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The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion Review

The Ordinary offers a variety of retinoid and retinol products in their skincare range. One of their most popular products is their Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion. I’ve used multiple bottles over the past few years, so I figured it was time to write a review.

I will discuss my experience with the serum in this The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion review.

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion

This The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion review post contains affiliate links, and any purchases made through these links will result in a commission for me at no extra cost to you. Please read my Disclosure for additional information.

If you’ve tried retinol before and it irritated your skin, and you’ve given up on retinol because of the side effects, keep reading because there’s a newer type of retinoid, Granactive Retinoid, that just might get you the results you are looking for.

SPOILER: This is one of my favorite retinoids!

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion is an oil-free emulsion containing a retinoid ester called Granactive Retinoid in addition to pure encapsulated retinol.

What is Granactive Retinoid?

Granactive Retinoid is a complex consisting of 10% solubilized Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate (HPR), which is a retinoic acid ester, and 90% dimethyl isosorbide, which is a solvent.

This means that the 2% complex = 1.8% dimethyl isosorbide + 0.2% HPR.

Granactive Retinoid is supposed to provide similar benefits as retinol, retinyl palmitate, and most other non-prescription retinoids but with less irritation.

It’s bio-available without needing to be converted to retinoic acid, unlike retinol, which requires two conversions to be available in the skin, and loses strength with each conversion.

Per the manufacturer, Granactive Retinoid is one of the most bio-available, non-prescription forms of Vitamin-A. It helps decrease the effects of skin damage from UV rays and clear acne-related skin symptoms.

HPR has also been shown to increase collagen levels, similar to other retinoids.

Although the percentage is not disclosed, this creamy hydrating emulsion from The Ordinary also contains pure retinol, which comes in a sustained-delivery protective capsule system for improved effectiveness.

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion Review

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion sampled with dropper

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion has a creamy texture that sinks into my skin easily without a greasy feel.

After using this in my evening skincare routine, I ALWAYS wake to an improved complexion with fewer blemishes and improved skin clarity.

After continued use, I’ve noticed that my pores seem less noticeable, and my skin texture is smoother.

I experience zero irritation when I use this emulsion every other day. Using it every day is a bit much for me, so I stick to using it every other night to keep my skin happy.

Sometimes, I will pair this retinoid with a niacinamide serum, which helps to soothe my skin and strengthen my skin barrier.

This retinoid emulsion is super affordable and contains high-quality ingredients, so it has become one of the staples in my evening skincare routine.

It works well with other skincare products, and it never fails to give me smoother, clearer skin.

The emulsion formula is enriched with glycerin which is an excellent moisturizer for all skin types, especially dry skin, as it improves skin barrier function.

This is one of the few retinoids that I keep going back to, as I have used multiple bottles of this emulsion.

I prefer the creamy texture of this emulsion to The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane, which might be a good option if you are looking for a retinoid that offers lightweight moisture.

  Versatile Usage: Suitable for a variety of skin types including aging, acne-prone, and even some sensitive skin types.Not for Everyone: While it’s designed to be less irritating, some people, especially those with very sensitive skin, may still experience irritation.
  Affordable: Compared to many other retinoid serums on the market, this one is budget-friendly without sacrificing quality.Frequency Limitations: Daily use may be too much for some people, requiring the product to be used every other day for optimal results.
  Low Irritation: Designed to offer the benefits of traditional retinoids but with less potential for skin irritation.Sun Sensitivity: Like all retinoids, this product can make your skin more sensitive to UV radiation, necessitating the use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
  Multi-Functional: Not only does it target aging, but it’s also effective for acne, uneven skin tone, and hyperpigmentation.Storage Requirements: The Ordinary recommends refrigeration after opening, which might be inconvenient for some users.
  High-Quality Ingredients: Contains a 2% concentration of Granactive Retinoid, known for its high bio-availability and effectiveness.Lower Potency: For advanced retinoid users, this serum may not be potent enough for your needs.
  No Greasy Residue: The emulsion formula is light and absorbs quickly, leaving no greasy feel.Complex Ingredients: If you are unfamiliar with skincare ingredients, the formula may seem complex and intimidating at first glance.
The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion: PROS and CONS

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion Conflicts

Avoid using Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion with:

Although this is a low-irritation retinoid, it does contain retinol, so it may irritate some skin types, especially sensitive skin.

Be sure to patch test your skin before using this emulsion and any skincare product for the first time.

How to Use The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion

  1. Cleanse and tone your skin.
  2. Apply Granactive Retinoid 2% in the treatment/serum step of your routine.
  3. Follow with a moisturizer.
  4. Be sure to use broad-spectrum sunscreen protection in your AM skincare routine.*

*Since retinoids can make your skin more sensitive to the UV rays of the sun, be sure to use sun protection and apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen rated SPF 30 or higher every day.

Use only as directed on unbroken skin. The Ordinary notes that this and all of their retinoids should be refrigerated after opening.

For more usage details and sample retinol routines, please see my post How To Use The Ordinary Retinol.

Can I Use The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion Every Day?

