The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion review

I love the beauty industry. I really do. I mean, I wouldn’t be a beauty blogger if I didn’t.

But… there really isn’t much integrity here.

It’s not just how we’re made to feel worthless for not looking like the photoshopped version of Faith Hill  (because even Faith Hill doesn’t look like Faith Hill in real life). Or that models wear so-obviously-fake-you-can-spot-them-a-mile-off lashes on mascara ads.

It’s also the way every extract and technology is made out to be innovative or groundbreaking even when it’s old news. Or the price hikes that make you think that serum or eye cream must work better than everything else you’ve tried before even though you know deep down it won’t.

The beauty world is dangerous for the naive. And incredibly frustrating for everyone. Why can’t we just have good products that really do what they say on the tin without the outrageous price tags and even more outrageous marketing?

That’s exactly what Brandon Truaxe, founder of Deciem, thought. His latest venture is The Ordinary, a skincare brand that “brings to market effective, more familiar technologies at honourable prices.” And there’s nothing ordinary about that (although, there should be, right?).

My first (of many) forays into the brand is the Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion (previously called Advanced Retinoid 2%), a serum made with the next generations of retinoids. And it’s only £8.00.

What’s In The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion?


Granactive Retinoid (a.k.a. Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate) is the retinoid that gives the serum its name. From the name, you’ll think it contains 2%, right?

Wrong. Let’s look at the fine print. The serum contains “a 2% concentration of Granactive Retinoid which is a complex of solubilized Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate (HPR).” Complex is the key word here.

According to the manufacturer, Granactive Retinoid is a solution of 90% Dimethyl Isosorbide and 10% Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate. That mean there’s around 0.2% Granactive Retinoid here. A far cry from the promised 2%…

But does it work, at least? Rumour has it, Granactive Retinoid is more effective than retinol at fighting wrinkles and acne. It simply isn’t true.

There’s NO proof (yet) that Granactive Retinoid is more effective than retinol. Heck, there isn’t even much proof that it can fight wrinkles!

That’s because this retinoid is so new, there isn’t much research on it, yet. The only things we know for sure are:

Future research may show that Granactive Retinoid is a valid alternative for fighting wrinkles as well. Until then, I recommend it only to women with sensitive, acne-prone skin that can’t tolerate retinol.

Related: Which Form Of Retinoids Is Right For You?

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Granactive Retinoid isn’t more powerful than retinol. It’s a good thing The Ordinary added that one here, too. Unfortunately, they don’t mention the concentration this time. But retinol works even in tiny doses, so we’re good here.

Here’s what retinol does:

  1. It has antioxidant properties that destroy the free radicals that cause premature wrinkles and dark spots.
  2. It accelerates cellular turnover (i.e. the skin’s natural exfoliating process), reducing the appearance of dark spots, wrinkles, and acne.
  3. It boosts the production of collagen, the protein that keeps skin firm.

Warning: retinol can be irritating for first time users. Go slow and use it only a couple of nights a week to start with.

Related: The Complete Guide To Retinol: What It Is, What It Does, And How To Use It


Bisabolol is that thing that gives chamomile it’s incredible soothing properties.

Here’s the deal: like all plants, chamomile is made up of hundreds of different compounds. Some of these are good for you (hello, bisabolol!). Others not so much… If you’re allergic to plants in the daisy family, chamomile can give you a bad rash.

Extracting Bisabolol from chamomile solves the problems. Now everyone can use it without side effects.

Studies show Bisabolol reduces inflammation and helps wounds heal faster.

P.S. The serum also contains another skin-soother: Tasmania pepperberry.

Related: The Complete Guide To Chamomile In Skincare: Should You Use It?


Let’s start with the basics. Glycerin is in pretty much ALL skincare products for a reason.

It’s a wonderful humectant: that’s a fancy way of saying it draws moisture from the air and locks it into your skin. Once there, this extra moisture softens, plumps, and brightens your skin.

That’s the base you want to build the rest of your skincare routine on.

Related:The Complete Guide To Glycerin In Skincare


Lightweight and milky white texture that absorbs instantly on the skin.


It’s fragrance-free. But the ingredient themselves don’t smell too nice…

How To Use It

In the evening, after cleansing. I recommend you start using it a couple of nights a week and increase frequency to every other night.


Performance & Personal Opinion

First things first: The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion doesn’t have a pleasant scent. But it’s so faint, I can easily put up with it. Actually, I’d easily put up with it even if it stank really badly because this stuff does some amazing things to my skin.

To be honest, I am a bit hesitant to try any retinoids at this time of the year. Now the temperatures are dropping fast, my skin tends to get drier and retinoids can dry it out even more. That’s what happened last winter.

This time, there way absolutely no dryness or irritation. I can use this serum every other day and get smoother and glowing skin without the side effects. It’s so gentle, I suspect I could use it daily.

If you’ve never tried retinoids before, I still recommend you use it only once or twice a week to get started, just in case. But this is something that even mature and sensitive skin can safely use without fear.

Ok, maybe if your skin is super super super sensitive, there may still be a tiny chance it’ll bother your skin, but it’s definitely the gentlest retinoid serum I’ve ever tried.

Yet, it works as well as all the other harsher retinoid serums. My skin now looks plumper. Its texture is smoother and more even-toned. It has a subtle glow to it. These are the immediate effects.

After a few weeks (that’s how long it takes retinoids to work their magic on wrinkles), the serum also starts to target the signs of aging, such as wrinkles and dark spots, and make them smaller.

Basically, it does everything a good retinoid serum should do. Minus the irritation. And the high price tag.

Who Is This For?

  • Acnes-prone skin
  • Retinol newbies
  • Sensitive skin

Who Is This NOT For?

  • If you’re using 1% retinol or prescription retinoids, this is a step back.
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women


An UV-coated bottle with a dropper applicator. It’s practical and protects retinol from going bad too soon.

Does The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion Live Up To Its Claims?

This product uses next-generation retinoid active technologies which have been shown to achieve better reduction in signs of aging than retinol without irritation. They’ve been shown to be gentler than retinol, NOT to give you better results.
A creamy hydrating emulsion.True.
a) A 2% concentration of Granactive Retinoid which is a complex of solubilized Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate (HPR). HPR is a highly-advanced form of retinoid which is, in fact, a non-prescription ester of all-trans direct retinoic acid that offers a multi-fold better effect against signs of aging than retinol, retinyl palmitate and nearly all other forms of non-prescription retinoid.There’s NO proof it works better than all forms of non-prescription retinoids.

Price & Availability

$9.80/£8.00 at Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty, and Feel Unique

Do You Need It?

If you’re looking for a starter retinoid serum for your sensitive, acne-prone skin, this is a great option to consider.

Dupes & Alternatives


Aqua (Water), Glycerin, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Ethyl Linoleate, Propanediol, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Cetearyl Isononanoate, Bisabolol, Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, Retinol, Tasmannia Lanceolata Fruit/Leaf Extract, Inulin Lauryl Carbamate, Glyceryl Stearate, Ceteareth-12, Ceteareth-20, Cetearyl Alcohol, Carrageenan, Xanthan Gum, Acacia Senegal Gum, Cetyl Palmitate, Sucrose Laurate, Polysorbate 20, Isoceteth-20, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Hydroxymethoxyphenyl Decanone, Behentrimonium Chloride, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Disodium EDTA, Dehydroacetic Acid, Benzoic Acid, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin.