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A Complete Guide to The Ordinary Retinol and Retinoid Products

If you are looking to try a skincare product to address the signs of aging, including fine lines, wrinkles, loss of elasticity, and dullness, then look no further than The Ordinary retinol and retinoid products.

These products from The Ordinary are effective and affordable. The drawback? Which one to use! The Ordinary currently offers 6 different retinol and retinoid formulas at a variety of strengths.

A Complete Guide to The Ordinary Retinol and Retinoid Products

The Ordinary offers hero ingredient cruelty-free skincare products in basic packaging at rock bottom prices. While this is ground-breaking and very exciting for skincare lovers, since The Ordinary offers over 50 products, it can get overwhelming when trying to determine which products to try, especially their selection of 6 different retinol and retinoid products.

In this guide to The Ordinary retinol and retinoid products, we’ll take a look at all 6 products to help you determine which one will work best for your skin and skin concerns. For more details on using retinoids in your skincare routine based on skin type, please see this guide on How to Build A Skincare Routine with The Ordinary Products.

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The Benefits of Retinol and Retinoids

Retinoids (retinol is a type of retinoid) are a form of vitamin A and a favorite active ingredient for anti-aging skin care products. Retinoids have been studied extensively, and the results are in: they work to reduce the signs of aging, including fine lines and wrinkles, thanks to their ability to stimulate collagen production and increase cell turnover.

Retinoids also help to reduce the look of hyperpigmentation, dark spots, uneven skin tone/texture, and dullness. Retinoids also offer antioxidant benefits for the skin. Retinoids can help treat acne, making them ideal for oily and acne-prone skin types.

While strong retinoids are available via prescription, several retinoid varieties are available over the counter that produce excellent results, although they take longer to work than their prescription counterparts.

A good way to compare the strength of retinoids is to review the number of steps needed to convert a retinoid into its active form that the skin can use. In order from strongest to weakest:

  • Retinoic acid is the strongest type of retinoid and the active form that our skin cells can interpret. Retinoic acid products such as tretinoin (Retin-A) are available only through prescriptions.
  • Retinaldehyde must be converted to retinoic acid before our skin can use it. This conversion dilutes the strength of the retinoid active.
  • Retinol needs to be converted to retinaldehyde and then retinoic acid before our skin can use it, so this retinoid is not as strong as retinaldehyde.
  • Retinol esters such as retinol palmitate require three conversions to be available in the skin.

Adapalene, a third-generation retinoid and approved to sell over the counter as Differin to treat acne, has also been shown to improve the signs of aging. This study demonstrated that adapalene 0.1% gel is as effective as tretinoin 0.025% gel with less irritation.

NOTE: Since retinol and retinoids can make your skin sensitive to the sun, be sure to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher when using retinol and other retinoids and for 7 days after.

Related Post: A Guide to Drugstore Retinol

Retinol vs Granactive Retinoids

As previously noted, it takes two conversions for retinol to become available to the skin. While it is not the most potent retinoid available, retinol is still quite effective. Unfortunately, retinol may come with some side effects.

If you are just starting out with retinol, you may experience irritation, redness, dryness, and/or peeling until your skin becomes acclimated. Enter Granactive Retinoids. Granative retinoids can provide similar results as retinol but without any or with minimal side effects.

Granactive Retinoids

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid Serums

So what exactly are Granactive Retinoids?

Hydroxypinacolone retinoate (HPR), also known as Granactive Retinoid, binds to retinoid receptors of skin cells without needing to be converted to retinoic acid. It is a retinoic acid ester and gentler on the skin than typical over-the-counter retinol or retinaldehyde products.

Estee Lauder did a study on HPR and found that HPR had higher gene transcription levels than retinol, retinaldehyde, and retinyl palmitate when tested at the same concentrations, but not as high as tretinoin.

While testing has shown a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles without the irritation associated with typical retinol, most of the research that has been done on Granactive Retinoids comes from the manufacturer, Grant Industries. Since independent research is limited on this newer retinoid, you can decide if this retinoid is worth your investment.

How to Interpret The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid Ingredient Lists

It is important to understand that you cannot directly compare active percentages of Granactive Retinoids to retinol. It’s not like comparing apples to apples since the active ingredients are different.

A 2% Granactive Retinoid complex from The Ordinary actually contains 10% active ingredient and 90% dimethyl isosorbide (a solvent to help the product work better). So in actuality, this 2% Granactive Retinoid from The Ordinary is made up of 0.2% Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate (HPR) and 1.8% dimethyl isosorbide.

Related Post: The Ordinary Anti-Aging Skincare Review, The Ordinary Marine Hyaluronics Review

The Ordinary Retinol and Retinoids

If you’ve read this far and made it past the scientific explanations, we are finally getting to the two different types of retinoids The Ordinary offers. Each type of retinoid may have different results when it comes to efficacy and side effects.

NOTE: The Ordinary instructs that all 6 of the following retinoids should be refrigerated after opening.

Let’s start with the newer retinoid technology, Granactive Retinoid:

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid Serums

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion

Moderate Strength, No Irritation

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion is formulated with two forms of next-generation retinoid actives. It contains 2% Granactive Retinoid, a retinoid complex manufactured by Grant Industries. As previously noted, Granactive Retinoid is a complex of Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate (HPR), which breakouts down to 0.2% HPR and 1.8% solvent.

The second form of retinol active in Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion is a sustained-delivery form of pure retinol. The retinol is encapsulated to improve delivery and performance.

Although The Ordinary is usually pretty transparent regarding ingredient percentages, they do not disclose the amount of encapsulated retinol in this product.

The Ordinary states that HPR, an ester of all-trans direct retinoic acid, offers a better reduction of the signs of aging than retinol, retinyl palmitate, and most other non-prescription retinoids.

This creamy emulsion is the only The Ordinary water-based retinoid serum offered by The Ordinary. It sinks in quickly and dries without a sticky or greasy feeling. It works well under other skincare products, too.

A big plus for this retinoid is that it produces little or no irritation. Again, it is important to note that HPR is not as studied as other forms of retinol, but this may be good for beginners due to the effective and comfortable formula that doesn’t require an adjustment phase.

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane

Moderate Strength, No Irritation

Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane contains 2% Granactive Retinoid in a squalane base. This stable waterless formula contains 2% Granactive Retinoid, a retinoid complex that contains 0.2% HPR and 1.8% solvent. This active aims to address the signs of aging without the irritation that typically comes with retinol and other retinoids.

When comparing this Granactive Retinoid 2% in squalane with Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion, please note that this retinoid in squalane DOES NOT contain encapsulated retinol. Thus it will be slightly less effective than the Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion.

This formula is extremely lightweight and does not irritate the skin. You should apply it after water-based serums and treatments but under heavier products.

If you have dry skin and are looking for a gentle starter retinoid that offers minimal irritation but provides the moisturizing benefits of squalane (see more below), Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane might be worth a try.

Benefits of Squalane

The Ordinary uses squalane as the base for most of its retinoids. What is squalane? We’ll need to start with squalene to explain.

Squalene (with an e) is a lipid found naturally in our skin’s sebum and helps to keep skin moisturized and supports our skin barrier. Levels of squalene decrease as we age, contributing to dry skin.

Squalane (with an a) is a hydrogenated derivative of squalene. It is more stable and less prone to oxidation than squalene. Squalane has become popular in skincare in recent years for its many benefits for the skin, including the following.

  • Softens the skin
  • Non-irritating
  • Moisturizing
  • Acts as an emollient
  • Prevents transepidermal water loss
  • Regulates sebum production
  • Non-comedogenic
  • Does not leave an oily residue
  • Ideal for oily and acne-prone skin
  • Can be applied to hair to add shine and moisture

Related Post: The Ordinary Niacinamide Review

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane

High Strength, No to Low Irritation

The final and most potent Granactive Retinoid in The Ordinary catalog of retinoids is The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane. This retinoid contains Granactive Retinoid at 5%, which equates to .5% HPR and 4.5% solvent.

