The Ordinary Serum Foundation review: does this bargain base justify the hype?

Thinking abut buying The Ordinary Serum Foundation? Here's everything you need to know

The Ordinary Serum Foundation
(Image credit: The Ordinary)
Woman & Home Verdict

No surprises, this disruptive brand does things differently when it comes to creating the best foundation for their loyal fans. The Ordinary Serum Foundation looks, feels and is formulated with two fingers up to the status quo – the only thing ordinary about it is the name.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Uniquely spreadable texture

  • +

    Natural finish

  • +

    Weightless feel

  • +

    Excellent value

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Finish may not suit dryer skin

  • -

    Limited deeper shades

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The phrase game-changer is bandied about far too much in beauty, but this brand definitely gave the industry a good kick up the proverbial when it came along with its £5 serums and no-nonsense educational packaging. No great shock then that this foray into colour cosmetics, The Ordinary Serum Foundation, doesn’t look or feel much like our other best foundation picks.

For one thing the packaging isn’t what we’re used to, a velvety little pump bottle that feels comically light the first time you pick it up – no glass paperweight here. What lies within feels different, too. 

The formulation is supremely loose, like a slippery lotion that spreads out unprovoked the second it hits the skin. Once it’s blended an unusual thing happens – it shapeshifts into a medium coverage, lasting satiny finish that’s completely at odds with the viscosity of the liquid it starts out as.  

The ingredient list provides answers to this extraordinary texture, as well as the way it manages to sit so nicely on the skin without creeping into crevices. Clue: silicones and their friends. And while the texture won’t suit absolutely everyone and the shade selection could use a bit of a boost, all of this loveliness coming in at under £6 is a truly rare thing indeed. Okay fine, it’s a game-changer. 

The Ordinary Serum Foundation Specifications

Price: £5.70 for 30ml
Coverage: Medium, adaptable 
Shades and inclusivity: 21 shades in a mixture of undertones 
Added extras: Vegan friendly and cruelty free

Who should buy it? 

For this quality and price it’s easier to say who shouldn’t gamble a fiver on giving this a shot. If you have very dry or rough-textured skin the medium coverage and soft matte finish might not sit well with you. Equally if you don’t like using products with silicones, step away, as they, along with water, carry the whole formulation. 

Otherwise, go right ahead. The young, the old, the oily and the dry could all find something to love in this multifaceted bargain.

The Ordinary Serum Foundation Key ingredients

Drops of foundation in three shades

(Image credit: Getty images)

Clearly the focus with this formulation is texture, and with Serum Foundation, The Ordinary has achieved something pretty unique in that respect.  A scan of the box reveals this contains plenty of silicones, as well as coconut alkanes, a natural emollient and its coconut-derived friend coco caprylate. When used together these create a smooth, soft layer on the skin that feels beautiful and can lightly blur over lines and pores. 

It also contains titanium dioxide, which provides UVA and UVB sun protection. Interestingly, this SPF wasn’t flagged anywhere on the box or bottle I tested, but on checking The Ordinary’s website I found an explanation. The formula is the same across all markets, but due to regulatory processes the SPF15 claim can only be made within the European Union, so there we go. 

Coverage and lasting power 

Both are surprisingly robust, given the milky fluid feel of the foundation and the banner on the box that says Light Coverage. I would definitely call this more medium than light, and it can be built up to something resembling full cover if need be. 

Most foundations are adaptable in this direction – that’s the old “it’s easier to add than take away” rule. But this one is also unique in that it could be sheered-out pretty successfully without resorting to the classic make-up artist’s trick of mixing it with serum. This is thanks to that slippy feel, which means you can easily make half or even a quarter of a pump go a very long way. 

In terms of lasting power I’d describe it as solid yet soft. Enough to apply at breakfast and just about get you through the day, but you might need a top-up before dinner if you’re going out. This is all dose-dependent, of course. And whatever quantity you apply, what really impresses is the formulation's ability to not just stay put, but stay put nicely, without settling in lines or collecting in dry patches. 

The Ordinary Serum Foundation Packaging

This will probably be a bit Marmite: you’ll either see it as supremely lightweight, pleasingly portable and a blessed relief from all those OTT glass flacons that smash in your handbag. Or maybe you’ll think it’s flimsy, unglamorous and dissatisfying. 

Personally, I like Marmite in certain circumstances (on soldiers to dip into soft boiled eggs if you’re wondering) and I feel the same way about this. Will I have it on permanent display on my dressing table? Probably not. Will I keep it in permanent rotation in my gym bag? There’s a good chance I will.  

Application tips provides a wealth of detailed shade-matching tips, as well as this advice:

‘As with most liquid forms of foundation, it's ideal to shake the container lightly before use. Dispense a small amount into the palm or the back of your hand. Smooth on and blend throughout the face, ideally outward from the midpoint of the face.’ 

Fiona McKim
Beauty Editor,

 As woman&home's Beauty Channel Editor, Fiona Mckim has tried more products than she’s had hot dinners and nothing makes her happier than raving about brilliant finds on or her instagram grid (@fionamckim if you like hair experiments and cute shih-tzus). Fiona joined woman&home as Assistant Beauty Editor in 2013 under industry legend Jo GB, who taught her everything she needed to know (learn about ingredients and employ extreme cynicism). She has since covered every corner of the industry, from interviewing dermatologists and celebrities to reporting backstage at Fashion Week and judging the w&h Beauty Awards.