The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% In Squalane review

Can I tell you a secret? I wouldn’t use The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane in my skincare routine.

There, I said it.

No, it’s not because it’s not good. I just see it as a step back for everyone who’s been on the retinol train for a long while. Here’s what I mean:

What’s In The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% In Squalane?


Ever wondered where the name for The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% In Squalane comes from?

Granactive Retinoid is the nickname for Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate (can you imagine if we had to call it that?!), an ester of all-trans direct retinoic acid.

Let me say that again in plain English. It’s not Granactive Retinoid or retinol that gets rid of wrinkles, acne and dark spots. It’s retinoic acid. All forms of vitamin A must be converted to it in the skin or they won’t work.

For retinol, the conversion takes two steps: retinol ⇒ retinaldehyde ⇒ retinoic acid. But because it’s an ester, Granactive Retinoid needs NO conversion. Cool, right?

The manufacturer will tell you that Granactive Retinoid gets rid of wrinkles and dark spots better than retinol – and without the irritation. Problem is, I couldn’t find any independent studies confirming this.

Let’s be clear: this doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. It’s a retinoid, so it’ll likely do something to get rid of wrinkles and dark spots. But, until those studies come out, I’m sticking with retinol. It has decades of studies proving it’s the best OTC thing for wrinkles.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make the switch. I would recommend Granactive Retinoid only in three cases:

  • Sensitive skin: Granactive Retinoid is a gentle alternative for those who can’t tolerate any retinol at all.
  • Retinoid beginners: If you want to jump on the retinoids bandwagon but are scared retinol will be too harsh for you, Granactive Retinoid is a great first stepping stone.
  • Active acne: Independent studies DO show that Granactive Retinoid can treat acneIf retinol is too irritating for your sensitive, acne-ravaged skin, switching to Granactive Retinoid makes sense.

FYI, The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid in Squalene is also available in a lower, 2% strength. If you’re totally new to retinoids, start with that and work your way up.

Related: What Form Of Retinoid Is Right For You?

the ordinary granactive retinoid 5% in squalane 01


The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% In Squalane has an oily base. Does that automatically puts it off the radar for oily skin?

Nope. I get that some of you dislike the feel of anything oily on your face, so this is out of the question for you. Fair enough.

But if you’re willing to give it a go, I promise it won’t clog your pores. The Ordinary is using squalane, one of three oils (together with MCT oil and mineral oil) that doesn’t aggravate any type of acne, including fungal. 

Squalane works because it’s very similar to human sebum, your skin’s natural moisturiser. In other words, your skin recognises it straight away, allowing it to sink quickly and deeply moisturise your skin.

The extra moisture makes your skin soft and supple, prevents water loss and makes Granactive Retinoid even less irritating for your skin.

Related: How To Treat Fungal Acne (And Keep It From Coming Back)


Granactive Retinoid is the gentlest form of retinoid OTC.

In theory, The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane should NOT irritate your skin. And, in practice, almost everyone will be able to use it without problems.

BUT, if your skin’s very sensitive and reacts to everything new, there’s a small chance even this may bother it. To make sure it won’t, The Ordinary added bisabobol to the mix.

Bisabobol is the reason chamomile is so soothing. It’s what gives it its famous anti-inflammatory properties. It reduces redness and irritation and helps your skin heal faster.

Related: 9 Soothing Ingredients For Sensitive Skin

Struggling to put together a skincare routine that minimises wrinkles, prevents premature aging, and gives your complexion a youthful glow? Download your FREE “Best Anti-Aging Skincare Routine” to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order):


The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane has a slightly oily, lightweight texture that sinks in immediately without leaving any greasy residue behind.


It’s fragrance-free.

How To Use It

Every other night, after cleansing.

Performance & Personal Opinion

The first thing I’ve noticed is how hydrating it is. Usually, retinoid products tend to be drying so you need to double up on your moisturiser. Not this. It makes my skin so soft and smooth.

But I’m not convinced it works as well as retinol. Not 1% retinol, anyway. That’s, BY FAR, the number 1 thing that made a difference to my skin. Nothing I’ve tried compares to it.

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane is less strong – in every sense of the word. Unlike 1% retinol, it didn’t irritate my skin at all. But it also didn’t work on my fine lines as quickly. 

It does even out and brighten the skintone a little but if your goal is to get rid of wrinkles, it’ll take you a long time to see results. That’s why – if your skin can take it – I recommend it as your first stepping stone on your retinoids journey.

Wet your feet in the water with it. See how your skin responds to a gentle retinoid and, when you’re ready, upgrade to a higher strength. Slow and steady always wins the skincare race.

the ordinary granactive retinoid 5% in squalane 02%

Who Is This For?

  • Acne-prone skin
  • First-time retinoid users
  • Sensitive skin

Who Is This NOT For?

If you’re already using retinol without major irritation, this is a step back.


A sleek, dark bottle with a practical dropper applicator.

Does The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% In Squalane Live Up To Its Claims?

This water-free solution contains a 5% concentration of an advanced retinoid active complex called Granactive Retinoid that has been shown to offer better results against multiple signs of aging than retinol without any of the irritation and drawbacks common with retinol.  This is what the manufacturer’s studies say. I’m still waiting for independent studies confirming this.
 This product is not a treatment for acne. Acne-prone skin may experience a temporary increase in acne during the first few weeks of using any form of retinoid including those used in this formulation. True. This is called purging and is totally normal. It lasts around 6 weeks.

Price & Availability

£11.90 at Asos, Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty and Feel Unique

Do You Need It?

If you’re looking for a gentle form of retinoid, this is a good option to consider.

Dupes & Alternatives


Squalane, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Bisabolol, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, Solanum Lycopersicum (Tomato) Fruit Extract, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil