guide to the ordinary retinoid products

“Gio, how can The Ordinary products work if they’re so cheap? Where’s the catch?”

Headaches. The catch is in the headaches The Ordinary gives you when you’re trying to decide what to buy.

Want a simple retinol serum, for example? Here are 6. 6 ladies! How the heck do you decide which one is right for you?!

Do you go with the one with the highest concentration? Play eeny meeny miny moe? Flip a coin?

I’m a nerd, so I like to decode the labels and figure out which retinol serum has the best ingredients for my skin type. Sounds too boring?

Worry not. I’ve done the work so you won’t have to. 🙂 Here’s the ultimate guide to The Ordinary Retinoid products:

Granactive Retinoid 2% In Squalane (£7.80)

What form of retinoid does it use?: 0.2% Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate (HPR). HPR is a retinoid acid ester, a fancy way of saying it doesn’t need to be converted into retinoic acid (the active form of Vitamin A) once absorbed by the skin. Yet, it’s gentler than pure retinol. Initial research shows it helps treat acne, melasma and wrinkles.

What’s the texture like?: Lightweight oily texture that sinks quickly into the skin.

Are there any side effects?: This is the gentlest retinoid formula by The Ordinary, so it won’t cause irritations. But it can still make skin more prone to UV damage so use it at night only.

Who is it best for?: Sensitive, acne-prone skin that can’t tolerate other forms of Vitamin A (like retinol).

Where to buy it: Available at Asos and Cult Beauty.

Related: What Form Of Retinoid Is Right For You?


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Granactive Retinoid 5% In Squalane (£11.90)

What form of retinoid does it use?: 0.5% Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate. The formula is the same as Granactive Retinoid 2% In Squalane but with a higher concentration of HPR.

What’s the texture like?: A little oilier than Granactive Retinoid 5% In Squalane. It takes a little longer to sink in.

Are there any side effects?: It shouldn’t cause irritations, but may increase skin’s sensitivity to the sun. Use it at night only.

Who is it best for?: If you’ve been on Granactive Retinoid 2% In Squalane and are ready to upgrade, this is the perfect next step.

Where to buy it:  Asos and Cult Beauty.

Related: My Full Review Of The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% In Squalane


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the ordinary granactive retinoid 5% in squalane 01

Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion (Previously Advanced Retinoid 2%) (£8.00)

What form of retinoid does it use?: 0.2% Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate + an encapsulated retinol. Retinol is the gold standard of the old generation of retinoids. It’s proven to reduce wrinkles and dark spots, boost collagen and treat acne.

What’s the texture like?: A creamy serum, it absorbs quickly into the skin.

Are there any side effects?: It’s stronger than the Granactive Retinoids in Squalane, so it may irritate sensitive skin. It makes skin more prone to sun damage, too, so use it at night.

Who is it best for?: Those who want a medium-strength retinol. Those looking for the best of the new and old generation of retinoids.

Where to buy it: Asos, Cult Beauty and Sephora.

Related: My Full Review Of The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid Emulsion

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Retinol 0.2% In Squalane (£4.20)

What form of retinoid does it use?: 0.2% retinol. While research on HPR is still at the beginning, retinol has decades of data to support its efficacy. But it needs to be converted into retinoic acid into the skin and is more irritating.

What’s the texture like?: A lightweight oil.

Are there any side effects?: 0.2% is a mild concentration, but if you have very sensitive skin, you may experience some stinging and flaking. It makes skin more prone to sun damage, too, so use it at night.

Who is it best for?: Retinoid newbies who prefer the tried-and-tested retinol to the promising but less studied HPR.

Where to buy it: Asos and Cult Beauty

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

Retinol 0.5% In Squalane (£4.90)

What form of retinoid does it use?: 0.5% retinol, which translates into 0.025% retinoid acid. That’s enough to treat photoaging. The formula is the same as Retinol 0.2% in Squalane, but with a higher concentration of retinol.

What’s the texture like?: A little oilier than Retinol 0.2% In Squalane. It takes a little longer to sink in.

Are there any side effects?:  It can be irritating, especially if you have sensitive skin. To reduce irritation, start with Retinol 0.2% In Squalane first and work your way up. Like all retinoids, it should be used at night to avoid the risk of sun sensitivity.

Who is it best for?: Anyone who wants to treat their first fine lines and/or is ready to upgrade from Retinol 0.2% In Squalane.

Where to buy it: Asos and Cult Beauty

Related: What Strength Of Retinol Do You Need?

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Retinol 1% In Squalane (£5.80)

What form of retinoid does it use?: 1% retinol, which converts into 0.5% retinoid acid. That’s enough to reduce sun damage and boost collagen.

What’s the texture like?: Oily.

Are there any side effects?: Out of all The Ordinary retinoid formulas, it’s the most irritating (and the most effective). It also increases skin’s sensitivity to the sun.

Who is it best for?: Retinoid pros who’ve worked their way up to this strength. It’s perfect for people who want to use the most effective OTC % of retinol, but aren’t ready to upgrade to prescription Tretinoin, yet.

Where to buy it: Asos and Cult Beauty

Related: Retinol Side Effects: What They Are And How To Deal With Them

The Bottom Line

If you’re:

  • Looking for a gentle form of retinoid: Stick to the Granactive Retinoids In Squalane.
  • Prefer the tried-and-tested retinol and your skin isn’t sensitive: Go with the Retinol In Squalane.
  • Can’t choose and want the best of both worlds: Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion.

Whatever you opt for, always start with the smallest concentration first and work your way up.

Related: The Complete Guide To The Ordinary Vitamin C products.

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% In Squalane Ingredients

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

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% In Squalane Ingredients

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

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion Ingredients

Aqua (Water), Glycerin, Ethyl Linoleate, Propanediol, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, 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, Behentrimonium Chloride, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Disodium EDTA, Dehydroacetic Acid, Benzoic Acid, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin.

The Ordinary Retinol 0.2% In Squalane Ingredients

Squalane, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Retinol, Solanum Lycopersicum (Tomato) Fruit Extract, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, BHT

The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% Retinol In Squalane

Squalane, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Retinol, Solanum Lycopersicum (Tomato) Fruit Extract, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, BHT

The Ordinary Retinol 1% In Squalane Ingredients

Squalane, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Retinol, Solanum Lycopersicum (Tomato) Fruit Extract, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, BHT