingredients such as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, we aimed to create a formula that would support an often overlooked part of the blemish journey: post-acne marks, the specific texture and pigmentation that is left behind once acne heals,” Prudvi Kaka, Chief Scientific Officer of The Ordinary, tells Refinery29.
The formula takes a one-two-punch approach to healing the lingering signs of a breakout with 2% aloe and 2% NAG. You’ve likely heard of aloe vera as a go-to post-sun ingredient for cooling and soothing, making it perfect for pampering stressed skin. That brings us to the second hero ingredient, NAG — aka, N-Acetyl Glucosamine. “NAG is a naturally occurring amino-monosaccharide that is found in the skin, as part of polysaccharide Hyaluronic Acid,” explains Kaka. “This ingredient not only targets uneven skin tone and texture but also supports hydration, making it an ideal counterpart to a blemish-prone skin routine.” The serum is also powered by Pamitoyl Pentapeptide-4, which, according to the brand, addresses uneven skin texture (like pock marks left behind after blemishes) while boosting the skin barrier.
I’m a massive fan of The Ordinary (who isn’t?) and swear by the brand's Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% serum to help keep my oily skin balanced and pores decongested. Getting the chance to test out a top-secret sample of an early The Ordinary product is a skin-care lover's dream, so I was beyond excited to get my hands on the new launch. Aloe 2% + NAG 2% is a clear, odourless serum, and came housed in a UV-protective dark brown glass bottle. Since it’s water-based, it had a nice, hydrating slip to it, and absorbed into my skin within seconds, leaving my face feeling refreshed and hydrated. I used it in the morning after cleansing, before using a gel-cream to hydrate, followed by my daily SPF. Unlike AHA or BHA serums, I noticed absolutely no tingle with this stuff. And while the all-too-common solution to acne usually means blasting your face with harsh chemicals, the thing I've learned much later in life is that less is so much more; if you rely solely on actives and rob your skin of moisture, as I have done, it will only increase irritation and inflammation, exacerbating breakouts. The biggest lesson I’ve ever learned when it comes to beauty is to be kind to your skin; hydrate it — bumps and all — and wait for your skin to heal on its own.
After a month of testing, I definitely felt like my skin was softer and felt hydrated and healthy. (It takes months, if not years, for reddish-brown post-acne hyperpigmentation to fully fade, but so far, so good.) To make sure that your routine includes elements of both treatment and hydration, the brand recommends alternating Aloe 2% + NAG 2% with either my personal favourite, Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%, $9.50, or the Salicylic Acid 2% Solution, $10.20. "While we have several products that can target the look of uneven skin tone, as well as one formulation that can treat active acne, Aloe 2% + NAG 2% is our very first serum formulated to very specifically target the appearance of post-acne marks," explains Kaka. It's an offense/defense combo that will keep your skincare routine well-rounded and streamlined.
At $22.90, the new serum is a bit more expensive than other The Ordinary hero products, but not too much so that you can't treat yourself — and what a skin treat this certainly is.