Your usage of The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion will vary based on your skin’s tolerance and needs.

While the serum is formulated to be less irritating compared to traditional retinoids, some people may still experience sensitivity or irritation when using it daily.

In my experience, I’ve found that using this emulsion every other day is the sweet spot for achieving great results without over-irritating my skin.

However, your skin’s reaction may be different, so it’s crucial to listen to your skin and adjust the frequency of application accordingly.

If you’re new to using retinoids, it’s generally recommended to start slow, using this standard guildine:

  • 1x a week for a week
  • 2x a week for 2 weeks
  • 3x a week for 3 weeks
  • Increase to daily usage as tolerated

Always remember to perform a patch test before incorporating any new skincare product into your routine, especially those containing active ingredients like retinoids.

If you notice signs of irritation such as redness, dryness, or flaking, consider reducing the frequency of application or discontinuing use until your skin recovers. Consult with a skincare professional or dermatologist for more personalized advice for your complexion.

Where to Buy The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion

You can purchase The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion in the US at Ulta and Sephora, and The Ordinary’s website.

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion Alternatives

The Ordinary Retinoids

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoids in Squalane: 2% and 5%

The Ordinary offers multiple retinoid treatments: two additional Granactive Retinoid formulas and three retinol formulas.

If you want a low-irritation retinoid but would prefer a lightweight, moisturizing and emollient squalane base, The Ordinary offers two other Granactive Retinoid formulas without the added encapsulated retinol:

The Ordinary Retinol in Squalane: 0.2%, 0.5% and 1%

If you’d prefer to go with retinol-only products, The Ordinary offers:

For more on The Ordinary retinoids and retinol serums, please see my Complete Guide to The Ordinary Retinoid and Retinol Products.

The Inkey List Retinol Serum

The Inkey List Retinol Serum

The Inkey List Retinol Serum contains 0.5% Granactive Retinoid and 1% Retistar retinol, which is equivalent to 0.05% pure retinol.

This is a gentle yet effective serum for those new to retinol and anti-aging skincare. The serum is also enriched with squalane and hyaluronic acid for hydration.

The Benefits of Retinoids

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion and box

Retinoids are chemical derivatives of vitamin A, and they are the gold standard in over-the-counter anti-aging ingredients.

Retinoids stimulate collagen production to improve elasticity and firmness and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and improve skin texture.

They also normalize keratinization (exfoliation) so that dead skin cells don’t stick together and clog pores. Retinoids also reduce sebum (oil) production in the skin.

Retinoids are effective in the treatment of acne, making them ideal for acne-prone skin or those with oily skin. Retinoids are anti-inflammatory, so they can help reduce redness and swelling around active acne lesions.

They also increase the natural shedding of old skin cells by increasing cell turnover, which helps to disperse melanin (pigment) in the skin to reduce dullness, hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and uneven skin tone.

Retinoids can also help reduce the look of acne scars from post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Retinoids even have antioxidant properties, which help protect the skin from free radical damage caused by UV rays of the sun and other environmental factors such as pollution and weather.

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion Review: Effective and Affordable Anti-Aging Serum

Does The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion work? It does for my skin!

I love this non-prescription retinoid product for its lightweight texture that doesn’t weigh your skin down like heavier treatments.

It doesn’t cause any irritation, flakiness, or dryness on my skin as long as I don’t overdo it. It works best for my skin if I apply it every other evening.

If you’re looking for an effective retinol product that is comfortable on the skin, inexpensive, and causes minimal skin sensitivity, then you might consider trying The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion.

If you want to incorporate The Ordinary products into a skincare regimen based on your skin type, please see this post on how to build a The Ordinary skincare routine.

Thanks for reading!


Monday 27th of March 2023

Thank you for this article, I've found it very informative. I've got a question: I purchased my little bottle of The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% in November 2021 and I haven't opened it yet. Should it still be OK? I also have Amino acids with but B5. Can I use these two products together? It Amino acids with lactic acid? I use the lactic acid every other or every 3 days, so I presume I could use Granactive Retinoid 2% between lactic acid days. Thank you for helping out!


Friday 21st of April 2023

I reached out to Deciem (The Ordinary's parent company), and they said that The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion will expire 3 months after opening (within 2 years of purchasing). After opening, don't forget to refrigerate it. The Ordinary Amino Acids + B5 does not conflict with any other products Deciem carries, so both of those The Ordinary pairings are fine. Yes, as long as your skin can tolerate it, using Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion in between lactic acid days is great (it's what I do!).

Phyllis Reklis

Sunday 5th of December 2021

Thank you for this great information! Do you have to refrigerate this product? I read somewhere that it was best to do so.. but when I do that I forget to use it as part of my routine!! Your opinion would be helpful~ as I read and follow your thoughts and wisdom regularly!


Sunday 5th of December 2021

The Ordinary says that this and all of their retinoids should be refrigerated after opening, although both Sephora and Ulta say this serum should be stored in a cool, dry place. The idea is to slow down the breakdown of the active ingredients. Thanks for reaching out!