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 (like Skinceuticals’ beloved C E Ferulic) 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 naturally occurring in the skin. “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 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 skincare 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 serums with exfoliating AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta hydroxy acids), I noticed absolutely no tingle with this stuff. And while the all-too-common solution to acne usually means blasting your face with harsh ingredients, 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%, or the Salicylic Acid 2% Solution. "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 offence/defence combo that will keep your skincare routine well-rounded and streamlined.
At £12.90, the new serum is pricier than other The Ordinary hero SKUs, but not too much so that you can't treat yourself — and what a skin treat this certainly is.
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