This retinoid comes in a squalane base that is very lightweight on the skin. It is hydrating and moisturizing, which is helpful even when using low irritation retinoids.

This retinoid is a nice step up from the Granactive Retinoids 2% to provide excellent results with minimal irritation.

Related Post: Best The Ordinary Products for Acne Scars, The Ordinary “Buffet” Review

The Ordinary Retinol Serums

The Ordinary Retinol Serums

All of The Ordinary retinol serums are in water-free squalane bases. As we’ve already discussed, retinol offers extensive benefits for the skin regarding the signs of aging. It helps to reduce the look of fine lines, wrinkles, photodamage, uneven texture, and hyperpigmentation. Plus, it’s been extensively studied, unlike Granactive Retinoids.

It is important to note that The Ordinary clearly states that retinol can cause irritation, and for that reason, newer technologies (like Granactive Retinoids) offer visible benefits without the irritation.

The Ordinary generally recommends using their Granactive Retinoid 2% or Granactive Retinoid 5% instead of the following retinol serums.

The Ordinary notes that water can affect the stability of retinol, and plant oils in retinol products may trigger lipid peroxidation, compromising retinol integrity. These formulas do not contain water, silicones, plant oils, or alcohol.

Related Post: The Best The Ordinary Products for Wrinkles and Mature Skin

The Ordinary Retinol 0.2% in Squalane

Low Strength, Moderate Irritation

The Ordinary Retinol 0.2% in Squalane is a water-free solution formulated with 0.2% pure retinol to reduce the look of fine lines, photodamage, and other signs of aging.

The Ordinary cautions that retinol can cause irritation, redness, and peeling on your face and around the sensitive skin of your eyes and mouth until your skin builds up a tolerance. If you choose to use one of The Ordinary’s retinol over their Granactive Retinoids, they recommend that you start with this 0.2% retinol formula.

This retinol serum has the same light formula as The Ordinary Granactive Retinoids in squalane. If you choose to go with The Ordinary retinol products, this is a good starter retinol at a relatively low retinol concentration of 0.2%.

The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in Squalane

Moderate Strength, High Irritation

The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in Squalane is the middle-of-the-road retinol serum from The Ordinary. Like the other retinol products from The Ordinary, this formula may cause redness, irritation, and peeling until your skin has built a tolerance to retinol usage.

If you want to use The Ordinary retinol products instead of The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid products, you might want to consider starting with Retinol 0.2% if you are new to retinoids and then after your skin has built a tolerance, move up to the 0.5% concentration.

The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane

High Strength, Very High Irritation

The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane is the strongest retinol serum from The Ordinary. While it’s one of the strongest retinoids from The Ordinary, you may see the most irritation, redness, and peeling from this serum.

If your skin is adjusted to higher strengths of retinol, this may be a good option for you. The squalane base is lightweight and comfortable to wear. Be sure to follow with a hydrating moisturizer, such as a cream with vitamins or hyaluronic acid to minimize dryness that can occur with retinol usage.

Related Post: Hylamide SubQ Skin vs The Ordinary “Buffet”, A Complete Guide to The Ordinary Face Oils

Concluding Thoughts on The Ordinary Retinol and Retinoids

The Ordinary offers a variety of retinoid and retinol concentrations at ridiculously low prices to target the signs of aging, including wrinkles, fine lines, dullness, and more.

If you want to try a retinoid from The Ordinary, your first decision will be whether you want to go with the tried and true retinol or go with the new potentially less irritating Granactive Retinoid technology.

Whatever retinol product you choose from The Ordinary, you will be adding an effective, low-cost anti-aging serum to your skincare routine. Just don’t forget the sunscreen!

Thanks for reading!