From Retinol To Granactive Retinoid: Should You Make The Switch?

by Gio
the ordinary granactive retinoid 5% in squalane 02%

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:

Key Ingredients In The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% In Squalane

Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate

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 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

the ordinary granactive retinoid 5% in squalane 01

Let’s Put It To The Test: Personal Use & Opinion

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

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.

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


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

PR Sample. Affiliate links.

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Jane August 30, 2018 - 8:16 pm

I’ve owned both The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid (5%) and PTR Retinol Fusion PM for ~6 months. I was new to retinol before purchasing either of these products, and thankfully have no sensitivity to retinol (it probably helps that the PTR is time-released). The morning after I use PTR my skin is visibly improved- I have not yet seen the same results with the Ordinary’s granactive retinoid- perhaps I haven’t given it enough time to prove itself, but I’m sticking with PTR. After I finish the Retinol Fusion I may look at other micro-encapsulated retinol formulas to try out – I don’t LOVE that PTR is not cruelty free, and not a huge fan of the packaging.

Gio September 7, 2018 - 4:38 pm

Jane, PTR is a more powerful formula and contains more retinol than TO so I’m not surprised it gives you more visible results. I usually recommend starting from a smaller dose and working your way up but since PTR is working well for you, just keep going up from there.

Jane September 30, 2018 - 3:51 pm

I was really surprised that I had no issues with PTR, my skin has a much easier time with retinol than with AHAs, which can irritate me if I’m not cautious. But retinol has never caused irritation. Speaking of- if I did want to move up from PTR after finishing this bottle, do you have any recommendations on a stronger retinol product that’s still OTC? Thank you! Your blog has very quickly become a go-to, really appreciate how you you discuss products/ingredients straightforwardly, focus on supporting research, safety, etc.

Gio October 4, 2018 - 7:43 pm

Jane, aww thank you! Really appreciate your support and am glad you like my blog. I don’t think skincare needs to be complicated. It’s about treating your skin kindly and giving it what it needs.

PTR uses one of the highest concentrations OTC. It’s rare to find a product that has more because higher doses are banned due to the potential side effects. But I know Babyface Skincare has a 2.5% retinol moisturiser and it’s microencapsulated too.

Andrew James (The Skincare Saviour) August 31, 2018 - 12:42 am

This sucked so much i dont know why but it broke me out so badly im using a adapalene now and im absolutely loving it! <3

Gio September 7, 2018 - 4:36 pm

Andrew, sorry to hear this didn’t work for you. Just goes to show that even the best products don’t work for everyone. Glad yo’ve found something your skin likes better.

A-L October 4, 2019 - 7:06 am

I’ve discovered your blog and have been reading many of your posts, but am afraid that I don’t know where I read that you discouraged having rosehip oil and retinoids in the same routine. If I am a retinoid newbie, would the 2% granactive retinoid be okay if I also used the Essano rosehip collagen repair serum? Or would I need to stick to one? I have sensitive, combination skin if that helps.

And am I understanding that you also recommend retinol and chemical exfoliants, but not on the same day?

Gio October 5, 2019 - 7:21 pm

A-L, granactive retinoid is gentler than retinol, so you can use it with rosehip oil. But I still recommend you alternate retinoids with exfoliation.


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