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The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% In Squalane Review

The Ordinary skincare products are so popular because they are formulated to deliver active ingredients to your skin at a super affordable price. Their retinoids are a perfect example: they provide all the anti-aging benefits of retinol without a hefty price tag.

The Ordinary offers three retinol concentrations: 0.2%, 0.5%, and 1%, and three Granactive Retinoid serums (see this post for my guide to all six The Ordinary retinoid products).

The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% In Squalane, handheld in front of purple background.

Moving up from the 0.2% concentration (which I reviewed here), I’ve been testing the 0.5% retinol serum and will discuss my experience in this The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% In Squalane review.

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The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% In Squalane

The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% In Squalane, handheld in front of purple background.

The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% In Squalane is a lightweight serum formulated with 0.5% pure retinol in a squalane base. It’s the ideal intermediate retinol strength for those moving up from lower concentrations or who aren’t sensitive and can tolerate higher retinol concentrations.

This moderate strength retinol serum is a stable, water-free formula that helps to reduce signs of aging, improve skin tone and texture, and diminish the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.

This retinol serum comes in a squalane base, which is an ingredient that helps lock in moisture and hydrate the skin. It also helps offset the dryness that can come along with retinol use.

Squalane is a saturated hydrocarbon similar to squalene (with an e) that is naturally found in our skin.

Squalane is non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog your pores and worsen acne or breakouts, making it suitable for those with combination, acne-prone, and oily skin types. It’s non-irritating, so it is also a great option for those with sensitive skin.

Like all The Ordinary products, the serum is vegan and cruelty-free.

The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% In Squalane Key Ingredients

The serum contains only eight ingredients. Here are the key active ingredients:

  • Squalane: An emollient and humectant that helps keep the skin hydrated and improves its moisture levels. Squalane is non-comedogenic (meaning it won’t block your pores) and helps restore the skin’s natural barrier function, keeping moisture in and irritants out.
  • Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil: A natural moisturizer that helps to lock in moisture and keep skin hydrated.
  • 0.5% Retinol: Retinol, also known as Vitamin A, helps reduce the appearance of wrinkles, brightens skin tone, and boosts collagen production.
  • Solanum Lycopersicum (Tomato) Fruit Extract: Rich in Vitamin C, this plant extract helps reduce the appearance of dark spots and even out skin tone.
  • Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract: Rosemary is known for its antioxidant properties, which help to protect skin from environmental damage.

The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% In Squalane Review

The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% In Squalane open with dropper on purple background.

The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% In Squalane is packaged in an amber glass bottle and has a dropper applicator. The clear light yellow serum has a thin oily consistency and is easily absorbed by my skin.

It’s important to note that I am not new to retinoids and was testing the 0.2% concentration of the serum before starting with this 0.5% concentration.

Although it leaves a sheen on my skin, it doesn’t feel heavy or make my face like an oil slick. Once absorbed, my skin feels very soft, smooth, and moisturized.

I’ve had great success with using the serum every other night. I like to use other actives like AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) on other nights of the week, so using retinol every other night works well for my skincare routine.

The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% In Squalane sampled on hand.

I haven’t experienced any noticeable redness or irritation while using the serum every other night, so I am thrilled that my skin tolerates this concentration consistently.

During the last week of testing, I increased usage to nightly to see how my skin would respond. After a few nights in a row, I noticed my skin would get red after washing it, and I experienced some tightness in my skin, so I stopped the nightly usage and went back to every other night.

This retinol serum is the real deal. Every single morning after using this serum, I wake to smoother skin with improved texture and no breakouts. Since the serum helps improve skin cell turnover, my pores look smaller, and my skin looks more radiant.

I think the squalane base has helped offset much of the dryness I often experience with retinol serums. I’ll keep using this concentration until I’m ready to move up to The Ordinary’s stronger 1% retinol concentration.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the results, and it’s a no-brainer retinol serum for such an affordable price.

The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% In Squalane Drawbacks

If you have oily skin, you might not be a fan of the squalane base since the finish is a bit shiny.

This 0.5% retinol concentration could be irritating for those with sensitive skin.

How To Use The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% In Squalane

The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in Squalane should be used no more than once a day in your evening skincare routine.

Apply a few drops of The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in Squalane to your face and neck (if your neck can tolerate retinol) in the treatment step of your skincare routine.

Apply it after cleansing and water-based serums but before applying your moisturizer and any oils, suspensions, or creams. (Squalane is light enough to be used under a moisturizer.)

Depending on your skin type and tolerance, you can follow the standard retinol application protocol when first starting a retinol product:

  • 1X a week for 1 week
  • 2X a week for 2 weeks
  • 3X a week for 3 weeks
  • Increase usage as tolerated

Please note that retinol can cause dryness, redness, irritation, and peeling skin. It’s important to avoid use on sensitive areas of your face, like around your mouth and eyes.

The Ordinary recommends starting with the lower concentration of retinol, The Ordinary Retinol 0.2% in Squalane, and slowly working your way up to this 0.5% concentration.

If you notice skin irritation from using this serum, you can use your moisturizer as a buffer and apply this serum after your moisturizer.

If you have sensitive skin, The Ordinary suggests trying newer retinoid technologies like their Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion, which avoids much of the irritation that comes with retinol.

Once you open this serum, for best results, you should refrigerate it and use it within three months.

With this serum and any new skincare product, be sure to patch test your skin before using it for the first time to avoid an adverse initial reaction.

The Ordinary notes that if you experience a reaction/irritation, rinse, stop using the product, and consult your physician. Use only on unbroken skin.

NOTE: Retinoids, including retinol, can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so be sure to apply this serum only in the evening and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher while using this serum (and every other day, too!).

The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% In Squalane Conflicts

You should avoid using Retinol 0.5% In Squalane with other strong actives like direct acids (exfoliating acids like AHAs, i.e., glycolic acid, lactic acid, or salicylic acid), pure/ethylated vitamin C (ascorbic acid), copper peptides, and other retinoids.

If you want to use direct acids, pure/ethylated vitamin C, and other retinoids in your skincare routine, use them on different days or in the mornings since retinol is applied at night.

The Ordinary notes that if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, avoiding skincare products containing retinoids, such as formulas with Granactive Retinoid or retinol, is recommended.

Alternatives To The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% In Squalane

The Ordinary Retinol 0.2% Retinol in Squalane

The Ordinary Retinol 0.2% Retinol in Squalane, handheld.

If you find that The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in Squalane is too strong for your skin, you can always take a step down and try The Ordinary Retinol 0.2% Retinol in Squalane.

The serum contains the same ingredients as the 0.5% formula but has a lower concentration of retinol. This is the lowest concentration of retinol offered by The Ordinary.

The Ordinary Retinol 1% Retinol in Squalane

The Ordinary Retinol 1% Retinol in Squalane, handheld.

Of course, if your skin is ready for a stronger retinol product, The Ordinary 1% Retinol in Squalane contains the same ingredients as the 0.5% concentration but contains double the amount of retinol.

This higher retinol percentage increases your chances of experiencing skin irritation, though, so use caution when introducing it into your skin care routine.

Read my thoughts and results after testing this higher concentration in my The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane review post.

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion, handheld.

If you have sensitive skin or don’t want to risk the irritation that comes with retinol, you can try The Ordinary’s Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion (my favorite retinoid from The Ordinary).

Granactive Retinoids are a newer technology that helps to avoid irritation while still providing skin resurfacing and other benefits of retinol.

Also known as Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate (HPR), Granative Retinoid technology works by activating the retinoid receptor on your skin cells without causing the irritation that typically comes along with retinol.

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion contains 0.2% HPR (the other 1.8% that makes it a 2% complex is solvent), PLUS retinol (at an undisclosed percentage).

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion targets fine lines, wrinkles, uneven skin texture and tone, and loss of collagen and elastin in a gentle but effective way. As always, start slow and increase use as tolerated.

The Ordinary also offers a Granative Retinoid 2% in Squalane and a stronger Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane. These formulas are formulated with Granactive Retinoid technology in a moisturizing squalane base, making them ideal for dehydrated and dry skin. These two serums don’t contain retinol like the 2% Emulsion does.

The Ordinary Retinol vs Granactive Retinoid

Since retinol and Granactive Retinoid are two different technologies, they can’t be directly compared. Newer technologies like Granactive Retinoid mimic the effects of retinol without the typical irritation that comes along with retinol, so they’re an excellent choice for sensitive skin types.

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Pro+ .5% Power Serum

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Pro+ .5% Power Serum, handheld.

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Pro+ .5% Power Serum is formulated with Neutrogena’s highest concentration of retinol, 0.5%, just like The Ordinary.

The serum also contains bisabolol derived from chamomile to soothe the skin and offset inflammation.

This serum is lightweight and feels similar to The Ordinary Retinol 5% in Squalane on my skin. I experience little to no irritation, too. Please note that while this is a drugstore retinol serum, it is much more expensive than The Ordinary.

Please note there is added fragrance in this serum.

COSRX The Retinol 0.5% Oil

COSRX The Retinol 0.5% Oil, handheld.

COSRX The Retinol 0.5% Oil is a K-Beauty retinol serum formulated with 0.5% stabilized, pure retinol to address the signs of aging like loss of elasticity and firmness, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone. It also targets acne and breakouts for clearer skin.

Like The Ordinary, COSRX has formulated this serum in a squalane base which nourishes the skin, helping to combat some of the drying effects of retinol.

The serum also contains tocopherol and tocotrienol (super vitamin E), which are both antioxidant-rich to help protect the skin from environmental aggressors.

This Korean retinol oil is formulated for intermediate-level retinol users that want to improve skin radiance, fine lines, creases, and wrinkles while moisturizing with squalane.

The Benefits Of Retinol

Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A that works by increasing cell turnover and stimulating collagen production, helping to reduce multiple visible signs of aging.

After applying retinol to your skin, it needs two conversions to become active. It first converts to retinaldehyde (retinal) and then converts to retinoic acid, the active form of retinol.

Retinol -> Retinaldehyde -> Retinoic Acid

Retinoic acid is the form of Vitamin A that can actually affect gene expression, which is why it has so many anti-aging benefits. Also known as tretinoin, retinoic acid is the active ingredient in prescription-only treatments for acne and wrinkles.

Retinol offers many benefits for the skin:

  • Stimulates collagen production for firmer skin
  • Reduces fine lines and wrinkles
  • Fades dark spots and acne scarring
  • Smoothes uneven skin texture
  • Evens out uneven skin tone, discoloration, and hyperpigmentation
  • Helps control oil by regulating sebum production
  • Improves acne
  • Improves skin elasticity

The Drawbacks Of Retinol

Of course, we can’t discuss all of the wonderful things that retinol does for our skin without discussing the main drawbacks of retinol.

If you’ve read through this post, you’ll know what I’m about to say: retinol has the potential to irritate your skin and cause redness, dryness, peeling, and/or flaking.

It’s important to introduce retinol slowly into your routine and build up your tolerance to it. Start with using the lowest concentration available and increase usage as tolerated. Since every retinol formulation is different, finding the formula that works for your skin type and the right concentration for your skin’s needs is essential.

If you try a retinol product and experience excessive irritation, it’s best to take a break or switch to a lower concentration. It will take your skin some time to adjust to retinol, so be patient and monitor your skin’s reaction.

One other drawback to note is that retinol can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher when using retinol (and even when not using retinol). The sun causes 90% of the visible changes to the skin, including signs of aging like wrinkles, fine lines, and hyperpigmentation.

The Bottom Line

The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in Squalane and all of The Ordinary retinoid and retinol formulations are affordable, making them accessible regardless of your budget. They’re vegan, cruelty-free, and don’t contain any added fragrance.

I’ve seen great results from this mid-range retinol concentration. I think including squalane in this 0.5% serum has helped keep my skin dryness at bay.

If you want to add a retinol serum to your skincare routine and are ready for a 0.5% concentration, this serum is a great choice. Just remember to increase usage as tolerated to avoid irritation.

With the right retinol product and proper precautions, this powerhouse ingredient can take your skin to the next level. Just don’t forget the sunscreen!

Thanks for reading!