The Ordinary’s Relaunch: The Salicylic Acid Solution vs The Salicylic Acid Anhydrous Solution?

The Ordinary’s 2% salicylic acid disappeared from the racks after it was met with controversy and customer claims of alleged chemical burns. In response, The Ordinary launched a squalane-based and waterless product to replace it, the Anhydrous Salicylic acid formula which comes in a brown bottle. Soon after, they brought a revamped version of the 2% salicylic acid back (the clear one) too but without addressing any customer claims.

So, what is going on with the new Salicylic Acid Anhydrous 2% Solution from The Ordinary? How does it compare to The Ordinary’s Salicylic Acid Solution 2%? And how is the old salicylic acid 2% solution different from the new one?

The Ordinary’s 2% Salicylic Acid Solution -$5.90


The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Anhydrous Solution -$6.50


How is the new formula different than the old one? 

Cassandra has been using The Ordinary’s 2% Salicylic Acid Solution for a long time. So, she’s able to effectively compare the old and new formulas. Actually, when it first came out, it was the fourth product that she ever bought from The Ordinary. Upon trying it, it quickly became one of Cassandra’s favorites. It was and still is for people who have very oily and acne-prone, skin. Given that, it’s still not for everyone.

People really like the relaunch and Cassandra says that it still has that milky texture formula that goes in clear once you rub it in. It comes out as a milky, white texture. It feels foamy, but it almost turns white and pasty on the skin. The brand confirms that “The reformulated Salicylic Acid 2% Solution is aimed towards blemish-prone skin"  which may imply that it is more accommodating to sensitive skin now. Moreover, perhaps the old formula penetrated deeper, and this could have been problematic for some. Also, the new formula does not include witch hazel whereas the old one did.  

However, more gentle or not, you definitely still need to pair a moisturizer with the new formula. The reformulated product is excellent for T-zones, spot treatments, or as a treatment to use underneath a moisturizer. While the new formula s not akin to the Ordinary’s AHA/BHA peel, it is drying and exfoliating. Cassandra likes to spot treats with this because of how well it works. As some whose  T-zone is very oily, she loves using this. But for those who are dry, you can’t use this — at least not all over.

Is The Ordinary’s Salicylic acid 2% Solution Safe to Use?

Salicylic acid is one of the best-proven ingredients for acne-prone skin. The old formula never burned Cassandra’s skin, and most people really enjoyed using it. Some people even enjoyed putting it on their chests and backs. On the other hand, some people had things go wrong. Of course, if you are using the product improperly, or if you don’t patch test the product, things can go wrong. But, just because it goes wrong for one person doesn’t mean that it goes wrong for everyone. At the same time, it could have been that people were using it improperly like for treating infections and disinfecting open cuts/blemish wounds. 

So, how is the Salicylic 2% Solution (the clear bottle) different from The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% anhydrous solution (the brown bottle)?

We’re going to break down the difference between the two products and who they’re for. The 2% salicylic acid anhydrous solution is squalane-based, not water-based. Anhydrous means “no water,” and this is a no-waste product. The ingredient, squalane, is wonderful, and it’s a compound that our skin naturally produces. This Ordinary’s Anhydrous solution contains a more stable and plant-derived version (from sugar cane). The also has caprylic triglycerides (barrier protection), some other oils, fatty acids, and salicylic acid. This is basically an oil version of salicylic acid. 

This is fantastic and wonderful for skin, but a lot of people who loved the clear one bought the anhydrous solution thinking it would be a replacement. But, no. It is not drying like the Salicylic acid 2% (clear bottle)m and it is oily. Yes, it absorbs into the skin, but if you ever put squalane oil on your skin, it’s like a completely different texture. This one helps with acne and blemishes, but it does not dry you out. Even though this product is efficacious, this might be a bit much if you have oily skin. 

So, which one should you buy? 

Salicylic acid can help with bacteria, exfoliates the skin, and it is oil soluble. But, when it comes to acne, there are a lot of people who have acne and dry skin. Many people who have blemishes and dry skin struggle with using acne products, because ingredients like salicylic acid are extremely drying. Benzoyl peroxide and retinoids can be extremely drying too, especially if you’re using prescription grade (reintoids). Your skin goes through a period of retinization, dry peeling, and flakiness before the skin starts to get supple, bouncy, and blemish-free. 

Likewise, Cassandra feels like The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% anhydrous solution is excellent for people who have dry skin and acne and like an oily texture. If you have dry skin, acne, and always struggle to find things that didn’t strip you, this might be an unsung hero. This is 2% salicylic acid, and Cassandra would recommend using it in the evening. You could potentially use it during the day, but Cassandra wouldn’t recommend it. Because it’s 2%, which is the highest you can get, make sure you’re building this up over time. Cassandra believes this to be a very unique formula because there aren’t a lot of oil-based salicylic acids.

Even though BHA is oil-soluble, the anhydrous salicylic acid solution (the brown bottle) is protective serum whereas the clear one needs a moisturizer and is extremely drying even if you have oily prone skin. That’s why Cassandra likes to use it as a spot treat even though you can use it all over (in some cases). 

With both of these launches, The Ordinary has ultimately made products for two different types of people who struggle with acne. 

As a side note, salicylic acid can also be used for an oily scalp or warts. Using a salicylic acid treatment on the scalp can be a great idea. Dr. Kate Rodan says this is okay too. This salicylic acid 2% solution (the clear bottle) goes far for the treatment of hairline pimples. 

Should you use both of them?

Cassandra doesn’t believe so, but if you’re very oily, and you have a lot of things you like to spot treat, go with this one. If you are super dry, and you love the feeling of squalane, go with the anhydrous solution (the brown bottle)  Using them at the same time could prove to be redundant. But either way, it is best to use them at night and accompany them with sunscreen. Also, you slowly increase how much you use and patch test.